Icefields Parkway Alberta

Our Epic Road Trip on the Icefield Parkway – Banff to Jasper, Alberta

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”

There is so much to enjoy in Banff and Lake Louise, and further west into British Columbia, that we hadn’t yet ventured north to Jasper. We had high expectations, as the highway had even been featured in National Geographic as a “Drive of a Lifetime”, and we were not disappointed. This is definitely a case where the journey is as great as the destination. Although the Icefield Parkway is only 230 km, we allowed a full day to enjoy the experience and stop along the way.
Banff National Park gate

Banff National Park Gate

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

Epic Road Trip Highway 93

Highway 93 – The Icefields Parkway

You will see beautiful lakes, waterfalls and rivers…

Count on making lots of stops along the way to just take it in.

Beautiful mountain lakes that range from brilliant blue…

…to vibrant green.

wildlife…

Big horn sheep crossing the highway.

I think this is a young elk.

A black bear munching away on berries and other plants.

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.

Tiger Lily

A very determined alpine flower in the rocks.

Is this a black-eyed Susan?

…and spectacular mountain peaks and glaciers.

Allow plenty of extra time to stop along the way.

The Athabasca Glacier is the most visited glacier in North America. It has been receding for the last 125 years.

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.

I would highly recommend walking up to the edge of the glacier.

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.

The recently opened Glacier Skywalk

There are numerous trails along the Parkway, including this one where you can see the Sunwapta Falls.

There are numerous trails throughout the region.

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.

Curvy Mountains

Jagged Mountains

Snowy Mountains

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.

You’ve arrived at the town of Jasper.

 

40 replies
  1. Beth Olmsted
    Beth Olmsted says:

    My husband and I have been dreaming of this for a couple of years. It is finally going to happen this June! Thank you for the great information and beautiful photos!

    Reply
  2. Jane
    Jane says:

    Just got back from our trip to BANFF and Jasper national parks. It was amazing. Love your pictures. We took plenty also. Favorite spot was Lake Moraine. We had a cold but clear day which resulted in great reflection pictures.
    Maligne Lake in Jasper is also a must stop including a cruise to Spirit Island and hike to the canyon.
    One more suggestion – canoe in BANFF down the Bow River.
    Thanks for sharing

    Reply
      • Karen
        Karen says:

        We are planning a trip for September and have hotel reservations in Banff would you suggest staying along the parkway at different stops instead of one place and taking day trips from there?

        Reply
        • Shelley
          Shelley says:

          Karen, there are just a few places to stay along the way, but I haven’t tried them. I would definitely stay in or near Jasper, and at the other end of the parkway Lake Louise is also a great place to spend a night. If you get an early start you will have time to enjoy the drive with a couple stops along the way, and traffic should be lighter in September. Have a wonderful trip!

          Reply
  3. Alisa
    Alisa says:

    This will be our first trip to Banff and we’re so looking forward to it! Newbie question: where do I obtain the national park permit? ?

    Reply
  4. Suzanne Fluhr
    Suzanne Fluhr says:

    This post and photos are NatGeoWorthy, IMHO. You’ve shown me a corner of the world (or Canada anyway) that I should seriously consider visiting. Ironically, one of the “Drives of a Lifetime” we’ve done (the Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys) is about as far away from the Icefield Parkway as one can get without leaving the United States.
    Suzanne Fluhr recently posted…Montecristo Travels to Pisa — a Boomeresque Book ReviewMy Profile

    Reply
  5. Donna Meyer
    Donna Meyer says:

    I’ve made this trip twice and it is truly one of the most beautiful and spectacular spots on earth. The Athabasca glacier is somehow mystical and the wildlife spotting is fantastic. I was there once in September, rutting season for the elk, and I had the good fortune to encounter two big bull elk having a “locked-horns” encounter to decide who got to control the harem. Spine tingling! It’s been several years since I was there. I would love to go again.
    Donna Meyer recently posted…POTW: Amsterdam’s Magere Brug, the Skinny BridgeMy Profile

    Reply
  6. Susan Moore
    Susan Moore says:

    I grew up in Calgary and visited Banff so many times but never made it to Jasper – I could go anytime – and I just did not get around to it. I plan to spend more time in Calgary with my parents (I am currently living in Austin TX) and I will travel around Alberta and see all those beautiful sites. Thank you so much for reminding of what I miss about Alberta – besides my family – those gorgeous mountains and lakes, and the wildlife.
    Susan Moore recently posted…Contemporary Art in Mexico City – Museum of Modern ArtMy Profile

    Reply
    • Shelley
      Shelley says:

      I also grew up in Calgary, but this was my first visit to Jasper. Same reason… just never got around to it. I’m trying to be a tourist more in my own area when I can.

      Reply

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