The Icefields Parkway is a 230km stretch of road that connects Canada’s Jasper and Banff National Parks and contains some of Alberta’s most spectacular scenery. You could drive the entire route in a day, or you could spend weeks stopping at the countless viewpoints and side trips.
It can be hard to narrow down your options, from visiting the famous Lake Louise to stopping at the lesser known viewpoints. Whichever stopping points you choose, you can be sure of stunning sights of lakes, mountains, glaciers and more. Here’s our pick of the top sights along the Icefields Parkway.
If you’re starting your trip in Jasper and heading south, Athabasca Falls will be one of the first stopping points on your trip down the Icefields Parkway. The falls lie just 30 km from the town of Jasper, and 200 km from Lake Louise at the southern end of the parkway.
Visitors can park up and head downhill on foot to the falls. Although not one of the tallest waterfalls in the area, Athabasca makes for an impressive sight due to the sheer volume of water and the beauty of the gorge.
Be sure to take the steps down to the lower falls and potholes, to see the impact of the falls in action. Factor in at least an hour to explore the walkways and photograph the falls before heading onwards.
“Sunwapta” translates to “turbulant water”, a very fitting name for this pair of waterfalls. Sunwapta may not be as impressive as nearby Athabasca, but the appeal lies in the hidden nature of these falls.
Hiking the short distance along the forested trail makes visitors feel as though they are discovering Sunwapta for the first time. Most visitors stick to the upper falls, but the two kilometre hike downhill to the lesser-visited lower falls is well worth the effort.
The Icefields Parkway is dominated by the Columbia Icefield, a massive expanse of ice that feeds eight glaciers. There are countless viewpoints along the parkway, but one of the best is Stutfield Glacier. Featuring jagged rock formations and icefalls, the glacier makes for a picturesque view right by the roadside.
For a more up close and personal encounter with the ice, visit the Athabasca Glacier. Visitors can hike right up to the glacier’s edge.
Many choose to go even further, slipping under the rope barrier to walk on the ice itself. Please don’t. You will be contributing to the decline of an already shrinking glacier.
The ice is receding at an upsetting rate of around 5 metres per year, a fact which is highlighted by markers showing the areas that were covered by the glacier in past years.
it can be impossible to decide which of Alberta’s beautiful lakes to visit. The area is dominated by Lake Louise and Lake Moraine, which lie at the southern end of the Icefields Parkway. But there are a multitude of other lakes along the road.
Each of these lakes have their own appeal, but one thing they all have in common is the enchanting deep blue colour of the water, a result of light refracting through fine rock powder.
Waterfowl Lake is one of the road’s lesser-visited lakes. But it’s well worth a quick stop. Just a few steps downwards from the roadside leads right to the edge of this peaceful, mountainside lake.
Peyto Lake requires a bit more effort to get to, but it is undeniably worth it. The hike to the lake viewpoint is short, taking only 10-15 minutes, but it’s quite steep.
The result is an elevated viewpoint looking down one of the most stunning lakes in the region. The azure-coloured water surrounded by snow-tipped mountains is one of the most iconic sights of the Icefields Parkway.
For those unable to hike, a less strenuous viewpoint is available at the parking lot just past the entrance.
Bow Lake may not live up to the spectacular vista of Peyto Lake, but if you’re looking for a quiet, undisturbed lake view this is one of your last chances before hitting the crowded Lakes Louise and Moraine.
Less than half an hour’s drive from the parkway’s end at Lake Louise, Bow Lake makes for a pretty final stopping point, particularly in the summer, when the colourful wildflowers are in bloom and the sky is clear.
Whichever stopping points you choose, you’ll be sure of stunning views throughout your drive along the Icefields Parkway.
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