Icefields Parkway

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 PeaksStutfield 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 FallsWeeping 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 GlacierHector 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.

L

49 thoughts on “Icefields Parkway

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. I couldn’t agree more about how majestic the Rockies are. It was neat to visit early in the summer when a lot of the mountains still had snow at higher elevations. We weren’t able to hike all the trails we wanted to because of this, but the views were very beautiful.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. We couldn’t have asked for better weather during the drive through the Icefields Parkway. The scenery was spectacular with those snow capped mountains. I must have taken at least a thousand pictures.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Parks Canada started the Red Chairs program just over a decade ago. They are often placed at a nice viewpoint and a great way to encourage people to explore a trail or overlook that are off the beaten path. We went on a bit of scavenger hunt to try to find as many as we could. Plus they are really comfortable and a great spot to take a break to soak in our surroundings.

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  1. Darlene says:

    Icefields Parkway is without a doubt the most amazing highway. It’s like driving through a postcard. How great you saw a bear, while in your car! You did some wonderful hikes. So many gorgeous waterfalls.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. There’s nothing better than driving through the mountains with blue skies. The scenery was simply stunning. Seeing a bear while we were driving is my ideal bear encounter. I’m not sure how I would handle seeing one while out on the trail!

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. We had a beautiful drive through the Icefields Parkway and couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. We tried to find as many of the Red Chairs as we could. They are such great spots to take a break and admire the views. Take care. Linda

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The scenery in Jasper and Banff is gorgeous. We had a fabulous time driving through the Icefields Parkway and exploring some of the trails. Plus we saw some wildlife, which is always an added bonus. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      You bet. I’m pretty sure we spent more time stopping at the overlooks and viewpoints than we did driving. It’s always awesome to see some wildlife along the drive. We really did luck out with the bear sightings. We actually saw another bear while we were in Banff.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The drive along the Icefields Parkway is gorgeous. It’s hard not to stop to soak in the views. Seeing a bear while we’re driving is my ideal bear encounter as we’re in the safety of our car at least. I couldn’t imagine how I’d react if I came across one while on the trail.

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  2. Little Miss Traveller says:

    What idyllic scenery along the Icefields Parkway Linda and how wonderful you spotted a bear from the comfort and safety of your car. We were also lucky to spot a bear when we visited Grand Teton National Park in the US.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. I’m glad we were in the car and that I had my phone out so I could quickly take a picture of him. He looked enormous. It’s always nice to spot some wildlife in the national parks. How fun to see one when you went to Grand Teton.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. kagould17 says:

    Looks like you hit all the highlights Linda. I call this highway the most beautiful road in the world and we have travelled it many times. Our favourite hike is Wilcox Pass and the best comes on the other side of the Red Chairs. We hope to hike it again soon. Thanks for sharing and Happy Saturday. Allan

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I completely agree that the Icefields Parkway is the most beautiful road in the world. It’s sometimes hard to even pay attention to the road with such gorgeous scenery. It’s too bad that we visited too early in the summer and that many of the trails at higher elevations were still snowbound. I guess this means we’ll just have to return someday to complete the rest of Wilcox Pass. For now I’ll just have to patiently wait for you to hike it and then write a post about it. Hope you had a wonderful weekend. Linda

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  4. Vignesh M says:

    Absolutely gorgeous views of mountain. The red chairs still fascinates me. I want to know why they chose the color. Beautiful waterfalls and glacier. Peyto lake is absolutely amazing with that color. Canadian landscape is stunning. Thanks for sharing! We love your outdoor adventure!

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. The snow capped mountains were stunning. It was nice that there were a lot of overlooks along the drive so we could pull over, take some pictures, and just admire the scenery. The colour of the water in Peyto Lake was gorgeous. I’ve never seen a lake quite that blue before.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was a very pretty drive through the Icefields Parkway with amazing views along the way. It was also nice that we could stretch our legs and go for a few hikes as well to better explore the mountains and turquoise coloured lakes and waterfalls.

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  5. Ab says:

    Oh my goodness, what a beautiful and iconic drive, Linda! This is on my bucket list for sure. It’s like there is not one single bad angle or shot!

    Those gushing and rushing waterfalls are wonderful and the glacial rivers and that turquoise Bow Lake at the end of your trip are stunning. I also love how the Parks Canada folks put red Muskoka chairs at each scenic lookout to greet you.

    I can only imagine how busy the Lake Louise campground was at the end. What a truly marvelous trip you had – and bear sighting too!

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We couldn’t have asked for better weather for driving along the Icefields Parkway. There wasn’t a single cloud in sight to obstruct the views of those snow capped mountains. Parks Canada started the Red Chairs just over a decade ago. It’s been a fabulous way to encourage people to visit some of the viewpoints that might otherwise have been overlooked. Plus they are super comfortable for taking a break in.

      The Lake Louise Campground was full the entire time we were there, which was for 4 nights. I’m glad we visited just before the Canada Day long weekend, as I can only imagine how much busier it would have been then. We had to wake up suuuuper early a few days just to guarantee a parking spot at some of the popular trails.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Ab says:

        Early bird always get the worm as you and K keep demonstrating. 🙂 Hope you’re enjoying your week. Last week of summer vacation for us! 😭

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  6. alisendopf says:

    Wow!!! You’re doing it ALL Linda!!! So happy for you 💓 💗 ❤️
    Guess what? I’ve been to Bow Lake and the glacier above about 20 times over the last 20 years – all in the winter! Never been in the summer. I got married at Num-ti-jah Lodge on the shores of Bow Lake – you guessed it! In the winter 🤣

    Can’t wait to hear about your Louise adventures. Keep em coming!

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      That sounds incredible to have gotten married at the lodge on the shores of Bow Lake. I bet it was even more beautiful in the winter with all that snow. Your pictures must be gorgeous. No wonder you come to Bow Lake and the glacier so often! The scenery along the entire Icefields Parkway is stunning. I wish we could have stayed for longer.

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  7. Linda K says:

    Absolutely amazing photos! It made me feel a bit cooler just looking at them while i sit here sweltering in hot and humid Toronto today.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. We visited the Rockies early in the summer during a bit of a heat wave. But the nice thing about the mountains is that it gets chilly at night, which is great for sleeping and hiking in the morning. We’re currently in Florence, Italy where it’s 39C!!! Stay cool out there.

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  8. Lookoom says:

    I also loved the scenery around Icefields Parkway. Unsurprisingly this made me arrive late at my accommodation to enjoy it as long as possible. Thanks for making me relive those moments so beautifully.

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  9. Bama says:

    I echo everyone’s sentiment here. Wow! Just wow! I can see why you said this is the most scenic highway ever. It’s really hard to top all those breathtaking views! Thank you for taking us to this incredibly beautiful part of Canada, Linda.

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  10. wetanddustyroads says:

    Now … what is there not to love here? Stunning waterfalls and to spot a bear (from the inside of your car of course). And the view over the snow covered mountains from those two red chairs – amazing! I’m looking forward to read about your visit to Lake Louise 😊.

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  11. grandmisadventures says:

    Excellent post! These Icefields are on my husbands bucket list so I sent him your post to read. He called 10 minutes later saying that he was looking at flights to Canada and seeing how possible it would be for us to get up there. 🙂

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