Rock Climbing with Kids in Jasper National Park, AB

by Josée

When people think of rock climbing in the Canadian Rockies, places like Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise and Kananaskis Country come to mind. These are some great places to climb, to be sure, but what about Jasper National Park? While a little less known, there are some really neat places for family rock climbing adventures in this area.

Choosing a good crag to bring kids to requires a bit of consideration. The first thing to consider is the approach, or the hike to the rock. Generally we pick crags that are relatively easy and safe to access. The second factor is safety at the rock. Some rocks are crumbly and loose which means there is a higher risk of rocks falling on your head. Also, the base of the rock (the landing) can be safe (a nice flat wide spot) or sketchy (on scree slope, on a ledge). Below I’ve listed three spots in Jasper National Park that we recently explored with our kids: Rock Gardens, Morro Bluffs and Lost Boys. Each crag has pros and cons for climbing kids, which I’ve listed below. Of course, only bring your kids to places that you feel comfortable and safe climbing at.

Not a rock climber, but curious about rock climbing with your kids, check out: A Beginner’s Guide to Learning how to Rock Climb with Kids.  

Rock Gardens

The Rock Gardens are located north-east of the city of Jasper, AB. There are two access trails to this crag. The shorter trail (which we took) starts at the Fifth Bridge, located about 3 km down Maligne Lake Road (watch for signs). Park in the large parking lot, cross the bridge and follow the trail signs for 7/7h. Stay on the 7 trail for a bit then veer right onto the 7h trail. This wide trail will climb up and then narrow, follow the left trail at the fork. This narrow trail will go along for a little ways (you can hear the Athabasca river on your left). The trail gets rocky, then dips down. After this point take the right veering trail up to the rock.

Rock Gardens is made up of crumbly limestone and even after years of climbing rocks still fall here. Of the 44 routes at this crag there is a small handful of easier routes. Unfortunately, the easier routes have been climbed so much the limestone has become polished in spots, making these routes more difficult. This is less of an issue on harder routes.

Our favourite route: Alain’s Route 5.10b

Climbing this Crag with Kids:

  • Relatively quick and safe approach (800 m). A bit of grind up (75 m elevation).
  • A north facing crag, sun in the late afternoon/evening, which makes it a good spot to climb on a hot summer day.
  • Not many easy climbs.
  • Easy climbs have become polished in places (slippery).
  • Crumbly limestone – significant rock fall hazard!
  • The landing is narrow.

Morro Bluffs

Morro Bluffs is located north-east of the city of Jasper, AB. The trailhead is located about 20 km east of Jasper off Highway 16. Look for a pull out on the right side after crossing the bridge over Athabasca river. From the pull out there is a trail that climbs up the bank and parallels the Athabasca river; this is the Overlander Trail. The big crag that dips down into Athabasca river on the left is Morro Slabs. This is a popular spot for beginners to learn how to climb, but being so close to the water we figured it wouldn’t be safe with young kids. Morro Bluffs is further up along on the trail. Look for a rock with a plaque on it (left side of the trail) and follow the trail behind the rock. Further along ignore the steep left veering trail and continue forward to the base of Morro Bluffs.

Morro Bluffs has 9 easy routes (5.7 to 5.9) on big slabs making this a fun place to bring kids. It’s a good place to practice climbing on slab and learning how to lead. The only downside is the landing. The base of the rock is narrow and overlooks steep scree slopes. We actually anchored our youngest child to a tree. This is good place to explore with kids for a couple hours.

Our favourite route: The Treadmill (5.8)

Climbing this Crag with Kids:

  • Relatively quick, easy and safe approach (700 m).
  • Shady in the mornings, sunny in the afternoon.
  • Fun, easy slabby routes.
  • Hard limestone (not crumbly).
  • Gorgeous views!
  • Narrow landing over steep scree slopes.
  • Small area, not many routes.
  • Slab can create a lot of rope friction making it difficult for small kids to lower. Tip: If your child is light, weigh her down with extra gear.

Lost Boys

This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Lost Boys. Lost Boy is located south of Jasper, AB and is one of the most popular rock climbing spots in Jasper National Park. From Jasper turn onto Highway 93A and drive down this road 19 km keeping your eye out for a small pull-out on the right hand side. There is a single track trail that starts from the pull-out and goes directly to the crag.

The 1.9 km trail is an easy hike through a thick forest of pine trees. While 1.9 km (~4 km return) is not very long (we’ve hiked much further in a day) it can be a bit much for kids when combined with a day of climbing. Because of the distance we almost didn’t go, but I’m so glad we did!

Lost Boys has about 70 routes on gorgeous orange quartzite, a nice hard rock that has fun roofs and big jugs. There aren’t many easy sport routes at this crag, so it’s not a great area of newbie climbers. However, of the three spots we brought our kids this area was our favourite. The landing was quite rocky but there are no steep drop-offs.

Our favourite routes: Iggy Pop & The Three Stooges (5.10c) & Little Girly Man (5.8)

Climbing this Crag with Kids:

  • Safe approach (1.9 km, one way, some fallen trees on the trail).
  • Shady in the mornings, sunny in the afternoon.
  • Fun roofs and big jugs.
  • Hard quartzite.
  • Longer approach (1.9 km, one way).
  • Rocky landing.
  • Few easy climbs (most easy climbs are trad)

If you’re interested in climbing in Jasper National Park, I highly recommend purchasing a copy of the recently published book: Jasper Rock Climbing: Northern Exposure (2016).  You can purchase the book from places like MEC, True Outdoors and the Alpine Club of Canada.


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