Driving the Icefields Parkway
Our trip began under a blanket of clouds but it wasn’t long before they opened up to reveal the mighty peaks that make the Icefields Parkway so famous.
Known as one of the world’s most scenic drives, it didn’t take long to understand why. Snow-capped mountains, deep valleys of pine trees, sparkling glaciers, and turquoise-coloured lakes are just some of the attractions that make the drive so spectacular.
Although the drive between Lake Louise and Jasper only takes three hours, you’ll want to double that for the many scenic stops you’ll be making along the way. While it’s incredibly easy to keep busy for weeks in Canada’s first national park (Banff NP), we only had three days and decided to pack them with as much activities and scenery as possible.
Our first stop was Peyto lake, which just so happens to be one of the most photographed lakes in the world. From the moment you step on to the platform at Bow Summit (a 10-minute uphill walk from the parking area), it’s easy to see why. Like thick paint, Peyto lake shines bright amidst the surrounding mountains and dark green forest. You can even see a glacier! It’s one of those places you don’t want to leave. After drooling over the scenery for a good half-hour, we decided it was time to keep exploring.
As we continued North towards Jasper, passing an array of jaw-dropping scenery including the Columbia Glacier, Waterfowl Lakes, and a variety of waterfalls and smaller glaciers. There were so many stops we wanted to make but we also had a 3 PM reservation at the Jasper Skytram, which we certainly didn’t want to miss.
By the time we made it to the Skytram, the surrounding clouds had completely disappeared. In fact, all of the skytram workers commented that it was the best day they had seen all year. Not one single cloud. Just pure blue skies. As the tram began to make its climb to the top, my family and I stood in awe at what surrounded us.
The Skytram is one of those must-do activities when visiting Jasper, Alberta. Built in 1964, it is the highest and longest aerial tramway in Canada. After our 7-minute ride, we had reached a height of 2,277 metres. From there, one can enjoy the views while sipping a beer in the Upper Station restaurant or partake in a 1-hour hike to the summit. I chose to keep climbing as I didn’t want to miss the 360-degree views on such a clear day. If you want to feel like you’re on top of the world, this is the place to be! Words can’t efficiently describe the views offered from the top of Whistlers mountain.
After a couple of hours looking out over the national park, it was finally time to eat (it was a long day) so we took the Skytram down the mountain and jumped into the car and drove into the town of Jasper where we had made reservations at one of Jasper’s highest rated gourmet restaurants – Syrah’s. After a very tasty meal (click here to learn more about our dining experience), we went back to our lodge to play some cards. Luckily, we stayed up late because we ended up seeing the Northern Lights dance above us. Does it get any better?
The next day was also sunny with clear skies and warm weather. Our first adventure of the day was the Columbia Glacier where we jumped on one of the heavy-duty Brewster off-road buses and actually drove onto the massive sheet of ice. We then walked on the glacier, admiring the views and drinking some of the fresh glacier water melt-off. It was a surreal experience and another must-do activity in Jasper National Park. After, we stepped out on the Glacier Skywalk, one of Brewster’s newest attractions. This fascinating piece of architecture consists of a glass-bottom bridge suspended 280-metres above glacier-formed valleys and waterfalls. Not only does it provide additional breathtaking views but it’s also an adrenaline burst for those afraid of heights (or those who haven’t been on a glass-bottom bridge before). In addition, the activity also provides a free audio tour, which is a great way to learn about the area and its wildlife.
Afterward, we visited some of the beautiful waterfalls along the Icefields Parkway. First, we stopped at Sunwapta Falls, which consists of two beautiful waterfalls that form around a small island before tumbling off the edge and continuing down throughout the park. This is one of the images that makes it into most books/blogs/calendars featuring Jasper and the Canadian Rockies. Next we stopped at Athabasca Falls, which is not only a gorgeous waterfall but also a series of beautiful limestone gorges carved by a glacier-fed river. There are a variety of viewing platforms around the area and I highly recommend spending time at all of them. Mother Nature really is the world’s greatest artist.
By the time we finished exploring the waterfalls, it was time to eat! This time we made reservations at Evil Dave’s Grill. Don’t let the name scare you. Evil Dave’s is a locally-owned family restaurant that sits within the top 5 restaurants in Jasper. And yes, It was delicious. (Learn more about our dining experience by clicking here).
Sadly, the third day was our last. Three days is not enough time in this part of the world. It’s barely an appetizer but I know I’ll be back next year to explore the area further. Our luck with the weather also came to an end and it was time for rain. However, we had already booked ourselves on the Maligne Lake boat cruise and decided to make the best of it. Despite the cold rainy weather, we marvelled at the different scenery the weather had created. There’s a certain mystic vibe that presents itself when clouds and rain mix with the mountains. Also, Spirit Island, which is the “highlight” (I find that hard to say because the entire park is a highlight) was extra “spirity” thanks to the gloomy clouds lurking overhead. I’ll definitely have to do the tour again when the sun is shining bright though.
After the tour, we drove the Icefields Parkway once again but in the opposite direction, heading from Jasper to Lake Louise. Both directions give an entirely different perspective and as always, we stopped a lot along the way. For a photographer, I can’t imagine a better place. Whether we stopped for grazing elk or beautiful rainbows, there’s never a dull moment in the Canadian Rockies.
Where to Stay in Jasper National Park
We booked accommodation at Becker’s Chalets, which was perfect. It’s located just 10-minutes outside of Jasper and sits right next to the Athabasca River. Not only are the views fantastic but there’s also a park for the kids and a relaxing atmosphere you won’t find elsewhere. Not only did we see the Northern Lights overhead one night but we also woke up to Geese and Elk munching on the grass right in front of our room. If that’s not a Rocky Mountain experience, then I don’t know what is. Click here to read more about our experience at Becker’s Chalets or contact them below. By the way, Marilyn Monroe stayed here back in 1953!
Where to Eat in Jasper
There are so many great places to eat in Jasper that it would be impossible to list them all here. From common cheap eats at Tim Horton’s or local bakeries to gourmet Canadian cuisine, Jasper has it all. We were short on time but managed to eat at two restaurants during our visit;
Syrah’s of Jasper – Breakfast and Dinner. My favourite meal here was the Alberta Beef Steak!
Evil Dave’s Grill – Open for dinner. All I can think about is the delicious falafel my mom ordered here. So good.
Want to Drive the Icefields Parkway? Visit Jasper? Let us know in the comments below.
For more pictures or to order prints, contact matt (at) MustDoCanada (dot) com and visit Instagram.com/MatthewGBailey. All photos by Matthew G. Bailey.