10 Apr 10 Must See Stops on the Icefields Parkway
Connecting the Banff National Park to Jasper National Park, the Icefields Parkway in Canada is one of the world’s greatest scenic drives. No matter whether you’re looking to drive the Icefields Parkway in winter or summer, and no matter whether you’re going for a week or weekend, here are our top points of interest on the Icefields Parkway. Pack a pair of walking shoes because, even on a scenic drive, the best way to see everything is by getting out there on your own two feet.
What? 5km return hike to quiet lake.
So what? You get to ford the Bow River and make use of the canoes by the lakeshore.
If you’ve started at Lake Louise, Hector Lake is only a 30-minute drive down the Icefields Parkway. But, if you’re already feeling restless or need to walk off that 20-pack of Tim Bits, this is the perfect first stop. Park at the small trailhead by the road and enjoy the quiet 5km-return hike to the shores of Hector Lake. You’ll be crossing or fording a river as part of the trail so bring a spare pair of shoes and check the river conditions ahead of time at the Lake Louise visitor centre. You’ll also find canoes by the shore of the lake which you can take out for a gentle paddle. Just make sure there are no obvious holes in the hull before taking them out!
What? A lake by the road.
So what? It’s unbelievably peaceful; no, seriously.
If Hector Lake is the get-out-there-and trek lake, then Bow Lake is like a fast-food equivalent. Pressed almost right up to the Icefields Parkway, you can take in the panorama of Bow Lake from the warmth of your car – especially if your toes haven’t defrosted yet from their dunk in the river. However, if you do this, you’d be missing out. The best way to experience this lake is to stand on its shores, take a deep breath and… No, don’t dive in, you crazy person!… Just take in the absolute stillness and serenity of the lake. No, seriously.
What? Another beautiful Canadian Lake.
So what? This one is in a cool shape plus has a 1.5km return walk.
There are two carpark lots for Peyto Lake, both providing access to the birds-eye viewing platform from which you can see the lake. The first carpark is further away from the platform and joins a 1.5km return walking trail up to the viewing area. The second carpark is a lot closer – but is for buses and tour groups only! If you’re on a tight schedule or are not keen for the walk… You still can’t park here! Sorry, we hope you still enjoy the lake.
What? A 1km return walk down to and across a canyon.
So what? Whitewater river + slot canyon = WOW.
Although Google will try to confuse you with an autocorrected “Misty Canyon”, Mistaya Canyon is head-and-shoulders above any counterpart. It’s only a 1km return walk to the canyon – although you will feel the incline of the trail on the way back up. The walls of the canyon have been carved out by the incredible force of the water, which is fed from Peyto Lake. You can stand on a bridge over the canyon and see the water crash and swirl through walls of rock far beneath your feet, or you can cross to the far side and scramble along the smooth rock shores to get an up-close-and-personal look of the whitewater rapids.
Bridal Veil Falls & Panther Falls
What? Two waterfalls, one carpark.
So what? This is great bang for buck – it’s hard to find a parking space in peak tourist seasons!
Bridal Veil Falls are visible from the Icefields Parkway, although can be easily missed depending on their volume of water. Once you pull in to the carpark, you can only see these falls from a distance; cascading (or trickling) from cliffs on the opposite side of Nigel Creek. At the end of the carpark, look for a trail leading to a second set of falls – Panther Falls. Follow the trail down to a viewing area or scamper up the windier path to see the river and drop-off point of Panther Falls.
What? Big glacier.
So what? Walk right up to the bottom (free) or walk directly on top of it (paid).
The Athabasca Glacier is one of the many glaciers that make up the Columbia Icefield Canada. Park at the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discover Centre directly opposite then either walk to the base of the glacier and gaze up at this frozen monolith, or book yourself in to the Athabasca Glacier Tour where you can take a ride on a speciality bus on the glacier itself and later step out onto a glass-bottomed viewing platform suspended over the edge of the icefields.
Common question – Is the Glacier Tour worth it? If you’ve seen snow, ice and glaciers before, then probably not. If this is your first time to a winter wonderland and you’ve got extra spending money, then definitely consider it.
What? Dainty, drive-by waterfalls.
So what? Excellent photo-op.
Possibly the most picturesque set of waterfalls on the Icefields Parkway. Small but intricate, the water flows in interweaving patterns to form Tangle Falls. Although the main falls are right there by the road, if you park the car and follow a small trail downstream for no more than 250 metres, you’ll find the secluded Lower Tangle Falls – highly recommended for some long exposure photography.
What? 800m-1.2km return walk to waterfalls.
So what? You made it this far down the Icefields Parkway; might as well make one more stop.
Accessible via a 600-metre access road off the Icefields Parkway, Sunwapta Falls are a series of waterfalls divided into Upper and Lower Falls. Follow a paved, 800-metre round trip trail to the mighty Upper falls which you can step out over from a handy footbridge. Then, find the forested 1.2km return trail leading to the Lower Falls and watch as a series of 3 waterfalls plateau out to a wide, gentle river.
What? Big waterfall.
So what? You can get this close and get drenched with the spray.
Take a turn off the Icefields Parkway onto Highway 93A to access the Athabasca Falls. Neither the tallest nor widest falls, it’s the sheer volume of water constantly pumping off the edge that makes these falls so impressive. You can get as close as you like to this waterfall via a well-marked walking trail – just remember to bring a shower cap and rubber ducky for your outdoor shower!
What? 1km return walk to a locals’ favourite lake.
So what? Great spot for cliff jumping in summer!
Roughly 25km south of the town of Jasper, Horseshoe Lake is one of the deepest lakes in Jasper – and a favourite for cliff jumping. Follow a short forest walk to the muddy edge of the lake where you’ll find cliffs ranging from 4 to 25 metres above the water. Remember – safety first! Look for any logs, branches or rocks that may be by the shore, avoid cliff jumping into shallow water and bring along a towel and extra layers because the water is, well, darn cold.
When does the Icefields Parkway open?
Canada’s Icefields Parkway is open year round, unless there are temporary road closures in winter due to avalanches. Check for any closures ahead of time here and bear in mind that gas stations and food stops may also be closed, so load up on essentials before you take off. Finally, although none of the attractions are closed, their access roads and walking trails may be snowed under so play it by ear and only forge through or break the trail if you’re experienced and have proper equipment.
When is the best time of year to go?
Go in summer for unbelievably blue lakes, (sometimes) gushing waterfalls and outdoors walking trails. Go in winter for snow-washed mountains, frozen lakes and snow-shoeing or cross-country skiing.
How long is the Icefields Parkway?
The parkway is 232 km long, and it takes between 3 and 4 hours long to drive the Icefields Parkway without stopping. Although the highway begins in the Banff National Park, it begins just past Lake Louise – about a 40-minute drive from the Banff city centre. It ends in the town of Jasper inside the Jasper National Park.
What are some things to do in Jasper Canada?
If you’ve made it from Banff to Jasper along the Icefields Parkway, read up on site-seeing in the town of Jasper here.