7 tips for driving the Icefields Parkway during winter

7 tips for driving the Icefields Parkway during winter

The Icefields Parkway that winds through Alberta’s scenic Rocky Mountains is considered one of Canada’s most epic road trips for good reason. Linking Lake Louise and Jasper, the three hour drive hugs steep cliff faces, curves around lakes and twists through glaciers, rewarding travellers with epic views every step of the way.


But the payoff doesn’t come easy, especially for those navigating the highway during winter. In fact, many people avoid Highway 93 that time of year, preferring to take the long way around rather than tackle the unplowed highway which is frequently blanketed in fluffy white snow and rife with avalanche warnings.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t attempt the trip in snowy months—it simply comes down to being prepared (or, just book a tour!) Here are seven tips for tackling the Icefields Parkway drive during winter.


1) Expect the unexpected

The Icefields Parkway is pretty much the last place on earth you want to get stuck during the winter. Infrequently travelled, large snow drifts, freezing temperatures, no cell service…you get the picture.

And despite the best intentions, sometimes the worst case scenario happens and you can spin off into a ditch, get a flat tire or have an unfortunate collision with a large animal (more on that later).

jasper alberta icefields parkway
With all that in mind, it’s critical to pack an emergency kit. I’ll leave it to you to Google what that entails (or you can simply pick up a roadside kit like this one from AAA), but at the very least you’ll want thick blankets, a shovel, candles, matches, a knife and flares. Oh, and food. So. Much. Food. Sure it’s only a few hours of driving, but if you end up unexpectedly spending 24 hours stranded in the Rocky Mountains, that leftover sandwich you brought along won’t last long.

It’s also important to bring along extra windshield washer fluid (the kind that doesn’t freeze in the winter—this is Canada, people!) and have lots of warm winter clothes on hand.

jasper alberta icefields parkway

2) Check the Icefields Parkway road report

Fun fact: the quick drive along the Icefields Parkway can quickly spiral into an hours-long ordeal if you’re unfortunate enough to head straight into a blizzard. That happened to a taxi driver I met in Jasper, who said he spun out right as a storm hit and spent the next 14 hours in a ditch before any emergency vehicles were able to get close enough to pull him out.

Or take my experience. I was enjoying my solo road trip, happily snapping selfies in front of pristine mountain backdrops before being stopped dead in my tracks about an hour from Jasper by this:

jasper alberta icefields parkway
Yes, that truck was blocking the entire highway, because an avalanche had hit near Athabasca Falls. No one could get through, meaning a five hour detour in the opposite direction. That was still better than the alternative of waiting 26 hours, which is how long it ended up taking crews to clear the road.

Since there’s no cell service it’s pretty much impossible to monitor conditions up to the minute, so it’s worth checking the Icefields Parkway road report before heading out. Both the AMA and Alberta government list road conditions on their websites, and Parks Canada also updates hotels in Jasper and Lake Louise if there are any known issues.

RELATED: Fun winter activities to enjoy in Jasper, Alberta

jasper alberta icefields parkway


3) Allow extra travel time

Remember my story about being diverted for five hours? Yeah, so you might want to add a few hours of padding onto your expected travel time, just in case you run into some trouble along the way. But it’s not only a cautionary measure—the Icefields Parkway is gorgeous!

RELATED: Scenic stops: What to see along the Icefields Parkway, Canada

jasper alberta icefields parkway
It’s safe to assume you’ll want to pull over at every single roadside stop along the way, as each one presents another stunning vista of a snow-covered lake, spectacular mountain range, or forest of trees dusted with snow like icing sugar.

Building in a few extra hours of time to your Icefields Parkway itinerary means an opportunity to snap some snowy selfies without worrying about the clock.

jasper alberta icefields parkway

4) Use caution when pulling over

Speaking of pulling over, make sure you’re smart about it so you don’t up spending half your day digging yourself out of a deep ditch. There are so many rest stops and lookout points along the way that there’s rarely a reason you should have to stop on the shoulder.

If you do pull off in an unmarked area, be careful not to get too close to the edge of the road where the ditch begins, and when possible stop on a flat surface. You’ll also note there are many signs advising of avalanches (especially near the Columbia Icefield), so don’t stop until you’re through to get avoid getting caught in a slide.

jasper alberta icefields parkway

5) Put on those winter tires

This is a biggie. Repeat after me: “I will not drive the Icefields Parkway without winter tires. I will not drive the Icefields Parkway without winter tires. I will not drive…” OK I think you’ve got it. But seriously, don’t attempt this road trip if your vehicle isn’t in tip top shape, and equipped with a set of winter tires (did I mention that yet?).

Not only are they important for safety, but National Parks Highway Traffic Regulations state that it’s mandatory to have winter tires when driving on the highway between November 1 and March 31 when there is snow or ice on the roadway. When it comes to road conditions on the Icefields Parkway, you can’t mess around.

jasper alberta icefields parkway
The Icefields Parkway is not regularly maintained during the winter, meaning you might face some serious snowdrifts or black ice as you navigate narrow, slick roadways while peering over the edge of a steep cliff. Driving a truck or SUV is preferable, so you’ve got some serious horsepower in the event you find yourself trying to get out of a ditch.


6) Fuel up

There are essentially no services around, so ensuring you’re fully gassed up before leaving Lake Louise or Jasper is crucial. Plus, who wants to spend time searching for a gas station when you could be enjoying the view?

jasper alberta icefields parkway

7) Watch out for wildlife

Finally, the very reason you’re driving the parkway can also be the biggest hazard: the amazing wildlife. The highway is frequented by the likes of caribou, elk, bighorn sheep and wolves, which are amazing to look at but a devastating problem if you end up hitting one.

Wildlife are typically more active around dawn or dusk, which makes it even more important to abide to the speed limit and use your headlights. If possible, slow down when you’re navigating a curve with little visibility, as Murphy’s Law states this is where a herd of elk will be licking the salty roads.

jasper alberta icefields parkway

OK…so that all might have sounded a bit scary, but hopefully that doesn’t put you off from enjoying the Icefields Parkway in winter. Just keep this driving guide in mind along with some common sense, and there’s no question you’ll enjoy one of the most scenic road trips in the entire world!

The best Icefields Parkway hotels:

Icefields Parkway map:


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48 thoughts on “7 tips for driving the Icefields Parkway during winter”

  1. Pingback: Fun winter activities to enjoy in Jasper, Alberta

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  3. I really want to visit this region for 2017, but winter time sounds too unpredictable for me – I think summer would be amazing even though I’m sure the crowds also come in to visit during this peak time frame?

  4. Great tips. There is big difference in driving in the snow and driving on theice. The snow isn’t too bad but when the sun goes down or early morning those black ice patches show up and those can be pretty bad.

  5. Great tips and I would haven’t thought about watching where I was pulling over. Ending up in a ditch would be no fun! I does look like a beautiful drive if you plan enough time and are prepared.

  6. Being from tropical region driving in these snow covered tracks look scary. Yet we once drove a similar path near Delphi, Greece. We had hired the car from Athens and we didn’t have snow chains, the only alternative was to drive slowly. Your post is an eye opener to me.

  7. We live in a tropical climate and these are things we just don’t deal with often, so great to hear your tips! It sounds like there’s a lot to worry about when driving in snow, but it looks well worth it to see the beautiful scenery of the Icefields Parkway!

  8. Hi Tamara,
    Love your posts… we are travelling to Canada again (from Australia) in a few weeks and are looking to hire a motorhome (RV) from Calgary, to Edmonton, to Jasper, to Lake Louise, to Banff and back to Calgary. We were in Banff / Lake Louise in February 15 with a hire car and did some of the Icefields Parkway (and have also been in summer too). My questions is…. do you think we will be okay to travel with the hire RV from Jasper to Lake Louise along the Parkway?

    1. Hmm, I think it would depend on how big the RV is. When I did it in January there was a ton of snow on the highway, and I drove a truck with winter tires which made it manageable. You might get lucky and the roads will be totally clear, but if it happens to be really snowy it might be tough to get through with a big RV. If you have a smaller one with good tires on it you might be OK- hope that helps! Have a fantastic trip!

  9. Some really great tips. Especially for a Californian like me. To be honest wouldn’t have thought about winter tires since I forgot they existed. Hope I get a chance to explore the Icefields one of these days.

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  12. Me and my girlfriend where taking a birthday trip for me from Banff to Jasper (we live in Calgary). I am very experienced in winter driving living in Calgary for 23 years. When we got to the Icefield parkway the turn off comes very quickly, we got down to about 10km and even slower when making the turn. We ended up hitting pure ice in an SUV with 4×4 and snow tires and ended up backwards front wheels in the air hovering over the pond below right there you turn off in to the vantage point of the ice fields! Luckily a 3/4 ton truck drove by and helped us out of the ditch, scariest experience of my life going so slow but have no control on pure ice… be extremely careful on these roads people in the winter.

  13. Hi Tamara,

    Thanks for the tips, incredibly informative! My husband and I are planning on visiting Banff/Lake Louise for a trip in middle of January and a cheeky few day trip to Jasper via the Icefields Parkway. We’re looking to hire a car to get to Jasper but finding it difficult to source a car rental company that supplies snow tyres! We’re from Scotland, we don’t experience as much snow as the Canadians do however, do have adequate experience in driving in the snow. Can you advise any other way to getting to Jasper other than by car or do you know of any company’s that supply snow tyres? I am skeptical on the drive to Jasper via Icefields Parkway due to the roads not being maintained regularly but feel it would be such ashame to miss Jasper as we have only heard good things about it! And my husband seems pretty adamant to get to Jasper – what are your thoughts? Crazy idea, just ditch Jasper and go elsewhere?? If so, can you point us to the right direction? Thank you!

  14. Hi, Tamara,

    I was wondering if all season/weather tires that are rated for winter weather (with the mountain peak/snowflake symbol) are adequate tires?

  15. It needs to be mentioned that the use of winter tires is mandated by LAW in all Canadian National Parks from Nov. 1st to March 31st….it is not simply recommended, but compulsory. They are not mandatory on Highway 16 in Alberta. Winter tires are also required by law on all B.C. Mountain roads from October to April including highways such as Highway 1.

    1. Since its law to have winter tyres in the national parks, can I assume the car rental companies will fit them on during this period??

  16. The tips here was very helpful specially when you enter this road , you gonna feel that you entered in isolated area nothing you can ask help immediately.We have an amazing road trip last year Feb.1 ,2017 from jasper going back to Calgary and we pass all the way to ice field parkway. It so incredible the view but it was little bit scary on the road even we have a winter tire because of a lot of block ice. That awesome adventure we make it….

  17. You’ve mentioned “sparkling lakes” a couple of times in the article – the lakes are all frozen from November to May. Also, the gas station at Saskatchewan Crossing is closed in winter – it’s essential to gas up in either Lake Louise or Jasper!

    Too late for Sheena, above – but there is a daily shuttle running on the parkway in the winter, operated by Sundog Tours.

    1. Thanks Robin, I didn’t realize the gas station was closed during winter, that’s too bad! Definitely important to have a full tank of gas before leaving either Lake Louise or Jasper.

  18. Hi Tamara, this is super helpful.

    We’re visiting April 2018 and planning on driving from Jasper to Banff via the Icefield Parkway. We have hired a 4X4 with snow tyres. Any idea what the road is like the first week of April? I believe I read somewhere that’s about when they begin road maintenance and ploughing again after the worst of the winter weather. Is that right?


    1. Awesome! April can really go either way- there might be a crazy snowstorm, or the roads could be bone dry and a sunny spring day. Regardless, you should be covered off with the 4×4 and winter tires. Have so much fun!

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    1. With the weather in Canada, you truly never know (it starts snowing in September), but traditionally speaking early October usually still has dry roads. Driving at night is definitely not recommended, as it’s not well lit and there are lots of animals, and no cell service if something happens.

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  21. We are booked for early March and plan to ski at Jasper. Do you think we would be okay to rent a sedan with snow tires and drive some of the Parkway? Coming from Ontario to the Edmonton airport we are not sure of the conditions then.

    1. Definitely! You never know what the conditions will be like- if you’re lucky, the roads might be bone dry. Regardless, it helps to rent a vehicle with snow tires or an SUV just in case. Enjoy your trip!

  22. I’m wondering how scary the drive would be in a tour bus. Are there a lot of winding type roads with steep cliffs, or is it more like a high mountain plateau? Any ideas would be appreciated!

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