Every year for two weeks in October, Jasper National Park comes alive with entertainment, art, education and activities focusing on something we all share, the night sky!
The Jasper Dark Sky Festival is the place to be for night lovers and astro enthusiasts of all kinds as a way to truly celebrate, learn and acknowledge the importance of the night sky. The festival provides an opportunity to discover the night while visiting the second largest dark sky preserve in the world, surrounded by the Canadian Rockies in Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada.
This article has been created in partnership with Tourism Jasper. All thoughts and opinions are my own and based on my true experience attending the Jasper Dark Sky Festival. There are so many activities during the festival, and I wasn’t able to attend them all, so this article features my own experience attending the festival for the first time hosted by Tourism Jasper.
I packed up my camera gear, some warm clothes, picked up my friend and headed west into the sunset. The destination, the Dark Sky Festival in Jasper, Alberta. As a night photographer I have been dreaming of the moment I could attend this unique festival, and in 2021 for four days I was able to make it happen!
Jasper is a picturesque small town located in Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies approximately 3.5 hours west of Edmonton, Alberta. The community provides a small town feel while being surrounded by rugged beauty and dark skies to explore.
What is the Jasper Dark Sky Festival?
Jasper National Park is the largest National Park in the Canadian Rockies and was designated by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada as a Dark Sky Preserve in 2011. It is the world’s second largest dark sky preserve and the largest accessible (has a town within the boundaries) dark sky preserve in the world. To honour this designation the Town of Jasper hosts an annual Dark Sky Festival for 2 weeks each October.
The festival brings together the community, visitors, astronomers, astro photographers, and all kinds of astro lovers to celebrate the night sky. As a dark sky preserve, light pollution is controlled and regulated to protect the night. It’s an outstanding location to enjoy the wonders of a truly dark sky, and being located far enough north, the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis can be seen here too!
Throughout the two week festival there are a number of activities, shows and presentations to attend. All focused toward celebrating the night sky in both traditional and modern ways. Lots of the events are free to attend, and information is updated on the event website. With a variety of options to choose, the festival is full of events that celebrate the celestial wonders of the night.
I can’t think of a better way to pay tribute to the wonder of the night than to attend the Jasper Dark Sky Festival. By celebrating the beauty, science and wonderment of the night, the festival should be a bucket list item for anyone who admires the stars and night sky.
I wrote more about the Jasper Dark Sky Preserve here. As well as my first photography trip to Jasper here which includes more detail on other places to visit in the area while you are visiting for the festival.
Jasper Dark Sky Festival Events
Entering the Town of Jasper it becomes evident that the entire community gets behind the Dark Sky Festival and it feels like a welcoming astro community instantly as I admire the constellations showcased on the local business windows and street banners. With events scattered throughout Jasper, there seems to be a Dark Sky Festival event happening everywhere you look!
The Jasper Dark Sky Festival provides a variety of ways to learn about the importance of night, astronomy and astro photography. For night photographers, this is a great place to come together and take part in photography workshops and meet ups hosted throughout the festival.
While I was there I attended a photography workshop and a couple different astro photography focused presentations. It was a great way to meet other night photographers and learn. Such as, listening to Star Tales by Jack Fusco and Jeff Bartlett as they showcased their photography adventures visiting dark sky preserves and the fun stories that come along with each night out.
For those that aren’t into photography, there are other events focused on astronomy, science and space. I attended the keynote address featuring Jasper Dark Sky Festival host Nikki Wilson discussing the future of space with Adam Steltzner and Rob Meyerson.
Another free event not to miss is a walk through Centennial Park, there was a stunning lantern light display taking place each night of the festival. Dylan Toymaker’s art installation was a beautiful series of lanterns that illuminated the ground while we enjoyed a stroll through the park.
One of the most unique ways to experience the night sky is the Jasper SkyTram Star Sessions & Dinner Experience. Beginning with a dome Jasper Planetarium experience before riding up to the top to enjoy dinner, telescope viewing and the view down to the Town of Jasper from the peak of Whistlers Mountain. The Jasper SkyTram takes you so much closer to the stars and its incredible to watch the Town of Jasper lights fade into the valley as you ride up into the darkness of the mountaintop. Unfortunately it was cloudy when I attended, but the planetarium, dinner and photography presentation all added a welcomed astro flare to a ride to the top.
While visiting for the festival, we made sure to also check out the Starlight Shopping event. Most businesses had great deals and were open late. It was nice to take time supporting the local business community in-between wilderness adventures and dark sky fun.
The festival ended with a Lunacy outdoor music and entertainment event with the big grand finale, new in 2021 was the Drone Light Spectacle. It was truly something to see, while hundreds of drones creating moving graphics to a narrated indigenous story of the sky. This modern and unique addition to the festival was a breathtaking way to end the celebrations.
There were so many events going on, I couldn’t possibly see them all during my first visit to the festival, but I already can’t wait to go back next year and check out some of these other events: solar gazing, geocaching treasure hunt, Pahkisimon sunset event, planetarium presentation, fireside chats, symphony under the stars and other talks & workshops from scientists, astronomers and astro photographers.
Where to Discover the Stars in Jasper during the Dark Sky Festival?
After taking in the events of the Jasper Dark Sky Festival, heading out of town to some of these locations provides a great view of the stars (if the weather is clear) and if you are lucky, maybe even the Northern Lights!
Maligne Lake has a breathtaking mountain range view with the lake and bridge to provide reflections and interesting foregrounds.
Malingne lookout is a great spot to look at the stars above the small town of Jasper off in the distance on the way out to Medicine & Maligne lakes.
Medicine Lake is one of my personal favourite spots. The rugged mountains, changing lake and beautiful landscape is easily accessible and a great spot to enjoy the dark sky.
Pyramid Lake is located close to Jasper and is a great spot to view the Northern Lights reflecting over the still lake. Pyramid Lake Island is an iconic photo spot in the area.
Lake Annette is a small lake located off Maligne Lake road. There are often events here during the Dark Sky Festival and access to the lake may be open to stargazers looking for a view after regular hours.
Old Fort Point is another location very close to the Town of Jasper that can provide a variety of views. From the Athabasca riverbank, to hiking up the trail for more elevated views, there are several options for compositions in the area.
The Icefields Parkway takes you further away from the town lights of Jasper and into the rugged mountain range. The stars shine bright as you travel along the dark roadway to iconic locations such as Athabasca & Sunwapta waterfalls.
Jasper SkyTram takes the view to a whole new height. Stargaze a full kilometre closer to the stars from the top of Whistlers Mountain. Star Sessions are provided Friday and Saturdays throughout October.
What to bring?
Warm Clothing is important, especially in October. When out photographing the night, it can get cold standing still watching the night sky. Bring layers, a hat and gloves to stay warm and comfortable.
Safety is an important aspect to stargazing and night photography. Having a good head lamp to light the path and area around you is essential for identifying hazards, wildlife and safety risks.
One of the most important pieces of gear when heading out to an area with limited cell service is a satellite communicator. Such as the, Garmin InReach mini two way communicator. I don’t go anywhere without mine and highly recommend anyone who enjoys exploring the wilderness to always have this with you.
Lonely Planet Dark Skies astrotourism book provides a great overview of global astrotouirsm and helps to generate ideas for upcoming travels. Jasper Dark Sky Preserve is featured on page 46.
Camera Gear: Wide angle lens, telephoto, & tripod. I shot a lot with my 24mm f1.4 G Master Sony lens. Having everything from a wide 14mm, to a telephoto 250+ will be handy for a trip to Jasper. For more tips on night photography, or getting started in night photography on a budget, click here. Some product links are affiliates and support my photography at no extra cost to you.
Where to Explore During the Day?
There is also a lot to see in Jasper National Park during the day while you await the next starry night.
Pyramid Lake is close to the Town of Jasper and has an impressive view looking across to the base of Pyramid Mountain. I had the pleasure of enjoying Pyramid lake from water level in a beautiful hand crafted canoe with Wild Current Outfitters. Watching the paddle break the perfect reflection is only interrupted by fresh baked goods and hot chocolate served up by Mike, the knowledgeable host.
Going for a drive along the Icefields Parkway or Maligne Lake Road are great ways to spend an afternoon enjoying the scenery and wildlife views.
Where to Stay in Jasper?
Staying at the newly renovated, Cheateau Jasper, we were centrally located for all the activities we had planned. The hotel had a nice view of the mountain range and a good breakfast menu to start each day off right. It was a great home base for all the dark sky activities. I have also previously stayed at the Jasper Park Lodge and that is another great location.
Where to Eat in Jasper?
There are a lot of great places to eat while you are visiting Jasper. With a mix of local and recognizable names, the food is guaranteed to impress and fuel the next adventure. One of our favourite spots to stop for coffee and lunch was Coco’s Cafe, their cute astro sugar cookies were a nice touch as we sipped our coffee planning the day.
Don’t miss the Dark Sky specials at Jasper Brewing Co. their feature Dark Sky Festival drink was a great way to finish the day.
Pizza from Famoso Neopolitan Pizzeria made for a perfect late night snack to take along with us out taking photos.
Evil Dave’s Grill provided a comfortable atmosphere to enjoy a great meal before heading out for the night.
From the towering snowy mountain peaks, wildlife, canyons and waterfalls. To the starry nights, northern lights and moonlit mountain reflections. Jasper National Park and the Town of Jasper is an incredible destination to explore day and night!
For my first time at the Jasper Dark Sky Festival, the sky was mostly cloudy but there were so many other ways to celebrate the night sky it definitely made up for it. The good news is the festival is an annual event, and I plan to visit next October! Until then, keep looking up & wishing you clear skies!