Section 1: Lake Louise to Bow Summit
Total distance: 40 kilometres (25 miles)
Travel time: 1 hour
Take a short drive to see one of the world’s most spectacular sights, the soft baby blue waters of Peyto Lake and the rugged beauty of the Mistaya River valley stretching out before your eyes beneath a sea of distant peaks.
The Icefields Parkway begins two kilometres west of Lake Louise at a junction with the Trans-Canada Highway. The road slowly winds up from the Bow Valley to an outstanding viewpoint and picnic area at Herbert Lake, just 3 kilometres from the junction.
Watch for black bears feeding on roadside berry bushes in the middle of summer during the next 13 kilometres as you continue winding slowly upwards following the Upper Bow River towards its headwaters at Bow Lake. At the 16-kilometre mark there is another excellent viewpoint looking out over Hector Lake and the magnificent mountain ranges surrounding it. The first of seven hostels located along the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper is at the 24-kilometre point at Mosquito Creek, together with a primitive campground that offers very little in the way of services.
From Mosquito Creek the Parkway continues on under the watchful eye of the spiral-like Dolomite Peak ahead on your right and the broad face of Bow Peak to your left across the valley. Straight ahead you may catch your first glimpse of Crowfoot Mountain and the Crowfoot Glacier. The Crowfoot Glacier viewpoint is at kilometre 33, and is a spectacular toe of ice that hangs down over a cliff-face just 300 metres from the viewpoint. Keep your eyes peeled in this area for the infamous Blondie, Banff National Park’s most visible grizzly bear. She frequents the lush vegetation at roadside from Mosquito Creek up to Bow Summit. If you do get lucky enough to spot her, please avoid the temptation to feed her. She has been aggressive in the past, especially when she has had cubs, so remain in your vehicle at all times and make sure you pull safely off the road. Just beyond Crowfoot Glacier are the crystal clear blue-green waters of Bow Lake with Num-ti-jah Lodge on its north shore. At the far end of the lake is the vast foot of Bow Glacier, the very glacier that originally carved out the Bow Valley between Banff and Lake Louise ten thousand years ago. A viewpoint and rest area at kilometre 37 provide excellent vantage points for the lake framed by Crowfoot Peak to the left and the glacier to the right.
The next three kilometres pass through open alpine meadows and subalpine forest before peaking at Bow Summit. Turn off here at the 40-kilometre mark and take a short drive to see one of the world’s most spectacular sights, the soft baby blue waters of Peyto Lake and the rugged beauty of the Mistaya River valley stretching out before your eyes beneath a sea of distant peaks. Peyto Lake is fed by the meltwaters of Peyto Glacier off to the left of the viewpoint, and the glacial silt (the fine rock particles ground up by the glacier as it passes over the land below it) floats out into the lake reflecting the magnificent “robin’s egg” colour you see. The lake is named after William “Wild Bill” Peyto, a pioneer guide in the area and one of the park’s first game wardens.
Returning back to the Icefields Parkway, turn left and continue on your journey towards the Saskatchewan Crossing.