A Winter Adventure: Star Gazing in Jasper National Park

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Winter is a wonderful time for star gazing in the Northern Hemisphere. While the shorter days give us less sunshine, they bring more star-shine and the convenience of star gazing in the early evening, rather than having to wait for the late summer sun to set.

The best places to see stars are away from sources of light pollution. Obviously the Australian outback or the Namib Desert are going to offer better star-gazing than New York City. But did you know that there are parts of the world officially designated as “Dark Sky Preserves”?

Dark Sky Preserves aim to minimize light pollution to improve conditions for astronomy, and also to mitigate the effects of light pollution on nocturnal wildlife. Canada is at the forefront of the Dark Sky movement, with more Dark Sky Preserves than all other countries combined. The largest of all these preserves is in Jasper National Park.

With ancient glaciers, glassy lakes and majestic mountains, Jasper boasts some of the most striking alpine scenery in the world. And when darkness falls, it gets even better. In March 2011, Jasper became the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve, with 11,228km2 of protected area. For decades its wintery night time skies have pulled visiting snowshoe-ers, skiers and local residents away from their cozy fireplaces and hot tubs and out under the majesty of the Milky Way.

An explorer from Canadian Geographic Magazine recently described his experience star-gazing in Jasper: “When I look up, it feels as if I’ve just had laser eye surgery. The Milky Way sparkles like a snowcapped mountain range lit by the sun, stretching from the south to terrestrial Pyramid Mountain to the north. The bright stars of the constellations Gemini and Orion fade into the infinite fields of distant suns…”

So don’t wait until summer time to visit Jasper! By day downhill skiers can visit Marmot Basin, while Nordic enthusiasts can glide across frozen Maligne Lake, spotting the Park’s many elk and mountain sheep (and perhaps a moose or black bear). Enjoy a meal at one of the cosy establishments in Jasper townsite, then bundle up for an evening under the stars. Our local mountain guides, Terri and Kirsten can make sure you find the best spots to enjoy yourself on a winter’s day – and night – in Jasper.
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