If you thought Canada was all moose and maple syrup – think again. Canada is also well known for its splendid scenery and lush mountain landscapes, and one of the best ways to see all of this is on the Icefields Parkway Drive – a scenic road in Canada that will leave you breathless.
The 232 km Icefields Parkway is known to be the most scenic drive in Canada. It’s known for its breathtaking beauty, with stunning mountain vistas, glaciers, waterfalls, and turquoise lakes.
But if you’re not sure what to see and do along the Icefields Parkway Drive, here is a complete guide to the drive help you out!
- What is The Icefields Parkway Drive?
- Is Icefields Parkway worth it?
- Stops To Add To Your Icefields Parkway Itinerary
- 1. Columbia Icefield / Athabasca Glacier
- 2. Columbia Glacier Skywalk
- 3. Icefields Parkway Waterfalls
- 3. Lake Louise
- 4. Bow Lake
- 5. Peyto Lake
- 6. Mistaya Canyon
- 7. Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint
- 8. Moraine Lake
- 9. Waterfowl Lake
- 10. Chephren Lake
- 11. Mosquito Creek Trail
- 12. Saskatchewan Glacier
- Icefields Parkway Itinerary Map
- Best Time to Drive the Icefields Parkway
- Where To Stay On The Icefields Passway
- Final Thoughts
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What is The Icefields Parkway Drive?
The Icefields Parkway is a scenic road in the Canadian Rockies that connects the hamlet of Lake Louise in Banff National Park with the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park.
The parkway, also known as Highway 93, has numerous stops and attractions that leave visitors in awe, including the Columbia Icefield, which is the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies.
Along the way you can stop off to enjoy hiking, sightseeing, or visit viewpoints along this iconic road.
The Canadian Icefields Parkway drive draws nearly 100,000 vehicles per month with its towering mountains, icy blue lakes and shimmery crystal ancient glaciers.
The whole drive can be done within 3 hours. But you won’t want to.
A road like this demands your time to explore, to stop, to photograph, to be in awe. We recommend you take 2 days to drive the Icefields Parkway so you can spend more time at the stops and enjoy the hiking trails.
Is Icefields Parkway worth it?
The Icefields Parkway, which gets its name from the Columbia Icefields, is journey through Banff National Park and Jasper National Park that is quite possibly the most scenic drive on earth and should be on your road trip bucket list.
Rated as one of the top drives in the world by Conde Nast Traveller, the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93 North) links Lake Louise to Jasper in Alberta, Canada.
Not only does the road offer stunning scenery of glaciers, waterfalls, and breathtaking mountains, but it also passes some of the top attractions in Canada.
Places like Sunwapta Falls, the Columbia Icefield, and the Parker Ridge trail are some of the most well known landmarks in the country.
The road is also well-maintained and easily accessible during the warmer months, and we highly recommended it for those who want a unique way to experience the Canadian Rockies.
Stops To Add To Your Icefields Parkway Itinerary
While there are numerous places for which you will be pulling the car over to check out the vistas, be sure to add the below places to stop on the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper.
1. Columbia Icefield / Athabasca Glacier
Columbia Icefields is the most famous attraction on the Icefields Parkway and is what gives this scenic drive its name.
It’s an easy drive from Jasper to Columbia Icefields, and the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains, Athabasca Glacier.
Make sure you park your car at the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre and book a tour on the tank-like bus to the Athabasca Glacier.
It’s a steep ride down to the glacier, but once parked you have free time to walk around and become an ice explorer.
But time is running out. The Athabasca Glacier is fed by the Athabasca River and has lost 60% of its volume in the last 170 years, and experts believe it will be completely gone between between 2040 and 2100.
So make sure you see it while you still can.
The Icefield Centre near the Columbia Icefield Skywalk also has a natural history museum to learn more about glaciers and the local environment.
The Saskatchewan River Crossing and Num-Ti-Jah Lodge is a starting point for tours on the Columbia Icefield.
2. Columbia Glacier Skywalk
This breathtaking cliff-edge walkway offers a unique way to see the glacier, as you witness the immense powers of glaciology from a glass-floored observation platform perched 918 feet above the Sunwapta Valley.
As you traverse the 1,312-foot long walkway, unobstructed vistas of snow-capped peaks and giant glaciers will leave you in awe.
The accessibility of the Columbia Glacier Skywalk makes it an ideal destination for all adventure seekers looking to connect with nature’s grandeur.
3. Icefields Parkway Waterfalls
There are several waterfalls along the Icefields Parkway, but make sure you don’t miss the following…
A short drive from Jasper is the class 5 waterfall, Athabasca Falls, with a drop of 80 feet. Its turquoise sapphire water is spellbinding.
The falls are impressive for the volume and force of water, which can be safely viewed and photographed from various viewing platforms and walking trails.
With a drop of 61 feet, The Sunwapta Falls consists of an upper and lower fall with a hike that will get you close enough to feel the mist.
The falls are particularly impressive in the late spring and early summer when snow pack runoff is high.
3. Lake Louise
Lake Louise is one of the most romantic lakes in the Canadian Rockies area to visit, especially during snow season when the white-peaked mountains create a stunning and tranquil landscape.
Lefroy Glacier melts into an impossibly scenic and mirror-smooth lake, with its pristine turquoise waters framed by majestic snow-capped mountain peaks – but Lake Louise is more than just a beautiful nature spot.
Around the lake you may spot some native wildlife, including Grizzly Bears (it’s one of the safest places in Canada to see them), black bears, bighorn sheep, lynx, mountain goats, moose and elks.
4. Bow Lake
Bow Lake is one of the most underestimated spots on the Icefields Parkway. You will find Bow Lake closer to the southern end at about an altitude of 6,299 feet.
Its indescribable beauty is best captured under the setting sun.
Bow Lake reached by hiking along the Bow Glacier Falls trail, which is an easy 9 km round trip (though come early as the parking lot often gets filled quickly).
Bow Lake is the headwaters of the Bow River and the perfect spot to view the Crowfoot Glacier, Wapta Icefield, Bow Glacier, Crowfoot Mountain and Mount Thompson.
5. Peyto Lake
As if a 10-minute short hike through a snowy wonderland was not fun enough, when you reach an elevation of 6,102 feet you are rewarded at Bow Summit with the perfect view overlooking Peyto Lake and the sweeping valleys.
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.
6. Mistaya Canyon
Mistaya Canyon is another picturesque hiking trail located within Banff National Park, where the rushing waters of the Mistaya River have carved a breathtaking gorge.
With its easy accessibility and short hike, Mistaya Canyon allows you to easily get up close to towering rock formations and cascading waterfalls.
7. Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint
Nestled amidst the awe-inspiring landscapes of Banff National Park, the Crawfoot Glacier viewing platform allows you to marvel at the icy behemoth of Crowfoot Glacier as it majestically rests on the rocky flanks of Crowfoot Mountain.
The accessibility of this viewpoint allows you to easily witness this natural wonder, making it a must-visit stop on the Icefields Parkway.
8. Moraine Lake
This pristine turquoise lake, surrounded by towering peaks and dense forests, is the perfect lake to stop off at for a picnic or outdoor activities.
From hiking and biking to canoeing on its glacial-fed waters, it’s the perfect spot for nature lovers and photographers alike.
9. Waterfowl Lake
Located on a short walk from the parkway, you’ll discover a lovely viewpoint that offers stunning vistas of Waterfowl Lake.
Surrounded by the majestic Canadian Rockies, this picturesque spot provides the perfect backdrop for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
If you enjoy camping, pitch your tent at the nearby Waterfowl Lakes Campground for the night.
10. Chephren Lake
Another beautiful lake in Banff National Park is Chephren Lake.
This hidden gem is reached by a moderate hiking trail, perfect for adventurers seeking a peaceful escape into nature.
As you traverse the 9 km round trip, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the lake nestled beneath the towering walls of Howse Peak and Mount Chephren.
11. Mosquito Creek Trail
Despite its name, Mosquito Creek is not known for its mosquitos!
The hike is an easy, 10km round trip hike that starts at Mosquito Creek and finishes at Mosquito Valley.
This hike offers a chance to explore the unspoiled beauty of the Canadian Rockies, including see scenes of the grand Noseeum Mountain, while immersing themselves in nature’s wonders.
Traverse through lush forests, cross babbling creeks, and marvel at the breathtaking vistas that unfold before your eyes.
12. Saskatchewan Glacier
This colossal ice giant stands as a testament to the grandeur of nature, captivating all who encounter it.
Located in Banff National Park, Saskatchewan Glacier is the largest outflow glacier on the parkway.
Like Athabasca Glacier, this glacier is also retreating and is expected to disappear by the end of the century. Experts believe it is receding at 55 metres per year.
Icefields Parkway Itinerary Map
To help you plan your Icefields Parkway itinerary, here is a map of all the stops we mentioned in this guide.
If you plan to drive from Banff to Jasper, we recommend you visit each stop in this order:
- Moraine Lake
- Lake Louise
- Mosquito Creek Trail
- Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint
- Bow Lake
- Peyto Lake
- Mistaya Lake
- Waterfowl Lake
- Chephren Lake
- Saskatchewan Glacier
- Athabasca Glacier
- Columbia Icefield Skywalk
- Sunwapta Falls
- Athabasca Falls
Best Time to Drive the Icefields Parkway
The best time of year to do the Icefields Parkway is in the summer. If possible, aim your visit for June as there will be large crowds of tourists in July and August.
The road conditions are pretty icy and services such as gas stations, hotels, hostels, campgrounds, and restaurants close in the winter from November until April, so you won’t be able to do the drive in these months.
Spring time in April is a nice time of year when the meadows are in bloom, and you can also avoid the crowds in early September.
Where To Stay On The Icefields Passway
There are many guest houses, motels and lodges around these two cities, but there are only a handful of hotels on the actual parkway, and they are more expensive, so you’ll likely need to come off it at night to sleep.
Be sure to check Parks Canada for any closures along the Icefields Parkway before making any reservations.
It takes far more than 3 hours to witness all the beauty along the Icefields Parkway, the most scenic drive in Canada. My best tip is to divide and conquer.
This scenic drive through the majestic Canadian Rockies will leave you awestruck at every turn. Glaciers majestically flow into crystal-clear lakes, while towering mountains offer a backdrop that seems like it’s been painted by a master artist.
The Icefields Parkway is not just a drive; it’s an opportunity to reconnect with nature’s grandeur and find solace in its beauty.
For those who like multiple day tours, with a splash of luxury, consider the Canadian Rockies tours offered by our preferred tour company, Globus. See their Western Canada tours here.
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More Canada Travel Tips
Thinking of visiting other parts of Canada? Here are some useful resources…
- What to do in Banff
- 8 of the Most Beautiful Places to See in Jasper National Park
- 22 of the best scenic drives in the USA
- 19 of the Best Road trips in the USA
- Best hikes in the Canadian Rockies (easy to hard)
- Experience the Best of Vancouver, Canada
- What to Do in Victoria, BC, Canada (Local Tips)
- The Best Things to do in Calgary on a short trip
Tours of the Icefields Parkway Drive
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Have you driven the Icefields Parkway? What was your favorite memory? Or what is your favorite road trip in Canada? Share in the comments below.