The Best Stops Along The Icefields Parkway In Alberta

Last Updated on February 1, 2023


The Best Stops Along The Icefields Parkway In Alberta

Although it is a mere 232 kilometers (144 miles) long, the Icefields Parkway packs quite a punch and ranks as one of the world’s most astounding driving routes. The Icefields Parkway links Banff and Jasper national parks in the Canadian Rockies, passing through mountain peaks, turquoise lakes, and over 100 glaciers, including the Athabasca Glacier. Condé Nast Traveler named the road one of the 10 best drives in the world, and it’s not hard to see why.

If you’re looking for an unforgettable Canadian road trip, the Icefields Parkway is a must-see.

This stretch of highway winds through the Rocky Mountains, passing glaciers, ice fields, and turquoise lakes. There are plenty of stops along the way to enjoy the incredible scenery, so we’ve put together a list of know-before-you-go information and our favorite stops!

Lake Louise

Table Of Contents

Where Does The Icefields Parkway Start?

The Icefields Parkway starts in Lake Louise, Alberta before curving through the Rocky Mountains to Jasper National Park. You’ll see some of Canada’s most picturesque sights while you’re en route, like glaciers, waterfalls, and mountain peaks. Make sure to pencil in some time to explore these route highlights below when you’re mapping out your trip.

How Long Is The Icefields Parkway?

The Icefields Parkway is a 232-kilometer road that goes through the Rocky Mountains. It is a popular road trip, especially during the summer months, because there are a ton of stops where you can appreciate the awesome views.

How Much Time Do You Need To Set Aside To Drive The Icefields Parkway?

The drive will take you approximately three hours, but we urge you to take your time and enjoy the amazing views along the way. The Columbia Icefield is located roughly in the middle of the journey, and it’s an absolute must-see. You can even walk on the surface of the Athabasca Glacier!

The Icefields Parkway can be completed via two routes. You have the choice of driving the whole length between Lake Louise and Jasper as a one-way trip. An alternative option is to drive up to the Icefield Centre from Banff or Lake Louise and return as a day trip.

Is Driving The Icefields Parkway Free?

Yes, but you must have a Parks Canada Pass, even if you are not planning on making any stops.

You can buy a Parks Canada pass at any park gate, at MEC, or online in advance (allow time for delivery too).

A Parks Canada Discovery Pass is a great way to save money if you plan on visiting multiple Parks Canada destinations in a year. The pass costs $145.25 (2022) for a family and gives you unlimited entrance to over 80 Parks Canada locations for the year. An adult pass is $72.25 and a senior pass is $61.75. The pass really does pay for itself in as little as seven days, and gives faster entry to the parks – just show your pass, smile, and wave!

If you only plan on staying for a few days, then day passes might be a better option for you. Day passes are $10.50 for an adult.

When Is The Best Time Of Year To Drive The Icefields Parkway?

The best time to drive the Icefields Parkway is typically from June to October when the weather is warmer and road conditions are better.

The Icefields Parkway is open all year round, but sections of it can close with little notice due to weather conditions. Be sure to check the road report before you go!

Driving The Icefields Parkway In Winter

You must use snow chains or winter tires in the winter. It can be perilous to drive the Icefields Parkway in winter due to bad weather and driving conditions. If you’re not a confident winter driver, we suggest going on an organized trip with an experienced driver instead of self-driving.

It’s always a good idea to have an emergency kit on hand, just in case you find yourself stranded.

Services located on the parkway, like restaurants and accommodations, close from November to April. Be sure to plan ahead if you’re considering driving during those months.

Which Is The Best Direction To Drive The Icefields Parkway?

Most people drive the Icefields Parkway from north to south, as this is the direction that the majority of attractions are located.

What Should I Pack For A Drive Along The Icefields Parkway?

Make sure you pack plenty of food and water, as there are only a few places to stop along the way. If you find yourself hungry while touring through Jasper National Park, there are a few different places you can stop to eat. At Saskatchewan River Crossing, there is a small cafe and convenience store for quick snacks. Or, if you’re looking for something more substantial, the Discovery Center near Athabasca Glacier and the Skywalk has both a food court and restaurant.

Is There Wildlife On The Icefields Parkway?

Yes, you might see some wildlife while driving along the Icefields Parkway. Keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep, elk, deer, coyotes, and even bears!

You’re going to want to stop and take a look if you come across wildlife, but it’s best not to. This is what is called a “Bear Jam” and it becomes especially problematic in the summer months. Generally, when one car pulls over to get a better look at an animal, other vehicles soon follow suit. Eventually, people exit their cars to take selfies with the wildlife which is dangerous to both humans and animals.

For large animals, it’s recommended to give them 30 m or three bus lengths of space from your vehicle. For bears, give them 100 m or ten bus lengths of space.

Under no circumstances should you feed or approach wildlife.

Read Next: What To Do During A Black Bear Encounter

Where Can I Find Fuel On The Icefields Parkway?

On the Icefields Parkway, there is only one place to get gas:  Saskatchewan River Crossing (about halfway through). Keep in mind that gas prices are extremely high in this area. Before you depart, fill up your tank completely so that you don’t have to stop again on the trip.

How Many Glaciers Are On The Icefields Parkway?

The Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, including more than 100 ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, and turquoise lakes set in sweeping valleys.

Are There Rest Stops Along the Icefields Parkway?

There are many places to pull over to stretch your legs or take a break from the drive. Keep in mind that these stops will not have more than garbage bins and pit toilets, but when you gotta go, you gotta go!

The best places to take a break are at Saskatchewan River Crossing and Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre as they have full facilities.

What Can I Eat on the Icefields Parkway?

There are a few different places you can stop to eat along the Icefields Parkway. At Saskatchewan River Crossing, there is a small cafe and convenience store for quick snacks. Or, if you’re looking for something more substantial, the Discovery Center near Athabasca Glacier and the Skywalk has both a food court and restaurant.

Although you’ll be overcharged and the food won’t be noteworthy, if you’re famished, it’s unlikely that you’ll mind. The ideal solution is to bring a cooler with food and beverages along on the drive. Picnic tables are available at several lovely locations for you to really enjoy your meal with breathtaking scenery.

If you’re planning on making the trip, it would be best to grab food from either Banff or Jasper’s grocery stores.

Accommodation On The Icefields Parkway

There really are not many options for accommodation along the Icefields Parkway, but you will find a few moderate hotels, high-class hotels, and hostels along the route.

Luxury hotels are few and far between along the Icefields Parkway, but if you’re looking for a high-end option, we recommend the Fairmont Park Lodge in Jasper, Fairmont Lake Louise in Banff, or Glacier View Lodge near Banff. For mid-range hotels, we recommend Lake Louise Inn in Banff or Whistler’s Inn in Jasper.

A bunk in a shared room at one of the hostels along the route-Mosquito Creek, Rampart Creek, or Hilda Creek; are all inexpensive options.

Camping is also an option, but they are first come first serve and fill up fast during the summer months, so have an alternative plan ready.

Can I Hike Along the Icefields Parkway?

Absolutely! The Icefields Parkway is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the world. With over 365 kilometers of trails, there’s something for everyone.

Some of the most popular hikes include:

  • Wilcox Pass
  • Parker Ridge
  • Peyto Lake
  • Herbert Lake Trail
  • The Valley of the Five Lakes

Here are the best stops you will not want to miss along the Icefields Parkway:

Columbia Icefield

The largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains, the Columbia Icefield is a sight to behold. You can explore it by taking a tour on an all-terrain vehicle or even going for a walk on the Athabasca Glacier with a guide.

The Columbia Icefield is a popular destination for tourists traveling along the Icefields Parkway, with the Athabasca Glacier being North America’s most visited glacier. The glacier is so thick that it measures the height of the Eiffel Tower! Glaciers are basically slow-moving rivers of ice created from accumulated snow. However, as this glacier has retreated, it has created an otherworldly moonscape.

If you choose to drive down to the foot of the glacier, you will also see signage that shows how much the glacier has retreated in the last decades. It is mind-blowing to be able to visualize what we have lost in even the last 100 years.

For your safety, please remain behind the barriers and do not walk on the glacier without a guide.

Another really cool option is to take an Ice Explorer tour. From the Icefield Interpretive Center, you will board a tour bus that takes you to the bottom of the Athabasca Glacier, where you switch at a bus stop-like platform onto the Ice Explorers. Once you reach the glacier, you can get off the Ice Explorer and onto the ice. Take time for some fun photos and to taste some of the delicious ice-COLD glacier water.

Glacier Skywalk

The Glacier Skywalk is a glass-floored observation platform that hangs off the edge of a cliff in the Sunwapta Valley. The walkway winds its way along the cliffs before it reaches the glass floor panels. From the Skywalk, behold an unequaled view of Sunwapta Valley and the Columbia Icefield.

You can only reach the Skywalk by tour bus from the visitor center. There is no public parking available.

Sunwapta Falls

These powerful waterfalls are fed by the Athabasca Glacier. The three levels are formed by “hanging valleys,” resulting in a waterfall. It’s easy to get a glimpse of it from the two viewpoints, so you can appreciate the falls from different perspectives.

The most popular viewpoint is the Upper Falls because it is more accessible. A 1.3-mile trek will take you to the lower falls.

Athabasca Falls

These thundering waterfalls are created by the force of the Athabasca River as it flows over a sheer drop. Although Athabasca Falls is not the tallest waterfall, it does spew an impressive amount of water that will leave you in awe. Take a walk on the interpretive path and learn more about the waterfall and its surroundings, as well as take in the breathtaking scenery.

There are fences in place for a reason – don’t try to get any closer. The ground and boulders are slick, and a tumble into the freezing water or rocky canyon would have disastrous consequences.

Peyto Lake

Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, And Bow Summit

Your first stop is just 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Lake Louise: the stunning turquoise water of Bow Lake, which provides outstanding views of the Crowfoot and Bow Glaciers. Five kilometers up the road, you’ll find Bow Summit where Peyto Lake comes into view. The highest point on a public road in Canada is the Bow Pass, which rises to 2,067 meters/6.781 feet above sea level! The views from the top showcase this breathtaking height!

Peyto Lake is a breathtaking blue, and one of the most photographed lakes in all of Canada. To catch a glimpse of its glory, stop at the viewing area by the roadside or take a quick hike to get up close and personal. The hike takes around half an hour, and the scenery at the top makes it worth the effort to get there!

Mistaya Canyon

This narrow canyon was carved out by the Mistaya River and is surrounded by steep cliffs. To get to the canyon, you’ll have to walk down a simple 0.5-kilometer paved path to a well-maintained wire fence and bridge. The canyon’s power is on full display here!

Lake Louise And Moraine Lake

These world-famous lakes need no introduction. With their azure waters and stunning mountain backdrops, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are two of the most beautiful lakes in the world. While you’re in the area, be sure to visit Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and Moraine Lake Lodge for a taste of luxury!

The turquoise waters of Lake Louise are a result of the glacial silt that is deposited in the lake. The best time to visit is early in the morning when the water is calm and the mountains are reflected perfectly in the lake.

Moraine Lake is located in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, one of Canada’s most beautiful places. The water is glacier-fed and has a vibrant blue color. Take a walk around the lake that is crowned by TEN notable peaks, or go for a hike in the area – you won’t be disappointed!

Even though these Lakes are right before the start of the Icefield’s Parkway, it is a must-see to add to your Icefields Parkway road trip. To avoid the large influx of people, later on, we recommend arriving early. Parking becomes more complicated to find as time goes by. Moraine Lake parking also closes once full, and that can be VERY early in the morning. The best bet is to buy shuttle tickets to see the lakes without hassle.

Waterfowl Lakes Viewpoint

Waterfowl Lakes is the perfect place for those who want to avoid large crowds but still experience natural beauty.

The glacial lakes are stunning blue, especially on sunny days. They don’t require difficult hikes to get to them, making them perfect for stand-up paddleboarders, canoers, and kayakers! It can be as simple as pulling into a pulloff on the side of the road!

Sunset

While this is not an exact location, you will not want to miss experiencing a sunset somewhere along the Icefields Parkway. You’re sure to have your breath taken away, regardless of where you choose!

Saskatchewan River

Saskatchewan River Crossing is approximately halfway between Banff and Jasper, right where Hwy 93 meets Hwy 11. Gas up at the service station, the last one before you reach Jasper!

You’ll also find some stunning scenery of the Saskatchewan River along a bridge. It is stunning, you cannot miss it.

This view from the bridge was one of the most magical moments of our last adventure along the Icefields Parkway. The scene did not feel real with the rainbow!

Tangle Creek Falls

Soon after passing the Skywalk, on your right, you will see Tangle Creek Falls, and on your left a small parking area.

Although it’s not the most famous waterfall, it’s worth pulling over for a quick picture – especially since it is right along the road!

Use extreme caution if you plan to cross the road to stand at the base of the falls!

Icefields Parkway from Big Bend

Big Hill And Big Bend Viewpoint

The name “Big Bend” was given to a huge bend in the road along the Icefields Parkway. Big Bend is part of any Icefields Parkway itinerary, as you will be driving on it.

At the top of the curvy road, however, there is a lookout where you can look back on the Icefields Parkway’s Big Hill! You’ll be able to see the road you’ve just traveled wrap around the valley floor and around mountains.

This is an excellent location to stop to stretch your legs on a sunny day!

Tips For Exploring The Icefields Parkway

  • On the Icefields Parkway, cell phone service is practically non-existent. If you’re driving yourself, get a Parks Canada map or download some maps to have offline. Appreciate the opportunity to disconnect and enjoy nature — that’s what you’re here for!
  • If you’re going to be spending time on the glacier, where it tends to be about 15°C (27°F) colder than other areas, make sure to pack plenty of layers.
  • The general vicinity of the route, especially early in the morning and at dusk, is home to a variety of animals. Make careful not to get out of your car and give them plenty of space.
  • The best time to see waterfalls is at the end of spring and the beginning of summer when the snowmelt is at its peak.
  • Fill up your tank before you start your journey – you wouldn’t want to run out of gasoline. Plus, the only gas station is at around the halfway point.

 

So there you have it – our favorite stops along the Icefields Parkway! Whether you’re looking to explore glaciers, see waterfalls or simply take in the stunning scenery, this road trip has it all.

We hope you enjoyed our list of the best stops along the Icefields Parkway in Alberta. If you’re planning a road trip, this is definitely a route that should be on your bucket list!

 

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