The spectacular 233km (140-mile) 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. You’ll soon see why driving the Icefields Parkway is one of the top things to do in Canada.
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.
Here are unforgettable Icefields Parkway attractions you won’t want to miss:
- The Icefields Parkway
- 11 Things To Do Along The Icefields Parkway
- 1- Discover The Athabasca Glacier
- 2- Walk On Glass At The Columbia Icefields Skywalk
- 3- Cycle the Icefields Parkway
- 4- See The Sunrise At Bow Lake
- 5- Hike Peyto Lake
- 6- Moraine Lake
- 7- Admire The View At Athabasca Falls
- 7- Take A Motorcycle Road Trip
- 9- Athabasca River Whitewater Rafting
- 10- Athabasca Falls Hike
- 11- Jasper Skytram
- General Questions About The Icefields Parkway
- 11 Things To Do Along The Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway
11 Things To Do Along The Icefields Parkway
1- Discover The Athabasca Glacier
The Columbia Icefield is the largest icefield in the Rockies and a surviving remnant of the thick ice that covered the mountains of Western Canada.
Lying on an elevated plateau with plenty of soaring peaks around it, the icefield is in the perfect location to catch moisture carried across the British Columbia interior by Pacific winds year round, most of it falling as snow.
Summers are not long enough to melt the enormous amount of snow that falls on the glacier and the ice is constantly moving forward a few centimetres daily.
Drink the freshest mountain water in the world.
How do you do this?
Hop aboard an all-terrain vehicle to explore 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.
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 at AB-93, Jasper, AB T0E 1E0, Canada.
2- Walk On Glass At The Columbia Icefields Skywalk
Another must-do on this bucket list trip is to take to the cliff-edge walk interpretive trail.
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.
The Columbia Icefields Skywalk is at Highway 93, Icefields Pkwy, Improvement District No. 12, AB T1L 1J3, Canada.
3- Cycle 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- See The Sunrise At Bow Lake
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.
When Bow Lake thaws in summer, the water is a beautiful blue due to the glacier melt from Wapta Icefield and the Bow Glacier.
It’s a great place for a picnic and to go on a hike when the weather is warmer while snowshoeing is fabulous in winter.
Bow Lake is about half an hour north of Lake Louise and not far from the Crowfoot Glacier.
5- Hike 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.
Once you see the bright turquoise water, you will instinctively yell, “Wow!!”
Why is Peyto Lake so blue? Well, like other lakes in Banff National Park, the glacier grinds rock into flour that is washed into the lake and refracts light.
6- Moraine Lake
Not far from Lake Louise, Moraine Lake is another stunning blue lake that glistens like a jewel.
The lake’s bright blue hue is also due to its glacier waters full of fine rock particles that refract light and competes with Peyto Lake as one of the most beautiful lakes around.
The best time to visit the lake is between October and June when the water isn’t frozen.
There are plenty of outdoor attractions in Moraine Lake, including canoeing or kayaking around the lake, biking and winter activities such as dog sledding and snowshoeing.
Lake Moraine has several scenic hikes, including the Rockpile Trail, which leads to one of the most scenic views in the region, so stunning it’s featured on the Canadian $20 note.
7- Admire The View At Athabasca Falls
Drive past the prominent peak of Mount Edith Cavell and stop at the Athabasca Falls, which can be admired from several viewing platforms and walking trails around the falls.
The 23 m (75.5 ft) high falls is a powerful waterfall due to the volume of water that pours from the Athabasca River into the gorge.
It’s a stunning sight to see and the walk to the falls is an easy one, so break your journey and stretch your legs.
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.
It’s a wonderful to feel the mountain fresh air and enjoy the views as you ride past lakes, glaciers, icefields and mountains.
A sidecar tour is also a fantastic way to see wildlife, such as elk, mountain goats, moose and bears.
9- Athabasca River Whitewater Rafting
Whitewater rafting tours start in Jasper. Expect to be dazzled on a 1.5-hour rafting trip through canyons.
The star attraction is the Athabasca Falls, because of its impressive volume and force of water.
Outfitters provide wetsuits and gear for this 15km river romp. Be prepared to get soaked.
The best time to go is in spring or summer, when the river delivers plenty of thrills with not too many spills but if you’re seeking true adventure, try a daytrip or camp overnight with a seasoned guide.
10- Athabasca Falls Hike
If you don’t find the white water rafting part appealing, gGo on a hike and enjoy the breathtaking views.
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 and wWatching 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.
11- Jasper Skytram
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.
Jasper Skytram is at Whistlers Rd, Jasper, AB T0E 1E0, Canada.
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General Questions About The Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is a 230 km (143 miles) highway between Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.
It takes at least three hours to drive between Jasper and Lake Louise without stopping but if you love nature and stunning scenery, you could spend hours or days.
The Icefields Parkway is an all-season road open throughout the year, however, in winter, avalanches can cause the road to close and cause delays. Make sure you have winter tyres or snow chains when driving the Icefields Parkway during this season. When the weather is bad, the road can be slippery so if you’re not confident driving in winter, an organised tour is less stressful.
The Icefields Parkway is an iconic Canadian road trip between Jasper National Park and Banff National Park. Some great places to stay in Alberta are Skoki Lodge and Num Ti Jah Lodge.
The Icefields Parkway connects Lake Louise and Jasper.
It’s 169.2 km (105 miles) from Banff along the Trans-Canada Hwy and the average travel time is 1 hr 58 minutes.
It was completed in 1940.
There is one gas station at Saskatchewan River Crossing but fuel prices are high there, so fill up in Jasper or Lake Louise if you can.
As the Icefields Parkway cuts through two national parks, Banff and Jasper, you will need to get a Parks Canada Pass when driving this route. It costs $10 CAD a day a person or $140 per year per vehicle. Save the hassle and buy it in advance online here.