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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.

 

Must See Highlights of Jasper National Park

Seven Bears and Lemon Squares

I live in Calgary, Alberta, so Jasper National Park is essentially local. It attracts visitors from around the world, but crazy as it seems I have never been there until now. We visit Banff National Park several times a year, but I was blown away by the spectacular natural beauty of Jasper. Whereas in Banff there is more of a focus of the town itself, in Jasper it’s all about experiencing nature, whether by foot, bike, horseback or paddle.

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Highlights of Jasper National Park

Lots of Wildlife

After only 48 hours in Jasper I saw seven bears!  That’s more bears than in my entire life living near the Canadian rockies. Spotting a bear is quite exciting, preferably from a good distance or the safety of our car. I have always been a bit paranoid about meeting up with a bear but this time we were prepared. Check my post on what to do if you see a bear.

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On this trip we also saw big horn sheep, deer, elk and birds.

The Jasper Skytram

The Jasper Skytram was a definite must do on our list, and the views from the top are simply spectacular. Once you arrive at the upper station you can simply take in the views of the surrounding mountains, glacial lakes, rivers and the town of Jasper, or you can follow the trail further up to the summit of the mountain for even more awesome views. We arrived first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds, and it was a perfect day with blue skies, so we could see for miles.

If you are just going up the Skytram no special footwear is necessary, but if you are continuing further up the trails, runners with a good tread or hiking boots are helpful.

  • Tram Upper Station altitude of 2277 metres (7472 ft)
  • Website: www.jasperskytram.com
  • Adults $35 (youth/family pricing available)
  • Well behaved dogs are welcome
  • 8 km from Jasper
  • Before hiking further up the mountain we stopped for some breakfast at the cafe. A great spot for a table with a view!

Maligne Canyon

Beautiful, free and must-see! Maligne Canyon is a deep narrow crevice carved into the limestone and can’t be seen until your are upon it.  There are good pathways along the canyon, and lots of spots to view the water rushing through. In the winter the water becomes ice and you can explore it from the bottom. We brought a picnic but there is also a cafe onsite.

  • 11 km from Jasper

Maligne Lake

It’s not surprising that Maligne Lake with its bright turquoise water is one of the most photographed in Canada.  The view of the glacial lake surrounded by mountains is stunning, and if you take the boat cruise to Spirit Island you will see many more shades of blue along the way. If possible, plan your visit on a sunny day for the best viewing.

After our cruise we stopped for a snack in Maligne Lake’s View Restaurant. They have salads, sandwiches, homemade soups, stews and baked goods. Along with other tasty treats I spied lemon squares so I had to try them.  I’m a lemon square aficionado, as my mom makes the best lemon squares, but I have to say these were really delicious and pretty much perfect!

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Next time I’ll have to try the traditional afternoon tea at the Chalet, which includes a selection of tea, sandwiches, treats and strawberries.

  • Maligne lake boat cruise tickets: Adults $64 (recommend checking out combo packages)
  • Canoe/kayaks available for rent
  • Maligne Lake’s View Restaurant
  • Afternoon Tea at the Maligne Lake Chalet (reservations essential)
  • For more info check their website: www.malignelake.com
  • 48 km from Jasper

Pyramid Lake and Island

Just a short drive from Jasper is Pyramid Lake, and connected by footbridge, Pyramid Island. It’s a photogenic, peaceful place for a walk, picnic or paddle.

  • Canoe/kayaks available for rent
  • 7 km from Jasper

Gaze at the Stars

Jasper National Park is the world’s largest accessible official Dark Sky Preserve at 11,228 sq km. For more info check jasperdarksky.org or on a clear night step out and look up!

Dine out at The Raven Bistro

We enjoyed a lot of great food in Jasper, but our best meal was easily at The Raven Bistro. We chose the “Kitchen Confidential,” which is the chef’s choice and changes regularly. Ours had a small soup, 4 tapas-sized plates including a tuna dish and an excellent venison, and a chocolate dessert. The service was friendly, the food tasty and well presented, and at $26 it was a bargain.

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Reservations recommended
504 Patricia Street, Jasper, Jasper National Park, Alberta
phone: 780-852-5151

Highlights of Jasper National Park Map

jaspermap

Save some money and avoid the line-ups

There are combo tickets available for Skytram/Maligne boat cruise, or Maligne boat cruise/Afternoon tea and others. Check the websites to see what packages might interest you in advance to save money and avoid waiting in line for your ticket.

Getting there

The drive to Jasper from Banff via the 232 km Icefields Parkway has been called the most scenic drive in the world. Highly recommended.

Where to stay

As with most mountain park accommodations, if you can visit in shoulder season, June or September, your wallet will thank you.

The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

This 700 acre resort has lots of amenities, including a world-class golf course, spa, restaurants, and a beautiful setting next to Lac Beauvert. It has more of a rustic style than other Fairmont accommodations such as the Banff Springs Hotel. There are renovations happening at the Lodge, but our room hadn’t been and it was a little tired. I would still recommend the Lodge if you get either a good price or a renovated room. Pet-friendly.

Tekarra Lodge

These cosy cabins are located just outside the town of Jasper along the Athabasca river. The cabins are rustic but charming and they really provided the mountain park atmosphere we were looking for. They have wood-burning fireplaces, kitchenettes, and chairs on the small decks to enjoy the outdoors. There is also a nice pathway and chairs with a great view overlooking the river. Tekarra Lodge is also pet-friendly.

Prepare for the Bears in Canada’s Mountain Parks

On our recent trip to Jasper National Park we saw seven black bears!

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It was pretty thrilling when this black bear looked up and acknowledged our presence. Like all the bears we spotted, we were watching this one from our car pulled over at the side of the road while in the Jasper area. You may spot one yourself or see other cars stopped to view bears or other wildlife.

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Bears are great to see in the wild, but if you do, watch from the safety of your car or a safe distance. Many people we saw seemed to think the bears were a tourist attraction rather than the unpredictable wild animals they are. Some even brought their small children out of their cars for a closer look. One guy was even walking towards the bear calling it like it was a puppy.

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Here are some tips from Parks Canada to stay safe in bear country:

Got my bearspray!

Got my bearspray!

Prevent and prepare

  • Keep your distance – at least 100 metres away.
  • Don’t feed the bears – it’s illegal to feed any wildlife in a national park.
  • Carry bear spray and know how and when to use it.

Avoid a surprise bear encounter

Most bears will want to avoid an encounter with people, help them out by letting them know you’re there.

  • Talk and make noise to avoid surprising a bear.
  • Hike in a tight group on established trails and only in daylight.
  • Keep children close and within sight.
  • Use extra caution near rushing water or into the wind, as a bear may not be able to hear or smell you coming.
  • Stay in the open as much as possible.
  • Use caution when travelling near natural bear foods: berries, fish and carrion (dead animals) are all food sources for bears.
  • Keep dogs on a leash at all times and never leave them unattended.
  • If you see cubs, leave the area. Mother bears may become aggressive if they feel their young are threatened.
  • Watch for and obey area closures – it is illegal to enter a closed area.
  • Bear warnings are posted in areas when there is bear activity and the chance of an encounter is heightened. Use caution in these areas.
  • Cyclists’ speed and quietness bring added risk for sudden bear encounters. Slow down through shrubbed areas and when approaching blind corners. Make noise, be alert and always look ahead.

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If you encounter a bear

  • Keep calm.
  • Pick up small children and stay in a group.
  • Back away slowly and talk in a soft voice, avoiding direct eye contact.
  • Don’t run. Bears can easily outrun you.
  • Leave the area or make a wide detour. If you cannot leave, wait until the bear moves out of the way and ensure that it has an escape route.
  • The bear may approach you or rear up on its hind legs. If one stands on its hind legs, it is most likely trying to catch your scent; this is not necessarily a sign of aggression. Back away slowly and talk in a soft voice.
  • Do not drop objects, clothing or food to distract the bear. If the bear receives food, it will have been rewarded for its aggressive behaviour, thereby increasing the likelihood that it will repeat that behaviour again.

Bear attacks

Bear attacks are very rare, but it’s good to know what to do.

IF YOU SURPRISE A BEAR and it defends itself:

  • If you have bear spray, use it.
  • If contact has occurred or is imminent, PLAY DEAD! 
  • If the attack continues, FIGHT BACK! 

IF A BEAR STALKS YOU and then attacks, or attacks at night:

  • DON’T PLAY DEAD – FIGHT BACK!
  • BUT FIRST – try to escape, preferably to a building, car or up a tree. If you can’t escape, or if the bear follows, use bear spray, or shout and try to intimidate the bear with a branch or rock.
Keep your distance from bears to stay safe!

Keep your distance from bears to stay safe!