A few weeks ago we decided we’d better get our butts in gear if we wanted to get a camping trip in before the season was over. This summer just seemed to go by really fast, and before we knew it the temperatures were starting to drop. So, one weekend we headed down to one of our favourite camping hangouts – Jasper, Alberta.
But, my big complaint was that every time we go, we tend to follow a pattern. We stay at the same campsite, which means we hike the same trails, and see the same sights. I insisted that we try and do a few things that we either rarely do, or have never done in Jasper before. One of those things ended up being the Jasper SkyTram.
The SkyTram first opened in 1964. The ride takes you from the base station (1300m) to the upper station (2300m). At the summit, there’s a restaurant and gift shop to peruse. From there, you can hike the dirt path up to the top of Whistlers Mountain (2500m). It got it’s name for the marmots that scurry around the mountain and the whistling sounds they make.
If I’d ever done the SkyTram in Jasper before, it was when I was very young and remember very little about it. I’m also not a fan of heights, which is probably why I hadn’t done it since. But it was something new to try. And I knew the views from the top would be spectacular, so we decided to go for it.
The tram up to the top of Whistlers Mountain takes about 7 minutes, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but the ride is actually pretty fun, even if I do say so myself.
There were forest fires nearby that had filled the air with so much smoke and haze a few days earlier that they had to close the trams. But we got lucky with clear skies. Other than rain clouds, we had pretty decent weather.
Unfortunately, we only saw the furry backside of one marmot as we were reaching the top of the mountain. And he was too quick to photograph. 🙁
The dirt path to the summit includes some switchbacks and a few steep sections, but overall it’s not overly difficult. And once you reach the top, the views make it all worthwhile.
You can even see Jasper in the distance:
One thing to make sure of though, is that you dress appropriately for the summit. It’s much colder at the top than at the base, not to mention windy. So layers are your friend, including a windbreaker of some sort, and gloves aren’t a bad idea either. We both had multiple layers including hoodies and fleece and still wished for one more layer!
The summit is totally exposed and desolate, other than rocks, lichen and sparse tufts of grass. It makes for some pretty dramatic photos:
You can hike further if you like, but there are signs warning that you should be an experienced hiker to do so. We didn’t have any gear with us other than water and some light snacks. So, we stayed on Whistlers and just enjoyed the 360-degree views.
We were especially taken with the red colour of the mountain in the distance here. Maybe there’s an abundance of iron in the soil?
We explored the summit for maybe an hour or so, before getting cold enough to start the hike back to the restaurant.
Normally, we avoid eating at the restaurants at the top of elevated tourist attractions, such as trams, towers, and so on. We typically find that they’re exorbitantly expensive. After all, there’s no competition there, where else are you going to go? But in this case, we were cold and hungry. All we wanted was a toasty, enclosed space to nosh on some carbs and hot chocolate. So, we decided to try the restaurant here after all.
We popped into the Treeline Restaurant where Mark ordered their elk pie and I ordered the poutine. Both meals were delicious and filling. Our meals came to about $15 each, including hot chocolate, which was pretty decent and comparable with what you’d pay in Jasper for a similar meal.
While waiting for the next tram down we managed to get a nice shot of the rainbow that formed from all the moisture in the air.
Take note, though – big plans are afoot for the Jasper SkyTram. Namely, there’s a proposal to demolish the old SkyTram terminals, and moving the upper terminal 250 meters up the mountain. A high speed gondola would replace the aerial tramway. This plan is currently in the conceptual stage. However, since the current SkyTram is reaching the end of its operational lifespan, if you want to ride the historic trams, sooner is probably better!
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