Icefields Parkway Guide Last updated: September 3rd, 2022
Alberta is home to some of the top road trips in Canada, including the stretch from Banff to Jasper (or from Jasper to Banff), which is perhaps the most beautiful road trip in the country. In fact, various publications have awarded the Icefields Parkways as one of the most scenic road trips on the planet as it takes you through two Canadian Rockies national parks and all kinds of natural beauty including towering mountain peaks, turquoise lakes and rivers, glaciers, and lush alpine forest.
The Icefields Parkway itself stretches for approximately 233km from Lake Louise to Jasper, but it clocks in at 288km if you include the drive from Banff to Jasper. Without stopping, it would take around four hours in good weather. However, it would be silly to drive this beautiful route without stopping to admire the natural attractions or take part in one of the many activities. If you can’t make the drive yourself, there are plenty of tour companies offering the experience as well.
The drive is also located in the middle of the Canadian Rockies, which can be home to some inhospitable weather, especially during the winter months. Before setting out on the adventure, be sure to check in for road closures and hazards. You’ll also want to take particular care during the winter months as the roads are slippery and the weather can be very cold should your vehicle decide to break down. Even in the summer, there are hazards though, including wildlife encounters both on the road and on the trails, not to mention a lot of traffic.
In this guide, we’ll help you plan your trip from Banff to Jasper as well as learn all the best things to do along the Icefields Parkway.
Banff to Jasper – Tips for Driving the Icefields Parkway
As mentioned, the Icefield Parkway starts around Lake Louise. So, first, you’d drive from Banff to Lake Louise and from there, it’s approximately 230 kilometres to the town of Jasper, Alberta. If you’re driving from Calgary to Banff, you’ll also pass by Canmore along the way. The highway is very well maintained and is extremely popular in the warmer months. However, if you’re hoping to drive it in the winter, just bear in mind that this is a mountain road and it closes frequently in the winter months due to heavy snow or other dangerous conditions. For a winter trip, you’ll want to be well-prepared for any worst-case scenario.
Icefields Parkway Map
Popular Questions – Quick Answers
Before we get into the detailed guide, we thought we’d quickly answer some of the most popular questions. Afterwards, please continue to read this detailed guide about the road trip from Banff to Jasper.
What is there to see between Jasper and Banff?
Want a quick recap on the best things to do when driving from Banff to Jasper? Here are the popular highlights:
- The Town of Banff
- Johnston Canyon
- Lake Louise
- Moraine Lake
- Peyto Lake Viewpoint
- Bow Lake
- Glacier Skywalk and Columbia Icefields
- Athabasca Falls
- Sunwapta Falls
- Town of Jasper
- The Jasper Skytram
- Maligne Lake
- Maligne Canyon
Is Jasper or Banff better?
Is chocolate or ice cream better? I don’t think there is one proper answer to this question. Both towns and the surrounding areas are absolutely beautiful and some of the best scenery on Earth. In fact, just like chocolate and ice cream, perhaps they go better together! Banff is certainly in a more convenient location and because of that, it has far more tourists and far more attractions. Jasper is like a more local Banff. It still receives its fair shares of tourists but due to the increased isolation, remains far quieter and yet equally beautiful.
How far apart are Banff and Jasper?
How many days should you spend in Jasper?
We recommend visiting for three days, although you could easily spend longer. Three days in Jasper should give you enough time to see the top attractions and sights in Jasper National Park, including the town of Jasper, the Jasper Skytram, Maligne Canyon, and Maligne Lake.
Where should I stay when visiting Banff and Jasper?
We will recommend some places towards the end of this article but just for a quick recap, some of the most popular options include Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Moraine Lake Lodge, Buffalo Mountain Lodge, Fairmont Banff Springs, Mount Royal Hotel, Becker’s Chalets, Best Western Plus Siding 29, Deer Lodge, and many more.
Where do I buy a Jasper Park Pass
As with all Canadian national parks, you’ll need a Parks Canada Park Pass to enter.
Current daily fees are:
Adult [18-64 years old] $9.80
Senior [65+ years old] $8.30
Youth [6-17 years old] FREE
Family [Up to 7ppl in a single vehicle] $19.60
Commercial Group (per person) $8.30
The daily passes expire at 4 pm the following day. However, if you’re going to be exploring this national park or any national park in Canada for more than 6-7 days, we highly recommend buying the yearly Discovery Pass, which offers incredible value. The Discovery Pass gives you unlimited admission for a year to all national parks and national historic sites across Canada.
Fees are as follows:
For more information, visit the Parks Canada website.
Icefields Parkway Weather (Best Time to Visit)
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.
Banff to Jasper by Car
In our opinion, there’s no better way to see the Icefields Parkway than to drive it yourself. We love doing road trips in Canada and this is the best one of them all. Despite being a 3-hour drive, it always takes us six hours or more due to all the scenic stops along the way. Regardless, check the Icefields Parkway road conditions before you embark on your journey, especially if driving in the winter.
Note: the driving conditions are quite different between the summer months and the winter months. The summer months are a much safer time to go, although you still have to be on the lookout for wildlife and other cars as this is a very busy time of year on the highway. In the winter, however, the roads can be very slippery and covered in snow or ice depending on the time of year.
While driving, you’re going to see so much incredible scenery as well as a fairly high chance of spotting wildlife. Every time we drive the Icefields Parkway, we notice people driving very slow or almost stopping in the middle of the highway to see wildlife or some incredible view such as a waterfall or a glacier. Do not do this. Find a place that’s safe to pull over. If there’s nowhere to stop, it’s much safer to continue driving. There is a lot of traffic and the last thing you want is an accident spoiling your Canadian holiday.
If you’re looking to rent a car for your trip, you can rent them in Calgary, Edmonton, Banff, or any other major city. There are many different rental car companies and we typically just use a search engine such as Expedia to scour prices and find a good deal. There’s also the option of renting an RV or a campervan, which is another very popular thing to do in this part of the world.
Banff to Jasper in the Winter Driving Tips
If you don’t have any winter driving experience, it might be risky to do this drive. There are days when it is dry, but due to its location, snowstorms can come out of nowhere. If you do have winter driving experience, there are still some things to note:
- Winter tires are mandatory. All-weather tires with the snowflake symbol are also allowed.
- There is no cell reception, so keep in mind you won’t be able to call anyone unless you have a satellite phone.
- There are no gas stations during the winter months, so fill up in Lake Louise or in Jasper if coming down from north to south.
- Bring snacks and warm clothes: Typically, we recommend having snacks and water as it is a long trip, but also packing an emergency blanket or extra clothing in case you do break down. Driving as a caravan (with other people driving their vehicles) is always preferred but not always possible.
- Always check road reports and weather to make sure it’s a good time to go.
Rideshare from Banff to Jasper
If you’re looking to experience the Icefields Parkway by car but aren’t able to drive your own, you may want to consider rideshare. People have been doing this for a long time with sites like Kijiji and Craigslist, but in our opinion, it doesn’t sound like the safest option. However, now there’s Poparide.com, which allows you to select your driver based on reviews as well as your luggage requirements. Prices vary but typically range between $25 – $50.
Buying Gas on the Icefields Parkway
As wild as the Icefields Parkway is, It 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 only one gas station along the way. It’s about half-way at the Saskatchewan River Crossing. You can also fill up in Banff or Lake Louise.
In addition to gas, the only places to find food along the way would be at the Saskatchewan River Crossing, the Icefields Visitor Center, or Sunwapa Falls Resort, which is very close to Jasper. Once in Jasper, there are many incredible restaurants and fast food joints. You may want to pack snacks, especially if you’re planning on doing some hikes.
Banff to Jasper by Private Car
If you’d rather not drive your own car but also don’t want to be cramped inside a bus, you may want to consider a private tour. Obviously, these will be much more expensive, but they also come with an experienced driver who can tour you around worry-free.
- SunDog Tours offers private tours in a sedan, SUV, or shuttle between Banff and Jasper depending on the size of your group.
- Banff Tours also has different options of vehicles based on group size with a capacity of up to 24 people. If you’re a group, this might be ideal as you can also choose your points of interest along the way.
Banff to Jasper by Bus
Another popular method of driving from Banff to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway is by bus. Although it lacks the freedom of a car, it can be cheaper and also allows you to sit back and relax and not worry about being behind the wheel.
- Brewster Express offers a shuttle service from Banff to Jasper. For $120 per person one-way, your departure and drop-off locations can be customized to where you’re staying.
- SunDog Tours offers a one-way tour from Banff to Jasper that includes a four hour stop at the Columbia Icefield. The total tour time is 11 hours, so this is only if you want to see the sites they stop at along the way. However, if you’re visiting in the winter, they also have a direct route between Banff and Jasper as well as from Calgary to Banff. This service operates from October to April.
- Banff Tours provides a coach shuttle service between Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise, and Jasper. The Pick-up points are at various hotels within each destination and tickets go for $120 per person each way.
Banff to Jasper by Train
If you’re looking for a magical train ride between Banff and Jasper, you’re out of luck. There is no direct train that goes from Banff to Jasper. However, there are a couple of train excursions that include the Icefields Parkway in some way.
- Rocky Mountaineer is a luxury train experience that includes Jasper National Park and Banff National Park. It’s a very popular train excursion but it comes with a very hefty price-tag for a 2-day trip.
- Icefield Discovery by Canada By Design is a tour that leaves from Vancouver or Calgary and explores a variety of landscapes including both Jasper National Park and Banff National Park.
Icefields Parkway Points of Interest
There are so many places to see and things to do along the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper. If you have loads of time and want to do hikes, there are many trails to choose from. We won’t get into that here because that’s an article of its own. However, if you just want to experience as much of it as you can in one day, there are a few MUST-DO stops that you don’t want to miss.
Below are some of the sights you should include on your Icefields Parkway itinerary:
(Located 2km from Banff or 286km from Jasper)
Located just 5 minutes west of Banff is beautiful Vermillion Lakes. There’s a short 2-km boardwalk loop, which allows you to take in the stunning sites and stretch your legs at the same time. Sunrise is popular here.
(Located 25km from Banff or 263km from Jasper)
This is one of the popular day hikes in Banff National Park. However, it will take you around 2-3 hours, so make sure you’ve built that time into your schedule. It’s a maintained trail that takes you through a canyon and up to some beautiful waterfalls. Johnston Canyon in the winter is even more spectacular.
(Located 57km from Banff or 231km from Jasper)
If you’ve made it to Banff, you’re likely planning to visit Lake Louise. After all, it’s one of the most famous sites in all of Canada. The lake itself sits in front of the Fairmont hotel and has gorgeous mountain views above the turquoise-coloured lake. There’s a variety of hikes you can do, as well as the opportunity to rent a canoe. On the other side of the Trans-Canada Highway is Lake Louise ski resort. In the winter, it offers some of the best skiing in the world, but in the summer they also offer gondola rides to the top of the mountain. It’s a great place to spot grizzly bears and also has a Wildlife Interpretive Centre at the top.
Bow Summit/Peyto Lake
(Located 100km from Banff or 188km from Jasper)
This is one of the most photographed lakes in the country. The short 2.9-km hike takes you to a viewpoint overlooking the stunning turquoise-coloured lake and the surrounding mountain valley. We highly recommend doing this! This will be your first stop along the Icefields Parkway.
Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefields
(Located 185km from Banff or 103km from Jasper)
This is another must-see along the Icefields Parkway. 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 various tours. The Icefield Centre also has a help desk for planning your trip around the area.
Please note that this activity is closed during the winter months. You can still pull off and admire the view, but none of the lodging, restaurants, or activities are open.
Glacier SkyWalk (Next to the Columbia Icefields)
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! Please note that this closed during the winter months.
Time to allow: 1 hour or more.
(Located 234km from Banff or 54km from Jasper)
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. Although more spectacular in the summer, it’s also beautiful in the winter.
Time to allow: 30-minutes or more
(Located 257km from Banff or 32km from Jasper)
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. In the winter, it looks totally different as it’s covered in snow, but still very much worth the stop.
Time to allow: 45 minutes or more
Scenic Stops along the Icefields Parkway
There are so many beautiful lookout points along the way and we’ve listed the ones we feel you MUST DO. If you see lookout points along the way not listed here, please stop and look. There are a variety of lakes right along the highway, which are also wonderful places to spend some time. Also, when you begin to drive you a mountain, you’ll notice a place to pull off and admire the view. This is the view from the picture below and we highly recommend stopping here as well.
Jasper to Banff Itinerary
Once you’ve made it to Jasper, you’ll be greeted with even more spectacular views, scenery, activities, and wildlife, as well as a thriving little mountain town with an array of restaurants, coffee shops, pubs, and shops. For more on what to do, check out our 3-day itinerary for things to do in Jasper.
Where to Stay in Jasper
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 also 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. Our favourite place near Jasper is 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.
Driving Distances – 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)
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 a spectacular thing to do.
For more things to do in the area, check out the following articles:
- Things To Do in Banff
- Things To Do in Calgary
- Things To Do in Alberta
- Banff Restaurants
- Calgary to Banff
- Edmonton to Jasper
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