One of the world’s most scenic drives.
that’s the word that comes to my mind when I think of the Icefields Parkway.
Driving from Banff to Jasper National Park.
Road from Lake Louise to Jasper is probably the busiest road in Alberta during the season. 230 km long with stunning views of icefields and glaciers feeding lakes, waterfalls, mountains and wildlife.
Do you have a stop in Banff? Check out these posts:
- 100 things to do in Banff National Park
- How to travel Canada on a budget
- Photo essay: Canadian Rockies from above
- Wildlife in Canada
Icefields Parkway itinerary
We’ve driven Icefields Parkway countless times and each time we stop at all of these places and are adding more. I would recommend driving 2 days to fully experience and enjoy it. If you’d like just snapping pictures along the way, one day is enough.
The Icefields Parkway ends in Jasper national park where we usually stay at least 4 days. There are many hikes and biking trails in the area and it’s more spread out than in Banff National Park.
Prepare to see so many shades of blue and green you’ve never seen before.
This emerald lake is overlooked by Victoria Glacier. With historic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel, it is one of the most popular lake in Canadian Rockies.
Kayaking and hiking during summer, ice skating and cross country skiing during winter, everyone can find a way to enjoy this place.
The Icefields Parkway starts right after Lake Louise (heading north) at the junction with Trans-Canada Highway, which is leading to Yoho national park.
It’s one of the most photographed lake in Canada and only a few kilometers away from Lake Louise. Don’t miss this if you’re in the area. You can rent a canoe on the lake or bring your own stand up paddle board and enjoy the view.
Due to its popularity it’s best visited early in the morning or later afternoon. The parking lot is full very soon so if you’re visiting during the day, you will need to go by shuttle.
Bow Lake – Crowfoot Glacier
(37 km from the junction)
Bow Lake lies on the Bow River and it is often enjoyed by many people on kayaks. Views around the lake include Wapta Icefield, Bow Glacier and Crowfoot Glacier.
There is also a hike to the Bow Falls, around 10 km round trip. Follow the trail along the right side of the lake which leads to the falls and enjoy a tea and cake in the hut by the lake afterward.
(40 km from the junction)
High above, the Wapta Icefield feeds the Peyto Glacier. And Peyto Glacier feeds Peyto Lake. When glacier is slightly melting in the summer, particles of the rocks flow into the lake and give the lake its unique turquoise colour.
It is just a short walk from the parking lot to the lookout. There is no hiking trail maintained although you might be able to hike there, read this post for more into.
Saskatchewan River Crossing
(77 km from the junction)
Important junction of Icefields Parkway and David Thompson Highway, which would lead you east to the city of Red Deer. If you have time, you can drive to Abraham Lake (especially beautiful during winter) and then return to Icefields Parkway.
It is the only place between Lake Louise and Jasper, which offers restaurant and gas station. Stay away from both (if you can), they are very overpriced.
Columbia Icefield – Athabasca Glacier
(126 km from the junction)
Columbia Icefield is the largest ice field in the Rockies of North America. It lies on the Continental Divide and on the border of Alberta and British Columbia.
When you see an icefield from the road, you are now in Jasper national park. Columbia Icefield feeds 8 glaciers including Athabasca Glacier. You can either buy a tour to the Athabasca Glacier or drive to the bottom of the glacier and explore a piece of it on your own.
(143 km from the junction)
Every time we drive the Icefield Parkway, we discover a new viewpoint or hiking trail. This time it was a trail to Stanley Falls. After driving 17 km leaving Columbia Icefield, there is an unmarked parking on the right. It’s the beginning of the hike through Beauty Creek to Stanley Falls.
Easy 4 km roundtrip trail leads through the flats into the canyon. We really needed to stretch our legs and decided to hike another 2 km to the end “marked” by triple waterfall. Trail is easy to follow but not marked, so read these instructions. Unlike other stops on the Icefields Parkway, we’ve only seen two people during the whole time.
(176 km from the junction)
Easily accessible waterfalls from the highway with a drop of 18 meters. As the water comes from Athabasca Glacier, the waterfall is the strongest in the beginning of summer when glacier starts to melt down.
(200 km from the junction)
Athabasca falls have a drop of 24 metres. The very bottom part of the falls is a popular area for starting a white water rafting trip on the Athabasca River.
As we were enjoying the view, we saw a black bear walking around across the river – near the parking lot. He looked hungry so we let him pass before getting back to the car.
(203 km from the junction)
Our biggest win of the drive was discovering Horseshoe Lake just before reaching Jasper. Cliff diving paradise! Watch here how beautiful the lake is.
It also offers few hiking trails along the lake but more importantly (at least for us) was a chance to finally cool off after the long ride. The water is crystal clear and very cold. Heights for jumping varies from 1 to 25 metres.
We enjoyed cliff diving a lot, but be aware that you have to know how to jump from heights and not just have the courage to do so. One guy injured his spine during our visit – he chose to jump from 15 metres as his first jump.
Valley of the Five Lakes
(221 km from the junction)
Last stop before reaching Jasper was Valley of the Five Lakes. Five lakes of different size, shape and colour. Time spent here is up to you, but I’d recommend to have at least an hour.
For more about hiking in the valley and other hiking recommendations in Jasper, check out the post Hiking in Jasper National Park
Tips for driving the Icefields Parkway:
– drive can be done in 3 hours (if you only want to drive through), but I’d recommend to have at least 8 hours which includes lunch break, easy pace during the stops and hike to Stanley Falls
– for best views and unfrozen lakes, plan the drive between June – October
– buy snacks and gas in Lake Louise before you hit the road. There is a gas station in Saskatchewan River Crossing which is overpriced
– for the price of renting a kayak in Lake Louise for an hour, you can rent a kayak for a full day (or more – for kayaking in Jasper) in Calgary or Banff and kayak anywhere you like for free
– driving in winter – road is covered in snow and not being salted. It crosses several avalanche areas which can leave the road closed for days, check road conditions
– see the summary of the trip on the map below. Click the icons for more info or share the map with your road trip buddies
Would you like to drive The Icefields Parkway? What was the most scenic drive you’ve ever experienced?
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