In the last posting, we talked about photographing the elk rut in the fall, and how Jasper National Park is one of the top spots anywhere for this. While we consider elk to be the highlight for photography, this is only one reason why Jasper is a delight at this time of year. Seeing the elk antics coincides with fall colour season, which usually hits its peak near the end of September (although it can vary somewhat from year to year). The forests, especially at lower altitudes, have a lot of deciduous trees such as trembling aspen, balsam poplar, and birch, all of which turn a golden yellow. Gold mixing with the green of pine and spruce, with a mountain backdrop, makes for some awesome landscapes.
Several prime spots are fairly close to the townsite, such as the short drive to Patricia Lake and Pyramid Lake, with imposing Pyramid Mountain looming over the scene. Morning is the best time to come here, especially if you want to include the mountain as a backdrop and have a better chance of finding calm water for reflections.
The road to Maligne Lake offers a wealth of photo possibilities. As the road begins to climb near the beginning, there are alternate views over Pyramid Mountain. Maligne Canyon is a completely different experience where you’re mostly looking down into the narrow steep-walled gorge. For more sweeping views, there’s Maligne Lake itself at the end of the road, as well as Medicine Lake about half way along.
The main roads both north and south of Jasper townsite follow the Athabasca River, so there’s ample opportunity to include moving water in your photos. There’s rapids galore and spectacular features such as Athabasca Falls where the river thunders through a narrow canyon.
While elk tend to steal the show in the fall, the park is also home to bear, moose, white-tailed and mule deer, wolf, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, among other animals. Don’t overlook some of the smaller critters. Hoary marmots are fun to find at any time, but in the fall they put on a layer of fat before hibernation and look their best. This chubby fellow appeared especially well fed.
Pikas are the smallest member of the rabbit family. They’re fun to photograph and you can often get quite close. One spot where we have never failed to find them is at Medicine Lake. As you drive up the Maligne Lake road, there is a viewpoint and parking lot where the road first reaches Medicine Lake. A staircase leads down to the lakeshore, and the jumble of rocks near the bottom of the stairs and along the embankment of the road is a prime pika hangout. Be patient and watch for them darting and scurrying around the rocks.
The biggest bonus to this time of year is that the summertime crowds are gone. On the other hand, fewer visitors mean fewer services and some campgrounds are closed. Check the Parks Canada website for opening and closing dates for the various campgrounds.