October is the ideal time to visit Jasper, Alberta in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Jasper, the world’s second largest dark sky preserve, holds a Dark Sky Festival every October. Plus, in the autumn, lots of wildlife wanders about, especially around the grounds of Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge which is also home to the Symphony Under the Stars.
Jasper’s Dark Sky Preserve and Dark Sky Festival
Dark sky preserves are protected areas with active measures to minimize artificial light pollution, which makes them ideal places for stargazing. One of 17 such preserves in Canada, Jasper National Park is the world’s second largest dark sky preserve as well as the most accessible.
That means that sure, you can go camping in Jasper’s wilderness to admire the stars. But, much easier and more comfortably, you can also stay within the town of Jasper, which is inside the preserve, as well as at Jasper’s most iconic hotel, Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. JPL is home to several of the Dark Sky Festival’s activities too.
Jasper’s iconic stay: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Celebrating its 100th anniversary is Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Jasper National Park’s most historic hotel. The luxury resort sits next to Lac Beauvert on an immense forested property. Stays are in luxe log cabins though there are also a few rooms in the main lodge, which is also home to a spa, heated outdoor pool, and several restaurants including modern Italian Orso Trattotia overlooking the lake, tiny Oka Sushi by Tatsuhiko Okazaki, and the Emerald Lounge. Reserve one day for Fairmont’s renowned afternoon tea and on another, request a champagne picnic basket which you can take with you on a hike (or enjoy just outside on your deck).
JPL is famous for its lakeside 18-hole golf course that first opened in 1925—it’s recognized as one of Canada’s “must play” golf courses and its fairways have spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Elk are considered a hazard here, though luckily they prefer to wander the course after it’s closed for the season.
October and the Dark Sky Festival are an ideal time to visit Jasper as crowds are lower and wildlife is often found in and around the hotel grounds. It’s quite common to see deer lounging next to JPL’s cabins (don’t mistake them for lawn ornaments!), elk on the golf course beside the lake and along the highway, plus herds of big horn sheep a short walk from the hotel.
October days are usually sunny and mild with evenings chillier, but not yet below freezing. You’ll want a hat (call it a tuque in Canada!) and jacket if you plan to hike, especially away from the trees where it might be windy, or for anything but a quick evening walk from your cabin to the lodge.
Symphony Under the Stars at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Sold out for the 2022 festival—but plan ahead for 2023—is Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge’s celestial Symphony Under the Stars weekend. The highlight is an exclusive Saturday night dinner followed by an outdoor concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, and also includes a Friday evening jazz reception.
The concert is outside JPL’s main building on the lawn next to Lac Beauvert. The audience sits in lawn chairs and the bar offers drinks (hot and otherwise) to sip. Those-in-the-know bring blankets to cuddle under while the orchestra plays from a raised bandstand (with heaters so their hands don’t get too cold). The program changes every year.
Other Jasper Dark Sky Festival activities
Jasper has lots of Dark Sky activities in October (check out the 2022 events calendar). For example, you can take the Jasper Skytram up Whistlers Mountain for an exclusive dinner and stargazing experience including a look through one of the most powerful telescopes in the region, go on a dark sky geochaching treasure hunt, take a yoga class under the stars, or attend a fireside chat and drumming led by one of the Indigenous knowledge keepers from the area.
The festival also has panels of speakers and artists. In 2022, they’ll include Dr. Shawna Pandya—a physician, aquanaut, instructor at the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences, and scientist-astronaut candidate who will lead a discussion on pushing exploration boundaries. Night sky fans won’t want to miss astrophotographer and explorer Jeanine Holowatiuk’s session, where she’ll talk about photographing the northern lights above the Canadian prairies.
Jasper’s 50-seat planetarium theater is in a dome on the tennis courts at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Here, you can listen to Indigenous stories of the stars and the universe while gazing at the Milky Way and the northern lights, regardless of what the weather outside is doing.
Canada’s Covid border restrictions lifted as of October 1, 2022
On September 26, 2022, the Government of Canada announced the lifting of all pandemic-related border measures as of October 1, 2022. That means visitors to Canada no longer need to show proof of Covid vaccination or a negative test. Nor do they need to use the ArriveCAN app, though filling out the information in advance does speed crossing the border both by land and by air.
Note that the lightning-sparked Chetamon wildfire that began September 1, 2022 and that threatened Jasper’s powerlines was brought under control later in September.