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If you are taking a trip to Lake Louise in Banff National Park, you MUST take a day trip to drive the Icefields Parkway. The views and natural landscapes are some of the most gorgeous sites in the world. You don’t want to miss Driving the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise to Athabasca Glacier!
About the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway actually starts in Banff and goes all the way up to Jasper in the beautiful province of Alberta, Canada. Normally a 146 mile (235 km) drive in its entirety, I drove the Parkway from Lake Louise to the Athabasca Glacier making it about an 80 mile (130 km) one-way drive.
Getting to the Parkway from Lake Louise
Follow the Trans-Canada Highway 1 going west from Lake Louise for a little over a mile. Take the exit for Highway 93N/Icefields Parkway. Watch for it closely because it’s easy to miss! Even though this particular stretch is only about 80 miles, give yourself most of the day (if not all of it) to truly be able to enjoy all the beauty that calls this Parkway home!
What To See Along The Parkway
Located on the left about 20 miles north of Lake Louise, there is a lookout point on the south side of Bow Lake for Crowfoot Glacier. It was named by explorers because it was shaped like a crow’s foot when they discovered it. The glacier feeds Bow Lake.
Head north on the Parkway just a little ways and stop at Bow Lake.
It is one of the largest lakes in Banff National Park. Make sure you get out and walk around the lake. The watercolors are beautiful and the mountains provide a very majestic backdrop!
Not frequently mentioned, make sure you notice Snow Forest.
As you continue on the Parkway, make your way to Peyto Lake. After you park, you have to walk a trail to get to the lake. Snow Forest is on the way.
To me, it was just a really pretty place and reminded me of a winter wonderland that I’ve seen so many times on TV!
Perhaps the highlight of the drive for me was Peyto Lake. I had no idea of the beauty I was about to see.
The first time we went, it was a cloudier day and so there were shadows on the lake. Still pretty impressive right?
When we returned on a sunnier day, we were treated to this. Yes, the water is that turquoise. No, this photo is NOT edited!!
This is the half-way point between Banff and Jasper and where Highways 93 and 11 meet. The important thing about the Saskatchewan Crossing is there is a general store to grab snacks and get gas if you need it. This is the LAST GAS STATION until you get to Jasper!
Located in Jasper National Park, the Athabasca Glacier is part of the Columbia Icefield. It is the most visited glacier in North America due to its easy accessibility. This photo was taken with my old camera before I got my newer camera (which I love!) so the quality isn’t as high.
The Icefield Interpretive Center is located across the street from the glacier. There are restrooms, a restaurant, gift shop, and picnic tables; however, there is no gas station! This is where you park and can buy tickets. Once you have your tickets, you board regular buses to take you across the street…
and hop on one of these guys to take you up on the glacier! These are all-terrain snow coaches.
This bus on steroids manhandles the second steepest hill in North America. As our guide told us, “I can’t guarantee this is the steepest hill you might go down, but it is the steepest hill you will go down on a bus!” It is an 18 degree incline!
Once again, watch for wildlife along the route! These bighorn sheep were everywhere that day!
When you arrive up on the glacier, you can walk around. They even had a Canadian flag to hold! CAUTION: Be careful as there are crevasses and rushing waters that you can fall into. Stay in the guided areas!
They even encourage you to drink the glacier water which I’m sure is very fresh! However, the little girl who hopped into my photo trying to get said water made me a bit nervous! Thankfully, she didn’t fall in!
Waterfall on Athabasca Glacier
I could’ve watched and listened to this all day. For some reason I was mesmerized by it!
Tips for Driving the Icefields Parkway
- Watch the weather to ensure the clearest day possible for driving the Icefields Parkway. For the Athabasca Glacier, later in the afternoon is sometimes better. When we started our trip up the glacier, it was very overcast. As we were coming back down it was clearing up.
- Allow a whole day if possible to drive this particular segment of the Parkway.
- Be sure to have a full gas tank and remember the *last gas station* on the way to the Columbia Icefields is at the Saskatchewan Crossing.
- Bring a picnic lunch or at least good snacks and plenty of water because there aren’t many options along the route.
- For most of the drive, there is no cell coverage. If you are driving alone, be sure to let someone know where you are going.
- Be on the lookout for wildlife. This is a great drive to spot bears, moose, bighorn sheep, elk, etc. Keep those cameras ready!
- There is a little bit of a walk/hike to Peyto Lake. It’s easy to slightly moderate.
- The Icefield Interpretive Center is closed during the winter which is mid-Oct through April.
- If it is cloudy on your way to the glacier casting shadows on Bow Lake or Peyto Lake, be sure to stop on your way back if it’s sunny. I promise (especially with Peyto Lake) it is worth it!
- Get ready to see some of the most spectacular scenery and amazing color that I have yet to see anywhere else!
I hope this information is helpful and encourages you to take this drive. It is one of the prettiest you will ever go on! If you’ve been, leave me a comment and let me know where all you stopped and which is your favorite!
‘Til next time…