Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: June 2022
Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic highways. Ever. It is 233 kilometres in length and connects Jasper National Park with Lake Louise in Banff National Park. The road winds through the rugged mountains, runs parallel to the Continental Divide and provides sweeping views of glaciers, valleys, waterfalls and turquoise lakes. There are plenty of overlooks and hiking trails along the way to better soak in the views of the surrounding area.
After spending the past couple of days in Jasper, it was time for us to head to Banff. We planned to spend the entire day driving along the Icefields Parkway. It turns out that one day is not nearly enough time to hit up all (or many) of the points of interest along the way. But we tried.
We first stopped at Athabasca Falls, which is one of the most powerful falls found in the Canadian Rockies. There’s a short path that’s paved that leads to a few viewpoints on either side of the falls. It also winds through the lower canyon along an abandoned channel with ancient potholes to the Athabasca River.
The next stop on our itinerary was at the Goats and Glaciers viewpoint. From the parking lot, there’s a super short path through the forest that leads to a nice overlook.
We were back on the road for a minute or two until I spotted a bear, which naturally we had to pull over for. It was my ideal bear encounter with us inside the safety of our car.
A few kilometres after we pulled over at Mount Christie where there’s a small picnic area and a pair of the Parks Canada Red Chairs, which overlook the river and snow-capped mountains. We took a small break here to just admire the views.
At the next viewpoint at Sunwapta Falls, we decided to stretch our legs and go for a hike. There’s a few viewpoints of the falls, which we scoped out first.
We then found the trailhead for the Lower Sunwapta Falls Trail (2.8km, rated moderate), which passes by three more waterfalls. The trail is wide and gradually descends through the forest down to the river. At the third waterfall, we turned around and walked back the way we came to the trailhead.
We stopped for lunch at Jonas Campground as it was quiet and shaded. It’s a relatively small campground with only 26 sites, 12 of which are walk-in sites. It seemed like a nice campground and you could even hear the sound of the nearby river.
We hit the road again and pulled off at a few more viewpoints, including of the Mushroom and Diadem Peaks, Stutfield Glacier and Tangle Falls.
We then stopped at the Icefield Centre to admire the views of the Columbia Glacier and to check out the gift shop. We couldn’t resist buying some swag to represent the Canadian Rockies.
We were back in the car for a short stretch before pulling off to hike Wilcox Pass, or at least to the mid-way point that leads to the Red Chairs (3.4km round trip, rated difficult). The trail is predominantly uphill and weaves through the forest to an overlook of the Columbia Glacier and valley below. There were a few snow patches on the trail and we encountered some muddy conditions, but overall it wasn’t too bad. Nothing our hiking boots couldn’t handle. The trail continues for a couple kilometres to an alpine meadow, but according to the trail conditions online, it was still in rough shape with lots of snow. So we turned around and hiked back the way we came.
After driving just over 100km along the Icefields Parkway, we had reached the Banff boundary at Sunwapta Pass. We stopped at a few more viewpoints, including at Bridal Veil Falls, Weeping Wall and Cirque and Chephren Lakes.
We then stopped at Peyto Lake, a super colourful glacier-fed lake. There were a few huge snow piles in the parking lot, which gave us a preview of what to expect along the trail. There’s a paved path that’s predominantly uphill that leads to a viewing platform of Peyto Lake. The trail itself was in good shape, but there was a lot of snow in the forest and on either side of the path. From the viewing platform, the trail continues to the Bow Summit, but it was completely covered in snow. We turned around and walked back to the parking lot.
We weren’t in the car for long before stopping again at Bow Lake. From the parking lot there’s a short trail that leads down and around part of the shoreline.
From Bow Lake we had 37km to go to Lake Louise. We made a few additional detours to check out the remaining viewpoints at Crowfoot Glacier, Hector Lake and Herbert Lake.
By the time we arrived at the Lake Louise Campground, it was just after 7p.m. Thankfully we still had a few hours of daylight left to set up our tent and make dinner. We went to bed shortly after as we planned to wake up early the next morning to visit the incredibly scenic (and extremely busy) Lake Louise.