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Why Travel the Icefields Parkway?

See a 224 kilometre stretch (3 hours each way) of the most beautiful part of the Rocky  Mountains that climb a kilometre above the parkway on both sides of this narrow valley. See the massive Columbia Icefields and another 100 smaller glaciers along the way, and witness the impact of climate change over the past 100 years.

 

This route starts in Lake Louise, though folks may be coming from Banff, Lake Louise, Canmore, or even Calgary before hitting this starting point. The TCH route segments to the east are Lake Louise to Calgary and to the west Lake Louise to Revelstoke.

Before going: Fuel Up in Jasper or in Lake Louise before starting out on the Icefields Parkway. There is one gas station at the Saskatchewan River Crossing Resort (about halfway, but prices are typically higher, and the pumps may be lined up.

TIP: Plan your bathroom breaks, Most viewpoints along the Icefields Parkway offer a pull-out area or parking lot with outhouse facilities for men and women. The only facilities with running water are at the Icefields Centre and Saskatchewan River Crossing Resort.

TIP:  There is no cell phone reception along the Icefields Parkway. Banff National Park and Jasper National Park wilderness areas do not have cell phone towers. Turn off your device and enjoy the views

Highway #93 connects Lake Louise and Jasper, and visitors should allow one day to travel one-way/ And the way back is not any faster, since you enjoy the same spectacular view from the opposite direction.

What you can expect to see (Highlights)

The Icefields Parkway takes you up one valley in the middle of the Rockies, with stunning mountain peaks and ridges on both sides of the roadway, and the parkway takes you through three different valleys: the Bow, the North Saskatchewan, and the Athabasca, and up several stunning summits between them.

Lake Louise has three areas worth visiting: the townsite (where the Icefields Visitor Centre is), the Ski Resort on the east side of the valley, and the  Lake itself  up the road from the townsite. During COVID the parking at the Lake is very limited and shuttle buses from the town or the overflow parking are even more limited, and even more so if you want to visit Moraine Lake. There are several  great hikes (of varying difficulty) from the Lake

Heading north from Lake Louise, your first must-see spot is Bow Lake right beside the highway, with several peaks and glaciers on the opposite side of the lake. This lake is the source of the Bow River that flows through Calgary.

The road then climbs up Bow Summit and on the left is a parking lot and viewpoint overlooking Peyto Lake, one of the most photographed lakes in the Rockies.

Head further north to Saskatchewan River Crossing, where you can get gas and flush toilets.  This is a wide valley where four rivers meet and flow east through a gap in the mountains toward Rocky Mountain House and beyond to Hudson’s Bay.

As you continue north you pass the Weeping Wall, with a bunch of waterfalls (some dropping over 100 metres) along a sheer cliff face, before coming up to the imposing Big Hill and Big Bend where the roadway zigs and sags up a steep 200 metre hill, and there is parking along the northbound (south-facing side) at the top where you have stunning views of the road you just drove up on.

At the top you pass Bridal Veil Falls (stop at the viewpoint) and on the left is Parker Ridge which is north-facing and snow covered for much of the year. The road continues to climb up Sunwapta Pass (elevation 2080m) and you begin the approach to the Columbia Icefields. You are now in Jasper National Park.

The Columbia Icefields are the largest south of the Arctic Circle and are 325 square kilometres in area, and in places a mile thick. From the parking lot you can hike toward the glacier across the gravel beds that used to be the bottom of the glacier. Signs mark the end-point of the glacier in different prior years, marking the pace at which the glacier is receding. You can take a Snow Coach tour  up the glacier (which is saver than walking up, having to navigate the dangerous and often deep crevasses) and you book them at the Visitors Centre 2 km north on the highway, which has impressive exhibits about the glaciers.

The high peak to the north and west of the icefield is Mount Columbia (3,747 m, 12,293 ft). The Snow Dome of the icefield rises to  (3,456 m, 11,339 ft) and water from here flows  into three different watersheds, into the Pacific Ocean, Arctic Ocean, and Atlantic Ocean via Hudson Bay.

Five kilometres past the Visitor Centre is the Glacier Skywalk, a glass-floored horseshoe-shaped cantilevered overhang that has impressive views up and down the valley and across to the Icefields (Admission $$)

This section of the highway has a higher elevation and has more glaciers along the way, and along the east side of the highway you pass the Endless Chain, a series of peaks  that form a continuous ridge over a 1000m  above the parkway, that continues for sixteen kilometres.

Then you pass Sunwapta Falls, where the Sunwapta River drips 19 metres (60 ft)  and 25 kilometres further you pass Athabasca Falls where the Athabasca River (after the Sunwapta has joined it)  drops 24 metres and narrows into a gorge with a very high flow rate. Both have great trails with photo viewpoints.

You will pass Mount Edith Cavell on the west side, with an impressive trail and glacier. Then you pass the Jasper Tram, which is worth the trip up, fr its trails at the top, views overlooking the Jasper townsite and the wide valley in which it sits, and to the northwest you see Mount Robson (3954 m 12972 ft) the highest peak in the Rockies.

TIP: You might choose to go up the Tram on your route back, after having visited Jasper, and having some local familiarity of what you are seeing from up high.

The town of Jasper is a delight with a small pedestrian-friendly  “downtown”  beside the railway line and train station. Jasper feels much less “touristy” than Banff or Lake Louise to the south. Maligne Lake and  Maligne Canyon are popular photographer’s destinations, just south of town.

History

The Canadian Pacific Railway was completed across Canada in 1885, and the government of Canada created Banff National Park. This was followed by the creation of Jasper National Park in 1907 and in 1911 the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway reached Jasper. Tourism extended into the more remote areas of the parks, away from the railways, mostly by horseback an on foot.

During the Great Depression, to create employment the Government of Canada decided to transform what was then known as the “Wonder Trail” into a single-lane gravel road. Construction began in 1931, clearing and building new road that would make the famous mountain path accessible to everyone. It took 600 men and nearly 10 years to complete the project.

During World War II, allied soldiers used the area to train for combat. By the 1950s, more drivers discovered the Icefields Parkway’s dizzying cliffs and breathtaking scenery, and tourism began to take off.

By 1961, the new paved and realigned modern Icefields Parkway officially opened. In 1969, Brewster took over operating the snowmobile tours on the Athabasca Glacier.

Icefield Parkway (Highway 93) Route Map

NOTE:

Distance (km) Location

Major | minor

Description
0 Lake Louise town Visitor information centre for Banff, Jasper, Icefields. Shopping, accommodation, dining, gas, washrooms.
1 Junction Highway #1 TCH and Highway 93 Just west of Lake Louise exit: parkway 93 north and highway #1 west to Field, Golden (see detour note for 2021-2022)
2 Herbert Lake Picnic, bathrooms, west side of highway
3 Hector Lake Hiking trail, viewpoint, on west side of highway
27 Mosquito Creek Mosquito Creek Campground for tents & RVs (up to 25 ft) open early-June to mid-Oct.
Mosquito Creek Hostel (open year-round) west side of parkway.
Molar Pass hiking trail, east side of parkway
36 Crowfoot Glacier Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint, west side of parkway.
Helen Lake and Dolomite Pass hiking trail, east side of parkway
37 Bow Lake Bow Lake is the headwaters of the Bow River that runs south and east to Calgary, and eventually into Hudson’s Bay. Above the lake see the Crowfoot Glacier (shaped like a crow’s foot), Wapta Icefield, and Bow Glacier. Hiking, viewpoint, picnic.
40 Bow Glacier, Bow Glacier Falls Above Bow Lake are Crowfoot Glacier (shaped like a crow’s foot), Wapta Icefield, Bow Glacier. Hiking, viewpoint, bathrooms.
Num-Ti-Jah Lodge. Accommodation, dining, phone.
44 Peyto Lake At Bow Summit (2088m or 6800ft) the highest point of this route, you can see the most photographed lake in the Rockies. Hiking, viewpoint, bathrooms. On west side of parkway
60 Waterfowl Lakes Waterfowl Lakes Campground (west side of highway): Tents, RVs (up to 25 ft). Open mid-June to early September.
Silverhorn Creek campground (east side of highway) for tents & RVs. Open mid-June to late September
74 Mistaya Canyon Hiking trail
79 Howse Pass Viewpoint, picnic area
80 Saskatchewan River Crossing Three rivers meet; the Howse and the Mistaya join the North Saskatchewan, which heads east via Edmonton to Winnipeg. Gas station, restaurant.

Junction Highway #11 David Thompson Highway, east to Rocky Mountain House, Red Deer.

81 Glacier Creek Hiking trail, west side of parkway
91 Rampart Creek Rampart Creek Hostel (year-round), Rampart Creek camping (tent & RV up to 25 ft) (early June to mid-Oct). West side of parkway
96 Sunset Pass, Sunset Lookout Hiking trail
102 Coleman Creek Picnic, bathrooms. West side of parkway
109 Weeping wall The wall, on one face of Cirrus Mountain has many waterfalls, more than 100 metres (330ft) high
115 Big Hill & Big Bend The Big Bend is the famous hairpin turn that wraps in an arc surrounded by towering peaks. From the top of the Big Hill, you have a great view south. The parking is best accessed by those travelling north bound
120 Bridal Veil Falls Viewpoint.
120 Parker Ridge A great view from the road, and a 2-hour hike rises 250 metres (820 feet), but the trail is closed from late spring to early summer
117 Nigel Pass Hiking trail
122 Hilda Creek Hostel  
125 Sunwapta Pass Elevation 2030m. Boundary between Jasper & Banff Parks
127 Wilcox Pass Hiking trail, bathrooms, east side of highway. Wilcox Pass Campground (*tents & RV, up to 25 ft).
128 Columbia Icefield Icefields straddle Banff National Park and Jasper National Park and are the largest south of the Arctic Circle (325km2 in area) and the ice varies in depth from 100 to 365 metres (328 to 1,197 ft). The mountains here receive seven metres (275 in) of snowfall per year.

Snowcats offer tours up the icefields for $$

130 Icefield Centre Pars Canada facility & visitor centre is open mid-April to mid-October. Dining, phone, picnic, washrooms.
Icefield RV, Glacier View Inn, Icefield tent campground (June to mid-Oct)
135 Glacier Skywalk Glacier Sky Walk, opened in 2014, offers a class-bottomed walkway & platform that is 280 metres (918 feet) above the valley floor. Admission is $25 per adult.
137 Tangle Falls Viewpoint, bathrooms. (lots of sheep)
139 Stutfield Glacier Viewpoint, bathrooms
146 Beauty Creek Hiking trail, east side of highway
148 Beauty Creek Hostel Bathrooms, phone
149 Mushroom and Diadem Peaks Viewpoint
156 Jonas Campground Tent & RV camping (open mid-May to late Sept)
161 Poboktan Creek Hiking trail, phone
161-176 Endless Chain Ridge This ridge, on the east side of the highway, is a 16 km long mountain ridge, averaging 2867 metres elevation (rising a kilometre or more above the parkway)
177 Sunwapta Falls The Sunwapta River drops about 18 metres (60 feet) and are most impressive during spring run-off. On west side of parkway
179 Sunwapta Falls Resort (mid-May to mid-Oct.)
     
196 Goats & Glaciers Viewpoint & Bathrooms
199 Kerkeslin campground (max RV length 25 ft)
200 Athabasca Falls 20 km south of the town of Jasper, these falls (on west side of the parkway) compress the full width and waters of the Athabasca River into a narrow chasm. Great access and views from fenced walking trails. Bathrooms, picnic grounds, viewpoints.
South access to Highway 93A to Mount Edith Cavell.
201 Athabasca Falls Hostel  
208 Athabasca Pass Lookout  
219 Mount Edith Cavell This mountain is named for a WWI nurse and rises 3300 metre (10,830 feet). There is a 14 km road (93A) that takes you close to the mountain’s north face and Angel Glacier.

Wabasso Lake hiking trail

224 Valley of the Five Lakes Hiking trail
229 Wapiti Campground (open summer and winter)
231 Jasper Skytram Open in summer & winter, gives great view from the top of Mount Whistler, with stunning views of Jasper Valley and Mount Robson’s triangular peak 75 km to the northwest. Jasper International Hostel, Whistlers Campground
233 Jasper Townsite Hotels, B&Bs, dining, shopping, gas, telephone, RCMP
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