The Glacier Skywalk in Jasper National Park. Is it Worth it?

If you’re planning a trip to Banff, you might have seen ads for something called the Glacier Skywalk in Jasper National Park. What is the Glacier Skywalk exactly? We checked out this fairly new attraction and found out a thing or two about what you should expect.

What is the Glacier Skywalk?

The Glacier Skywalk is a fairly new attraction in the Columbia Icefields. It starts at the Glacier Discovery Centre and involves a short bus ride to the actual Glacier Skywalk platform. The newly installed interpretive centre and glass-bottomed Skywalk actually overlooks the Sunwapta Valley – roughly 6km away.

At the end of your short bus ride you’re dropped off and slowly herded into the exhibit with an audio guide. Don’t worry, the audio guides are offered in plenty of languages if English isn’t your native language.

While you do actually learn a lot about the wildlife and geological formations in the area, the main attraction is obviously designed to be the glass-bottomed skywalk at the end. If you’re scared of heights (coming from someone that isn’t great with heights), it’s going to be pretty nerve racking. Because guess what? There’s nothing but a – hopefully very thick – piece of glass between you and a 918ft drop to the valley floor. Pretty crazy, right?

If you’re looking for a unique experience it’s something you definitely won’t find elsewhere and it’s sure to get your heart pounding. Kids seem to love this attraction and it does appear to be a great way to keep them entertained. On the other hand though, if you’re looking for the best views of ‘the glacier’ (as the name would suggest) or value for money, you might want to think again about paying for this.

Why the “Glacier Skywalk” name is misleading.

Begin rant.

Honestly, we were shocked at how misleading the name is. Maybe it’s just us, but the name seems to heavily imply that you’ll get a view of the famous Athabasca glacier…right? Or some kind of premium view of the glacier worth paying extra for, perhaps? Not so.

The actual Skywalk is nestled in the Sunwapta Valley behind an enormous mountain that obscures all but the most distant glaciers. If you don’t believe us, check out these photos of the one bit of glacier you can actually see in the distance from the Skywalk:

Glacier Skywalk view

Those photos were actually with more of a telephoto lens, the actual view is closer to this:

The truth is this: in an area that is almost literally overflowing with stunning glaciers, the place with the worst views of all is where the Glacier Skywalk is actually positioned. The view is still great, don’t get me wrong, but to call it the ‘Glacier’ Skywalk is a huge stretch.

Okay, so does the glass-bottomed floor at least look down onto something incredible? Not in the slightest… it actually looks down onto a massive scree (read ‘a giant rubble slope’) pile and a tiny river. It doesn’t look down onto a glacier as the name might suggest.

Now compare this to the free views of epic glaciers you can get by parking 100m down the road – try driving just a little further to the Stuttfield Glacier lookout! ..(did I mention that this view is free? 😀 )

Glacier Skywalk Free

Or how about this free view?

Athabasca Glacier Wilcox pass

Usually a tourist attraction serves a purpose of some sort; to give you a better view of something or to somehow add value to your experience. In this case, however, we kind of had to ask ourselves, what does this add exactly?

It struck us that someone somewhere had had the bright idea to build a glass floored skywalk as yet another way of milking tourists.  Regardless of the experience that was ultimately delivered, it really just seemed like the owners were just determined to make it happen.  The fact that you can get the same/better view for free in the parking lot right next to the Skywalk just adds insult to injury.  Worth $32? We don’t think so.

Honestly, if you ask us, this is exactly what the national parks don’t need, and much like the Banff Gondola (read here for some better alternatives), it’s the definition of a tourist trap.

What does the Glacier Skywalk actually claim to offer?

It was at this point that we decided to check the fine print on the website. We couldn’t help chuckling when we read that “you’ll see the most stunning mountain” (you mean the one that blocks the view of all the glaciers?!?!) “and glacial vistas”.. No mention of actually seeing the famous glacier that we all boarded the bus hoping to see. Very sneaky Brewster… very, very sneaky…

You’ll also notice that telephoto lenses are used to take many of the website photos, making the visible parts of the glacier seem far closer than they actually are in real life.

To be fair, the Glacier Skywalk is definitely an experience that you won’t find elsewhere. Especially if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush and to learn something new about the ecology of the Rockies….but if you’ve been duped into thinking that you need to pay $32 for the best view of the Athabasca glacier, I guarantee there are better views that you can get for free .

Like this one:

Columbia icefields

If a view of the Glacier is what you came for, save yourself the $32 and actually explore on foot. You might even find the collapsed ice cave if you’re there in Winter!

Ice cave icefields parkway

So what are these better options then?

You’re in the most beautiful place on Earth and the national parks should be free for everyone to enjoy. You shouldn’t have to pay that much money when there are breath-taking views around every corner. Literally… they’re around every corner. The Icefields Parkway has been named one of the most beautiful drives in the world and if you want some tips on how to experience it properly, check out our Icefields Parkway driving guide.

If you want our vote for the actual best view of Athabasca Glacier, Wilcox Pass is the clear winner. If you google it, most of the articles talk about a 10km hike through a mountain pass. Well, no need to do that; you’ll get a mind-blowing view of the glacier after about 30 minutes (see photo below). Parks Canada has even installed a couple of their signature red Adirondack chairs to sit in while you soak up that view.

Wilcox Pass Hike

Similarly, why not park at the bottom of the glacier and try the 20 minute walk to the top. Up close you’ll get to see how truly enormous and magnificent this natural wonder really is.

Whether you’re looking for hikes with the best views or you want to take a stab at completing our Ultimate Banff Bucket List, there are an endless number of ways you can also enjoy the park NATURALLY without breaking the bank.

Support the parks, not the corporations

Time to get preachy. We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again; the best part about national parks is that they’re uncommercialised and they offer us an escape that we can’t find elsewhere.

The lure of big bucks is hard for the government to resist, and slowly big corporations have crept in. Allowing our parks to turn into profit centres is dangerous because what’s best for profit isn’t always what’s best for the environment. There are literally thousands of things to do for free here, and we’d emphatically recommend finding them instead! Or failing that, try a local tour run by a local business!

Want our best recommendation? Chat with a local and see what recommendations they have. I assure you that you’ll have a much better vacation that way.

Once again, the opinions expressed in this article are very much our own.

Follow along on our Canadian Rockies adventures by following us on Instagram!

5 Comments

  1. Shivni July 14, 2017 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    Those are some incredible pictures and lots of info! We are doing Banff and jasper this august. We are staying a night in Banff and then driving to Jasper. I am still a bit confused about the bus ride to the Glacier. Is that something that can be done on the way from Banff to Jasper? We are planning to stay 2 nights in Jasper and then driving back to Banff.

    • Robin Tuck July 14, 2017 at 2:49 pm - Reply

      Hi Shivni, yes the ice explorer bus goes from the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre along the road up to Jasper. Just head into the centre and you can buy tickets for all the attractions. Booking online might be cheaper though. You can definitely check it out on the way up there from Banff. Have fun!

      • Shivni July 14, 2017 at 2:56 pm - Reply

        Thank you!

  2. Thao July 24, 2017 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    Hi ! Thanks for the info and pics ! You two are so cute together and i love all of your posts on ig ! 🙂 can you tell us the exact location to park along the IFPW to actually walk to the ice field like the photo of you wearing the yellow jacket ? Do you recommend doing the icefield adventure by brewster ? Thanks so much !!

    • Robin Tuck July 24, 2017 at 10:30 pm - Reply

      Hey! Thanks for the love and your comment!

      So the shot you’re asking about was taken in winter and unfortunately it’s really only accessible when everything has frozen over again. It’s normally located at the foot of the Athabasca Glacier. We’ve been there a couple of times in the last couple of weeks and right now there’s a pretty big lake/river between where the ice cave should be and the path. Even in Winter it was a little sketchy to cross the frozen river, so going in summer isn’t really possible. It’s also not visible right now as I guess the melt has covered it up with dirt/snow. Either way, you’ll have to wait until winter I’m afraid 🙁 Feel free to DM us on instagram in Winter (Jan-Feb probably) and we can give you more specific instructions!

      As to whether the Icefield adventure is worth it? We did it a few years ago and remember it being pretty cool. It’s not exactly high octane, but it’s certainly beautiful and the best way to get up close and personal with the glacier – and more value for money than the other things in the area. If you’ve never been on a Glacier before it might be worth it! There are also guided ice walks onto the glacier that are an alternative we forgot to mention http://icewalks.ca/

      Have fun and get in touch if you have any more questions!

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