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Parker Ridge Trail is one of the most popular day hikes along the Icefields Parkway largely due to its stunning view of the Saskatchewan Glacier. Another reason the trail is so favoured is because it delivers hikers up to the alpine zone in a short amount of time, with only a fraction of the effort it usually takes to reach such a high elevation.
While the highlight of the Parker Ridge hike is the Saskatchewan Glacier viewpoint, the trail to get there is just as enticing, offering near constant views of several prominent peaks. Since Parker Ridge Trail is at the north end of Banff National Park, hikers get to enjoy changing perspectives of Mt. Athabasca, Hilda Peak, Nigel Peak South (Nigel SE3), and Cirrus Mountain.
Parker Ridge Hike
Distance: 5 km- 6.5 km round trip (the longer option includes a short trail to a high point on the ridge)
Difficulty: Easy- moderate
Elevation Gain: 257 m- 304 m (the higher elevation is if you explore the side trail up the ridge)
Surface: Dirt with some exposed rock and areas of loose gravel
Trail Type: Out and back
Time: 2- 2.5 hours
Trailhead: Parker Ridge parking lot about 4 km south of the Banff-Jasper park boundary on the Icefields Parkway.
Parker Ridge Trail Description
The Parker Ridge hike begins from a pullout directly beside the Icefields Parkway. At the parking lot there is a board with some brief information and a map of the hike, but you’ll get a better introduction from the interpretive panels closer to the trailhead.
The hike to Parker Ridge starts by crossing a meadow and heading towards a treed area at the base of the ridge. To your right is Mt. Athabasca and Hilda Peak, which you’ll get to enjoy plenty of views of during this hike.
The trail soon enters into the trees then turns left and starts climbing a slope to Parker Ridge. Even though there are a lot of trees framing the path, distant mountains can be seen above the treetops.
After the first switchback the view begins to opens up as the trail transitions from the subalpine zone to the treeline zone. You’ll cross meadows that were created by snowslides and get to see some young trees growing among the shrubs.
As Parker Ridge Trail continues to switchback steadily upward through an open forest of alpine fir and Engelmann spruce, mountains can be seen in almost all directions.
Along the trail you’ll also notice several barriers and signs to discourage shortcutting straight up/down the hill instead of following the gradually ascending switchbacks. It’s important to stay on the designated trail to prevent erosion and damaging the delicate vegetation.
After some more time zigzagging up the hillside and through meadows, the trail eventually reaches the alpine zone. The plant life is sparse, but those that do manage to grow here are small in size and close to the ground.
Now that you’re above the treeline, there’s an enviable panorama of the surrounding mountains. You can even see the Icefields Parkway down below.
After the switchbacks, the trail straightens out for the final approach to Parker Ridge. At the top you’ll come to an unmarked intersection. Going right heads up to a high point on the ridge and going straight will take you to the Saskatchewan Glacier viewpoints.
If you decide to go right, follow the winding trail up the slope until you reach the top. From this flat point on the ridge you get a great view of Mt. Athabasca and Hilda Peak to the west, and Cirrus Mountain and the rest of Parker Ridge to the east.
You won’t be able to see the Saskatchewan Glacier from here, but there is a clear view of the peaks and waterfalls across the valley and some semi-circle rock forts that offer a bit of shelter from the wind.
Once you’re satisfied with your time at the “summit”, retrace your steps back down to Parker Ridge Trail. This time at the intersection go straight towards the valley so you can see the Saskatchewan Glacier. There are yellow trail markers indicating the way.
This final segment of the Parker Ridge hike is on a fairly flat, slightly descending trail that offers several spots for admiring the Saskatchewan Glacier. The Saskatchewan Glacier is the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River and largest outflow glacier from the Columbia Icefield, at approximately 13 km long (but retreating).
Even though Parker Ridge Trail leads away from the glacier, the views get better further up the path. A lot of people turn around at the first viewpoint, or even before that, but it’s worth it to go another 0.3 km to the second viewpoint.
While the second viewpoint is furthest from Saskatchewan Glacier, it offers a wider-ranging view of the North Saskatchewan River valley with the glacier at its upper limit.
The second viewpoint is also a quiet place to sit and enjoy views of Cirrus Mountain to the east.
The Saskatchewan Glacier viewpoint marks the end of the Parker Ridge hike. To return to the trailhead, follow the same path you came in on. The return hike is easy because it’s almost all downhill. Remember to stick to the main trail and don’t shortcut through the fragile terrain.
Review of the Parker Ridge Hike
Parker Ridge Trail is an excellent choice if you only have time for a short hike but don’t want to compromise on scenery. There are fantastic mountain views almost the entire hike and the beauty of Saskatchewan Glacier and its valley is an impressive payoff for the moderate amount of effort to get there.
Parker Ridge Trail is also great for beginner hikers who want to visit the alpine zone and experience summit views, but aren’t yet comfortable with longer, more difficult hikes on lesser trafficked trails.
As beautiful and enjoyable as the Parker Ridge hike is, there are a few things that some might consider to be downsides. One is that it gets a lot of traffic because it’s a well-known, easily accessible trail. Another is that being able to see (and hear) the Icefields Parkway reminds you that you’re not as far into the wilderness as the landscape suggests. However, this all depends on your perspective- what is undesirable for some people is a positive for others.
Overall though, Parker Ridge Trail could easily be considered one of the most satisfying, short day hikes in Banff National Park. It’s well worth doing if you want to get some exercise during a road trip on the Icefields Parkway.
Pictures of Parker Ridge Trail
Here are a few more pictures of the Parker Ridge hike.
Tips for Hiking Parker Ridge Trail
Location: Parker Ridge Trail is located at the north end of Banff National Park, about 4 km south of the Banff-Jasper park boundary. It’s approximately 8.5 km from the Columbia Icefield Centre, 112 km from the town of Jasper, 119 km from Lake Louise village, and 176 km from the town of Banff.
Getting to the Parker Ridge Trailhead: The trailhead is accessed from the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93). From Lake Louise, drive north on the parkway and from Jasper drive south. The Parker Ridge parking lot is on the south side of the highway in between the Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel and Big Bend Hill on the parkway.
Best Time to Hike Parker Ridge: Parker Ridge Trail is best hiked from mid-July until October (or whenever the first big snowfall happens). Since the trail is on a north facing slope, it can still be covered in snow in early July.
Facilities: There are outhouses in the parking lot at the trailhead.
Visitor Guidelines and Safety: This hike is in bear country so bring bear spray and know how to use it.
- Stick to the main trail to avoid trampling vegetation and causing excess erosion.
- Leave no trace by carrying out all your garbage.
Gear and What to Bring: Wear hiking shoes/boots or supportive runners with good grips. Hiking poles aren’t necessary but are nice to have for the descent if you want to take some stress off your knees.
- Dress in layers and bring rain gear because the weather can change quickly in the mountains. It also can be windy at the viewpoints on the ridge.
Nearby Hikes and Places to Visit
You may also enjoy these nearby trails and places to visit:
Accommodations in Banff National Park
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