THE DRIVE OF A LIFETIME – The Icefields Parkway
Unlike any other, the stretch of road from Jasper to Lake Louise known as the Icefields Parkway is dotted with more than 100 ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires, and emerald lakes set in sweeping valleys of thick pine and larch forests. The abundance of wildlife in Jasper National Park and Banff National Park will have you peering around every turn. So take your time, stop for a hike to a breath-taking view point, capture that stunning photo to share with friends and enjoy a roadside picnic amidst the splendour of the Canadian Rockies pristine wilderness.
Around every turn on the Icefields Parkway reveals the bounty of nature’s splendour; from the ancient glaciers at the Columbia Icefields to the mind-blowing colour of Peyto Lake, thundering waterfalls and viewpoints that extend for miles. The tough part will be choosing where to stop to take it all in.You can also visit www.icefieldsparkway.com for a full list of the best hikes, best places to stop for photos, travel tips, maps, and outstanding photos.
Points of Interest
Among the most breath-taking and powerful falls in the Canadian Rockies, the Athabasca Falls are located 30 kilometres south of Jasper town site. The falls are impressive for the volume and force of water, less for its height. The falls can be safely viewed and photographed from various viewing platforms and walking trails.
This class 6 waterfall is located south of the Jasper town site and has a drop of approximately 18 metres (60 feet). The falls are particularly impressive in the late spring and early summer when snow pack run off is high. The Sunwapta Falls are fed by the Athabasca Glacier.
Glacier Sky Walk
Glacier Sky Walk, opened in May 2014, is a unique experience that puts you on a glass-floored observation platform 280 metres (918 feet) over the Sunwapta Valley. The entire experience, offered by Brewster, starts with a walk along the Discovery Trail and costs $25 per adult. If you are not into heights, you can still view the Sunwapta Valley from a lookout point nearby.
Just as the name implies these glaciers or “fields of ice” straddle Banff National Park and Jasper National Park and are the largest south of the Arctic Circle. They are 325km2 in area and 100 to 365 metres (328 to 1,197 ft) in depth and receives up to seven metres (275 in) of snowfall per year. During the summer months visitors to the area can travel onto the glacier in the comfort of large “snowcoaches” or you can simply marvel at them from the roadside parking lot. The Columbia Icefield is also a major destination for ski mountaineering in the winter months. Visit the Columbia Icefield Centre and its natural history museum. A large three-dimensional model of the Columbia Icefield clearly shows its extent (100 square miles/259 square kilometers) and its three meltwater drainages (Arctic, Atlantic, Pacific). Other displays examine wildlife of the alpine zone and explain how glaciers form, grow, and retreat.
Parker Ridge in northern Banff National Park is a must do for those who want a bit of elevation to take in a multitude of mountain ranges and Saskatchewan Glacier (the longest). The hike is approximately two hours rising 250 metres (820 feet). Parks Canada has been closing the trail from late spring to early summer to preserve the landscape.
Big Hill & Big Bend
Aptly named, you will know when you arrive at the Big Hill and Big Bend. The famous hairpin turn called Big Bend wraps in a circle below towering peaks as you commence your climb up the Big Hill. If you choose to stop, please ensure that you are completely off the road.
A mountain that cries? Located at Cirrus Mountain, the Weeping Wall resembles a mountain with a river of tears. More than 100 metres high (330 feet) water cascades in a series of waterfalls. The main fall is called Teardrop.
Saskatchewan River Crossing
This is a significant location where three rivers meet; the mighty North Saskatchewan, the Howse and the Mistaya. The North Saskatchewan River rises in the Canadian Rockies and empties into Lake Winnipeg over 1,600 kilometres (1,025 miles) east across the country. “The Crossing” is a starting point for tours on the Columbia Icefield. It is also the only place for basic services including public bathrooms, gas station and a restaurant.
Peyto Lake & Bow Summit
The most popular glacier-fed lake, Peyto Lake is the also the most visited and photographed lake in the Canadian Rockies. During the summer, significant amounts of glacial rock flour flow into the lake, and these suspended rock particles give the lake a bright, turquoise colour. The lake is best seen from Bow Summit which is 2,088 metres (6,800 feet) above sea level. Bow Summit is the highest point on the drive from Banff to Jasper and is the highest elevation crossed by a public road in Canada.
The headwaters of the Bow River that runs south through the city Calgary and onto the Oldman River ultimately to Hudson Bay. The lake lines the Icefields Parkway and makes a perfect place to stop and view the Crowfoot Glacier (shaped like a crow’s foot), Wapta Icefield, Bow Glacier, Crowfoot Mountain and Mount Thompson.
The breathtaking stretch of road between Jasper and Lake Louise serves up many of the most rewarding travel experiences in the Canadian Rockies, many say; in the world. Visit www.icefieldsparkway.com for more information and travel tips.
The Icefields Parkway is 227 km of mountain road built almost parallel with the Continental Divide. That’s why they say a drive on the Parkway is like driving on the backbone of the North American continent. The Icefields Parkway, named after the Columbia Icefields, is also known as Highway 93. From the TransCanada (HWY #1) /Highway 93 interchange just outside of Lake Louise, the highway travels through Banff National Park for 122 kilometres. The rest of the Icefields Parkway traveling north, including the Columbia Icefield, is situated in Jasper National Park, Alberta.
Highway 93 is a north south route that travels through the western Unites States, into eastern Canadian Rockies of British Columbia, traverses the Continental Divide and ends in Jasper, Alberta. But did you know that Highway 93 boasts the Icefields Parkway but also shares its route with famous tourist destinations in the United States such as the Hoover Dam and Freemont Street in Las Vegas?