Jasper National Park
Jasper, Alberta, Canada
At a staggering 4,335 square miles, Jasper National Park in Alberta is Canada’s largest park in the Rocky Mountains. It is also the second-largest dark sky preserve in the world, having received the distinction in 2011; as the only one with a community in its center, it is also the world’s most accessible.
Dark Sky Preserves (DSP) are areas designated by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, to protect nocturnal wildlife habitats and quality night sky viewing. There are currently 11 sites in Canada that have received DSP designation; eight are in national parks or national historic sites.
October in Jasper is Dark Sky Month, when the park hosts its Dark Sky Festival and the star-studded heavens take center stage. Visitors can look skyward to see the Milky Way, Aurora Borealis, or shooting stars – weather permitting. From town, appearances from earthbound astronomers like celebrity Bill Nye the Science Guy, NASA’s Bobak Fedowski, aspiring astronaut Ross Lockwood and science journalist Nadia Drake.
The Jasper Dark Sky Festival has many different activities and events, ranging from stargazing tours, photography workshops,Symphony Under the Stars with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and a guest speaker series featuring space-related celebrities and experts in astronomy. The 2016 festival featured Star Trek star George Takei and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Jeremy Hansen.
In addition, throughout the year Jasper is promoting several public observation sites that have excellent opportunities for stargazing. The three main public sites: Pyramid Island, located within 15 minutes of Jasper, with a scenic lake and Pyramid Mountain as backdrop; Lake Annette, also located within 15 minutes of Jasper, where stargazing activities, bonfire stories and telescopes coupled with knowledgeable local astronomers can be found during the Beyond the Stars event; and Athabasca Glacier, 64 miles south of Jasper, a spectacular alpine environment within a kilometer of a hotel. The park also offers several excellent observation sites for groups and events not normally accessible to the public after dark, but which can be reserved for stargazing groups or events.
Jasper is especially suited to its DSP designation: Ninety-seven percent of the park is a designated wilderness area and free of light pollution, yet roads and trails provide easy access to excellent stargazing sites. Many of the valleys in Jasper are broad and U-shaped, providing good views of the night sky. The southern part of the park boasts truly dark skies (sky brightness less than 0.01), one of the only areas in southwestern Canada with exceptional darkness, yet accessible by year-round roads.
In addition, the park has excellent all-season facilities for visitors, with a wide range of nearby accommodations. To note a few: Located in the heart of Jasper National Park and within walking distance to downtown Jasper, the Tonquin Inn has 137 guest suites along with motorcoach parking, free Wi-Fi and Prime Rib Village, its on site restaurant and lounge. Mount Robson Inn in Jasper, just five minutes from downtown, offers 80 guest rooms of various sizes and amenities, all with microwave, fridge and high-speed Internet access. The Lobstick Lodge in Jasper offers 139 spacious rooms with 43 kitchen suites, one indoor and three outdoor Jacuzzis and a heated indoor pool.
To learn more about Jasper’s Dark Sky Festival, visit online at jasperdarksky.travel.