We wanted to do this trip from long time and finally did this Icefield Parkway drive. What a great experience and are very lucky to experience this with our kids. The highway is nice and well maintained but will be covered with snow in most of the winter season. The stops and resting areas are as beautiful as you can imagine. You could easily spend few days in the area if you want to hike to some of the viewpoints. The drive had lot of scenic spots and is a must do in the Canadian Rockies. It has great spots to view like – Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, stop at bow Glacier Falls, Howse pass, Sunwapta Valley, Canadian Rockies numerous Glaciers and Columbia Icefield.It has lot of hikes and trails to do, which is must when there but depending upon weather as some time in heavy snow season some of these attractions might be close due to safety reasons.
This is one of the most breathtaking drives you’ll ever encounter!
The Icefields Parkway or Highway 93 is famous for its scenic mountain views. Visitors who only journey the route in summer miss out on the sparkling winter beauty that defines the true Canadian Rockies. That said, to witness epic glaciers, frozen waterfalls and ice-covered lakes, some important precautions must be taken.
The Icefields Parkway that winds through Alberta’s scenic Rocky Mountains is considered one of Canada’s most epic road trips for good reason. Linking Lake Louise and Jasper, the three hours drive hugs steep cliff faces, curves around lakes and twists through glaciers, rewarding travellers with epic views every step of the way.
Some of the Must see attractions along the way:
Athabasca Falls– Among the most breath-taking and powerful falls in the Canadian Rockies, the Athabasca Falls are located 30 kilometres south of Jasper town site. The falls are impressive for the volume and force of water, less for its height. The falls can be safely viewed and photographed from various viewing platforms and walking trails.
Sunwapta Falls– This class 6 waterfall is located south of the Jasper town site and has a drop of approximately 18 metres (60 feet). The falls are particularly impressive in the late spring and early summer when snow pack run off is high. The Sunwapta Falls are fed by the Athabasca Glacier.
Tangle Falls– Tangle Falls is located on the north side of Tangle Hill 7.4 Km north of the Columbia Icefields along the Icefields Parkway. This roadside waterfall makes it easy to get a tripod out and have fun taking long exposure photographs or self-taken portraits. The waterfall is popular with ice climbers in the winter.
Columbia Icefield– Just as the name implies these glaciers or “fields of ice” straddle Banff National Park and Jasper National Park and are the largest south of the Arctic Circle. During the summer months you can travel onto the glacier in the comfort of large “snowcoaches” or you can simply marvel at them from the roadside parking lot. Visit the Columbia Icefield Centre and its natural history museum for an indepth look at how glaciers form, grow and retreat. You can also book the Glacier Skywalk Experience at the Centre. The Glacier Skywalk is a glass floored observation platform that spans out 280 metres over the Sunwapta Valley.
Parker Ridge– Parker Ridge, in northern Banff National Park, is a must do for those who want a bit of elevation to take in a multitude of mountain ranges and Saskatchewan Glacier (the longest). The hike is approximately two hours rising 250 metres (820 feet). Parks Canada has been closing the trail from late spring to early summer to preserve the landscape.
Weeping Wall– A mountain that cries? Located at Cirrus Mountain, the Weeping Wall resembles a mountain with a river of tears. More than100 metres high (330feet) water cascades in a series of waterfalls. The main fall is called Teardrop.
Saskatchewan River crossing– This is a significant location where three rivers meet; the mighty North Saskatchewan, the Howse and the Mistaya. The North Saskatchewan River rises in the Canadian Rockies and empties into Lake Winnipeg over 1,600 kilometres (1,025 miles) east across the country. “The Crossing” is a starting point for tours on the Columbia Icefield. It is also the only place for basic services including public bathrooms, gas station and a restaurant.
Peyto Lake & Bow summit– The most popular glacier-fed lake, Peyto Lake is the also the most visited and photographed lake in the Canadian Rockies. During the summer, significant amounts of glacial rock flour flow into the lake, and these suspended rock particles give the lake a bright, turquoise colour. The lake is best seen from Bow Summit which is 2,088 metres (6,800 feet) above sea level. Bow Summit is the highest point on the drive from Banff to Jasper and is the highest elevation crossed by a public road in Canada.
Bow Lake– The headwaters of the Bow River that runs south through the city Calgary and onto the Oldman River ultimately to Hudson Bay. The lake lines the Icefields Parkway and makes a perfect place to stop and view the Crowfoot Glacier (shaped like a crow’s foot), Wapta Icefield, Bow Glacier, Crowfoot Mountain and Mount Thompson.
The Icefields Parkway is pretty much the last place on earth you want to get stuck during the winter. This road can be hazardous in winter if you are not prepared. And despite the best intentions, sometimes the worst-case scenario happens so it is always recommended to be safe than sorry in this area. It can take hours or days before the help can arrive if you are not prepared.
Drive safely and plan ahead:
- Plan to start early and complete your drive during daylight hours. Snow clearing and maintenance begins at 7 am and ends at 3:30 pm. Plus, you’ll want lots of daylight to take in all the epic views!
- Ensure your car has snow tires—look for the snowflake symbol. Snow tires are mandatory from November 1 to April 1.
- Fill your gas tank; there are no services along the Icefields Parkway in winter.
- Have a safety kit in your vehicle and also bring plenty of water, energy bars, candles, extra clothing and blankets.
- Tell someone your route, when you are leaving and when you plan on arriving.
- Ensure you are comfortable with winter driving conditions. Drivers should travel based on comfort level and experience. Always remember to slow down and let other vehicles go instead of feeling under pressure to drive fast in slippery conditions.
- The parkway is not salted so it can often be covered in compact snow. During long periods of stable weather, even sanded compact snow can result in challenging driving conditions.
- Road reports are based on the worst condition that a driver may encounter over the road’s entire 230 kilometre length. As in any mountain environment, weather can change very quickly, often changing the road conditions.
- Don’t forget your winter-worthy play gear (warm waterproof clothing, boots, snowshoes, skis, etc.). You will want to stop and explore the magic of winter along the way!
Check www.511.alberta.caor dial 511 (in Alberta only)
Jasper 780-852-3185 and Banff 403-762-2088
Be sure and check the latest avalanche conditions at pc.gc.ca/avalancheif you plan to venture into the backcountry.
Jasper Information Centre: 780-852-6176
Lake Louise Visitor Centre: 403-522-3833
Banff Visitor Centre: 403-762-1550
Hotels, restaurants and gift shops are CLOSED for the majority of the winter. For information on opening dates:
Sunwapta Falls Resort – www.sunwapta.com
Glacier View Inn – www.explorerockies.com
The Crossing Resort – www.thecrossingresort.com
Num-Ti-Jah Lodge – www.sntj.ca