Canadian Rockies: Jasper National Park

by: Jeanine Schmitz

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is reprinted with permission from the author from Wheelchair Wandering. Jenny lives in Seattle because of its unique offering of mountains, water, culture, and cool weather. She spends as much time as possible enjoying the outdoors. Her passion is travel, which has become a multi-adventure experience since her MS required a transition into a wheelchair.


I flew into Calgary to meet Ted (he had been backpacking in the Kootenays for several days), and we drove north, then west, starting our camping trip in Jasper National Park.  The first night, we camped at Snaring River, where the only sites available were a couple of walk-in sites.  We grabbed one and used my wheelchair to help carry the large and heavy car camping gear. After several trips down a medium-packed gravel path, we ended up enjoying what was probably our best – most private and best view, not far from a flowing river – campsite of the trip.  We camped here for a night and then set off down the highway.  The following blogs provide a recounting of the sights, sites, and trails we experienced or heard about during our 10-day trip from north to south to west.


Maligne Canyon: To the north of the Maligne Lake, the Maligne River forms Maligne Canyon.  It is only accessible to a point, and it is full of crowds, but it is worth a stop to see the beginning of the canyon and for the milkshakes!


Medicine Lake: On the way from the canyon to the lake, you pass a picturesque lake, which is actually a valley that fills up with meltwater each summer, after which the water drains through the karst lake-bed to an underground river, disappearing every year.  There is a pull-out at the north end of the lake for viewing.


Maligne Lake: The view of the lake was beautiful, but we couldn’t see the surrounding mountains because of the smoke from nearby forest fires (one of the forest service staff said the fire was not actually in the park boundaries, but he had his backpack packed, just in case).  However, I have seen pictures of the view taken on a clear day, and it is fantastic. 

We made the mistake of trying the lakeside trail on the west side of the lake.  The trail was wide enough for a wheelchair and the scenery was beautiful, but the trail was so full of large roots that it was no fun, and at some point it even forced us to turn around. 

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Mary Schaeffer Loop , a two mile trail on the east side is supposedly paved and accessible.  We meant to go there, but after bad directions (on our part), we had battled the roots on the west side and were too tired to try the east side.

I also heard that the 6.5 mile (return) Bald Hills trail out of Maligne Lake was accessible in that it was up an old fire road, but not very accessible in that it was always uphill.  I was advised to at least try to go to the old hitching post, if not top of hill, where first glimpse of view was.  Unfortunately, by the time we got these tips, it was too late in the day for us to try. We got this advice from an employee of the resort, after trying unsuccessfully to find out similar information from various rangers. 

The Maligne Lake Resort itself was barely accessible and the outhouses around it were pretty non-accessible.  The resort employee told us that this issue had come up many times over the past several years during their talks with park officials, so park officials definitely knew about and acknowledged the problem.  Yet, nothing was ever done to improve it


Beaver/Summit/Jacques Lakes trail: At the north end of Maligne Lake is an old fire road that goes for 1 mile to Beaver Lake and then 1.5 miles more to Summit Lake, before continuing as a hiking trail to Jacques Lake.  Because the trail to Beaver and Summit Lakes is a fire road with minimal elevation gain, it may be appropriate for wheelchairs; on the other hand, it may be too rooty or muddy


Jasper: The public washroom across from the information center in Jasper town is accessible, as is the nearby outhouse at Palisades.


Jasper SkyTram We didn't go up, but according to the website, the tram itself is wheelchair accessible, the upper terminal with a restaurant is mostly wheelchair accessible (not the second floor), and the1.2 km trail from the upper terminal to the summit is a dirt path.


Pyramid Lake Island:  This hike was one of my favorites – beautiful views, great trail, and a baby elk!  The island is reached by a wooden bridge leading from a parking lot about ½ mile from the Pyramid Lake Resort. There you’ll find a short path of hard-packed dirt around the island, passing by a couple of viewpoints over the water to mountains.  As an extra bonus, the elk frequent the water at morning and  evening.  During our visit, a small herd went into the water off of the mainland.  Later, a mother and her spotted baby crossed the wooden bridge over to island.  Once the other annoying camera-snapping tourists left, we just hung out with them (or they with us) while we stared at a windsurfer sail beneath Mt Edith Cavell.


Lake Annette Lake Annette loop trail is a paved, designated wheelchair-accessible trail around the lake.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to try it out.

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Mount Edith Cavell:   Because of construction, the road up to Mount Edith Cavell was by permit only.  We managed to get a permit, and we found a parking space an the general lot.  However, the trail was too narrow, steep, and rocky to get very far up with a wheelchair, so it might be better to admire the glacier from the parking lot area.