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Canadian Rockies: Jasper and flightseeing the RockiesCanadian Rockies: Jasper and flightseeing the Rockies

Editor's note: Part four of a four-part series.

After flying to Canada, visiting Banff, Lake Louise, and driving the Icefields Parkway, you will arrive in Jasper. This wildlife-rich area delivers exceptional beauty and Canada’s top-rated golf course. After you return to your airplane, if the weather is good, you can retrace your entire trip by air for an incredible day of flightseeing.

  • The boathouse at Maligne Lake, where you can rent a canoe to paddle on one of Canada’s most beautiful glacial lakes. Photo by Ken Lane via Flickr.
  • The turquoise Lac Beauvert wraps around the Fairmont’s magnificent golf course, rated Canada’s best. Photo courtesy Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.
  • The Fairmont’s golf course, a Stanley Thompson-designed 18-hole masterpiece, offers mountain vistas and fairways set within thick forests. Photo courtesy Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.
  • The main lodge’s Great Hall features rich wood walls and an enormous stone fireplace decorated with First Nations art, all surrounded by comfortable chairs and sofas. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out over the lake, mountains, and golf course. Photo courtesy Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.
  • In addition to guest rooms and suites, signature cabins like this “Gardener’s Cabin” are scattered about the grounds of the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Photo courtesy Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.
  • The Whistler’s Cabin living room features a fireplace, and mountain and lake views. Photo courtesy Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.
  • Icebergs float on Cavell Pond, which sits at the toe of the receded Cavell Glacier. Mount Cavell rises a vertical mile directly above the small glacial lake, while Angel Glacier can be seen on the right, along with waterfalls of meltwater cascading down to the lake. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
  • Cavell Pond and the Cavell Glacier, which displays annual rings. Rocks and debris accumulate on the glacier’s surface each summer and are covered by a new layer of snow each winter. The short Path of the Glacier hike is one of the easiest ways on Earth to get close to a glacier. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
  • Peaceful Medicine Lake isn’t actually a lake; it’s a basin filled with drainage holes. Each spring meltwater accumulates faster than it can dissipate. By fall the “lake” is often gone. The area is a magnet for wildlife. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
  • This bighorn ram, part of a herd of the sheep gathered along the road near Medicine Lake, nearly stuck its head into the author’s car before she hastily rolled up the window. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • This black bear is feasting on buffalo berries. Bears are fairly common in Jasper National Park. The author watched one near the road between Medicine Lake and Maligne Lake, effortlessly flipping over large boulders in search of grubs. Photo by Emily Mocarski via Flickr.
  • Aerial photo of Lake Louise and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Use caution as Lake Louise sits in a box canyon, as does nearby Moraine Lake. Remain east of the lakes or make sure you have sufficient altitude to clear peaks, at least 11,500 feet MSL. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Aerial photo of Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Moraine Lake looks like a giant piece of turquoise, but it really is that blue. Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass are just out of camera view to the right. Photo by Paul Zizka courtesy
  • Poised at 15,000 feet in calm, thin air, we hovered over the huge Columbia Icefield and got new perspectives on the now-familiar glaciers and lakes. The 13-km-long Saskatchewan Glacier is in the foreground. The Columbia Icefield is roughly the size of Vancouver, B.C., and its waters flow into three oceans: the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Aerial view, looking northwest, of the Jasper Airstrip (CYJA). The turf airstrip, located within Canada’s Jasper National Park, is now open to pilots for non-commercial use. The airstrip had been designated as “emergency use only” for many years; its reopening for public use came after lengthy efforts by the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA). Fairmont guests who land here can get free pick-up with prior arrangement; a taxi to town is about $35. Photo courtesy Kevin Psutka.

The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge sits in a valley beside the blue-green waters of Lac Beauvert, surrounded by snow-clad mountains—a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The lodge consists of multiple low buildings and cabins of varying size and luxury scattered among the woods. Enjoy a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities including hiking, canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, and mountain biking in summer and ice skating, snowshoeing, and skiing in winter. After an active day outdoors, rejuvenate with a signature treatment at the luxurious Fairmont Spa. Again, you’ll experience dining par excellence here, with six restaurants. The Moose’s Nook Chophouse, where we enjoyed savory caribou cutlets, also offers bison, duck, and trout served amongst rustic wood furnishings, a stone fireplace, and wildlife scenes.

A spectacular morning hike is the short loop trail called Path of the Glacier, which takes you one mile up to the Angel and Cavell glaciers. Pale turquoise Cavell Pond is filled with icebergs; Mt. Edith Cavell’s north face rises an astounding vertical mile above. The ground beneath your feet was covered by Cavell Glacier not long ago; signs along the way explain. The lateral moraine is to your left. The trees on your side are tiny, but a mature forest, untouched by the glacier, is on the other side of the moraine. Continue by taking the Cavell Meadows Loop up through tiny alpine trees to the wildflower-filled meadows, with outstanding views of both glaciers and towering Mt. Cavell.

At the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, cozy, cabin-type guest rooms, each with a patio, are scattered about the property. Photo courtesy Fairmont Resorts & Hotels.

In the afternoon, you can drive the road along Medicine Lake, where a group of bighorn rams walked right up to our car window. Jasper is loaded with wildlife; on this drive alone, we encountered a black bear, elk, and deer along with the sheep, all up close—and no people. Continue along to scenic Maligne Lake, 14 miles long, which fills a glacier-carved valley. Take a 90-minute cruise down the lake with jagged peaks rising above the green forest. The narrated cruise stops at Spirit Island, actually a tiny narrow spit of land with tall trees. The iconic island, surrounded by turquoise lake waters, is another of Canada’s most-photographed spots.

Hiking the Cavell Meadows Loop Trail: Angel Glacier hangs above Cavell Pond. Meltwater streaming off the glacier creates numerous waterfalls. Photo by Crista Worthy.

After a long drive back to your airplane (with stops at Athabasca Glacier and lunch at the Fairmont in Banff), spending the night near the airport and taking an early flight over the parks, weather permitting, makes a terrific dénouement. A scenic flightseeing loop from Banff up to Jasper and back is 292 nautical miles; your mileage may increase with circling and deviations. Depart Springbank (go early for calmer air) and follow the highway 48 nm to Banff—6,500 feet msl is a good altitude—a turf airstrip near the highway in Banff is for emergency use only. Continue northwest along the Bow River 31 nm to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise for views of the iconic hotel and lakes. Continue your tour by following the Icefields Parkway 22 nm northwest from Lake Louise to see Peyto Lake and the glaciers, all just east of the Continental Divide. Continue another 40 nm and, if equipped, climb past 12,000 feet msl to circle over the huge Columbia Icefield, about the size of the city of Vancouver, and Saskatchewan and Athabasca glaciers. With sufficient time and fuel you can continue to Jasper, an additional 53 nm. A turf airstrip, 3,990 feet by 150 feet lies just east of the highway, 7 nm past Jasper. The Jasper Airstrip was opened after prolonged efforts by the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association.

Considering our hours of mountain flying experience, I’m embarrassed to report we nearly embedded our Cessna 210 into one of the mountains in the Valley of the Ten Peaks above Moraine Lake. After overflying the Fairmont Lake Louise, we flew south and entered the valley from the eastern opening. Becoming sightseers instead of pilots, we failed to notice the aircraft was climbing more slowly than the terrain ahead. By the time we tore our eyes away from the mesmerizing turquoise water of Lake Moraine it was nearly too late. Fortunately the notch of Sentinel Pass over Larch Valley provided an escape route. Enjoy your flightseeing, but don’t allow the beauty to bewitch you—save that for when you’re safely on the ground, and the Canadian Rockies can truly be your best trip ever.

Spirit Island (actually a peninsula) on Maligne Lake is one of Canada’s most-photographed spots. Reach it via a 90-minute scenic cruise. Photo by Tim1226 via Flickr.
Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: Canada

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