On a clear day in Jasper, it's not uncommon to find yourself looking up at the surrounding peaks in awe. In the lofty distance, Jasper's imposing giants can appear unattainable.
In fact, they are reasonably easy to reach. Of course, you can ride the Jasper Tramway or pound your way up Jasper's version of the Grouse Grind to the bald-headed lookout at Old Fort Point—both are great starter options.
However, any time you have to really work to earn a great view, the reward is doubled. Many of Jasper's closest peaks are accessible to just about anyone with moderate athletic ability and the good sense to pack a warm jacket and a decent lunch. Often, the biggest hurdle is mental rather than physical.
“When I first came to town I was pretty intimidated,” admits Sean Nardella, a local runner and hiker. “There were a lot of hardcore athletes here who would go out and blast off the Skyline in one shot.”
Next to elite Jasper athletes like ski mountaineering champ Reiner Thoni, former Olympian Loni Klettl or champion trail runner Tracy Garneau, it's easy to assume you aren't peak worthy. The simplest solution to that is to ignore it—there's no rule that says you have to be up and back before lunch.
Alternately, you can follow Nardella's lead and turn that local expertise into an asset.
“I had hardly any experience,” he recalls. “Going out on the trails with people who did helped take some of that intimidation away.”
In lieu of knowledgeable local trail companions, consult the park's trail bulletins and talk with the park staff at the Visitor Information Centre before you depart. These folks are almost always on the trails and will have recently been where you're going or know at least someone who has.
The Jasper Trail Alliance, which you can find on Facebook, is another great resource. People like the aforementioned Klettl regularly post tips and information from their adventures.
For getting started, Nardella recommends the Pyramid Bench. Riddled with trails and overlooking vistas, the Bench is a great place to get your alpine legs, and it's a five minute walk from main street.
If you're ready to aim your sights on one of the loftier goals around the park, there are a handful within a 20-minute drive: Signal Mountain, The Whistlers or Pyramid Mountain, for example.
At lower elevations below treeline, the climb up Signal or Whistlers is pretty unremarkable. But within five to eight kilometres, the scenery opens up. Even though the latter accesses terrain also reached by gondola, the hike is worthwhile for its rockslide crossings and semi-technical sections.
As for Pyramid, it's “the iconic one,” Nardella says. “[From the top] you can look down on town and it's like a postage stamp.”
Postcard perfect, you might say—but reaching the summit of a mountain like that is better than any postcard could ever be.