Although traditionally viewed as the “other” big Rockies park after Banff, JASPER NATIONAL PARK covers an area greater than Banff, Yoho and Kootenay combined, and looks and feels far wilder and less commercialized than the rest. Its backcountry is more extensive and less travelled, and Jasper, its only settlement, is more relaxed and far less of a resort than Banff, with just half its population. Most pursuits centre on Jasper and the Maligne Lake area about 50km southeast. Other key zones are Maligne Canyon, on the way to the lake; the Icefields Parkway; and the Miette Hot Springs region, an area well to the east of Jasper renowned for its springs and trails.
The park’s backcountry is a vast hinterland scattered with countless rough campgrounds and a thousand-kilometre trail system considered among the best in the world. Opportunities for day- and half-day hikes are more limited and scattered than in other parks. Most of the shorter strolls from Jasper are just low-level walks to forest-circled lakes; the best of the more exciting day-hikes start from more remote points off the Maligne Lake road, Icefields Parkway (Hwy-93) and Yellowhead Hwy (Hwy-16).
Permanent settlement first came to the Jasper in the winter of 1810–11. The great explorer and trader David Thompson left William Henry at Old Fire Point (just outside the present town), while he and his companions pushed up the valley to blaze a trail over the Athabasca Pass that would be used for more than fifty years by traders crossing the Rockies. In the meantime, Henry established Henry House, the first permanent European presence in the Rockies. In 1813 the North West Company established Jasper House at the eastern edge of the park’s present boundary. Named after Jasper Hawes, a long-time company clerk there, it moved closer to Jasper Lake in 1829. By 1884, and the collapse of the fur trade, the post had closed. By 1900, the entire region boasted just seven homesteads.
Jasper’s true origins date back to the coming of the railway in the late nineteenth century. The Canadian Pacific had made Banff and Yoho boom in 1885, and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway hoped for similar success when in 1902 it started to push its own route west. Jasper Forest Park was duly created in 1908, and Jasper became a centre for railway operations in 1924, greatly boosting its population and importance. The first road link from Edmonton was completed in 1928 and official national-park designation came in 1930.