The Icefields Parkway (Alberta, Canada)

As we mentioned in our post on Banff National Park, there’s a scenic drive that runs right through the entire park, from Lake Louise to Jasper. This road is 140 miles (230 km) long and is known as The Icefields Parkway.

At A Glance

From: Lake Louise, AB, CAN
To: Jasper, AB, CAN
States: Alberta, CAN
Length: 140 miles
Nearby Cities: Lake Louise, AB; Jasper, AB

Stops Along The Way

While you can see some mind-bogglingly beautiful views from the road, you really should take as many opportunities to get up close and personal with the scenery as you can. We were driving from Banff to Grande Prairie, but still managed to fit in a few short stops along the way.

Herbert Lake

The visitor information claims that Herbert Lake is a photographer’s favorite. We must not have found the right vantage point because it pales in comparison to Lake Louise and Peyto Lake. Regardless, it’s the first stop and is definitely a pretty lake surrounded by dense coniferous forest.

Peyto Lake

A bit further along is Peyto Lake, the bluest lake you’ve ever seen. The water is such an intense color of blue that it looks fake. We actually had to tell people that it wasn’t a painting and we hadn’t tinkered with the color. It really does look like that.

The overlook for the lake is about a half-mile from the parking lot, up a slight incline. It’s one of the most “worth it” walks you’ll take in your life.

Athabasca Falls

Not far from the end of the Icefields Parkway is Athabasca Falls. The waterfall itself isn’t very high. It certainly isn’t Victoria Falls at only 80 feet high. But the amount and force of the water moving through this gorge is incredible.

Columbia Icefield (Athabasca Glacier)

The Columbia Icefield is at the very end of the Icefields Parkway, just before you enter Jasper National Park. Technically, it straddles the border of the two parks. It’s the namesake for the parkway, feeding 8 of the major glaciers in the area, including Athabasca Glacier, which you can walk right up to. Along the way are signs showing how big the glacier was in years past so you can see the recession of the glacier.

Now for a word of caution: do not venture onto the glacier without a guide and proper equipment. People can and do die here when hidden crevasses give way. We walked right up to the edge…and no further. There are guides that will take large groups out with ropes and proper gear, should you want to get some adventure.

Sunwapta Falls

Technically, this is in Jasper National Park. However, it’s worth mentioning. Like Athabasca Falls, it’s an incredible sight with torrents of rushing water over two short falls, only 60 feet in total height. There are ample walkways and points to get some great views of the river.

Other Stops

Those places above are just the ones that we stopped at. You can also go see:

  • Crowfoot Glacier
  • Mistaya Canyon
  • Saskatchewan River Crossing
  • Parker Ridge

If you’re lucky, you’ll also see some wildlife along the way. We came across a wolf just meandering down the road without a care in the world. He didn’t even bat an eye when a half-dozen cars stopped to get a look. There was a black bear and, further up the road in Jasper National Park, a sheep jam.

Services

Being a National Park, there aren’t many services along the road. We stopped for coffee at the Icefield Center across from Athabasca Glacier. Let’s just say that the coffee wasn’t good enough to justify the price. We were wise enough to get gas in Banff though, rather than paying the astronomical prices at Saskatchewan River Crossing, the only gas along the drive.

Enjoy The Views!

Here’s something to whet your whistle for a trek to this beautiful part of Canada.