The spectacular 23km journey through the heart of the Canadian Rockies will have you waving the Canadian flag. It’s a must-do on anyone’s Canadian bucket list. The Icefields Parkway is nirvana for those hankering for views of awe-inspiring mountains. You will find yourself immersed in a remote and magical landscape with a vast wilderness of mountains, lakes, glaciers and valleys.
This is mountain country. You need a national park pass to travel on this mountain road that winds through the backbone of the continent.
Purchase passes at Jasper Park Information Centre. Then relax and drive into gobsmacking, jaw-dropping drop-dead gorgeous natural scenery.
The Columbia Icefield covers 215 square kilometres of solid ice estimated to be up to 365m (1200 feet) deep.
You can’t lose on your departure point for this Great Canadian Road Trip either.
The Icefields Parkway sits between two of Canada’s finest national parks, Banff and Jasper. From the iconic Lake Louise in Banff National Park to the splendour of the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park, get ready to be blown away!
Colossal rugged peaks wrapped in prehistoric ice and endless valleys that unfold one after another where nothing but wildlife roam free. That kind of says it all.
Here are 10 unforgettable attractions you won’t want to miss:
1-The Ice Age Adventure
Drink the freshest mountain water in the world. How do you do this? Hop aboard a local tour operator like Brewster Travel Canada and its Ice Explorer.
These monster all-terrain vehicles will get you onto the Athabasca Glacier where you can walk safely atop a 10,000-year-old sheet of ice that is six-kilometre long and one kilometre wide.
The Ice Age Adventure experience has been around since 1892 is declared a Signature Experience by the Canadian Government’s Destination Canada.
Insiders say the fallen snow there is older than Canada with estimates of the frozen powder dating back 200 years ago. Tours depart from the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre on the Icefields Parkway.
2-Walk the glass platform
Another must-do on this bucket list trip is to take to the cliff-edge walk interpretive trail. Why? So you can walk onto the clear glass-floored observation platform suspended 280m above the valley.
It helps that the thick glass observatory is a U-shape and looks like a lucky horseshoe. Located in Jasper National Park, The Glacier Discovery Centre is at the Athabasca Glacier.
You’ll get an adrenaline rush knowing your feet are firmly standing on a glass platform separating you from the rocky bottom below. To get here, it’s easy.
Pack your confidence, take your binoculars and trek along the Discovery Trail, which is a cliff-edge walkway along the Sunwapta Valley.
If you’re brave and don’t suffer from vertigo, look down to see the ancient terra firma. Upwards, however, is the stunning money shot, a vista of endless ice capped mountains.
This Glacier Skywalk is another mind-blowing tour Destination Canada ranks among its Canadian Signature experiences.
3-Cycle along the Icefields Parkway
Be prepared for a cycler’s dream tour. One local tour operator has pegged the trip as “the inn to inn Jasper cycler’s trip.”
Rocky Mountain Cycle Tours gets cyclists into the groove as bikers pedal past breathtaking mountain scenery found only there.
The route follows the Icefields Parkway between the historic towns of Banff and Jasper. The big deal here is seeing the two extraordinary mountain passes known as Sunwapta and Bow.
The Bow Summit is also considered the highest elevation along the parkway, teetering at 2133m above sea level.
4-Bow Lake sunrise
Watching the sunrise at Bow Lake in Banff National Park is a breathtaking sight.
The summit is the highest peak in the Icefields Parkway. But even if you don’t make the sunrise, anytime is a good time to view this natural wonder. It’s also less crowded than the tourist favourite, Lake Louise.
5-Sunset at Peyto Lake
Watch how the sun dips below the mountains at this aqua-marine blue glacial fed lake.
This spectacular nature experience is one of the highlights of the journey along the Icefields Parkway.
Many insiders swear Peyto Lake is ‘the’ most visited and photographed lake in the Canadian Rockies. We agree. Once you see the bright turquoise water, you will instinctively yell, “Wow!!”
Drive past the prominent peak of Mount Edith Cavell and stop at the Athabasca Falls.
The falls can be admired from several viewing platforms and walking trails around the falls. You can get to the Athabasca Falls from the parking area off Highway 93A.
7-Take a motorcycle road trip
Glaciers and waterfalls are accessible while on a motorcycle road trip. Local tour operator Jasper Motorcycle Tours offers passengers an unforgettable sidecar motorcycle tour along the legendary Icefields Parkway deep into the Jasper National Park.
8-White water rafting on the Athabasca River
At the bottom of Athabasca Falls along Class 2 white water rapids, the Athabasca River delivers thrills and views. White water rafting tours start in Jasper, Alberta.
Expect to be dazzled on a 1.5-hour rafting trip through canyons. The star attraction is the Athabasca Falls of course.
Outfitters provide wetsuits and gear for this 15km river romp. The Athabasca Falls has an impressive volume and force of water.
9-Hiking around Athabasca Falls
Okay – so you don’t find the white water rafting part appealing? Another option is to marvel at the spectacular view while on a nature hike. There are marked paved trails, viewing platforms and a bridge.
Stand in the spray, hands extended and close your eyes as you hear the sounds of the powerful forces of the misty water ahead of you.
The river’s source is the Columbia Icefields Glacier. Watching the volume of water flow is mesmerising beyond belief.
Tip: Get there early in the morning or around dinner time when the crowds are smaller. It is a very popular scenic spot along the Icefields Parkway.
Get a whole new perspective of the Canadian Rockies on the Jasper Skytram. This gondolier experience is truly one-of-a-kind. In seven minutes (that’s how long it takes to complete the ride), you will enjoy some of the finest views without having to exert yourself.
Just sit back, listen to the fully narrated tour guide point out cool factoids and scenic areas as you snap the postcard perfect photos. But when you reach the summit at 2,277m (that’s the height of five CN Towers stacked on top of each other), you’ll swear you want to try the head turning ride again.
The Icefields Parkway is an iconic Canadian road trip between Jasper National Park and Banff National Park. For more ideas on what to do in the region here are some great ideas.
A couple of great places to stay while in Alberta are Skoki Lodge and Num Ti Jah Lodge. Check them out here.