Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper [The ultimate guide]
The Icefields Parkway is to a Western Canada road trip itinerary what Route 66 is to the Americain South-West : it is a legendary, unmissable and grandiose route.
Where are the most beautiful view points? What are the must-see's? How long should I allow to travel it?
All the answers in this ultimate guide to one of the most beautiful roads in the world.
Icefields Parkway map
What is the Icefields Parkway?
In total, 229 km of happiness, where the most beautiful landscapes of Western Canada will unfold before your eyes, between turquoise lakes, glaciers, vertiginous mountains and waterfalls.
This unique scenic route, with its sumptuous panoramas, may very well be the highlight of your trip to Canada.
This guide includes all the places worth stopping by, from the town of Banff to Jasper.
If you are travelling in the Rockies, chances are you will be picking up your Canada rental car in Calgary.
An hour and a half drive will get you to Banff. Located in the heart of the Rockies, the charming village of Banff is often the starting point for travelers wishing to travel to Jasper.
Take advantage of being in town to do some shopping and do not forget to fuel before hitting the road.
To reach Lake Louise, where the Icefields Parkway officially begins, you have two options: the Trans-Canada Highway or the Bow Valley Parkway .
I recommend the latter, more picturesque, and which offers noteworthy points of interest such as the Johnston Canyon. Be careful on the road, it is not uncommon to cross path with wild animals ...
Buckle up, here we go!
Your first stop is located just outside of Banff.
With Mount Rundle as a backdrop, the Vermillion Lakes are bordered by a 4.3 km scenic drive, accessible year-round.
From sunrise to sunset, the landscapes are breathtaking: take advantage of the benches placed here and there to just breathe in and admire the view.
Those who want to learn more about the local flora and fauna will appreciate the interpretive panels that line the path.
Continue along the Bow Valley Parkway towards Johnston Canyon.
In an enchanting setting, a hiking path allows you to explore the depths of the canyon and uncover superb waterfalls.
Allow a 1 hour round trip to get to the lower falls, and a 2 hours round trip to reach the upper falls, standing 30 meters tall.
The trail is well laid out and easy to access: it is suitable for all types of hikers as well as families. No wonder is it part of our top 5 hikes in Western Canada.
Your next stopover is Lake Louise, located about thirty kilometers North. You can get there by continuing on the Bow Valley Parkway, or by embarking the Trans-Canada Highway at Castle Junction.
With its turquoise waters and colossal snow-capped mountains as a backdrop, Lake Louise is considered one of the most beautiful panoramas in the country. Without surprise, its nickname is "the jewel of Canada". It also tops our 7 Wonders of Western Canada list.
This ultra-touristic site welcomes several hundred thousand of visitors each year, but it is none the less grandiose.
If you want to get away from the crowds and enjoy it from a different perspective, don’t hesitate to take one of the many hiking trails, or to go a canoe ride to see the glacier up close.
Do not miss :
- The trail on the shores of Lake Louise : (4 km round trip) Ideal for stretching your legs, you will see the hotel on one side, and the glacier on the other.
- Fairview Lookout : It climbs a lot but the trail itself is short. Your efforts will quickly be forgotten when you see the panorama that awaits you.
That's a good start to your road trip, right? On the way to our next stop, just as grandiose, but wilder ...
Moraine Lake is located approximately 12 kilometers from Lake Louise.
In its natural setting in the wild, with the 10 peaks that surround it and its crystal clear waters, it quickly becomes the favorite spot of many first-time travelers.
The road to get there is open daily, from late May to early October, and a shuttle service is available from Lake Louise (highly recommended as the site is very busy).
Parking at Moraine Lake and Lake Louise:
- Spaces are very limited and it is often difficult to find a place to park during high season (May to October). Some tourists even arrive before sunrise.
- To guarantee access to the sites, you can book a Park Canada shuttle or take the Roam buses (this implies leaving your car in Banff, take this into account when planning your trip). To reserve your place or for more details, consult this website.
An easy and quick stop that should not be missed.
This place is very popular with photographers because of the perfect reflection of the mountains on the lake.
Are you not a photographer? It does not matter much, the beauty of the decor will make you feel good, and you will certainly still get a magnificent souvenir photo of this little stopover, I am sure.
Continue on towards Bow Lake, which you can admire directly from the road if you do not wish to stop there.
But frankly that would be a shame, because it is very easy to access and the parking lot is right by the side of the road.
If you want to stretch your legs, there is a popular family hike, which runs along the shore of the lake and offers great views of Crowfoot Mountain .
Ah! And I heard that it was the favorite lake for fishermen. If you ever have your fishing gear on hands, indulge yourself!
We continue to Lake Peyto, one of the most beautiful in the Rockies.
It surprises above all by its original shape (can you see the head of the wolf?) and by its magnificent color.
A short 15-minute hike takes you to the Bow Summit , the highest point on the Icefields Parkway, where you'll have amazing views of the lake and its surrounding area.
Hopelly you have enough battery in your camera
Please note that the viewpoint, the belvedere and the upper parking lot of the Lac-Peyto day-use area are closed until the end of 2020.
Continue for approximately 80 km to reach the Athabasca Glacier, the most accessible glacier in North America.
You are now in Jasper National Park.
Parking is available to allow you to walk to the foot of the glacier.
Otherwise, head to the interpretive center across the road, where the famous glacier bus tours are offered.
A 30-minute drive separates you from your next stop: Sunwapta Falls, standing 18 meters tall.
Leave the highway and access the parking lot about 600 meters further. From there, a short trail takes you to the falls viewpoint .
They are even more impressive in late spring, when the spring melt is at its peak.
A real treat for the eyes.
Last stop before reaching Jasper, your final destination.
The Athabasca Falls, which originate in the glaciers of the Columbia Icefield , are the most powerful of the Rockies.
To admire them, you will need to follow an easy 800-meter round-trip path, which runs along the river.
It would be a shame to do without.
This is where your magnificent trip on the Icefields Parkway ends.
Jasper, surrounded by its majestic snow-capped peaks and nestled in the heart of the national park of the same name, is a very pleasant town, where it is good to spend at least one night.
If you have not had the pleasure of seeing animals during your road trip, you will certainly have the chance to observe elks, as they wander freely around town!
Good to know
Where to sleep ?
In addition to the many hotels in the towns of Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise, there are a few accommodations available along the Glacier Route:
- Num-Ti-Jah Lodge
- Rampart Creek hostel
- Glacier view Lodge
- Beauty Creek hostel
- Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge
- Athabasca falls Wilderness hostel
If you are travelling with your camping equipment, know that there are several campgrounds on your way, in Banff National Park and in Jasper National Park.
Make sure to get a national parks pass to ride on the Icefields Parkway.
Note that during the winter period (October to the end of May), the parkway is not maintained between 3:30 p.m. and 7 a.m. In addition, winter tires are mandatory and the road is sometimes closed to traffic without notice.
Check with tourist information centers before setting off.
- Ideally, fill up with gas in Banff or Lake Louise. Otherwise, the last gas station before Jasper is at Crossing Resort in Saskatchewan River Crossing.
- There aren't many food options, and most restaurants fall in the expensive range. On the other hand, there are many picnic areas set up along the route. Remember to plan your own food to save big bucks and truely be at one with nature.
- You will not have a telephone signal on the Icefields Parkway.
- Wild animals: You are more likely to see them early in the morning or in the evening. Stay in your vehicle, on the side of the road to observe them. I know it may be tempting, but do not feed them!
There you go, you now know everything, and all you have to do is plan the date for your next road trip to the Canadian Rockies
In my opinion, you will not soon forget this magnificent getaway on the Icefields Parkway. The main advice I can give you is to devote enough time to this unique route. And once there, enjoy!
If you have any questions or would like to complete this guide, I invite you to express yourself in the comment box below.