With bragging rights as one of the world’s most scenic road trips, the iconic Icefields Parkway drive in Alberta, Canada serves up active adventures alongside jaw-dropping natural wonders like gem-toned lakes, ancient glaciers and the splendour of the Rocky Mountains.
The 232 kilometre roadway links Banff National Park with the town of Jasper, winding through steep mountain passes where waterfalls gush out of steep cliff sides and impressive vistas overlook thick forests and sweeping valleys.
While the Highway 93 drive only takes about four hours, most people stretch it out over a couple of days to explore Lake Louise and the Columbia Icefield where luxe lodging, glacier hikes and skywalks await.
Here are the best spots and experiences to include when driving the Icefields Parkway, which is one of the most incredible Canadian road trips.
The Icefields Parkway drive technically doesn’t start until just past Lake Louise, but since most visitors begin the journey in Calgary the first scenic stop is usually the town of Banff.
Vermillion Lakes is found just off the Trans-Canada Highway, and is absolutely spectacular at sunrise when rose and gold hues paint the sky behind the mountain peaks.
Lake Louise is gorgeous year-round, and one of the most popular spots to visit in the entire country (as evidenced by how busy the parking lot can get).
Lake Louise is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks which are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the sight of the emerald green lake framed by towering peaks and the majestic Victoria Glacier is spellbinding
During warm months you’ll find people canoeing, kayaking or hiking around the Lake Louise Shoreline Trail which winds along the northwest side of the lake and ends at a pretty waterfall.
The effort of hiking up the Little Beehive or Big Beehive trails is rewarded with incredible views looking down on the water and back at the famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, which dates back to the 1800s and looks just like a castle.
View of Lake Louise from the Big Beehive Trail
Some opt to head over to nearby Moraine Lake which is so picturesque it has graced many a magazine cover and was once featured on the $20 bill.
Note that access is restricted to private vehicles, so the only way to visit is during a guided tour, booking a spot on the Parks Canada shuttle or ROAM public transit, cycling or hiking in.
Winter is equally magical, when Lake Louise is covered in sparkling snow drifts and staff from the iconic Chateau Lake Louise carve out skating rinks and an ice castle.
This gorgeous spot is found just a few minutes after turning off Highway 1 onto Hwy 93 to kick off the Icefields Parkway road trip.
Early birds may arrive to find wispy morning fog clinging to Herbert Lake’s surface, creating an ethereal scene. The lake is a popular spot during summer due to the adjacent campground, and those willing to brave the chilly waters are welcome to go for a dip.
Bow Lake and Bow Summit
Towering Bow Summit casts a perfect reflection in the still waters of Bow Lake, which is one of the largest lakes in Banff National Park and sits at an elevation of 1,920 metres at the base of Bow Summit.
The historic Num-Ti-Jah Lodge sits on its shores, and is surrounded by flat walking paths perfect for soaking in the scenery.
It was founded by Jimmy Simpson who built a log cabin here in the early 1900s as a base for his outfitting tours, and over the years he and his family built it up into the log and stone hotel seen today which has more than a dozen rooms overlooking the lake.
This is one of the popular Icefields Parkway stops for photographers, who love capturing the reflection of the craggy peaks in the pristine, aquamarine waters below.
Peyto Lake is one of the most beautiful areas of the Alberta Icefields Parkway, thanks to its vibrant turquoise hue surrounded by a valley of thick firs and towering mountain ranges.
During the summer months, glacier rock flour flows into the water, which is what gives it its incredible, gem-toned colour.
There are some great hikes around it for those who have time to explore, otherwise one of the best lookout points is about a 15 minute walk from the parking lot in the marked area just off the highway (the sign says ‘Bow Summit’).
Photographers will want to time their visit for the afternoon to enjoy the best light.
Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre and Athabasca Glacier tours
One of the most incredible experiences along the Icefields Parkway is the Columbia Icefield Adventure, which combines incredible views, a ride on a custom, larger-than-life bus and an Athabasca Glacier hike.
The Columbia Icefield straddles the continental divide and covers about 230 square kilometres, making it the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies.
The dramatic landscape is constantly evolving as glaciers retreat, as evidenced by a sign near the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre which marks where the glacier originally was way back in 1844.
A fun way to explore it is by booking the Columbia Icefield Adventure, where guests hop on a giant, all-terrain vehicle called the Ice Explorer which crawls along the 10,000 year old sheet of ice.
The ride takes about 20 minutes, then visitors are free to wander around and take a short walk to enjoy the views of cornices, valleys and and keep an eye out for tiny specks in the distance, which just might be sure-footed mountain goats clinging to the slippery surface.
The water in the alpine pools is so fresh you can drink right out of them, so be sure to bring a water bottle along. Click here to book
Next up is a visit to the Glacier Skywalk which is one of the most thrilling experiences along the Alberta icefields–unless of course, you’re afraid of heights.
The experience is included with an Athabasca glacier tour ticket, and is found just a short drive back down the highway.
A one kilometre interpretive walk leads to the Skywalk, which juts out 280 metres high above the Sunwapta Valley, and its glass bottom walkway and dramatic views make for quite an adrenaline rush.
Note: Both experiences open for the 2023 season on May 6, and operations usually wind down in mid-October.
Glacier View Lodge
If time allows, stay overnight at the Glacier View Lodge. Located on the top floor of the Discovery Centre, it features a stunning lobby with floor to ceiling windows and dreamy views of the Athabasca Glacier.
Enjoy complimentary charcuterie and cocktails during happy hour each night, making it the perfect place to curl up with a good book in front of the cozy fireplace or simply enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Click here to book
Book a tour for the Icefields Parkway the Columbia Icefields:
Include a roadside pit stop at Athabasca Falls on your Icefields Parkway itinerary, which has ample parking, facilities and viewpoints.
The 23-metre high waterfall thunders through a narrow limestone gorge, and in the winter months the freezing temperatures transform it into ice crystals.
The falls were sculpted by river water and glacial ice, linking freshwater from the Columbia Icefield to the Arctic Ocean.
In 1989, this portion of the Athabasca River was designated as a Canadian Heritage River, thanks to its historical significance and untouched condition.
It takes about half an hour to explore the trails and viewpoints that wind around the falls, including the Lower Canyon where rivers carved canyons into the bedrock.
Follow the lower trail along the bottom of the abandoned channels, and the five minute walk leads to ancient potholes and the mouth of the Athabasca Falls canyon.
Sunwapta is about half an hour from Athabasca Falls. A one-minute walk from the parking lot leads to a suspended bridge, with great views of the powerful falls and deep surrounding canyons.
One of Alberta’s best road trips comes to an end in the charming mountain town of Jasper.
There are plenty of adventures in the area year-round, including canoeing, hiking, ice climbing, snowshoeing and skiing.
Popular spots in Jasper include shimmering Patricia Lake which has gorgeous reflections, and Pyramid Island which is designated as a Dark Sky Preserve.
It got its name from Pyramid Mountain which looms in the distance, and contains iron pyrite minerals (Fool’s Gold) in the rock which give it soft pink and orange hues.
There are boat and kayak rentals, fishing holes, and mountain biking and hiking trails that connect to town and Patricia Lake. The most popular walk around here is the Pyramid Island Loop, a short, flat trail that heads over a wooden bridge to a forested island.
One of the best attractions in Jasper is the Jasper SkyTram, the so-called ‘alpine express’ that whisks guests up to the 2,263 metre-high summit of Whistlers Mountain during a seven-minute long cable car ride.
From there, guests can enjoy views of alpine lakes, the townsite and surrounding mountain ranges from the observation deck, or hike up the 1.4 km-long Whistlers Summit Trail.
The Maligne Canyon Loop Trail is a four kilometre route with a series of bridges with lookout points that has gorgeous views of the Rockies and powerful falls below (the best view is at the Sixth Bridge).
During winter it’s popular with ice climbers and spelunkers, who scale the dazzling display of ice pillars, frozen waterfalls and fossils.
Other spots worth exploring in Jasper are the townsite, taking a boat ride to Spirit Island, and relaxing at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge situated on the shores of Beauvert Lake.
Icefields Parkway map:
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