A guide to the Icefields Parkway, Canada

BE ASTONISHED BY BEAUTY IN THIS GUIDE TO THE ICEFIELDS PARKWAY, CANADA

Driving the Icefields Parkway itself is an experience that many people visiting the Canadian Rockies look forward to. We heard the road was stunning to drive and that you should definitely take 2 days to make sure you can enjoy it to the fullest and visit all sights along the way.

For us, this did go slightly different though. When waking up in Jasper, our start point to drive the Icefields Parkway, we saw it snowed! That day it was cloudy and the weather forecast showed that the weather was going to be worse. While driving, we weren’t able to see a single peak of one of the mountains around us and the view was very limited. We decided to drive straight to Banff, to be able to spend the expected bad weather in a ‘city’. 

On the way there, we were lucky still able to see some of the city that were located closest to Jasper. Later during the trip, when the weather cleared, we stayed in Lake Louise. From there, we decided to take a day and actually drive the Icefields Parkway when it was sunny (however, still full of snow as you can see). 

This flexibility and adjustment to our set itinerary fortunately caused that we’ve still been able to discover most of the sights along the Icefields Parkway. In this article, I will cover the sights we visited, as well as some sights we haven’t. This because I did loads of research beforehand and it would be a shame not to share our initial research/recommendations/plan. 

NEED TO KNOW GUIDE TO THE ICEFIELDS PARKWAY

The Icefields Parkway is the main road between Jasper National Park and Lake Louise and stretches 232 kms. The whole drive you will see mountain tops on both sides and you’ll find stunning lakes. The road is remote, so make sure to fill up on gas and groceries in either Lake Louise or Jasper to avoid unpleasant surprises. 

Keep road conditions in mind, especially during winter, because as you can see in the pictures; it can turn snowy any minute! 

As said, definitely spend 2 days around. In summer there are quite some campgrounds, however outside of the summer season you might have to be a little bit more creative, when campings are closed.

A guide to the Icefields Parkway, Canada
A guide to the Icefields Parkway, Canada
A guide to the Icefields Parkway, Canada
Snowy trees, Canada

What to see along the way

 

Another website created a Google Maps with some other tips, but I used parts of it as an inspiration. You can find it here. 

1. Valley of the five lakes

A relatively short hike that shows you 5 lakes along the way. Are you on the red chair hunt (you’ll find them all over the Rocky Mountains), than this hike is good for you too. 

You’ll find the valley of the five lakes right at the beginning of the Icefields Parkway. We actually decided to do the hike from Jasper, as it is so close, instead of including it in the Icefields Parkway itinerary. Interested in more hikes in and around Jasper? Check it out here.

Valley of the Five Lakes, Jasper, Canada
Valley of the Five Lakes, Jasper, Canada
Valley of the Five Lakes, Jasper, Canada
Valley of the Five Lakes, Jasper, Canada

2. Horseshoe lake

It turned very snowy the day we were planning to drive the Icefields Parkway. However, we still decided to stop and have a quick look at Horseshoe Lake. A lesser known sight along the Icefields Parkway but definitely worth visiting! 

There is a small parking lot located next to the road and quickly you’ll be rewarded with stunning views over a blue bend. We decided to actually hike a bit around the lake. This wasn’t the easiest to do, as we were the first to arrive after the snow fell. Therefore, the trails weren’t clear, so this costed a bit of time to figure out and some detours probably. 

Nevertheless, a special experience and a stop along the Icefields Parkway that can’t miss in this guide. 

Horseshoe Lake, Canada
Horseshoe Lake, Canada
Horseshoe Lake, Canada
Horseshoe Lake, Canada

3. ATHABASCA FALLS

The first famous falls on route when coming from the North are the Athabasca Falls. Unfortunately, you won’t be the only person visiting the place, as it is relatively touristic. The falls are located quite close to the parking lot, so not much walking is involved. I wasn’t completely blown away by the falls, but it is worth the quick stop.

Athabasca Falls, Icefields Parkway, Canada
aAthabasca Falls, Icefields Parkway, CanadaaAthabasca Falls, Icefields Parkway, Canada
Athabasca Falls, Icefields Parkway, Canada
Athabasca Falls, Icefields Parkway, Canada

4. SUNWAPTA FALLS

Next up: the Sunwapta Falls. Only a 20 minute drive away from the previous waterfalls, you’ll arrive at the next sight along the Icefields Parkway. Slightly less touristy and also worth a quick peak. The waterfall is quite famous with photographers because of the stone that splits the waterfall in two. The snowy nature made it a very colorless place at the time we were visiting. 

Sunwapta Falls, Canada
Sunwapta Falls, Canada

5. Athabasca glacier / columbia icefield

This is probably the most popular stop along the way. Even during the insanely snowy circumstances, the visiting centre was packed. Personally, we didn’t feel paying or all the attractions along the way, such as the “Skywalk”. However, entering the glacier with the bus was originally the plan. The moment we saw the long queues combined with the weather (which caused a limited view), we decided not to join the tour to see the glacier by bus. 

Concluding, we didn’t see much of the glacier as the picture shows. However, the most famous sight couldn’t miss in this Icefields Parkway Guide. 

Columbia Icefields, Canada

6. parker ridge trail

Firstly, this is again a recommendation that comes from research instead of own experience. The trail was unfortunately unaccessible because of, surprisingly, snow. However, the Parker Ridge trail is probably the most famous and popular one located en route of the Icefields Parkway. It is even seen as one of the best day hikes in the Rockies! 

The trail is ‘only’ 6 kilometers and will take 1,5 to 3 hours. You’ll still have some time to continue your journey towards other sights in this Icefields Parkway Guide. If you want to know more about this hike, I would recommend following this link.

7. Chephren lake / cirque lake / lake helen

Before heading to Canada, I did a lot of research on the most stunning hikes in the Canadian Rockies. The hike covering Chephren Lake & Cirque lake was high on my list. As discussed enough now, the weather changed things up a bit, which meant we weren’t able to do the hike. However, I don’t want to save you the recommendation. 

This hike will take you a little bit longer though, so you should make it a part of your itinerary and plan the hike carefully.  The distance is around 15km and will take you 3 to 5 hours. More information can be found here.

8. peyto lake

Time for a little story. When we were visiting Peyto Lake, the official parking lot was quite empty. We still decided to go there though. NOT a good idea, as we ended up stranded in the high volumes of snow. Some locals helped to dig us out. In the end, we still drove up to a different small parking lot (Bow Summit) that wasn’t as snowed in and managed to see Peyto Lake. We did also hike up to the Peyto Lake Upper View Point / Bow Pass to catch some different views upon the lake. This hike is not much longer than 5 kilometers back and forth.

You might not recognize Peyto Lake from these pictures, as you only find pictures where the lake has a bright blue color. Not when we were visiting though! 

Peyto Lake, Canada
Peyto Lake Overlook, Canada
Peyto Lake Overlook, Canada
Peyto Lake, Canada

9. BOW LAKE

You’ll drive past this lake and I’m sure you want to make a quick stop at the parking lot located along the road. The lake is small, but in the background you’ll see a couple of glacier. Curious how this would have looked in summer. 

Around Bow Lake, Canada

10. hector lake

Last but not least, Hector Lake. This lake is, logically, often mentioned together with Herbert Lake. The lakes are relatively similar, but Herbert Lake is accessible from the road, while you have to walk a bit to see Hector Lake (5km one way),to be rewarded with a lake full of glacier water. 

And what else do you need to know?

As you can see, there are quite some sights and nice hikes located along the Icefields Parkway. Depending on what you would like to see and if you prefer to do some hikes, you’ll probably want to spend the night on a campsite along the route. 

When we visited, campsites did close down already (before end of season, because of extreme winter conditions). From my previous research we would otherwise have stayed at one of the following spots: 

– Wilcox Creek Campground 
– Waterfowls Lake Campgroud
– Mosquito Creek Campground

Icefields Parkway, Canada

To conclude, don’t forget to enjoy the ride. The Icefields Parkway is a sight itself that should be enjoyed to the fullest. This guide only highlights the top 10 sights that are located en route. Take your time, prepare yourself and enjoy. 

I really hope I have the opportunity to go back in a more sunny season to enjoy the stunning landscapes and scenery from a different point of view.

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Guide to the Icefields Parkway, Canada

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