Few drives match the beauty and majesty of the Icefields Parkway Canada. Ranked as one of the most scenic drives in the entire world by a number of popular publications, the Icefields Parkway takes you from Lake Louise to Jasper, winding through two national parks, jagged mountains, pine forest, turquoise lakes, glaciers, and beautiful rivers. There are dozens of scenic points to stop and admire, as well as dozens of hikes that could take you anywhere from an afternoon to complete or a couple of weeks if you just want to get lost. This is the wilderness after all. Sure, this area attracts a lot of tourists, but for anyone who wants to get off the beaten track, there’s plenty of opportunities for that too – as long as you’re prepared for the wild country and the animals that live there, which includes wolves, cougars, and bears.
The drive Jasper to Lake Louise (or vice versa) takes approximately three hours, but you’ll want to double that to take full advantage of the beauty surrounding you. If you’re coming from Banff, the Banff to Jasper drive will take around four hours to get to Jasper and roughly three hours to get to the Columbia Icefields.
Tips for Driving the Icefields Parkway
As mentioned, the Icefield Parkway starts close to Lake Louise. From there, it’s approximately 230 kilometres to the town of Jasper, Alberta. The highway is very well maintained and is extremely popular in the warmer months.
Icefields Parkway Map:
Jasper Park Pass
As with all Canadian national parks, you’ll need a park pass to enter. A park pass costs approximately $20 per day per vehicle or you can buy the Jasper National Park Pass for roughly $140. If you’re staying longer than seven days, a year-long park pass is worth the money and can be used at any national park and historic site across the country. We buy one every year because we live in Calgary and with Banff so close, we go skiing all the time.
Buying Gas on the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is not in the middle of nowhere. It traverses two national parks and is very well maintained. It’s only 230-km from the turnoff near Lake Louise to the town of Jasper. However, if you’re worried about gas, fill up before you begin because there’s no gas again until you’re close to Jasper. You can get gas in Lake Louise or in Banff.
Icefields Parkway Points of Interest
There are so many places to see and things to do along the Icefields Parkway. If you have tons of time and want to do hikes, there are dozens. We won’t get into that here because that’s a post of its own. However, if you only have one day, there are a few popular stops you don’t want to miss.
Below are some of the sights you should include on your Icefields Parkway itinerary:
This is one of the most photographed lakes in the country. However, you will not get close to the lake without hiking for a very long time. Instead, the point of interest here is the viewpoint, which only takes about 20-minutes to reach. It’s not very strenuous and is easy for just about anyone. From the viewpoint, you’ll get incredible views of the lake and the mountains that surround it.
Time to allow: 1 hour or more.
Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefields Canada
The Columbia Icefields is one of the largest on Earth. It’s like a frozen river running down through the mountains, except it’s as deep as the oceans. It’s truly incredible. You can easily stop and view the icefield and the glaciers for free, but if you want to walk onto the glacier itself, you’ll have to pay for a Columbia Icefield tour. There are some unique walking tours as well, but for most people, the most popular thing to do is to the Glacier Adventure tour, which takes you on to the Athabasca Glacier via an all-terrain explorer. Some people may also call this area the Jasper Icefields, the Banff icefields, or even the Icefields Parkway Glacier, but the correct term is the Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefields.
To guarantee your spot on the tour, you’re going to want to book in advance. The tours run like clockwork, leaving every 20 minutes or so. They start at the Columbia Icefield Visitor Centre, which also has a hotel. Here you’ll find a souvenir shop, a small restaurant, an outdoor viewing area, and the home of the various tours. The Icefield Centre also has a help desk for planning your trip in the area.
Once on the massive all-terrain bus, you’ll be driven on to the glacier where you’ll get to get off and have 20 minutes to walk around, check out the scenery and even drink from the glacier water stream. Many people love the tour as it’s quite unique.
Note: For those without vehicles, there is an option for taking the Columbia Icefield tour from Banff.
Time to allow: 1 hour or more if driving yourself. For the tour from Banff, you’ll likely need a whole day.
While some may call this the Glacier SkyWalk Banff, it’s actually located in Jasper National Park. The Glacier SkyWalk is a glass-floor bridge that hovers 918-feet above the valley floor. It’s right next to the Columbia Icefields and is included in some of the packages offered by Pursuit. For example, a popular thing to do is to combine the Glacier Adventure Tour with the SkyWalk. For those afraid of heights, this might be a thrill as well!
Time to allow: 1 hour or more.
While there are a number of hiking trails in the area, the most popular thing to do is to walk as far as the waterfall and just admire it for as long as you want. It’s extremely popular with photographers as it features a little island just before the waterfalls, creating a fork in the river that meets back up before tumbling over the fall.
Time to allow: 30-minutes or more
Another extremely popular spot with photographers and tourists, this is not only a beautiful waterfall but also a small canyon that cuts through the valley. With sunlight, the water is bright turquoise, resembling that of a tropical beach.
Time to allow: 45 minutes or more
Scenic Stops along the Icefields Parkway
There are so many beautiful lookout points along the way. Don’t limit yourself to the popular stops above. If you see lookout points along the way, stop and look. There are a variety of lakes right along the highway, as well as a stop that gives you a look over the highway and the mountain scenery around you.
Time to allow: 1 hour or more for the additional stops
Where to Stay
If you’re up for camping, there are plenty of options for Icefields Parkway camping. Keep in mind though that they fill up very fast. You’ll want to book months in advance, especially if you’re visiting in the summer. There’s also a couple of Icefields Parkway hotels, including Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Resort and the Glacier View Inn, which is known as the Columbia Icefield hotel. If you’re looking to be in a town with more things to do, you’ll want to stay in Jasper or Banff, with our favorite place located on the Icefields Parkway just 10-minutes from Jasper. It’s called Becker’s Chalets.
There’s plenty of options for Icefields Parkway accommodation, whether you’re looking for a hotel, a campground, or a place to park your RV. However, please note that the summer is EXTREMELY BUSY. Do book in advance.
The Icefields Parkway road conditions are very easy to drive most of the time. Due to it being in two national parks, the road is well maintained. However, in the winter, there can be many risks to driving, which include icy roads and snow. In the summer, the biggest risk is likely the amount of traffic on the highway and the wildlife. If you’re not used to driving in icy conditions, you may want to think twice about travelling the road in the winter, paying attention to recent weather reports to make sure there are no massive snowfalls. In the warmer months, highway 93 Alberta / the Icefields Parkway conditions will almost always be good.
Icefields Parkway Driving Guide
Banff to Columbia Icefields = 185 km (approx 2.5 hours)
Distance from Jasper to Banff = 288 km (approx 3.5 hours)
Distance from Calgary to Jasper = 412 km (approx 5 hours)
Jasper to Columbia Icefields = 103 km (approx 1.5 hours)
Distance from Banff to Jasper = 288 km (approx 3.5 hours)
Distance from Lake Louise to Jasper = 232 km (approx 3 hours)
Icefields Parkway Weather
Just like Banff and Jasper, the Icefields Parkway drive is fairly mild and warm in the summer months and very cold in the winter. Icefields Parkway winter driving can be hazardous as the roads can be very icy. In the summer, it’s as easy as any highway, as long as you pay attention to your surroundings. Summers can be as warm as +25 Celcius whereas winters can drop to -40 Celcius. If you’re looking on a weather app, try looking up the Saskatchewan River Crossing weather as it’s fairly close to the middle and will be fairly accurate.
What To in Banff and Jasper
Banff and Jasper are two of the most beautiful areas in all of Canada. Both are small mountain towns surrounded by towering mountains and jaw-dropping scenery. Banff is the most touristy of the two and is much more accessible. Banff or Jasper are great places to experience the outdoors, with a variety of activities including hiking, camping, skiing, rafting, and much more. The Banff Jasper highway alone is spectacular.
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