If there is one road trip that is “bucket list” worthy, a summer drive on Alberta’s scenic Icefield Parkway from Banff to Jasper certainly qualifies.
We had a free weekend last June, and decided this was a great opportunity for us to do the famous Icefield Parkway road trip in the Canadian Rockies. The weather was great, spring flowers would be blooming, and we were just ahead of the summer high season. We live in Calgary, so we booked our accommodation in Jasper, and off we went.
“Drive of a Lifetime”
The Icefields Parkway (or Highway 93) runs through Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, along the Continental Divide. If you are leaving from Calgary, take the TransCanada Highway west to Banff, and continue just past Lake Louise, where you will take the exit north to the Icefield Parkway. [How can you pass by Banff and Lake Louise without stopping? If you haven’t been, you can’t! You’ll just need to add a couple more days to your trip.]
Highway 93 – The Icefields Parkway begins
You will see beautiful lakes, waterfalls and rivers…
forests and flowers…
We visited in late June, a great time to see spring flowers. If you go, be sure to stop along the way, take a walk on one of the numerous trails, and experience nature for yourself.
…and spectacular mountain peaks and glaciers.
The Athabasca Glacier is part of the Columbia Icefield, which the Parkway is named for. To get a sense of scale in the photo above, look at the cars in the parking lot. The Columbia Icefield is about 100 square miles and hundreds of feet deep, making it the largest in the Rocky Mountains.
You can easily walk right up to the edge of the glacier, but walking on the glacier is dangerous. People have died there by slipping into one of the deep crevasses.
Across from the glacier is the Columbia Icefield Interpretive Centre. The Centre sells food and tickets for the Ice Explorer, which are large vehicles specially-designed to drive onto the glacier, where you can also walk on it with a guide. You can also get tickets for the recently opened Glacier Skywalk.
There are numerous trails along the Parkway, including this one where you can see the Sunwapta Falls.
The mountains along the Icefield Parkway are probably the most spectacular I have seen. Around each bend was a new vista, and we couldn’t resist stopping to take another photo.
If you go…
- Fill your tank with gas before you leave, as services are limited and expensive on the Parkway.
- Watch the road for wildlife, and also for cars stopped to view wildlife.
- Keep a safe distance from ALL wild animals, and be prepared for possible bear encounters.
- Allow plenty of time to stop along the way for activities, hiking, or to take in the magnificent views.
- If you plan to spend more than a day, book your accommodations in advance.
- Bring a picnic and snacks to eat along the way.
- A national parks permit is required to travel on the Icefields Parkway, and can be purchased at the park gates, information centres, and partner locations.
- The Parkway can be cycled from Banff to Jasper over three to five days, and campgrounds are available along the parkway. (plan in advance)
- The best time to go is June to September. Some facilities, including the Columbia Icefield Centre, are closed mid-October to mid-April.
- If you go during the winter, check ahead for road closures.
For more information about the town of Jasper and it’s local attractions, click here.