If you are planning a trip to Jasper or Banff, Canada include the drive along the Icefield Parkway. The stretch of road, among the most scenic in the world, will mesmerize you at every turn.
If your trip begins in Banff take Trans-Canada Highway 1 toward Lake Louise. Shortly after Lake Louise, merge onto the Icefield Parkway which will lead you through a pristine ecosystem full of breathtaking backdrops. Along the way discover a glacier, numerous waterfalls, and various wildlife. The drive itself from Banff to Jasper is around 300km (190miles) long. It should take you the better part of four hours under good driving conditions, however plan on a full day if you decide to explore the sights below.
Encircled by the majestic Rocky Mountains, Banff is an attraction in itself. In addition to scenic views, a causal stroll through downtown provides access to specialty stores, coffee shops, and numerous dining outlets. Once you’ve had your fill make the most of the area by visiting:
The Banff Gondola – take the gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain for stunning views of six mountain ranges.
Lake Minnewanka – during the summer explore this emerald lake with a panoramic one-hour boat cruise.
Sunshine Ski Resort – a sweeping ski resort that’s friendly for skiers of all ages and ability levels.
Mt. Norquay Ski Resort – a smaller complex compared to Sunshine or Lake Louise, it’s known for its steep and narrow runs.
Although not officially on the Icefield Parkway, the town of Lake Louise is the first major destination on your journey to Jasper. The town offers services that are not as comprehensive as Banff’s but adequate for all your needs. Major highlights include:
Chateau Lake Louise – a UNESCO Heritage site, this historic resort is situated on an emerald lake and surrounded by soaring mountain peaks and majestic Victoria Glacier.
Lake Louise Ski Resort – the third largest ski resort in Canada, there is plenty of room to explore and a run for skiers of all abilities.
Moraine Lake – stunning glacial lake well worth the 20 minute drive from town.
Plain of Six Glaciers – moderate 3-4 hour hike with spectacular views. Come prepared with warm clothing, even during the summer, as weather changes on a dime.
The Athabasca Glacier, just a few hundred yards off the Parkway, is the most accessible glacial ice field in North America. Designed for tourists, the Glacier Discovery Centre across the street offers a wonderful dining experience as well as glacial tours. Hop on the Brewster Ice Explorer for an intimate 80 minute up close and personal encounter with the Athabasca Glacier. Note that the Discovery Centre, its tours, and restaurant are only open mid-April through mid-October. For the remaining months, there are no facilities open at this location, even bathrooms. For more information click here.
The meltwater from the glacier creates the Athabasca River which in turn shapes the next two destinations, Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls.
The falls are easily accessible by an access road from the Icefield Parkway (approximately 0.5 miles or 800 meters). From the parking lot, a two minute walk will take you to the upper falls, with the lower falls just a short walk further. Sunwapta Falls in late spring or early summer will awe you with the volume of the spring thaw, although each season has its own allure.
Similarly to Sunwapta, Athabasca Falls is only a brief detour from the Parkway followed by a short walk to the falls itself. Numerous platforms make for great photo opportunities. Known for its force due to the quantity of water that descends into the gorge, Athabasca Falls is worth seeing anytime of the year. If you are interested in white water rafting, many of the trips you reserve in Jasper begin just downstream.
Much smaller than Banff, Jasper is your quintessential mountain town. An intimate main street provides you with a boutique shopping and dining experiences. Elk are knows to roam the streets and stop traffic as they lazily make way across ‘their’ town. Other top attractions include;
Maligne Canyon – hiking trails are bountiful in this scenic limestone canyon teeming with waterfalls.
Marmot Basin Ski Resort – the only ski resort in the area, Marmot is not as large as its southern counterparts, but also not as busy.
Jasper SkyTram – take the gondola to Whistler Mountain’s summit for sweeping views of Jasper and the surrounding mountains. Closed during winter.
Pyramid and Patricia Lakes – known for its canoe rentals and hikes during the summer and sleigh rides and skating areas in the winter.
Keep in mind that winter driving condition on the Icefield Parkway can be marginal. Before taking off drop by the information center in Jasper or Banff (depending on where you are starting) for up-to-date road conditions.
For more information on the Icefields Parkway, visit the official site.
More pictures from our adventures from Banff to Jasper can be found here.