Glacial Jewel of the Rockies
Jasper National Park, Canada, World Heritage site
Jasper National Park is the largest and most northerly of the five Canadian national parks which represent the Rocky Mountains, the others being Yoho, Kootenay, Banff and Waterton Lakes. The scenic landscape in the park is dotted with glaciers, forests, alpine meadows, wild rivers, broad valleys and rugged mountains, all of which comprise a unique habitat to sustain a wide variety of plants and animals. The park includes within its boundaries the tallest mountain in Alberta (Mt. Columbia, 3 747 m), as well as the longest underground drainage system known to exist anywhere in Canada (the Maligne Valley karst). The park also contains the Athabasca Glacier, known as the most accessible glacier in North America.
Canada’s National Parks System Plan identifies 39 natural regions in Canada and provides for the creation of a national park in each region to present and protect the diversity of natural environments.
Created in 1907, the park protects a representative sample of the Rocky Mountains Natural Region. Jasper National Park received UNESCO World Heritage designation in 1984.
Jasper National Park is managed by Parks Canada, the Canadian federal government agency responsible for protecting and presenting nationally significant examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage and fostering public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure the ecological and commemorative integrity of these places for present and future generations. Founded in 1911, Parks Canada is the world’s first national parks service and is a global leader in conservation.
View photos of the World Heritage site
Size and Location
Jasper National Park is located in the Canadian province of Alberta, along the British Columbia border. The park is approximately 360 km west of Edmonton, and 404 km northwest of Calgary. It covers an Area of 10 878 km2.
Flora and Fauna
The Canadian Rockies are well known to be extremely diverse in plant and animal life over a broad range of ecosystems. The land around the Rockies supports over 20 000 species of insects and spiders, 1 300 species of plants, 40 types of fish, 16 species of amphibians, 277 species of birds and 69 different species of mammals, including bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), moose (Alces alces), elk (Cervus canadensis), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) and other mammals, as well as their predators. The vast wilderness of Jasper National Park is one of the few remaining places in southern Canada that is home to a wide spectrum of carnivores, including wolves (Canis lupus), wolverines (Gulo gulo), grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis), lynx (Lynx lynx), coyotes (Canis latrans) and mountain lions (Puma concolor).
Jasper National Park is located within the roaming grounds of a group of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus), which is a species at risk in Canada. Approximately 500 caribou roam the Rocky Mountains and surrounding lands, a likely remnant of much larger herds which existed after the last ice age. The size of the population has been continuously declining since the 1950s however, due to many factors, including logging of old growth forest habitat and road and seismic line development which has increased predation by allowing predators increased access to caribou habitat. Roaming in and out of the park, the herds are susceptible to many kinds of conditions that have reduced the species population to threatened levels.
Other species at risk within the park include two birds – the common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) and the olive-sided flycatcher (Contopus cooperi) – one amphibian – the western toad (Bufo boreas) – and one moss – Haller’s apple moss (Bartramia halleriana).
The park contains three life zones which are distinct ecosystems separated by elevation, containing unique communities, characteristic species and physical environments. Each of these zones experiences different climatic patterns, with higher elevations generally being colder throughout the year, and receiving more precipitation, while lower elevations are warmer and drier.
The lowest zone, the montane, is characterized by wetlands, grassy meadows, and forests consisting mainly of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides), white spruce (Picea glauca) and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta). The subalpine zone of the slopes supports a largely closed coniferous forest of subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii), Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) and lodgepole pine. The highest of the three zones is the alpine region. This is an area of treeless meadows, rock and ice. Some meadows found here are covered with thick carpets of fragile wildflowers and lichens during the summer.
Internal and external (regional landscape) influences contribute to the ecological challenges facing Jasper National Park. Jasper is Canada’s second most-visited national parks, and one of its largest. Internal stresses arise from historic and current Park uses and developments, and the three major transportation corridors that cross the Park (highway, railway, and pipeline). External stresses arise from the ongoing expansion of resource development, access and recreational activities in the region, and the implications of climate change.
Dealing with the threats
Protecting healthy ecosystems is critical to ensuring that visitors continue to have outstanding opportunities to experience, enjoy, and learn about the unique natural heritage of Jasper National Park.
The approved management plan for Jasper National Park (updated in 2010) establishes that the ecosystem management priorities are: vegetation health, wildlife movement, aquatic connectivity and returning disturbed sites to a natural state. Caribou and grizzly bears are species of special management interest and important symbols of wilderness. To address these priorities, Parks Canada, in cooperation with many partners, is actively working on:
- raising awareness and understanding of ecological integrity and ecosystem management through communication and hands-on learning;
- restoring impaired ecosystems with the involvement of Canadians and Aboriginal people;
- participating in or leading recovery planning for species at risk – for woodland caribou and Haller’s apple moss;
- improving opportunities to see and learn about wildlife while decreasing the potential for habituation; disturbance and human-wildlife conflicts;
- maintaining or improving habitat security for grizzly bears in the Park and participating in regional grizzly bear research and management initiatives;
- using fire to maintain and restore vegetation within the range of natural variability;
- developing strategies, with public involvement, to reduce elk abundance;
- eliminating or controlling non-native species;
- implementing the limits to growth and development prescribed in the Park management plan;
- using land use zoning as an effective tool to manage Park use, under which over 97% of Jasper National Park is managed as wilderness; and
- working with Aboriginal peoples with historic ties to the Park to incorporate their perspectives and knowledge in Park management
A more detailed description of management actions to reduce challenges to maintaining ecological integrity can be found in the Park Management Plan a copy of which can be found on the Parks Canada website
Parks Canada is committed to make every national park a treasured place and a living legacy for all Canadians, connecting hearts and minds to a stronger, deeper understanding of the very essence of Canada. Jasper is the “gentle giant” of the Rockies, offering visitors a mountain experience with equal options for adventure, discovery and relaxation.
Follow the footsteps of early travellers along the Icefields Parkway, one of the world’s most scenic drives. Rafting, hiking, biking, skiing, camping and horseback riding are some of the many ways to experience Jasper’s mountain landscape.
While famous for its wild setting, the town of Jasper, located in the heart of the park, offers five-star dining, spas, shops and a world-class golf course.