By guest blogger: Tanya Koob
We took our annual May long weekend trip to Jasper in the Northern Rocky Mountains and rather than stay at an expensive hotel, we chose to check out the HI-Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel. What an awesome surprise it was!
Arriving at the hostel Friday night
The hostel has shared sleeping cabins and one private cabin that is divided like a duplex into two bedrooms. Each of the private rooms has a double bed and bunk beds to sleep six people. We stayed in the private cabin which was warm, clean, and had linen provided. If we had stayed at any of the other commercial cabins or bungalows in Jasper we would have been paying upwards of $200/night. Hostelling International by comparison only charges $60/night for a private room. The down side of choosing a hostel instead of a commercial hotel? - hmnnn, can't think of one really. In addition to the sleeping cabins, there was a large communal cabin with a kitchen big enough for multiple groups. We only had breakfast there each morning but it was cozy with a fireplace and living room area perfect for sharing a cup of coffee with fellow travelers. In the evenings, our son played outside so we didn't really interact with the other guests much at all but they were very pleasant from the brief conversations we had.
The communal cabin at the Athabasca Hostel
We love camping and each time we stay at a hostel, we tell our son that we are sleeping in a camping house. Indeed, HI-Athabasca Falls was very much like a camping experience. The water was pumped from a well and brought in for filtering. There was no indoor plumbing and bathrooms were located outside in the form of wooden outhouses. There was however electricity and heat which made for a nice glamping experience. In the evenings after our son had gone to bed we sat outside our cabin on the porch and played cards, shared a bottle of wine and enjoyed the fresh mountain air. That was the part that felt most like camping and that I think I most enjoyed of the whole experience. If you'd like to actually enjoy the communal cabin and sit around the fireplace in the evening, I'd recommend bringing baby monitors with you so that you can keep an ear on your sleeping tykes. We hadn't thought of this so we stayed within close proximity to our cabin.
Our half of the private cabin
While you're in Jasper, you'll want to do some exploring and we've spent enough time there to have our favourite hiking trails, places to visit and restaurants that we wouldn't skip visiting. Here are some of our favourite things to do with kids near the town of Jasper:
Hot Spring Soaking
Miette Hotsprings is the hottest hotsprings in the Canadian Rockies and in our opinion is the best of the commercial pools hands down over Banff and Radium. We didn't visit this time because it takes approximately 45 minutes to reach the hotsprings which are located 60km east of town.
The Centennial Park Playground might just be the best playground in Alberta. It's centrally located in the town of Jasper with giant slides, many opportunities for climbing, a sand box, a bouldering area, and a unique area featuring slides and a tunnel built into a hillside. There are picnic tables and bathrooms on site so you can bring your lunch and have a picnic.
View of the playground with sand box to the left
The largest lake and possibly most scenic near Jasper is Maligne Lake but it takes about an hour to drive there from the town so we skipped the trip this year. We took our son out there last year and he had a great time hiking the shoreline trail as well as throwing rocks in the lake. For something closer to town this year, we chose Patricia and Pyramid Lake. Both lakes have easy access to the shore - perfect for throwing rocks and there are canoe rentals nearby. Pyramid Lake also has an island that we enjoy with a large bridge leading to it. We got to watch a loon swim under the bridge on this visit and that was one of the coolest things I've seen in the mountains.
Our favourite hike is the Old Fort Point trail. We don't do the full loop but just take the stairs and steep hill straight up to the viewpoint. It's the best view you'll find looking down over the town and surrounding lakes without having to fork out the $31 per adult to take the sky tram up Whistler's Mountain. The trail up is steep with 130m of height gain but the good news is that since it goes straight up, you'll be on top in half an hour. Smaller children might find it too tiring to hike on their own but most kids 5 and up would have no problems. Read my last story: The PiggyBack Rider saves the day, to see how we got our three year old up the trail.
Noah and I on top of the Old Fort Point Trail
The other hike we enjoy is Maligne Canyon. Lots of bridges, waterfalls, rock slabs to climb on, and the loop around the first four bridges is under 2km. I don't know any child who wouldn't find it an interesting place to explore. Parks Canada has done a good job as well of ensuring your children won't fall into the canyon. Fencing is plentiful!
A visit to Jasper isn't complete without a visit to Athabasca Falls, conveniently located across the road from the Hostel. These falls are magnificent and it's a short walk to the different viewing areas - perfect for small legs. Again, Parks Canada has done a great job at protecting children from falling in as long as you don't let them climb up on the railings.
Our favourite place to eat is the Jasper Brewing Company. What parent doesn't like a family friendly brewery? They make all their own beer on site and the facility is divided into a restaurant and bar. Kids of course are welcome in the restaurant only. We go here every time we visit Jasper. The service is fabulous and this time our waiter went above and beyond in an effort to find me something I'd like as I usually prefer wine to beer.
If you want something above pub food, the L&W Restaurant is a family favourite. Arrive early in summer because every family seems to know of the place. Though it is a Greek restaurant, their pizza and pasta are to die for. I highly recommend the baked lasagna. Many a backpacking trip has ended here purely for the lasagna.
I want to thank Hostelling International, they have been very supportive of our family's adventures and I can honestly recommend stays at any of their facilities with your family.