EXPLORE THE ICEFIELDS PARKWAY
ARTICLE AND IMAGES COURTESY TRAVEL ALBERTA
A SPECTACULAR MOUNTAIN JOURNEY MOUNTAIN JOURNEY
Shift your sports car into low gear as the muscular Canadian Rockies rise into jagged peaks on either side of the roadway. Steer your family sedan along a smooth curve that slowly reveals a glittering turquoise lake and a herd of grazing elk. Raise
your binoculars as your tour bus slows to savour stunning glaciers. Cycle into authentic alpine towns steeped in history, where you can enjoy five-star dining and every outdoor adventure imaginable.
Welcome to the Icefields Parkway
, a 230 km (143 mi) wonder that’s one of the world’s most spectacular journeys—providing scenic and recreational opportunities in a trip that you can make in a day. The Trans-Canada Highway follows the main ranges of the Canadian Rockies within Banff
national parks. As you climb up to 3,300 m (10,827 ft) you get views that will reverberate for a lifetime. FIVE WAYS TO ENJOY THE ICEFIELDS PARKWAY
In this article, we’ll look at five segments of the trip, each one providing something a bit different in terms of activities and attractions. While you can drive the roadway without ever getting out of a vehicle, there’s much to do along the way, with great places to stay. There are more than 200 glaciers along the route, many of them easily seen from the highway. BANFF TO LAKE LOUISE: 40 km (25 mi)
From the town of Banff in Banff National Park to the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park—including the hamlet of Lake Louise along the way—you are riding the spine of North America. The online trip planning resource Allgetaways ranks the Icefields Parkway in its top 100 North America getaways for 2006. The legs of the trip detailed in this article include some sidetracking, so the total journey is closer to 300 km (186 mi).
You’ll find hiking trails, mountain climbing routes, backcountry adventures, alpine lodges, campgrounds and scenic picnic areas, all along a well maintained, shouldered roadway where you might see cyclists or curious wildlife.
If you start your trip in the town of Banff, you’ll find hotels that range from mountain castles and hostels to campgrounds. Explore museums, art galleries, fine dining and four-seasons outdoor pursuits ranging from hiking and snowshoeing to white water rafting and world-class downhill or cross country skiing.
Five minutes from the town, the Banff Gondola
rises to an elevation of 2,281 m (7, 484 ft), giving you a majestic view from Sulphur Mountain. Nearby, the Vermillion Lakes is one of the oldest known sites of human occupation in North America. Rent a canoe in town to discover wetlands that are filled with wildlife and prime photo opportunities.
The luxurious Fairmont Banff Springs
is known as the ‘Castle in the Wilderness’—modeled partly on a baronial Scottish castle and regularly attracting royalty, movie stars and adventurers from around the world.
Speaking of castles, on the approach to Lake Louise is the impossible-to-miss Castle Mountain—a 16k (10 mi) stretch of rugged range that aptly lives up to its name.
LAKE LOUISE TO PEYTO LAKE: 40 km (25 mi)
In Lake Louise, you must visit the legendary Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, which is on one of the most photographed lakes on the planet. The lake was originally named Emerald Lake because of its colour, but was later renamed for Princess Caroline Alberta Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria. The remarkable background of the lake is where the Mount Victoria Glacier rises.
Nearby, you can see the Crowfoot Glacier and visit Moraine Lake, famous for its aquamarine blue waters, and a favourite with hikers who climb to beautiful viewpoints for photographs. About 30 km (19 mi) north of Lake Louise is Hector Lake, which is the largest natural lake in Banff National Park—and the park itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You’ll find many types of accommodations in laid-back Lake Louise, shops for renting adventure gear, bakeries, gas stations and more.
PEYTO LAKE TO SASKATCHEWAN CROSSING: 73 km (45 mi)
This stretch of the trip includes Snowbird Glacier and Mount Chephren, where you can see moose and black bears. You’ll get to Saskatchewan Crossing, where three rivers meet. This is what attracted fur traders and explorers in the 1800s.
You’ll find the much-photographed Peyto Lake just over the Bow Summit, where you hit a high point along the parkway. The Bow Summit is 2,088 m (6,850 ft) above sea level and it’s the highest point on the drive from Banff to Jasper. If you get out of your vehicle when just over the Bow Summit, you can find a great view of Peyto Lake by walking along a paved trail. You’ll discover short paths to the Peyto Lake viewpoint or the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. Mount Chephren, once named the White Pyramid, is one of a few mountains in the Canadian Rockies that resemble pyramids.
SASKATCHEWAN CROSSING TO COLUMBIA ICEFIELDS: 50 km (31 mi)
This leg of the journey includes one of the main features of the Icefields Parkway trip – the Columbia Icefield, one of the few places in the world where you can actually step onto glacial ice formed millennia ago.
The Columbia Icefield Glacier Experience is a 90-minute adventure where you board a six-wheeled Ice Explorer—a huge all-terrain vehicle that takes 56 passengers out onto the Athabasca Glacier tostand on 300 m (984 ft) of solid ice. Coaches run throughout the day and don’t require reservations. The Athabasca is the most visited glacier in North America and is a mere 15 minute ride from the The Columbia Icefield Visitors' Centre—open from mid-April to mid-October, and featuring fascinating interactive exhibits.
Be sure not to miss the Weeping Wall, a waterfall that falls more than 100 m (330 ft) on Cirrus Mountain. Parkers Ridge is at about midpoint on the Icefields Parkway, and the 5.9 km (~4 mi) long trail is a very popular hike, commanding a great view of glaciers.
COLUMBIA ICEFIELD TO JASPER: 103 km (64 mi)
The town of Jasper is serene, providing a rustic stop that nonetheless offers superb alpine accommodations including the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. It’s also home to one of the top ranked golf courses in Canada. Try the Jasper Tramway, just 10 minutes from the Jasper town site. It is the longest and highest guided aerial tramway in Canada with a seven-minute ride up that provides views of six mountain ranges.
On the way to Jasper, the Kerkeslin Goat Lick viewpoint at kilometer 192 from Banff provides a great view across the Athabasca River to Mt. Christie, Mt. Brussles and Mt. Fryatt.
The Parks Canada Information Centre along the way is a national historic site, built in 1913—just one of many historic sites along the route.
RESOURCES FOR EXPLORE THE ICEFIELD PARKWAY
The Icefields Parkway
Banff Lake Louise Tourism
Jasper National Park
A JOURNEY UP THE ICEFIELDS PARKWAY
As your virtual guide, I just have to say that a trip up the Icefields Parkway is a MUST if at all possible. There are so many stops that can be made if you are really interested in making the most out of this 3.5 hour drive - it can even be seen over two days with an overnight on the Parkway. If time is short - why not drive it and just admire the panoramic views. You will not be disappointed!
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