Icefields Parkway is one of the best known places in the Canadian Rockies for sightseeing. The drive takes you from Lake Louise to Jasper (or Jasper to Lake Louise) running an amazing gauntlet of enormous peaks, covered in ancient icefields. It’s one of the few places in North America where you can literally drive right up to an icefield and touch it. It’s also widely known as one of the best places to see wildlife in Banff.
Mount Chephren along the Icefields Parkway © John Marriott
Just about everyone you’ll talk to about things you “have to see” while on a Canadian Rockies vacation will mention Icefields Parkway. We recommend giving yourself plenty of time to check it out and enjoy this amazing part of the Canadian Rockies. There are tons of hikes, vistas, glaciers, wildlife, meadows and more to see. Below you’ll find some of the essential info for visiting Icefields Parkway.
Highlights: One of the world’s most spectacular mountain highways. Unsurpassed mountain scenery paralleling the Great
Divide, including the Columbia Icefields, Bow and Crowfoot Glaciers, Athabasca Falls and Peyto Lake. Grizzly and black bears, moose, caribou and other large wildlife.
Activities: Sightseeing, photography, wildlife watching, walking, hiking, fishing, picnicking, ice tours.
Location: North-south highway route between Lake Louise and Jasper. Fifty minutes west of Banff, two and a half hours west of Calgary, three and a half hours west of Edmonton.
Time: Distance: 230 km (143 miles)
One way: 5 hours.
Return trip: Full day.
NOTES: The Parkway (the road) is open all year but the few buildings (2) and services (gas station, Snocoach tour and visitor centre) along it’s entire length are closed from Oct – May…. so fill up with gas prior to leaving…. see also our winter driving tips if you plan on driving this during the cold seasons
WARNING: Do not attempt to walk on the glacier by yourself.
Hidden cliffs and holes covered by a stiff but thin layer of snow are very common.
There have been several deaths from people falling thru one of these thin layers of snow and either dying from the fall or freezing to death.
BE SAFE – USE THE GUIDED TOURS
Lake Louise to Bow Summit – The first 40 kilometres of the Icefields Parkway climbs steadily north through a subalpine forest and tops out in alpine meadows at Bow Summit, the highest point on the Parkway. Highlights of this section include Crowfoot Glacier, Bow Lake and world famous Peyto Lake.
Bow Summit to Saskatchewan Crossing – The next 37 kilometres of the Parkway drops from Bow Summit down into a subalpine forest alongside the Mistaya River and then drops further into the montane valley bottom of the Saskatchewan River. Highlights include Mistaya Canyon, Waterfowl Lake, the Saskatchewan River valley, and the opportunity to see moose and black bears.
Saskatchewan Crossing to the Columbia Icefields – From the Crossing, the Icefields Parkway follows the Saskatchewan River and then begins a steep climb towards the Icefields. This 50 kilometre section is renowned worldwide for its spectacular scenery, including Mt. Athabasca, Columbia Glacier and the Columbia Icefields.
Columbia Icefields to Jasper – Mountain goats, bighorn sheep and elk are common along the final 103 kilometres of the Parkway. The road climbs Tangle Ridge, then drops down into montane forest and follows the Sunwapta and Athabasca Rivers into the town of Jasper. Highlights include Sunwapta Falls, Athabasca Falls, the Kerkeslin Goat Lick and the opportunity to spot grizzly bears and mountain caribou.