Driving the Icefields Parkway
If you’re visiting Banff, you really won’t have done your visit justice unless you’ve driven the Icefields Parkway. Most people plan their trips around being in either Banff or Jasper, but totally underestimate how much time they’ll want to spend on the drive between.
Sure it’s only 233km or about 3-4 hours drive, but you could easily spend weeks, months or even years exploring it (I know we have) . Do yourself a favour; plan to spend at least a whole day driving between Lake Louise and Jasper.. I guarantee you won’t regret it. We also seriously recommend renting a car to do the drive so that you have the freedom to stop wherever you like. You can compare car rental prices here.
Bus tours are great, but they limit you to the amount of time you get to spend at each stop. A self guided tour is the best option! (There’s also now an app called GyPSy you can download that gives you a GPS guided audiotour for the icefields parkway – not an ad, I’ve just heard really good things about it).
The Icefields Parkway has a reputation for being one of the world’s most beautiful drives. This post is a guide to everything we’ve done along the journey to Jasper, but there are many more things to find out there that aren’t on the list. The fun is in sutmbling upon something you weren’t expecting!
Note: This post has been updated recently to over 6,000 words in order to be as comprehensive as possible. I recommend using the contents to skip to various sections!
(Skip to the end or follow this link to see a full map of the Icefields Parkway)
Part 1: The Best Drive up Spots Between Lake Louise and The Columbia Icefields
If you’re planning a day trip from Banff, it’s quite reasonable to get to the Columbia Icefields and back and still have plenty of time left in the day.
If you go too much further, you’re probably looking at spending most of the day out on the road. Here’s everything we like to visit before we get to the Columbia Icefields:
1. Herbert Lake
Don’t get me wrong, there are so many waaaay better lakes on this road, but this particular lake has something the others don’t.. That’s right, … a diving board. Great for a freezing cold swim on a sweltering summer day.
As a photographer, Herbert Lake is also easily my favourite place in Banff to catch a reflection. In the mornings sometimes this lake is like glass, or you’ll get a thin layer of mist floating on the surface.
People generally breeze straight past on their way up the Icefields, so it’s a nice place to stop in the morning to avoid the crowds. Generally the reflections only exist in the morning, and on hot days you’ll probably find locals floating around in blow up dinghies.
There are also outhouses here if you need a rest break.
Top tip, don’t be using the diving board in Winter.
- Co-ordinates: 51.4598712,-116.2260793
- Distance from Lake Louise: 23.1km
- Distance from Jasper: 7.4km
2. Hector Lake Lookout
The Hector Lake Lookout is just a small pull out on the left hand side of the road that overlooks Hector Lake. If you’re not paying attention, you might just miss it, even though it’s one of the bigger Glacial fed lakes along the Icefields Parkway. It’s a brilliant turquoise colour in the summer, and can be accessed via a short hike. Read our hikes section for more information about the hike!
- Co-ordinates: 51.5624166,-116.5062142
- Distance from Lake Louise: 23.1km
- Distance from Jasper: 210km
3. Crowfoot Glacier
Just before you reach Bow Lake, there’s a viewpoint on your left hand side called Crowfoot Glacier. Look up into the mountains and, if it’s a clear day, you’ll see a towering glacier above.
Crowfoot Glacier originally had three feet, which resembled a crow’s foot, but one of the legs has crumbled and melted, so this is no longer the case. Crowfoot Glacier rests on Crowfoot Mountain, which dominates the skyline across from Bow Lake.
- Co-ordinates: 51.6629593,-116.4407431
- Distance from Lake Louise: 37.2km
- Distance from Jasper: 196km
Chief Crowfoot was also an important Indigenous leader, and led the Siksika (Blackfoot) First Nation back in the mid 1800’s. The Blackfoot Nation signed were part of the 1877 treaty 7 agreement with the Canadian Government, which designated much of Souther Alberta as Indigenous traditional lands. Treaty 7 lands encompassed parts of Banff National Park, all of Banff and Calgary and much more of Southern Alberta (which you can see in red in the map below).
Interestingly, Crowfoot Glacier is right on the Western tip of the Treaty 7 lands (Crowfoot Glacier is right at the tip of the toe on the left of the shaded area).
4. Bow Lake
Bow Lake is massive and unmissable. It’s epic for sunrise if you feel inclined to be up that early, it’s also the starting point for a few of the best hikes in the area (Bow Glacier Falls, Iceberg Lake, Jimmy Simpson Junior).
Bow lake is a really popular drive up spot for tourists, and the alpine meadow next to it is a great place to see grizzlies in early summer.
Bow Lake is suitable for all abilities, and has a small parking lot from which you can access the shore and wander around. It’s a great place for hiking too, and although it gets extremely busy with tour groups in summer, if you wander around the shore you can escape the vast majority of them.
Bow Lake also has a also great little café that’s open in the summer ( amazing bison chili that’s perfect after a cold, damp hike), which is part of the delightfully quaint Num – ti – Jah Lodge on the shores of Bow Lake. You can’t miss Num-Ti-Jah as it’s the huge log cabin with a red roof.
Num-Ti-Jah Lodge is only open during the summer months, but the outhouses in the parking lot remain open year round.
Bow Lake is also a popular stop in the winter for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, as it’s the start of the multi-day route called the Wapta Traverse. You can book a guide for the Wapta Traverse this through various local adventure tour companies.
- Co-ordinates: 51.66471,-116.4874765
- Distance from Lake Louise: 38.7km
- Distance from Jasper: 195km
5. Peyto Lake
You can’t drive the Icefields Parkway without stopping at the Peyto Lake viewpoint/ Bow Summit. Stunning during the day and one of the most accessible ‘high vantage point’ viewpoints – it’s also wheelchair accessible.
In winter, Bow Summit is a great spot for ski touring as there are a few huts nearby and the hill behind is perfect for skiing.
In summer, Bow Summit is a great place to take in a few stunning glimpses of the incredible blue water.
And if you didn’t already know, it’s also supposed to be a fantastic place to catch the aurora. Not a light in sight and North facing for that perfect view of the lights (if they’re on). Bring bear spray for cougars though 😉
- Co-ordinates: 51.7250323,-116.539454
- Distance from Lake Louise: 45.5km
- Distance from Jasper: 188km
Can you hike down to Peyto Lake?
Yes, you can hike down to Peyto Lake from the Peyto Lake Viewpoint, or via the unmarked parking lot just past the Bow Summit turnoff. Is it worth it?
Honestly, I think this is one of the hikes that’s best enjoyed from a high vantage point. We’ve hiked down to the bottom and from the shore it’s virtually the same as every other lake! You then have to grind back up the steep switchbacks to get back to the viewpoint. All in all, not really worth it if you ask us.
Where is the upper viewpoint?
It still remains to be seen what will be at the Bow Summit Lookout once the construction work is finished, but normally the upper viewpoint is behind and uphill from the regular viewpoint.
Walk uphill up the paved trail, away from the viewing platform, and when you see a signpost for Bow summit, take a right turn into the woods. Keep following the trails until you start traversing the mountain with a view of Peyto to your right hand side. Eventually you’ll make it to the upper viewing area.
6. Waterfowl Lakes
Waterfowl Lakes are about 10-15 minutes past Peyto Lake, on the Icefields Parkway, and are just as gorgeous and blue as both Bow and Peyto.
Much like Bow Lake, you can park right alongside Waterfowl Lakes and walk to the water in just a few short steps.
Waterfowl Lakes is a popular stopping point for tourists, because not only is the lake absolutely stunning, but the backdrop is dominated by striking, sharp peaks, named Howes Peak and Mount Chephren. This is also the starting point for the Chephren Lake Hike, one of the easiest hikes you’ll find in Banff.
While most people like to stop here and take in the views, one of the best ways to experience this lake is by paddling on it. We love bringing our paddleboards here because you can almost guarantee that you’ll be the only one on the lake!
- Co-ordinates: 51.838246,-116.636364
- Distance from Lake Louise: 66.2km
- Distance from Jasper: 171km
7. Mistaya Canyon
Mistaya Canyon is an easy, short hike down to a gushing, raging ravine. The water has carved through the rocks and is now an angry, swirling cauldron with a deafening roar.
This is on our list of easy hikes in Banff, as the elevation change is very minimal. However, be cautious of this hike in Winter as the trail becomes a skating rink. I’d recommend bringing ice spikes along!
- Co-ordinates: 51.9414055,-116.7193946
- Distance from Lake Louise: 75.2 km
- Distance from Jasper: 158 km
8. Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls isn’t really much of a stopping point, but from the road you can see a thin waterfall cascading down into the valley.
- Co-ordinates: 52.1817592,-117.070521
- Distance from Lake Louise: 116 km
- Distance from Jasper: 117 km
9. The Weeping Wall
The Weeping Wall is a short stopping point along the Icefields Parkway and is essentially a very weak waterfall running off the rocks on your right hand side (headed north). To be honest, it’s never really turned my head in the summer, but in the winter all the running water builds up to create quite a large frozen waterfall.
Worth a quick look!
- Co-ordinates: 52.1422459,-116.9970318
- Distance from Lake Louise: 107 km
- Distance from Jasper: 126 km
The Columbia Icefields
The Columbia Icefields are what we like to consider the middle point on the way to Jasper, although in reality you’re slightly closer to Jasper by 20 minutes. If you’re a day tripper, I’d highly recommend making this your furthest destination, and taking your time on the spots we’ve mentioned up until now!
- Co-ordinates: 52.2203483,-117.2264258
- Distance from Lake Louise: 130 km
- Distance from Jasper: 104 km
Paid attractions at the Columbia Icefields
There are a number of paid attractions at the Columbia Icefields, but we struggle to recommend them, honestly. Recently there was a tragic accident on the Icefield Explorer tourist buses that led to several tourists dying. News is emerging of an appalling maintenance policy, and we really don’t recommend paying for this expensive attraction.
We’ve also done the Columbia Icefields skywalk in the area and thought it was a bit of a waste of money. While the glass floor is pretty cool (and scary), it’s super expensive and really feels like it’s in the wrong place. You get a great view of the valley, but there isn’t really a good view of the glacier.
Kind of a disappointment for us, but I can see how it might be cool if you’re new to mountains and short on time. Our advice? Save your money and explore some of the amazing free walks and hikes in the area!
One thing I would recommend is heading into the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre and learning a little about the geography, wildlife and topography of the Canadian Rockies. There are a few worthwhile exhibitions with plenty to learn.
The Athabasca Glacier
The Athabasca Glacier is the major attraction at the Columbia Icefields. They are the highest point on the Icefields Parkway, so the area is littered with glaciers and is snow covered for most of the year (including much of the summer). So if you don’t do the paid things, what is there to do there?
Well, to be honest, the best thing you could do would be to hike up to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier yourself. It’s short and steep, but it’s free and relatively safe (aside from the scree – bring sturdy shoes).
This one is kind of a secret and very seasonal. If you want to be able to get to the ice cave safely, the only time to go is in Winter. Otherwise you’ll have to cross quite a fast flowing river and risk being under the cave when the ice is melting and less stable.
Obviously if you go in winter, you’re going to be walking across Tundra, so wrap up warm and prepare for freezing wind (bring goggles or sunglasses)!
In past years, the cave was a huge cavern, but last summer it collapsed and it was really more of an ice wall this year.
Our advice is not to go hunting for it unless you have some solid advice on its exact location and the equipment necessary to save yourself if you find yourself in a crevice – some of them may be covered by a thin layer of snow – lots of dangers out there on the icefields but unforgettable if you can track it down!
Stuttfield Glacier is arguably more beautiful than the Athabasca Glacier, and is located a few hundred metres past the Columbia Icefields Skywalk. This is a free lookout point where you can see the enormous cascading glacier in the distance.
Part 2: The Best Drive Up Spots Between The Columbia Icefields And Jasper
From the Columbia Icefields to Jasper, the majority of the sites worth seeing are all waterfalls, however there are a few short hikes to lakes and popular swimming spots if you don’t mind walking a little bit. There are also plenty of popular pull-ins off the side of the road that give spectacular views and a chance to view wildlife!
1. Tangle Creek Falls
This is the other side of the Icefields, located just on the way downhill from the Columbia Icefields Skywalk. The waterfall is on the right hand side, opposite a small parking area. This is a cascading, multi levelled waterfall that twists and tangles its way down the rocks.
Tangle Creek Falls is just a quick stopping point but it’s often very crowded, and littered with people. It’s also a very popular place for Big Horn Sheep, so be warned the sides of the roads are often packed with badly parked cars and frantic tourists trying to snap photos.
- Co-ordinates: 52.267271,-117.2886551
- Distance from Lake Louise: 137 km
- Distance from Jasper: 96.5 km
2. Goats and Glaciers
Goats and Glaciers is a nice picnic spot with a fantastic view of the towering peaks (Mount Kerkeslin in particular), and the Athabasca River. The stop is named Goats and Glaciers, or “Mineral Lick” or “Goat Lick”, because the river bank is full of salt and mineral deposits, which often attracts mountain goats looking for a salty snack.
- Distance from Jasper: 38 km
3. Sunwapta Falls
This is probably my favourite waterfall on the drive to Jasper. It’s a fantastic photo stop and is undoubtedly one of the most iconic views on the Icefields Parkway.
Sunwapta Falls always seems to be way less touristy than Athabasca Falls for some reason, and that may be because it’s not as obvious from the road. With Athabasca Falls, you can literally see the spray from the waterfall as you’re driving the highway.
One of the biggest bonuses you’ll find at Sunwapta is the attached hotel. There are great snacks and souvenirs inside (even if they cost you an arm and a leg), and it’s a nice place to grab a coffee if all this driving has finally caught up with you. This hotel isn’t open in winter!
From Sunwapta Falls, you can also hike to Lower Sunwapta Falls, a 1.4km easy hike down to another beautiful view.
- Co-ordinates: 52.5327651,-117.6478701
- Distance from Lake Louise: 179 km
- Distance from Jasper: 55.8 km
4. Athabasca Falls
This is a must see drive-up spot on the Parkway, and, as you might expect, every single bus tour stops here. Don’t expect to have it to yourself unless you’re there at dawn.
From the parking lot, follow the trail to the thundering Athabasca Falls, then follow the tunnel under the connecting road if you want to follow the waterfall to its base below. This is a popular walking spot along the way to Jasper.
- Co-ordinates: 52.6655395,-117.8853959
- Distance from Lake Louise: 202 km
- Distance from Jasper: 32.5 km
5. Mount Edith Cavell and Angel Glacier
Technically this isn’t strictly along the Icefields Parkway, but the turnoff is. You can actually take a detour along the 93A at Athabasca Falls and sneak off to Mount Edith Cavell. And trust me, it’s well worth visiting.
It’s a fairly long detour and then a short hike once you get there, but the spectacular views of Mount Edith Cavell are some of the most unbelievable views of a glacier you’ll ever see! The glacier cascades down the mountain in what is supposedly an angel shape, and feeds into a bright turquoise pool below. It’s absolutely breathtaking.
- Co-ordinates: 52.6873207,-118.0579222
- Distance from Lake Louise: 234 km
- Distance from Jasper: 27.7 km
What are the Best Hikes on the Icefields Parkway?
Aside from those mentioned above, the rest of the notable sites on the Icefields Parkway are the hikes! Of which there are many, many, many. We haven’t even nearly managed to check them all off, but we have still done quite a few. Here are the hikes we’ve done so far, that we can recommend!
1. Hector Lake
- Distance: 5km out and back
- Elevation Gain: 60m
- Difficulty: Very easy, but there’s a river crossing to be aware of
The Hector Lake Hike is a short, relatively easy hike down to the aforementioned, Hector Lake. This is a relatively underappreciated hike that most people breeze past without ever trying, and it’s an absolutely fantastic place to go for a paddle. You can virtually guarantee you’ll be the only people there.
The only obstacle between you and Hector Lake is the short river crossing about halfway along the trail. The water is fast moving but not too deep (around knee height when we went, but this may vary throughout the year), and there’s absolutely no way to avoid it. Definitely bring water shoes or sandals to cross.
2. Bow Glacier Falls
- Distance: 8.7 km out and back
- Elevation Gain: 266m
- Difficulty: Easy
This hike begins at Bow Lake, and is a fairly well kept secret amongst locals. It’s around 9km round trip and flat for the most part. The hike takes you around the North end of Bow Lake, up through the valley, and finally up to the huge waterfall that you can see from the parking lot
This is a great starter hike if you’re looking to give hiking a try for the first time. This was actually my first ever hike in Canada and I don’t think there are many gentler hikes out there!
Even my ridiculous jean shorts and satchel didn’t actually slow me down too much on this one.
The hike has almost no elevation until the very end, and is much faster than your average hike of the same distance. I’d probably budget 3 or 4 hours round trip if you’re planning to do it.
3. Iceberg Lake
- Distance: 11km out and back
- Elevation Gain: 340m
- Difficulty: Fairly challenging, involves scree and a bit of scrambling
Because you can’t see the lake from the road, most people assume that Bow Glacier Falls is just another mountain stream. Well long story short, it’s not :D.
We hiked up to Iceberg lake when it was raining, so we didn’t really feel like swimming, but on a hot day, I bet this icy lake would be an incredible place to take a dip!
For the most part, this trail follows the same route as Bow Glacier Falls, but then you scramble the cliff band to its left and up to the lake above.
Be prepared to fjord across mountain streams and to scramble a little bit if you’re going to try this one.
4. Jimmy Simpson Jnr
- Distance: 7.5 km out and back
- Elevation Gain: 900m
- Difficulty: Hard, involves scrambling and bushwhacking
We get asked about our Jimmy Simpson Jnr hiking photos all the time. Yep, it’s pretty much one of the most stunning hikes we’ve seen out there. Incredible views of bow lake, iceberg lake and a couple of other tarns up the mountain side.
Again, this one starts at shores of Bow Lake, at Num Ti Jah Lodge. Follow the trail around as if you’re hiking to Bow Glacier Falls but almost immediately cut into the trees to your right.
This one’s actually more of a scramble at times, and finding the actual trail isn’t exactly easy. You basically have to bush whack your way through the treeline on the way up, and then scramble up a cliff band before things get easier. I highly recommend downloading a trail GPS for this one if you’re going to try it. Not to be confused with Mount Jimmy Simpson behind!
5. Valley of The Five Lakes
- Distance: 5.3km loop
- Elevation Gain: 175m
- Difficulty: Very easy
This is actually an amazing place to hike near Jasper and, as the name suggests, there are 5 great lakes to explore, all of which have stunning blue and green colours that glisten like gem stones. There’s very little elevation change, so it’s not remotely physically demanding. You can read our full blog post about the Valley of the five lakes here.
Over the years, this has become an enormously popular hiking spot, so now the enormous parking lot can accommodate dozens of walkers at once. This means it can get quite busy.
Overall though, it’s a lovely stroll, and I highly recommend it.
6. Cirque Peak and Helen Lake
- Distance: 14.5 km out and back
- Elevation Gain: 1,060m
- Difficulty: Hard, involves scree and a little bit of scrambling
This is a hike we’ve done a couple of times now and it really deserves to be on the list. It’s a 17.2km round trip hike (not something I realized when we started) but it’s a stunning hike with plenty of variety. It really is a bit of a beast though, in all honesty.
The first stop on the hike is Helen Lake which lies directly below Cirque Peak. When we were there we saw a group fishing (unsure of the rules for Helen Lake) so that might also be an option. This is a beautiful meadow full of wildflowers, small streams, lakes and enormous horseflies.
The hike is quite a grind and there is a literal mountain of scree to climb, but the views from the top will take your breath away. Definitely worth an excursion (notice Iceberg Lake opposite). The trail head starts at the Helen Lake signpost, shortly before you reach Bow Lake and opposite Crowfoot Glacier.
7. The Parker Ridge Hike
- Distance: 5.1 km out and back
- Elevation Gain: 269m
- Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
To the untrained eye, Parker Ridge looks pretty unexciting, especially as you’re driving up to it. It’s the least imposing mountain in the entire area.
What you can’t tell by looking at it though, is that it’s the best viewpoint you can find of the Saskatchewan Glacier, which lies behind.
It’s a really short hike and it’s totally worth it for the views. The official trail length is 5km return, but once you’re on top of the ridge there’s no need to go to the end if your’e short on time.
I like to go back as often as I can to compare old photos. It’s amazing how quickly these things change from year to year, so I recommend going sooner rather than later! You can read more about the changes we’ve seen in the glaciers in the area here.
8. Wilcox Pass
- Distance: 9.3 km out and back
- Elevation Gain: 522m
- Difficulty: Fairly easy
Wilcox Pass is relatively unknown by tourists. It’s a short hike that begins just before you reach the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre. The hike starts through the trees but quickly leads to an amazing view of the Athabasca Glacier opposite.
The hike gets you up above the mound of dirt (the glacial moraine) that blocks most of the views from the road. It’s beautiful on a sunny day and is totally free (unlike any of the other attractions at the Columbia Icefields!)
The official hike is 8km return, but you’ll get those views we’re talking about well before that. You can also continue on this hike all the way up to Wapta Peak!
9. Panther Falls
- Distance: 1.1 km out and back
- Elevation Gain: 40m
- Difficulty: Easy
Panther Falls is a short hike to a stunning waterfall on the Icefields Parkway. You’ll find it just after the big bend in the road, a short distance before you enter the Columbia Icefields area. This waterfall is especially spectacular in the Winter, when it freezes and you can climb inside and behind the frozen waterfall.
If you visit in Winter, make sure to bring Ice spikes and a helmet!
Hotels, Hostels and Campgrounds on the Icefields Parkway
Campgrounds on the Icefields Parkway
There are plenty of campgrounds along the Icefields Parkway. 11 in fact! Here is a list of the campgrounds, in order of distance from Lake Louise:
- Mosquito Creek Campground
- Silerhorn Creek Campground
- Waterfowl Lake Campground
- Rampart Creek Campground
- Wilcox Creek Campground
- Columbia Icefields Campground
- Jonas Creek Campground
- Honeymoon Lakes Campground
- Mount Kerkeslin Campground
- Wapiti Campground
- Whistlers Campground (currently closed until 2021 for renovartions)
You can find out all about the various prices, opening times, specific closures and exact locations on the Parks Canada Website, or on this very comprehensive guide to camping on the Icefields Parkway
Campgrounds get extremely busy in the summer, so you’ll want to book these as early in the season as possible. You can do this online at the Parks Canada link above.
Glacier Lake is a stunning backcountry campground close to Saskatchewan Crossing. It’s a flat hike, but at close to 12km, it’s still a fairly long hike. At the end of the walk, you’ll find an enormous blue lake with stunning panoramic views. It’s a very underappreciated hike that most people would never think to visit.
It’s also directly opposite the Saskatchewan Crossing gas station, the only place along the Icefields parkway where you can get gas. I would avoid filling up here if you can avoid it because it’s extortionately expensive. This is also the turnoff for Abraham Lake and Nordegg.
Hotels on the Icefields Parkway
There are actually 5 hotels on the Icefields Parkway. Some are basic cabins, some are rustic old hotels and some are extremely luxurious and expensive. Here’s the complete list!
1. Num Ti Jah Lodge
Note: currently closed until 2021 due to Covid
We’ve already mentioned Num Ti Jah Lodge a few times already, as it’s the giant red roofed building you can see at Bow Lake. The lodge is only open during the summer months, and offers expensive, vintage rooms with some of the most epic views you could ever dream of waking up to.
The hotel is somewhat basic, but up there as one of the most luxurious places to stay on the Icefields Parkway. There’s no cell service, but isn’t that why you’ve come to stay here? You can bring a book, sit outside on one of the many red Adirondack chairs while time slips by.
Num Ti Jah isn’t well known for its food, but it does an exceptional Bison Chili that you can buy from their cafe. It’s perfect after a cold, rainy day of hiking in the area. You can also make reservations at the dining room here.
At a glance, room rates start at around $400 CAD per night.
2. The Crossing Resort at Saskatchewan Crossing
The Crossing Resort at Saskatchewan Crossing is about one third of the way towards Jasper, at the Junction of the David Thompson Highway leading to Nordegg and Abraham Lake. This is a wide opening in the valley with a cafe, gift shop and gas station.
As I mentioned earlier, if you need gas, this is the only place you’ll get it on the Icefields Parkway, and you’ll pay the price for it too! The next gas station is in Jasper, 154km away.
The Crossing Resort is a good way to stay if you want to be close to a few hikes and lakes in the area. You’re very close to Mistaya Canyon, Glacier Lake, the Parker Ridge Hike, Abraham Lake and even heli rides in neighbouring Nordegg. You’re also only 8km from a horse riding trail experience. It’s a great place to hang out for a day or two.
3. The Glacier View Lodge
The Glacier View Lodge does exactly what is says. It’s part of the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre, so each day you’ll wake up to incredible views of the Athabasca Glacier across the road. The hotel has limited rooms, so understandably they’re extremely expensive. A friend that used to work there said that in peak summer, the rooms can cost up to $1000 per night!
This is the ultimate luxury on the Icefields Parkway, but even so, the hotel is only a 3*. What you’re really paying for is the views. Having said that, if it’s the views you’re after, you can hike up Wilcox Pass for free! Check out the rates and availability for Glacier View Lodge here.
4. Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge
Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge is the hotel we briefly mentioned in our Sunwapta Falls section. This hotel is right on the side of the road, and within a few short steps of the thundering Sunwapta Waterfall. The hotel is fairly basic, but is a good place to stop, particularly if you’re driving this route as part of a longer route to Banff from say, Edmonton. It’s also not too far from Jasper, so it’s a nice secluded place to stay if you’re looking for a bit of peace and quiet.
Rooms start at around $200 per night, but bear in mind that the hotel is only open during the summer months.
5. Becker’s Chalets
Becker’s Chalets is the last hotel you’ll find on the Icefields Parkway, before you officially leave the Icefields Parkway and enter Jasper. These are beautiful little cabins nestled alongside the Athabasca River, and in terms of quaint places to stay, you can’t find much better.
Very close to the town of Jasper, and the closest accommodation to Mt. Edith Cavell and Marmot Basin Ski Resort (aside from Whistlers Campground).
Becker’s Chalets also has a gourmet restaurant, and all cabins have log fire places. The only downside you’ll find with the log cabins is that they rarely have air conditioning, which can make for quite a sweaty experience in the summer.
Open season : May 31 – October
Wilderness Hostels on the Icefields Parkway
There are a number of hostels on the Icefields Parkway that are operated by HI Hostels. These aren’t the traditional style of hostel you might find in a city, but wilderness hostels. That means they may have no electricity or runing water.
Hostels are either “Classic Wilderness Hostels” or “Wildest wilderness” (eek),
Classic Wilderness Hostels on the Icefields Parkway
Classic Wilderness means that there’s no running water or power (there may be some access to lights in some). Toilets are outhouses, and showers are simply “bathing in the river” (please use biodegradable shampoo/soap if you plan to do that).
Wildest Wilderness Hostels on the Icefields Parkway
Wildest Wilderness Hostels aren’t staffed, and are therefore hostels that are only accessible with a key code. These tend to also have no running water or electricity, but are generally also open in winter for backcountry skiers. You may need winter backcountry survival skills and equipment to reach them.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Icefields Parkway
How is driving the Icefields Parkway in Winter?
Honestly, it’s a little hairy in the winter. I drive this regularly in the winter, and the worst section is definitely the Columbia Icefields. Sometimes there can be a few inches on the road, so low clearance cars should avoid this in Winter.
I would only really recommend driving this if you have a 4×4 vehicle and experience driving in winter conditions. The highway is cleared regularly by snow ploughs in the Winter, but if you happen to time your journey after a Blizzard, you may find yourself driving through thick snow.
Before entering the Icefields Parkway, make sure to check the AMA road report for the road conditions, as it often closes due to Avalanches on the road. Also check the signs as you enter the road as they may indicate the state of the road. As you’ll notice, they recommend winter tires and chains if you plan to drive in winter. I’ve got stuck in the snow before, and it’s no joke, especially if you don’t have a shovel or rescue equipment.
Is there cell service on the Icefields Parkway?
For the most part, there’s no cell service on the Icefields Parkway (except for near the Columbia Icefields), so calling for help if you get in trouble could be a challenge. If you’re planning to use google maps to plan your journey, make sure you start the directions before you set off.
What is the weather like on the Icefields Parkway?
The weather is generally pretty unpredictable on the Icefields Parkway. The weather systems tend to get trapped in valleys, so moving from one to the next can often yield completely different weather. For example, if it’s raining in Lake Louise, I often find that this weather follows us all the way to Bow Lake, but then suddenly it clears when we reach Peyto.
In the Winter months (late October – May), expect heavy snow and winter conditions. Temperatures can often drop to -30C between December and February, so make sure you’re prepared with extra layers, hand warmers, and warm winter gear in case you end up spending more time out there than you expect.
I’ve occasionally experienced snow on the Icefields Parkway in late June, so expect the unexpected!
In the summer, you can expect hot weather up to the mid 30’s C (high 90’s), so make sure you pack sun protection. The summer is also notorious for thunderstorms in the afternoon, so make sure you check the weather before you start any hikes and preferably start in the morning.
Do you need a park pass to drive the Icefields Parkway?
Yes. It’s generally assumed that if you’re driving the Icefield’s Parkway, you’re sightseeing, and therefore you require a park pass. Both ends of the road have park gates where you can easily buy a day pass, multi-day pass or annual pass.
How far is the drive between Banff and Jasper?
By car, the drive from Banff to Jasper is 288km, or roughly 4 hours driving. If you’re driving from Calgary to Jasper, the drive is 413km or just under 5 hours.
Fill up your gas tank in Lake Louise – if you need to fill up halfway, you’re going to be spending a ton of money. And if you think that’s bad, try buying a snack (great ice cream though)!
Wildlife – This is a pretty wild highway so there’s a chance you might run into some animals. Never get out the car, never attempt to feed the animals and only pull over if it’s safe to do so! It’s safer for you and the animals!