Shoulder Season Missions :: Jasper, Alberta
Anyone who I've talked to in the last couple months would have heard me bangin' on about a trip I really wanted to take sometime this winter — a train trip to Jasper, Alberta, in the Canadian Rockies.
Taking a train trip anywhere has always been 'up there' on my list of shit I want to do — mostly because it's something I've never done before. We do have trains in New Zealand (my homeland) but I've never taken one and I don't think they're really used so much as a mode of transport, more just a novelty thing I guess...
So... Cut to last Thursday night. I spent way too long looking for something to watch on Netflix so I fucked that off and started looking up Expedia and VIA Rail for the 1000th time that week. After looking at all kinds of dates between now and the end of April, I realised that that weekend would actually be the PERFECT time to do this trip. The weather looked insane, accomodation in Jasper was cheap as fuck, I didn't have any weekend plans, and the train ticket was basically the same price even though I was booking it the day before it departed. It was a win all-around, so within 24 hours of buying my ticket I was outta Vancouver with my ass on a train to Jasper for a few days.
I was also stoked for this to be a solo trip. I'm big on solo travel and I have been for a while, and since I've been in Vancouver it's been SO awesome to finally feel like I'm surrounded by friends and people to hang out with in real life, but it's also left me reeling for more solo time (hella introvert over here), so the idea of just totally fucking off by myself for a few days got me way too excited. Also, my middle name is 'Little Miss Independant'.
This time of year, or the shoulder seasons (the time in between peak travel seasons) is my absolute FAVOURITE to travel, especially in places like Canada where you see four true seasons and people only seem to do stuff in Summer or Winter.
There's so many reasons I love travelling around this time, but for the most part its because of two things — there's less tourists and other people travelling, and shit is a hell of a lot cheaper than in peak season (like a LOT cheaper).
vancouver - jasper
The train left Vancouver around 8.30pm, so you can sleep from basically as soon as you get on, until the next morning. I was in the cheap economy seats (not a sleeper cabin) but luckily I had a couple seats to myself since the train wasn't that full... And I was kinda surprised that I actually managed to get some sleep — usually I'm the worst at sleeping on the plane or in a bus.
It was pretty awesome to wake up on the train and see the sunrise around Kamloops.
When I booked my ticket I did a bit of research on VIA Rail (the company that runs the passenger trains) and almost all of the reviews said the train was delayed anywhere from a couple hours to 24 hours, so I went into it expecting that to be the case... And it was. Luckily my train was only about 4 hours late, which wasn't great but also I didn't have any plans so it didn't affect me too much. All I gotta say is, if you plan on taking VIA Rail ANYWHERE, be prepared to chill and patient, lol.
jasper itself... like damn.
I've been to Jasper once before, when I lived here a few years ago I took a solo road trip that lasted about a week, and covered 2000+ km, in summer. So that was the only time I'd been there, and I did that just after the official end of summer which meant it was in that weird shoulder season time, so it was also pretty chill and the tourist vibes were minimal.
This time around it kinda surprised me again just how low key Jasper is. I think no matter what time of the year you go, it's a lot more chill than places like Banff (the other main town in the Rockies) or other towns along the main route across Canada. It's a couple hours north of Banff, so you're only going to be in Jasper if you want to be there, or if you're driving up to Edmonton or something... i.e. You're not gonna happen to casually be driving through.
This might be one of the reasons I love it so much — there's something about these small mountain towns that I've always loved, and Jasper has those vibes. There's no McDonalds or Starbucks, there might be a total of 5 taxis if you're lucky (I don't mean companies, I mean like 5 taxi cars) — and they don't even take debit or credit, which I found out when I couldn't pay the dude who dropped me at the bus stop and he told me to get him back next time. I'm pretty sure I was one of like 5 tourists in the whole town while I was there, judging on the looks I got when I was strolling around with my camera in hand, ha.
While I was there I didn't have a car or any planned shit to do really — I decided to just figure it out when I got there. Although the weather was amazing I still wasn't totally confident driving in the snow/ice, especially by myself, and I decided I'd rather do a proper road trip here later in the year so I might as well save the $$ for that. So I spent my couple days there walking all over the place, which was super chill.
I bummed around town for a bit, and I also went for a stroll to Old Fort Point, which I think is the starting point for a few trails. I have zero experience/gear when it comes to actual hiking, especially in winter, so I just walked there along the road and found a sweet little lookout — which I think is called Old Fort Point?
It looks over the Athabasca River and has some damn solid views of the mountains around Jasper. This little stroll was FOR SURE the highlight of ma trip... Purely for the views and vibes. Look at this shit...
doing things for no other reason than 'just 'cause'
I love trips like these so fucking much, half the reason being that I don't have any 'real' reason for doing them. Not everyone gets it when they ask why I go somewhere and I reply with 'cause I felt like it' or 'cause I can'. Ha. I think those vibes started for me growing up, sometimes with my fam we'd go for a drive somewhere or drive over to the beach for dinner (like an hour away), for no real reason other than just 'cause. Then growing up and getting a car and doing shit on my own I realised how much I bloody love it... And I can't even tell you how many times those random little trips have ended up being some of the best travel memories for me. This trip to Jasper included!
Not everything has to have a huge 'WHY' behind it. That shit gets exhausting after a while.
Get spontaneous, yo. Just fuck off somewhere and see what happens.
GETTING there (and back) ::
I took the VIA Rail train, which is Canada's nationwide passenger rail system. Although it's the only passenger train across the country, they only rent/lease the tracks which means they have to give way to all of the freight trains that travel on the same tracks... So there are sometimes very significant delays — and this is something they tell you when you buy your ticket. On my way there we had about a 4 hour delay, which I was kinda expecting.
It cost me around $320 for a return Economy ticket to Jasper. The trip is scheduled to take around 18 hours from Vancouver to Jasper, but I'd be surprised if it's ever been on time... When we got on the train the VIA Rail dude said he'd been doing this job for 3 years and he'd never been on time... So yep. Haha.
My return train ended up being at least 12 hours delayed, so I got a refund for my return train ticket and grabbed a seat on the Greyhound instead. From Jasper it was about $120, and it took about 13 hours (with a 2 hour break in the middle while I waited for a transfer). Although the train has way more space and you can get up and walk around and shit, I've taken a LOT of Greyhounds here in Canada and they've been on time 99% of the time, and I've never had a bad experience with 'em.
Side note :: If you do take the Greyhound anywhere, DON'T TRUST their new bus tracking app/page on their website. I used it for the first time and even though it was telling me my bus was an hour late, it was perfectly on time. Luckily I decided to wait at the bus stop just in case (even though it was 5am and -15c), otherwise I woulda' missed it. Ha.
Where I stayed ::
I used Expedia to book ma trip, and I got a room at the Marmot Lodge in Jasper for the 3 nights I was there. I'm guessing because of the time of year, my room was around $100/night, and for that price what I got was SO GOOD. It was about a 10-15 minute walk into town, and I'd for sure stay there again. Also... It had the comfiest bed I've slept on in bloody AGES and I kinda wanted to take it with me.
Other places to check out ::
Jasper Pizza Place :: I ordered pizza from here when I arrived and got it delivered to my motel, and fuck me it was the BEST pizza I've had since I've been in Canada. Would recommend 10/10.
Bears Paw Bakery :: I also made a couple stops at this bakery, mostly for their White Choc + Raspberry Scones which were also a straight 10/10. Get amongst it.
I'm SO stoked I did this trip when I did, and that I got the chance to take a little mission on the train, even though it ended up only being a one-way mish.