A Leatherman tool is a thing of beauty. As usual, a few things that were on my carefully-crafted Horse Camping List somehow never made it out to the rig (aside: how is this possible? I have a list. I print it out. I check things off. And yet…??), among them my tweezers. So this is how I found myself at a campground shower room in Jasper National Park, preparing for dinner out with a friend, and using the pliers on my Leatherman to pluck my eyebrows. And then used the knife to hack out the glob of pine pitch that was stuck in my hair. That’s me: keepin’ it classy.
The friend I was meeting was the wonderful Ruth Remple, who had taken me under her wing at Ya Ha Tinda last summer, and who, after arriving in town at the age of 21 to begin work with Parks Canada, has lived in Jasper for most of her life. Ruth had gone out of her way to make sure Pai and I were well settled, and had given me the lowdown on good riding options, as well as providing intel on where I might best take the ever-rambunctious Spy for walks. We walked Spy and Molly down to the Parks barns, where the patrol horses hang out.
Ruth invited me out to dinner on my last night in Jasper, and so I took my campfire-scented self for a bit of a (Leatherman-assisted) clean-up before our date. (And as an FYI, I can highly recommend the Fiddle River Restaurant, which has been a fixture in Jasper for a couple of decades).
One of the big reasons I headed to Jasper was that Jim Chesser, the Parks barn boss, whom I’d met around the campfire at Ya Ha Tinda, had told me last summer that I should. I didn’t have time then, but I did now. I ran into Jim by chance as he was heading out to pick up some horses, and talking to him about the trails and local riding options made me wish I had more time in Jasper, and could get into the back country. (Next time!)
Though I had three full days in the Park, I only spent the first two riding. The
thing that bites somewhat frustrating thing about National Parks is that dogs must be leashed (for the protection of both wildlife and the protection of the dogs themselves*). Given the limited opportunities for off-leash exercise, The Dog was getting antsy, and he very strongly suggested that Day 3 be spent hiking with The Dog.
* There is a lot of wildlife at Jasper. A LOT. I saw three bears from the car just driving around the local roads. The local elk (wapiti) are ubiquitous, and they are honey badgers. They don’t give a damn. And in calving season (now) they are fierce. Parks staff warned me. Ruth told me about being trapped in various places by rampaging elk intent on trampling her. And a fellow horsewoman at Cottonwood told me how she and her horse had been chased through the forest a few days prior by a mama elk.
The two areas Pai and I did explore were the trails adjacent to her digs at the Cottonwood Corrals visitor’s paddocks, on the Pyramid Bench. These trails are a spiderweb of connected loops, some of which are used by the commercial trail riding operations that work out of the same stable area. The trails wind through forest, and climb to overlooks that offer spectacular views over the valleys.
On our second day, I broke down my “camp” and loaded Pai into the trailer for a short haul to Sixth Bridge, just shy of where the Parks barns are, for a ride along the Overlander trail. It’s a trail that follows the Athabasca River, initially on the flat.
The trail was awash with wildflowers – Gallardia, columbine, vetch, forget-me-nots, wood lilies, and countless others.
The trail eventually climbs some steeper terrain to some overlooks that offer amazing vistas. We stopped for lunch on one of the high spots before turning around and heading for home.
My taste of Jasper left me wanting to come back for more.
Camp and Trail Notes for Horsey Folk:
There is no real designated front-country equestrian camping in Jasper , so you have to park your horse elsewhere and camp at a people campground. Cottonwood Corrals, the local saddle horse association, is located about 3 km from Jasper town at the local Pyramid Lake trail riding outfit, and offers roomy visitor’s paddocks for $10/night. The nearest campsites are Whistlers and Wapiti. I stayed at Wapiti, which was about a 12-15 minute drive from the corrals. Wabasso is another option, but it is quite a bit further down the Icefields Parkway and would not be as convenient to the corrals.
Dogs must be on leash, so taking them trail riding is not an option.
The couple of trails I rode offered varied terrain and footing, from sandy valley bottom to rockier trails at elevation. They are all single-track and multi-use, so you will meet mountain bikers and hikers.