Jasper Brewing Company, Canada's only brewery located inside a national park (photo: Jamie Walter)

The Weekender: Jasper

By Tracy Hyatt

For a weekend that offers all the mountain perks without the mountainous crowds, consider driving to Jasper. There are ample opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors, and the in-town experience is as charmingly low-key as ever. Plus, it’s home to the only microbrewery in a Canadian national park!

No matter where you are in Jasper National Park, you’re practically guaranteed to snap an Instagram-worthy shot of the Rocky Mountains. Head to the Glacier Skywalk, a glass-bottom walkway juts out 280 metres above the Sunwapta Valley, for a bird’s-eye view of the Columbia Icefield. A short self-guided interpretative walk leads up to skywalk; grab an audio wand to best enjoy the area’s natural history. But keep your eye on the clock if you plan to visit: The skywalk is open until 6 p.m. daily but it takes an hour to drive there. It’s recommended that you leave Jasper townsite no later than 3 p.m. And fuel up before you go, as there are no gas stations en route.

If you’re heading to the Icefields, book a Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure tour with Brewsters, which takes visitors out onto the surface of the Athabasca Glacier in a specially designed ice-exploring coach. Once you’ve arrived on the ice, a 30-minute stop ensures you’ll have lots of time to walk and take photos.

If you want to stay closer to town, take the Jasper SkyTram 2,277 metres up Whistler Mountain for an impressive view of surrounding Pyramid Mountain, Mount Robson and the Colin Ridge. At the upper station, hike the aptly named 1.2-km Summit Trail to reach the very top of the mountain.

From the Pyramid Lake Resort parking lot, walk about two kilometres down the service road to Pyramid Lake Island. Volunteers originally built the footbridge to the small islet in the 1930s, to help reduce human impact on the local environment. You can also rent canoes and paddle boats at the boathouse.

No mode of transportation is more exhilarating than riding a motorcycle and no motorcycle brand symbolizes freedom like Harley-Davidson. If you don’t have the gumption to ride a hog, you can still get the Harley experience with Jasper Motorcycle Tours, which takes guests on one- to three-hour excursions in a Harley sidecar. You’ll wind along mountain roads hugging sweeping S-curves on your way to Maligne Lake.

If you’re more interested in floating along the Athabasca River, book a Jasper Raft Tours adventure. Don’t be too intimidated by the rapids; they have a Class II difficulty level—perfect for getting your adrenaline pumping but safe enough for less-experienced rafters.

Jasper Skywalk Alberta Rocky Mountains
The Jasper Skywalk (photo: Brewster Travel Canada)

Jasper Brewing Company turned heads several years ago when it became Canada’s first microbrewery in a National Park. The 150-seat brewpub is a popular spot for locals and in-the-know travellers, but ice-cold beers—like the blueberry vanilla ale—will make you forget about the wait. Kale spaghetti, duck confit sliders and bison curry top the menu favourites.

Arguably Patricia Street Deli’s only flaw is that’s it can be hard to find. The sandwiches here are loaded with fresh veggies that go beyond the standard leafy greens: Choose from the likes of shredded carrots, deep purple beets and house-made pesto. And they ring in under $9—probably the best value you’ll find in any of Alberta’s mountain parks. The deli also is known for its rotisserie chicken: For $25, you can purchase a roast chicken meal that comes with a baguette and two side salads.

If you’re looking for outdoor gear and clothing, Jasper Source for Sports has a mind-boggling selection. In most cases the price will be right, too—cheaper than what you’d find in the city. The store also rents fishing and camping equipment as well as bikes (including fat bikes), eliminating the need to haul all your toys to Jasper.

The rooms at Sawridge Inn & Conference Centre were recently given a major refresh with sleek mid-century modern touches. Another plus is the well-priced buffet breakfast, which includes an omelette station plus lots of fresh fruit and healthy options. Looking for place where your brood can run wild? Stay at the Pocahontas Cabins, a quaint mountain retreat with one- and two-bedroom lodgings—some with kitchenettes—as well as a pool and barbecue area. The cabins are pet-friendly, too, so bring the pup. The Best Western Jasper Inn & Suites is bike-friendly and boasts a small wash bay available to motorcyclists.

Give yourself about four hours from Edmonton and five hours from Calgary via the Icefields Parkway to get to Jasper. Consider upgrading to a Plus or higher membership, which allows for extended towing distances, free passport photos, free fuel and delivery, and enhanced trip collision reimbursement. And don’t forget you can pay for your membership monthly for as little as $9 a month.

Stay for less: AMA members can save 10% or more at Best Western properties across the country, including the Best Western Jasper Inn & Suites.

Chill out: Discover the rugged beauty of Jasper’s ice fields and save 10% on Glacier Adventures and sightseeing tours with Brewster Travel Canada.

Up the river: Grab a life jacket and paddle, and save 15% on regular adult rates with Jasper Raft Tours. Or save 20% on all rafting tours offered by Jasper Rafting.

High life: See the mountains like never before on the Jasper SkyTram. AMA members save 15% on adult and child tickets.

Spa day: Wind down after all your hiking, biking and sightseeing by spending some time—and saving 15% on regular admission—at Canadian Rockies Hot Springs locations, including the Miette Hot Springs in Jasper National Park.

Book a two-night stay (or longer) at any Best Western hotel with AMA Travel and you’ll be entered to win a $500 Best Western gift card that can be put toward your next stay! Contest runs from June 1 to July 31, 2016.