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The Icefields Parkway is one of the world’s most scenic drives, offering up everything from ancient glaciers and turquoise lakes to mountain-framed valleys and raging waterfalls.
If there ever was a road trip that is more about the journey than the destination, it is the Icefields Parkway drive. In only 233 kilometres, you’ll experience what feels like an endless amount of stunning natural wonders as you drive the Icefields Parkway through the heart of Banff and Jasper national parks.
Driving the Icefields Parkway- Planning Your Trip
The Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) links the village of Lake Louise in Banff National Park with the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park, passing by the Columbia Icefield on the way.
The route is best driven in the summer, since winter brings treacherous conditions and occasional road closures. Also, most services and accommodations on the Icefields Parkway aren’t open in the winter.
When driving the Icefields Parkway, you’ll discover opportunities for hiking, short nature walks, picnicking, camping, and taking pictures at viewpoints.
With so many incredible stops along the Icefields Parkway, it can be hard to decide whether to drive it all in one full day (one way), or take your time and turn it into a multi-day excursion. Both options are enjoyable, but each offers a different experience.
If you drive the Icefields Parkway in one day, you’ll be able to visit several viewpoints and waterfalls, as well as have time for a short walk or two.
If you want to experience more than just the Icefields Parkway highlights, consider spending two or three days on the Icefields Parkway. You can stay at campgrounds on route or base out of one of the hotels or hostels along the road (there are only a few). When you give yourself a few days for the Icefields Parkway road trip, you’ll have time to enjoy several hikes in addition to sightseeing.
No matter what option you choose, driving the Icefields Parkway is sure to be a memorable experience.
Icefields Parkway Stops- Places to See and Things to Do on the Icefields Parkway
Sightseers and outdoor adventurers will find plenty of places to visit and things to do on the Icefields Parkway. From waterfalls and lakeside picnic sites to hiking trails and scenic viewpoints, here are some of the best stops on the Icefields Parkway, starting at Lake Louise and ending in Jasper.
6 km from Lake Louise, 227 km from Jasper
Herbert Lake is a great first stop on the Icefields Parkway, especially for photographers who will appreciate the panoramic views of Mount Niblock reflecting off the still water.
Here you can enjoy your breakfast and morning coffee at one of the forested picnic sites or simply admire the view from the shoreline.
36 km from Lake Louise, 197 km from Jasper
The Crowfoot Glacier viewpoint is a pullout along the highway where you can gaze across the southeast end of Bow Lake at what used to be a “three-toed” glacier resembling a crow’s foot.
Unfortunately, since the glacier was named a century ago, one toe has melted and the middle one is slowly disappearing. Regardless, this viewpoint still offers great views of the remaining ice and the 3,055 m tall Crowfoot Mountain.
37 km from Lake Louise, 196 km from Jasper
Viewpoint, picnic site, hiking trails
Bow Lake is one of the best Icefields Parkway stops thanks to its magnificent scenery, shoreside picnic sites, and surrounding hiking trails.
This beautiful blue lake collects meltwater from the Bow Glacier in the Wapta Icefield and is bordered by several prominent peaks including Mount Jimmy Simpson, Mount Thompson, and Crowfoot Mountain. When the water is calm, there are some lovely reflections.
At the Bow Lake Day Use Area you can enjoy a picnic beside the lake or maybe even launch your kayak or canoe from the pebbly beach for a scenic paddle.
A little further up the road at Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, you can walk along the lakeshore trail, perhaps even going as far as Bow Glacier Falls (about 4.7 km one way).
Some more advanced hikes and scrambles that depart from the Bow Lake area are to Bow Hut and the Onion, Mount Jimmy Simpson, and Helen Lake and Cirque Peak.
Peyto Lake and Bow Summit
43 km from Lake Louise, 190 km from Jasper
Viewpoint, hiking trails
Another must see on the Icefields Parkway is Peyto Lake at Bow Summit.
This incredibly striking lake has milky turquoise water and is shaped like a fox’s head at one end. Adding to the lake’s allure is the mountain-framed valley in which it’s situated, nestled between Cauldron Peak, Peyto Peak, and Mount Jimmy Simpson.
Peyto Lake is one of the most popular attractions on the Icefields Parkway, so it can get crowded at the viewing deck that overlooks the lake. For a quieter space to admire the views, consider hiking up to the Bow Summit Lookout (about 3.1 km one way), or down to the south shore of the lake (about 2.8 km one way, but very steep).
74 km from Lake Louise, 159 km from Jasper
Just a short downhill walk from the Icefields Parkway is Mistaya Canyon, a scenic limestone slot canyon carved by the Mistaya River.
Spanning the canyon is a bridge where you can look down at the rushing water and eroded rock walls. Beyond the bridge there’s a trail that heads upstream towards Mt. Sarbach. The flat rocks just before the river plunges into the canyon is a great spot to sit and enjoy the scenery before continuing your Icefields Parkway drive.
Panther Falls and Bridal Veil Falls
120 km from Lake Louise, 117 km from Jasper
Viewpoint, scenic walk
If you love waterfalls you won’t want to miss stopping at the large pullout at the top of Big Bend Hill. From the parking lot you can see Bridal Veil Falls flowing down a distant mountainside, but the real treat comes after a short walk through the forest when you’ll reach Panther Falls.
Panther Falls is one of the most powerful waterfalls on the Icefields Parkway. Here the water of Nigel Creek forcefully pushes through a small opening in the rockface then crashes down the cliffside into a valley, sending a spray of water onto the trail. Prepare to get wet!
121 km from Lake Louise, 112 km from Jasper
Now that you’re halfway through the Icefields Parkway drive, it’s a good time to stretch your legs with a short hike to Parker Ridge.
The Parker Ridge hike is popular because it offers wonderful views of several notable mountains along the Icefields Parkway as it zigzags up to a lookout point across from the Saskatchewan Glacier.
If you only have time for one hike during your Icefields Parkway road trip, then this is a great one to choose because it only takes about 2 hours.
127 km from Lake Louise, 106 km from Jasper
One of the best hikes on the Icefields Parkway is the hike to Wilcox Viewpoint via Wilcox Pass Trail.
As you hike through pretty alpine meadows, you’ll have incredible panoramic views of glacier-covered peaks in the Columbia Icefield. Once you reach Wilcox Viewpoint you’ll be directly across from the Athabasca Glacier. This is a far more pleasant spot to admire the glacier than the touristy Columbia Icefield Centre below.
If you don’t want to hike all the way to the main viewpoint, there’s a set of Parks Canada’s iconic red chairs less than 2 km up the trail where you also get a nice view of Athabasca Glacier.
For the full hike to Wilcox Viewpoint, you should allow about 4 hours or more.
Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefield Centre
130 km from Lake Louise, 103 km from Jasper
Viewpoint, information centre
The most famous (and popular) attraction on the Icefields Parkway is the Athabasca Glacier.
The glacier can be viewed from across the road at the Columbia Icefield Centre, or closer up at the Toe of the Glacier Trail and Forefield Trail.
At the Columbia Icefield Centre you can get some tourist information and have a bite to eat in the restaurant. This is also the staging area for tours on the Ice Explorer buses that drive onto the glacier, as well as excursions to the Columbia Icefield Skywalk, a glass-bottomed walkway over the Sunwapta Valley. Both these experiences are quite expensive for what they offer, so if you decide not to do them you won’t be missing out on much.
137 km from Lake Louise, 96 km from Jasper
Now that you’re in Jasper National Park, there will be a string of beautiful waterfalls to stop at while driving the Icefields Parkway, the first of which is Tangle Falls.
This pretty, 45 m tall cascading waterfall can be seen right from the highway, but there also is a parking lot across the road if you want to stop and walk over to the falls for a closer look.
139 km from Lake Louise, 94 km from Jasper
The Stutfield Glacier viewpoint is worth a quick photo stop, even though it’s not one of the top things to see on the Icefields Parkway. From this roadside pullout you can gaze across the Sunwapta River’s wide valley to the Stutfield Glacier flowing down from Stutfield Peak.
Beauty Creek and Stanley Falls
146 km from Lake Louise, 87 km from Jasper
Beauty Creek and Stanley Falls is a hidden gem on the Icefields Parkway that most people drive past without a second thought.
From the pullout the area doesn’t look very interesting, but there’s an enjoyable hiking trail that follows the creek to a rocky gorge in the forest. There are several cataracts on Beauty Creek you can see from the top of the canyon, but the highlight is Stanley Falls at the end of the trail.
If you want to do this hike, allow at least an hour.
179 km from Lake Louise, 54 km from Jasper
Viewpoint, picnic area, hike
Sunwapta Falls is not to be missed when driving the Icefields Parkway, as it’s one of the most beautiful and photogenic waterfalls in Jasper National Park.
Most people only visit the main viewpoint at Upper Sunwapta Falls, since that’s the most famous tier of this stepping waterfall, but Lower Sunwapta falls is just a short, easy hike away and offers a more peaceful viewing experience.
Allow about an hour to complete the round trip hike to Lower Sunwapta Falls.
203 km from Lake Louise, 30 km from Jasper
Viewpoint, scenic walk
Athabasca Falls is a major attraction on the Icefields Parkway, and while the crowds can be frustrating, it is absolutely worth visiting.
This relatively short but mighty waterfall on the Athabasca River roars over a cliff into a limestone canyon that has been beautifully carved from centuries of swirling, rushing water.
There are several vantage points to admire the falls from, including a bridge that crosses over the gorge. There’s even a trail that goes between two walls of rock as it descends to the river at the lower end of the canyon.
Valley of the Five Lakes
224 km from Lake Louise, 9 km from Jasper
A nice way to conclude your Icefields Parkway drive is by hiking the Valley of the Five Lakes.
This is one of the most popular hikes in Jasper since it visits five beautiful blue-green lakes on the floor of the Athabasca Valley. There’s a short loop and a long loop, but most people do the short loop since it still goes by all five lakes.
The short loop hike can be completed in 2 hours or less.
Review of the Icefields Parkway Drive
With so many stunning stops along the Icefields Parkway, and some of the best views in the Canadian Rockies, there’s no doubt that this is a bucket list worthy road trip.
While driving the Icefields Parkway, you can see spectacular scenery without ever leaving your car, from roadside waterfalls to glaciated peaks. However, the best moments and memories are made at stops along the way, whether it’s a short walk to a canyon, a lakeside picnic, or hike up to a glacier viewpoint.
The Icefields Parkway drive is so enchanting that it’ll keep you coming back for more. One trip is never enough to discover all the natural wonders along the Icefields Parkway.
Tips for Driving the Icefields Parkway
Park Pass: You will need to purchase a park pass to drive the Icefields Parkway, since it goes through two national parks. You can buy one at the entrances to Banff and Jasper national parks, as well as at the two booths on the Icefields Parkway (just outside of Lake Louise and the Jasper townsite).
- A daily fee is charged per person (not per vehicle), so you will need to know in advance how long you will be spending in Banff and Jasper national parks. It may work out to be cheaper to buy the Parks Canada Discovery Pass, which is valid for a year and can be used at any Parks Canada site.
Services on the Icefields Parkway: It’s best to start this road trip with a full tank of gas since there is only one gas station on the Icefields Parkway (at Saskatchewan Crossing, which is 80 km from Lake Louise and 153 km from Jasper). Prices are usually higher here than in Lake Louise or Jasper.
- There is no cell reception along most of the Icefields Parkway. Service is better closer to Lake Louise and Jasper, but can still be spotty in places.
- Restaurants on the Icefields Parkway can be found at Num-Ti-Jah-Lodge (at Bow Lake), The Crossing Resort (at Saskatchewan Crossing), the Columbia Icefield Centre, and Sunwapta Falls Resort. These restaurants are only open seasonally, typically from mid-spring to early fall, but each varies.
- Out houses/pit toilets can be found at most marked pullouts, picnic sites, and trailheads.
Accommodations on the Icefields Parkway: There are a few hotels along the Icefields Parkway that are open during the main tourist season (mid-spring to early fall), and some hostels that are open year round. You can find accommodations at Mosquito Creek Hostel, Num-Ti-Jah-Lodge, The Crossing Resort, Rampart Creek Hostel, Hilda Creek Hostel, Glacier View Lodge, Beauty Creek Hostel, Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge, and Athabasca Falls Hostel.
- It’s recommended to book your accommodations on the Icefields Parkway well in advance, especially if visiting in July and August.
Campgrounds on the Icefields Parkway: There are several seasonal campgrounds on the Icefields Parkway suitable for both RVs and tents. Campsites can be found at Mosquito Creek, Silverhorn Creek, Waterfowl Lakes, Rampart Creek, Wilcox, the Icefield Centre, Jonas, Honeymoon Lake, Kerkeslin, Wabasoo, Wapiti, and Whistlers.
Wildlife: Be alert for wildlife on roads and hiking trails. Educate yourself on what to do if you encounter wildlife and always keep a safe distance. Make sure you bring bear spray if you will be doing hikes on your Icefields Parkway road trip.
Driving the Icefields Parkway in Winter: If you plan to drive the Icefields Parkway in winter, be prepared for icy conditions and extreme weather. Pack extra clothing, food, and check road reports before heading out. Parts of the Icefields Parkway can be closed to traffic if conditions are bad or there’s a high risk of avalanches.
Which Direction to Drive the Icefields Parkway for the Best Views: There are fantastic views no matter if you drive the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Lake Louise or Lake Louise to Jasper. A slight edge could be given to the Jasper- Lake Louise route because there’s a better view of the Columbia Icefield glaciers (they’ll be on the same side of the road as you’re driving).
Icefields Parkway Driving Guide: For a map of the places to stop along the Icefields Parkway, download Parks Canada’s Icefields Parkway Driving Guide here.
You may also enjoy these other things to do near the Icefields Parkway:
- Lake Agnes Tea House Hike- Lake Louise, Banff National Park
- Big Beehive Hike- Lake Louise, Banff National Park
- Kayaking Moraine Lake- Banff National Park
- MT. EDITH CAVELL HIKES, Jasper National Park- PATH OF THE GLACIER TRAIL AND CAVELL MEADOWS
- Kayaking Lac Beauvert- Jasper National Park
Accommodations in Banff and Jasper National Parks
For your convenience, here is a list of HOTELS IN BANFF NATIONAL PARK and HOTELS IN JASPER NATIONAL PARK. Please consider booking your Banff and Jasper accommodations through the included link. It costs nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!
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