If you think the Academy Awards is a star-studded soiree, then you clearly haven’t been to the Jasper Dark Sky Festival. The annual festival, held in Canada’s charming alpine village of Jasper, Alberta, certainly outshines all other earth-bound events in terms of star power.
Jasper lies at the heart of Jasper National Park, which was designated a Dark Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in 2011. As though being one of the world’s largest and most accessible Dark Sky Preserves wasn’t enough to win acclaim, Jasper also has the added allure of being surrounded by Canada’s stunning Rocky Mountains. Far away from the light pollution of the big cities and ringed by the Rockies, there are few places on the planet better placed to host a festival dedicated to the magic of stargazing.
Whether you’re an amateur astronomer looking to explore Canada’s best spot for stargazing or a space savant hoping to learn more about the cosmos, the Jasper Dark Sky Festival has got something for everyone.
One of the most popular events is the Jasper SkyTram Star Sessions. The evening begins with a stargazing experience with experts from the Jasper Planetarium. You then head up to the Skytram Upper Station, where you’ll get even closer to the starry sky as you ride Canada’s highest aerial tramway up The Whistlers mountain. At the top, you’ll enjoy a meal, learn how to take epic photos of the stars from an expert and then have the opportunity to look through the most powerful telescopes in the region at the darkest skies in the Canadian Rockies. It’s a one-of-a-kind guided tour of the galaxy (with a chance to see a meteor or the Northern Lights).
If heights aren’t your thing, not to worry. You can get some one-on-one time with the solar system with a variety of Planetarium events located on the grounds of the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. You can elect to take an expertly guided, audience-participation tour of local constellations and more in the 40-seat domed theatre. Plus, you can then head outside and take your turn to explore the sky with powerful telescopes. You’ll even get the chance to actually touch rocks from Mars and the moon.
For an incomparable celestial experience for your eyes and ears, reserve a ticket to the festival’s Symphony Under the Stars. Hosted by Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, you can cozy up outdoors under the night sky with the heavenly sounds of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra Strings. You’ve never truly experienced a symphony until you’ve heard one amplified by the Rocky Mountains, while sitting under a blanket of stars that you would swear are twinkling along to the music.
A wholly unique, incredibly moving way to connect with both the earth and the stars is provided by the festival’s Fireside Chat events. Warrior Women shares Indigenous stories of the land and sky by a communal fire, allowing guests to have an interactive and unforgettable personal experience with a local Indigenous Knowledge Keeper.
Interspersed throughout the Jasper Dark Sky Festival’s events is an amazing array of speakers and artists who provide fascinating and engaging talks on a variety of star-centered subjects. The 2021 festival included headliners Rob Meyerson, CEO, Delalune Space and Adam Steltzner, Chief Engineer of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Mission. They discussed such lofty topics as whether or not humans could colonize the moon or Mars, what we could learn from the last Mars Rover Perseverance mission and what the future holds for space exploration.
Other speakers included CBC Science Columnist Torah Kachur who discussed what color means to an astronomer and how color helps us understand the cosmos. Prof. Hilding Neilson talked about Indigenous methods of science and how stories about the skies reflect the observations and knowledge of different peoples. Astro photographers Jack Fusco and Jeff Bartlett shared their favourite dark sky images from both Jasper National Park and other Dark Sky Preserves.
With its out-of-this-world experiences, fascinating speakers, and stunning, star-filled scenery, the Jasper Dark Sky Festival is a not-to-be-missed event for anyone who longs to deeply connect with the cosmos.
What To Know Before You Go
Where to Stay
There’s a great selection of accommodation of all levels in the town of Jasper and the surrounding area. If you really want to embrace otherworldly experiences and take your accommodation during the festival to the next level, you should splurge with a stay at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Nestled in breathtaking Jasper National Park, the picturesque property is set along pristine Lac Beauvert and features heritage log cabins linked by inviting paths surrounded by nature. Treat yourself to the world-class spa that offers indulgent signature treatments like the Rockies Ritual and a Jasper Wrap. Don’t forget to take a dip in the outdoor heated pool overlooking the lake and mountains.
Where to Eat
Despite its size, the town of Jasper is rich in epicurean options. The absolute best way to tap into the town’s culinary scene is by doing a Downtown Foodie Tour with Jasper Food Tours. You’ll get to enjoy delicious restaurants with a local expert and each dish is paired with a boozy accompaniment. The tour features insider tips and treats that you wouldn’t get otherwise. Orso Trattoria & Terrace at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is Italian alpine cooking at its finest. Try the mushroom ravioli with truffle cream sauce. Also don’t miss Jasper Brewing Co for wonderfully crafted beers and Raven Bistro for innovative Mediterranean fare and a superb wine list.
What to Do
Try to find time between festival events to explore some of the outstanding activities the area offers. Wild Current Outfitters offers canoe and kayak trips on Jasper’s most scenic waterways with lots of opportunities for wildlife viewing. Trek along magnificent Maligne Canyon with one of the expert guides at SunDog Tours. The hike is ideal for all levels and features spectacular views of one of Jasper National Park’s best hikes. Take your Jasper adventure to new heights with a helicopter tour from Remote Helicopters. Take a flight to the Columbia Icefield or enjoy a bird’s eye view of Mt. Robson, the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies.