The Icefields Parkway is a scenic drive between Banff and Jasper that draws visitors worldwide. Some call it the Jasper Icefields, while others simply call it “the Parkway.” Either way, it’s a scenic drive through nature, complete with waterfalls, rock spires, ancient glaciers, and turquoise lakes. We’ll give you the best reasons and guides for the most enjoyable trip to Icefields Parkway, Alberta. Don’t forget the map!
When is the best time to drive the Icefields Parkway?
The Icefields Parkway is open all year, but most visitors will prefer to drive it during the warmer months (May to October), when there is less chance of snow or ice on the road. The climate along the Icefields Parkway is cool-to-warm in summer and very cold in winter because it is a mountainous area at a relatively high altitude (Banff is at 4,537 feet). Summer months (June to August) offer ideal conditions for road trips and sightseeing. Avalanches may occasionally close a section of the parkway in the winter, but only for a short time before they are cleared.
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The Icefields Parkway has some of the most beautiful and unique stops.
The entire trip could be completed in about three hours, but that would defeat the purpose of taking this fantastic road trip. You can make the trip in a single six-to-eight-hour day or overnight. The numerous stops along the way are all worthwhile, but you’ll probably need to make a must-see list to avoid running out of time—or gas!
The 75-foot waterfalls, located about 20 miles south of Jasper, are not particularly tall, but they roar with a large volume of water, making them some of the most impressive falls in the Canadian Rockies. This is the best stop on Icefields Parkway!
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The upper and lower sections of the Sunwapta Falls are fed by the Athabasca Glacier. The upper falls are easily accessible, but the lower falls require a short hike (less than a mile). If you want to avoid the crowds in the summer, the lower falls are well worth the walk. Sunwapta Falls is approximately 34 miles from Jasper.
The glacier-fed waterfall Peyto Lake is a stunning shade of opaque turquoise that is well known in this part of the Rockies. Summer is the best time to see the glacial flour that gives the color. This is a popular stop for good reason: the views from the high lookout point above the lake are breathtaking. Just don’t be “that person” who climbs the security barriers to take a risky selfie in front of the view. Peyto Lake is about 26 miles from Lake Louise, so it is easily accessible on a day trip from Lake Louise or Banff. Here is one of the best stops on Icefields Parkway you must try!
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Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier, Icefields Parkway Alberta
The Columbia Icefield is the largest in the Rocky Mountains, as well as the largest south of the Arctic Circle. The icefield covers 125 square miles, ranges in depth from 328 to 1,197 feet, and receives up to 275 inches of snow per year. The Athabasca Glacier is the most accessible of the Columbia Icefield’s six terminal moraines. You can park quite close to it and walk right up to it or take a tour in a mammoth Ice Explorer vehicle. The Columbia Icefield Centre has interesting exhibits on glacier science and geology. It educates visitors on the dangers of climate change, as the Athabasca Glacier alone recedes about 16 feet per year. The icefield is located approximately 65 miles from Jasper.
A mile or so past the Athabasca Glacier is the Glacier Skywalk, a cantilevered glass-bottomed walkway 980 feet above the ground with spectacular glacier and valley views. There’s a fee to walk on the bridge. If you don’t like the idea of the glass-bottomed floor, there is a nearby lookout point where you can get great valley views without the added excitement. Jasper is 60 miles away from the Glacier Skywalk.
View from the Weeping Wall
The Weeping Wall is a series of waterfalls that cascade down a cliff face at the base of Cirrus Mountain, resembling a weeping wall. The highest falls are approximately 330 feet above the ground. It’s about 66 miles from Lake Louise, so it’s closer to the parkway’s southern end than its northern end.
Crowfoot Glacier and Bow Lake
Bow Lake is one of the largest in Banff National Park, and the Crowfoot Glacier (which, if you have a good imagination, looks like a crow’s foot!) is suspended in the mountains behind it. In addition to the beautiful turquoise lake surrounded by mountains and glaciers, the nearby Bow Glacier Falls are worth a hike. It’s about a 3-mile hike from the lake’s parking lot, and it mostly follows the lake’s edge.
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The Icefields Parkway, Alberta has world-famous walking trails.
If you have time and don’t mind driving north to south (or vice versa), there are several great hikes, both short and long, that begin just off the parkway.
Lake Louise to Lake Agnes Teahouse
At an elevation of 7,005 feet, the Lake Agnes Teahouse is located 1.3 miles above Lake Louise. The hike up takes about an hour and a half and provides great views of Lake Louise along the way. The best stops on Icefields Parkway
Bow Summit Lookout
This easy hike takes visitors to the highest point on the Icefields Parkway, where they can see both Peyto Lake and Bow Lake. Along the way, keep an eye out for marmots, ptarmigan, and pikas. The return journey is only about 3.5 miles.
Paradise Valley to Moraine Lake
The strenuous 7.7-mile route between Paradise Valley and Moraine Lake will keep you interested if you’re an experienced hiker looking for a challenge. Fit hikers can complete it in one long day (about eight hours). The lake views and larch tree forests are the highlights.
The 4.5-mile in-and-out hike to Helen Lake, which is adjacent to the Crowfoot Glacier at Bow Lake, is moderately difficult and very popular. The gorgeous wildflowers in the summer are a highlight of this trail, in addition to the great lake views. It takes between three and five hours to complete, depending on your speed and fitness. Snow is expected in the fall and spring seasons. This is one of the best stops on Icefields Parkway!
A fantastic opportunity to see wild animals
The Icefields Parkway is home to a plethora of wildlife. Expect to see deer, goats, and elk, as well as a bear or coyote if you’re lucky. We almost always see bears on the Icefields Parkway in the summer, but they avoid traffic and noise pollution, so it’s not a guarantee.
Parks Canada discourages and even makes it illegal for buses to stop for bears. They can also issue tickets. So, if you see a bear on the road, please slow down and admire it from your car rather than stopping and causing a traffic jam.
Large animals should be given 30 m or three bus lengths of space from your vehicle, and bears should be given 100 m or ten bus lengths. Never approach or feed wildlife.
Here are some more ideas to make the most of your trip to the Icefields Parkway, Alberta.
- The quality of the double-lane highway is generally good, but keep in mind that some sections pass through winding mountainous terrain and should be cautiously approached. Extra caution should be exercised when snow or ice on the ground and a four-wheel-drive vehicle is strongly advised for winter driving.
- Because most of the parkway’s service stops are closed in the winter, it’s even more important to stock up on supplies in Jasper or Banff before heading out.
- Cell phone service is patchy and not available everywhere along the Icefields Parkway, Alberta. Be prepared to be disconnected for at least part of the journey.
- To drive the Icefields Parkway, you will need a national park pass (Parks Canada Pass), and these will be checked at checkpoints. If you’re coming from Banff or Jasper, you’ll most likely already have one of these passes.
- Along the way, there are numerous opportunities to use the restroom.