One of the most scenic drives in the world lies between Banff and Jasper, Canada, the Icefields Parkway. On our ten-day trip in the Canadian Rockies, we spent half our time in Banff and half in Jasper. This meant we got to drive the Icefields Parkway twice! We completed most of our stops on our way from Banff to Jasper in the middle of our trip.
Peyto Lake is a must-see and was our first stop of the day. It’s just 30 minutes north of Lake Louise, so you could fit this in while visiting that area if you don’t plan to drive the Icefields Parkway. This is probably my favorite lake in this area. It’s an extremely blue glacier-fed lake and is shaped like a wolf’s head! I also love it because there is a lesser-known path that takes you to an area away from most of the tourists and lets you enjoy the view in peace. We arrived at 9am and the parking lot wasn’t too busy yet.
To get to the main viewpoint, you’ll take the paved pathway uphill from the parking lot to a big viewing platform filled with other people. They had redone this viewing platform since I visited in 2018, and it is pretty nice with lots of spots to take pictures and enjoy the view. However, I prefer to get away from the crowds, so we continued on the path to get to a special spot I’d discovered previously.
You’ll head in the opposite direction of the wolf’s head and follow the pathway where the lake is on your right. There is a sign that shows the paved trails that essentially make a loop. You’ll want to veer off the paved trails to the right on one of the many dirt path options. You’ll be heading in the direction of the lake. There are several dirt paths that intersect, but if you’re heading in the right general direction, they all end up in the same place. Make sure you don’t take the trail that goes directly downhill, as that ends up at the shore of the lake! It should only take about 5 to 10 minutes to end up at the viewpoint. This spot offers great views with no railings blocking your photo and a huge rocky outcrop that you can sit on. Definitely worth exploring to find!
When we arrived back at the parking lot, it was packed and there were lots of people starting their hike. I was glad we arrived when we did! Our hike ended up being around 2 miles round trip.
Jasper National Park Icefield Information Center
Our next stop along the Icefields Parkway was another hour’s drive north of Peyto Lake, the Columbia Icefield. This is where we would be spending a good chunk of our day. There is a really nice facility that has a restaurant, lodge, souvenir shop, restrooms, and is the starting point for a couple activities we’d be doing. The restaurant was pretty expensive, so we had picked up sandwiches from Subway that morning to eat. There were several picnic tables outside. It had been so hot in Banff the last couple days (high 80s F) and we were so excited to have some relief from the heat being right next to the glacier. We ate our sandwiches outside and enjoyed the view. We then checked out the souvenir shop and restrooms before joining our first tour activity.
Columbia Icefield Glacier Experience
The two activities we’d be doing at the Columbia Icefield are part of the Pursuit Pass we had purchased. We had tickets for the glacier experience at 12:15pm, so we joined the line about ten minutes before that. After a quick wait, they boarded us onto a bus to get to the edge of the glacier. It was a short drive over, and then they transferred us to the huge all-terrain vehicle that would be driving us onto the glacier. When I say huge, I mean that we were barely taller than the tires on this thing! We had an awesome tour guide that informed us all about the glacier. We also passed some bighorn sheep chilling on the side of the road on our way up, making the experience that much better!
When we got to our destination on the glacier, we all got out and shuffled around on the ice to take some pictures. The ice was slick and I was very glad I was wearing my hiking boots. I highly recommend wearing the grippiest shoes you have with you. I also wore every layer of warmth I had, as it was so much colder than it was at the visitor center! We really enjoyed this activity. They took us back to the visitor center and loaded us up on another bus to get to the skywalk.
Columbia Icefield Skywalk
The drive to the skywalk is about 10 minutes north. We saw a black bear on our way that was climbing up the side of the mountain! We arrived and they let us wander the site at our own pace. The skywalk juts out over the canyon below. It’s clear, so you can see below where you walk. There were a lot of people there, which took away from the experience in my opinion. I’d say if you have the Pursuit Pass, be sure to check it out. You may want to pass on it otherwise. We then boarded the bus to go back to the visitor center.
Another 50 minutes’ drive north will take you to Athabasca Falls. The falls aren’t far from the parking lot. The waterfall isn’t tall, but the amount of water rushing down was quite impressive! There are paths on both sides of the falls and a bridge over the top. I’d say this is worth a stop on your drive.
Sunwapta Falls is another waterfall 20 minutes north of Athabasca Falls. It is similar to Athabasca Falls, where you can see it from either side or on the bridge over it. I really enjoyed the view from the bridge! In 40 more minutes, you’ll reach the town of Jasper, which is where we stayed.
Overall, I thought the Icefields Parkway was fantastic! If you are going from Banff to Jasper, you’ll have to make the drive. You may as well make a day out of it and stop to enjoy all these beautiful spots!