The Icefields Parkway is the primary north-south route through the Alberta Rockies in Canada, and one of the most spectacular scenic drives in the world. The road runs through the heart of the Jasper and Banff National Parks from Jasper to Lake Louise and it's a marvellous way to see the mountains - and a "must do".
HistoryThe route was discovered in 1884, the road being completed in 1940.
LandscapeThe road runs in the flat of a U shaped glacial valley climbing from the south and the north ends to its highest point. In the northern section the Athabasca and Sunwapta rivers run north, the southern section the Bow river runs south, and the central section is the source of the Mistaya and North Saskatchewan rivers which flow north then east. The mountains, mainly sandstone but also some limestone rock, rise high on both sides of the road displaying spectacular sedimentary and glacial formations. The ridges of the western mountains form the continental divide.
Flora and faunaThe area is mainly an alpine and sub-alpine Montane ecology. There is a good chance of sighting of black bear and elk as well as a possibility of mountain goats and bald eagles.
Fees and permits
- Town with plenty of accommodation and restaurants.
Athabasca FallsThe Athabasca River thunders through a narrow gorge where the walls have been smoothed and potholes are created by the sheer force of the rushing water carrying sand and rock. There are parking and restroom facilities. A paved trail and picnic sites are available. Walk past the views of the falls into a walkway carved by the river.
Goat lickChance of seeing mountain goats at the side of the road.
phone: +1 780-852-4852Accommodation, restaurant, cafeteria and gift shop
Sunwapta FallsSmall falls but worth a short visit. Only a short walk from the car park.
Tangle fallsPicturesque waterfall except is right on the side of the road.
Columbia IcefieldOne highlight of the Icefields Parkway: ride on a Snocoach right up onto the glacier, get out and walk around on the ice. During the summer, trained guides offer 3 or 5 hour walks on the Athabasca Glacier, but this is only possible when there is no snow cover on the ice. At the very beginning of the tourist season the glacier is sometimes a smooth white sheet of snow, giving no hint as to the maze of deadly crevasses under its surface. It's also possible to park car near the toe of the glacier with a short but steep walk up to the toe of the glacier (restricted path way due to crevasses).
Big bendLarge bend in the road south of an incline. View pull off points at the bottom and near the top of the hill.
Weeping WallWater running down the side of almost vertical walls of the mountain.
phone: +1 403-761-7000Accommodation, basic café, restaurant and bar. General store and fuel station.
Peyto LakeA scenic location on the Icefields Parkway about 40 kilometres north of the town of Lake Louise. Access to the viewing area for this magnificent area is immediately off the parkway and is well signposted. Upon climbing the short distance to the viewing point you are greeted by what many consider to be one of the best views in Canada. The lake is located in a convergence of valleys surrounded by majestic mountains and rich forests. The lake system is fed from the Peyto Glacier to the left of the view point and this gives the lake a magnificent blue colour in the summer months due to the mineral content.
phone: +1 403-522-2167Rooms, dining, coffee and souvenir shops.
Viewpoint of Crowfoot Glacier and Bow glaciers
- Glacial lake with impressive mountain backdrop. Village and surrounding area has a number of sleep and eat options.
This is bear county; stay in your vehicle if you come across one.
Also keep an eye out for other animals on the road, such as deer and moose. And watch out for the odd crazy cyclist also doing the route.
There are no medical facilities along the route but there are small hospitals in Lake Louise and Jasper.
There are toilets at the Sunwapta Lodge, Columbia Icefield centre, Saskatchewan crossing and Num-Ti-Jah Lodge. Also at many of the day parking pull-offs and main sights along the way there are pit toilets, which are generally kept in a very good condition.
- If you want to try a little more rugged road then take the Spray Lakes Road/Smith-Dorrien Highway through Kananaskis Country
- An alternative route to along the parkway is the 93A between Jasper and the Athabasca Falls. This is a narrower and bumpy road with lower speed limit but will provide good opportunities for seeing wildlife such as black bears and great northern loons.