Holding bragging rights as one of the world’s most scenic drives, the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, Canada is a photographer’s dream. The 200 kilometre roadway links Banff National Park with the town of Jasper, winding through steep mountain passes dotted with aqua-marine lakes, thick forests, sweeping valleys and glaciers. The drive typically only takes about four hours, but with all the eye-candy along the way most visitors take their time navigating the iconic highway.
Here are some of the best photo stops to include on an Icefields Parkway itinerary, which is one of Alberta’s best 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.
One of the most popular spots to visit in all of Alberta, Lake Louise is gorgeous year-round. During warm months you’ll find people canoeing, kayaking or hiking around its teal waters, or heading over to nearby Moraine Lake which has graced many a magazine cover. 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 to get on to the Icefields Parkway. 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. The historic Num-Ti-Jah Lodge sits on its shores, and is surrounded by flat walking paths perfect for soaking in the scenery.
Peyto Lake is one of the most popular Icefields Parkway stops, thanks to its vibrant turquoise hue surrounded by a valley of thick firs and towering mountain ranges. There are some great hikes around it for those who have time to explore, otherwise one of the best lookout points is found in the marked area just off the highway. Photographers will want to time their visit for the afternoon to enjoy the best light.
Glacier Skywalk and Columbia Icefield
This roadside attraction can be a tough sell for those who are scared of heights, as the Glacier Skywalk’s glass-bottom walkway juts out a heart-pounding 918 feet above the alpine valley. The adrenaline rush is well worth it, since visitors can enjoy unobstructed, panoramic views of Sunwapta Valley from the one-kilometre walkway.
Tours leave from the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre, which is where adventures to explore the nearby Athabasca Glacier are also booked. On that excursion, guests hop onto a massive, specially-designed bus which drives right on to the glacier, and at one point are allowed to explore the other-worldly landscape on foot.
This is one of the best spots along the way to make a roadside pitstop, as there is ample parking, facilities and viewpoints. The highlight is Athabasca Falls, which thunders through a narrow gorge and is either frozen over with ice crystals, or a brilliant turquoise blue depending on the time of year.
The Icefields Parkway tour ends 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. Scenic spots include Pyramid Lake and Maligne Canyon, as well as the charming Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge situated on the shores of Beauvert Lake.
The best Icefields Parkway hotels:
- Canalta Lodge
- Fairmont Banff Springs
- Buffalo Mountain Lodge
- The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
- Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Icefields Parkway map:
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