Spanning 232 km (144 mi) from Alberta’s Lake Louise to Jasper National Park is one of Canada’s most scenic drives, the Icefields Parkway. This breathtaking stretch of highway meanders through mountainscapes and meadows that look like a living postcard.
This bucket-list road trip is not only a Canadian treasure but a worldwide sensation. Travelers from across the globe embark on this 3-hour stretch to catch a glimpse of the peaks, glaciers, and valleys that make this area on the continental divide so extraordinary.
We road-tripped along the Icefields Parkway on our recent cross-Canada adventure with Benji, the van. We scanned for wildlife at every turn and made countless photo stops to capture the pristine beauty of the Canadian Rockies.
While the Icefields Parkway, or Highway 93, is most commonly explored from Banff to Jasper National Park, those wanting to capture the full experience should travel the highway in both directions. Trust us, this is not the kind of drive you want to rush!
Must-See Stops on the Icefields Parkway, Canada
There are so many things to do on Icefields Parkway and stunning viewpoints along the way that you’ll be hard-pressed to choose which ones you want to explore.
Here are some of our favourite must-see stops along the Icefields Parkway.
Just 34 km (21 mi) from Lake Louise, the Crowfoot Glacier can be admired from a roadside lookout point or from Bow Lake. The glacier got its name from its three pronged-shape, which looked just like a crow’s foot.
Now, after years of water runoff, the glacier only has two prongs but still maintains a unique shape. You can stop here year-round and catch a glimpse of one of the main water sources for the City of Calgary.
A stop at Mistaya Canyon is the perfect opportunity to stretch your legs over a short hike to a gorgeous vista. Venture down 0.5 km (0.3 mi) through a forested trail that opens up to a view of the canyon. Listen to the rush of the Mistaya River echoing off of the rocky walls while taking in the sights of naturally carved out curves and rocky mountain peaks. Mistaya Canyon is close to the Saskatchewan River Crossing and is open year-round.
The Bow Lake viewpoint offers sweeping views of the Wapta Icefield, Crowfoot Glacier, Mount Thompson, and Crowfoot Mountain. Winter visits boast dramatic icy peaks, while summer visitors are greeted by the turquoise waters of Bow Lake.
Bow Lake, Canadian Icefields Parkway
Peyto Lake & Bow Summit
One of the most popular stops along the Icefields Parkway is Peyto Lake. This vibrant glacier-fed lake is best viewed from a short 2 km (1.2 mi) uphill hike to Bow Summit. At Bow Summit, you’ll have a panoramic view from the highest point on the drive from Banff to Jasper. The view is worth every step—you’ll quickly see why this is one of the most photographed lakes in the Canadian Rockies.
Due to its popularity, the trails and viewing platforms at Peyto Lake needed some TLC. Parks Canada has closed access to the lake temporarily but will be welcoming visitors back in August 2021.
The Columbia Icefield is arguably the most iconic symbol of the Icefields Parkway. This icefield is home to the largest glaciers south of the Arctic Circle. Most notably, the Athabasca Glacier, which you can walk up to during the summer months and say that you’ve walked on a glacier! If you’re not keen to venture up the mountainside, you can still admire the splendour of the icefield from the parking lot of the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre.
To get the full experience, you can buy a ticket for the Columbia Icefield Parkway Adventure. An all-terrain Ice Explorer will take you up to the heights of the ancient Athabasca Glacier. You’ll be surrounded by ice and all the cars in the parking lot will look like ants. Tickets are CAD $87 (USD $68) per person and also include access to the Glacier Skywalk, which you can learn more about below. The Icefield Discovery Centre and Athabasca Glacier are accessible from May-October and it’s best to book ahead.
Seeing the ancient glaciers of the Canadian Rockies is spectacular from ground-level. Now imagine being able to view the entire landscape from 280 m (918 ft) in the air! The Columbia Icefield Skywalk is a glass-bottomed walkway with views of waterfalls, wildlife, and glaciers of the Sunwapta Valley. You can visit from May-October for CAD $36 (USD $28) or as part of the Icefield Adventure.
Fed by the Athabasca Glacier, Sunwapta Falls are a pair of 18 m (60 ft) waterfalls framed by pine trees. A short jaunt from the parking area opens up to a fantastic view of the upper falls. A brief 1.3 km (0.8 mi) hike through the forest is a worthy addition to your stop for a view of the lower falls. You can visit the falls year-round, but they’re most impressive in late spring.
A definite year-round favourite stop on the Icefields Parkway is Athabasca Falls. This roaring waterfall is incredibly powerful and can be viewed from several platforms and walkways. If the rumble of the Athabasca River is calling your name, visit from May-September and go whitewater rafting for a 360° view of the canyon!
Best Stops for Icefields Parkway: Hikes
Whether you’re spending an afternoon or a few days, there are lots of great hikes to check out. Here are some of our top picks for hiking along the Icefields Parkway.
Parker Ridge (5 km/3.1 mi)
This 2.5 hour round trip hike begins with a series of switchbacks. The trail then opens up to a view of the longest glacier in the Canadian Rockies, the Saskatchewan Glacier. This trail sees lots of snow, so it’s best to visit in the summer when the alpine wildflowers are blooming. If you’re making the trek in the fall or late spring, crampons are a must.
Helen Lake (12 km/7.5 mi)
Tucked in the mountains 33 km (20.5 mi) north of Lake Louise, Helen Lake is a picturesque valley lake surrounded by floral meadows. This hike is a local favourite, taking most people 4-5 hours to complete.
Wilcox Pass (8 km/5 mi)
Wilcox Pass is the perfect hike for your Icefields Parkway adventure. Located not far from the Icefields Discovery Centre, this 3-3.5 hour hike winds its way above the treeline for stunning views of the Athabasca Glacier. It’s known to be a hotspot for bighorn sheep too!
Chephren Lake (7 km/4.3 mi)
A relatively flat, but very muddy 7 km (4.3 mi) trail takes you to the foot of Chephren Lake. Be sure to wear waterproof boots and be dwarfed by the towering Mount Chephren and Howse Peak. This day hike usually takes about 3 hours and is a great option for a winter hike too.
Best Stops for Wildlife Viewing on Canada’s Icefields Parkway
Banff National Park and Lake Louise host hundreds of animals that call the Rockies home. In fact, the Banff-Lake Louise region boasts 53 mammals and 260 bird species! A drive along the Icefields Parkway is an amazing wildlife viewing opportunity. If you’re visiting Jasper National Park in the winter, try a winter wildlife tour!
If you are lucky enough to encounter wildlife in the parks, remember to never approach the animals. Even if you really want to capture that photo, keep your distance and stay in your vehicle if you’re on the road. You don’t want to be threatening because it goes without saying, wild animals are unpredictable.
Kerkeslin Goat Lick
The perfect way to complete an Icefields Parkway road trip is with mountain goats! The Kerkeslin Goat Lick is 38 km (23.6 mi) south of Jasper and is practically a guaranteed spot to see mountain goats. Goats gather here to lick a mineral-rich silt deposit that leads them away from their usual cliffside terrain.
Not only is Tangle Falls an impressive waterfall along the Icefields Parkway, but it’s also a hangout for bighorn sheep. As with most wildlife in Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper, you’ll have the best viewing opportunities in the off-season when the National Parks are less busy.
If you’re traveling north from Banff National Park to Jasper, one of your final stops should be at Maligne Lake. It’s a gorgeous mountain lake that is the perfect place to have a picnic and watch for the many animals that live nearby. Moose, bighorn sheep, bears, elk, and deer are all residents of the area.
Driving the Icefields Parkway in Winter
With unpredictable mountain weather in Alberta, Canada, driving the Icefields Parkway in winter requires preparation. It’s critical to check road conditions, dress warm, and have snow tires. Snow tires are required along the parkway from November 1 – April 1.
Even with the cold temperatures and mountains of snow, exploring the Canadian Icefields Parkway in winter still offers many fun activities. While some stops like the Columbia Icefield close for the winter, many viewpoints along the parkway are open year-round.
We visited in the winter and really loved seeing the Athabasca Falls and Sunwapta Falls with a snowy backdrop. For a full list of sites open in the winter, Parks Canada has a handy guide.
One thing that’s super important to remember is to fill up your gas tank in Banff National Park or Lake Louise.
Every gas station is closed along the Icefields Parkway in the winter. Be sure to check out Parks Canada’s Icefields Parkway Driving Guide for a detailed map of all the landmarks and trailheads along the highway.
Where to Stay Along the Icefields Parkway
There are plenty of seasonal opportunities for camping on the Icefields Parkway, as well as hotels, and hostels.
Summer is the ideal time to drive the Canadian Icefields Parkway because everything is open. There are several campgrounds for tents and RVs in Banff National Park, Lake Louise, and Jasper. Camping at Waterfowl Lakes Campground, 57 km (35 mi) north of Lake Louise, is a great launch point for some of the best hikes in the area. Similarly, Wilcox Creek is located close to the Icefields Discovery Centre, so it’s a convenient place to stay the night.
If you’re not looking to camp, the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge and Sunwapta Falls Resort are both excellent choices for a mountain escape. For the full experience, stay at the Glacier View Lodge and wake up to a stunning view of the Athabasca Glacier from your window.
Lodging options along the Canadian Icefields Parkway are fairly limited in the winter. For hardy winter campers, camping is permitted at the Wilcox Pass Trailhead but there are no facilities and no fires permitted. Your best bet would be to spend the night in the town of Jasper or Lake Louise on the other side. However, there are also a number of hostels along the parkway that are open year-round with a reservation, so there are options.
With roaring waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, and bright turquoise lakes, it’s no wonder that the Icefields Parkway is one of the best scenic drives in Canada. What may seem like a simple Banff to Jasper highway is actually an experience like no other. We are so happy that we took the time to discover this incredible road trip that reminded us how beautiful Canada really is!
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