Peyto Lake Icefields Parkway Canada

Why You Should Drive the Icefields Parkway + Trip Planning Tips

The Icefields Parkway is a breathtaking 144-mile drive situated between Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta, Canada.

The journey along Highway 93, the Icefields Parkway, is listed in National Geographic’s Drives of a Lifetime and with good reason.

The wild beauty of the Canadian Rockies will blow you away! You’re sure to feel like just a speck among the rugged, rocky giants surrounding you on all sides.

Quite simply, the Icefields Parkway drive is a can’t miss on your Canadian Rockies itinerary.

WHY YOU SHOULD DRIVE THE ICEFIELDS PARKWAY
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Why You Should Drive the Icefields Parkway + Trip Planning Tips

This spectacular drive winds its way through the jagged mountain peaks of the Canadian Rockies.

Past glaciers feeding brilliantly blue lakes that manage to look both shimmering and milky. Luckily, the Icefields Parkway Canada was built complete with numerous pull-off points to stop and take in the beauty around you.

With a must-pull-over-to-take-a-photo moment every 10 feet and the possibility of spotting wildlife around every turn, it’s best to go all-out tourist and wear your camera around your neck as you drive.

Icefields Parkway Canada
The forests, mountains, and glacier-fed lakes allow just enough space for the Icefields Parkway to exist.

Icefields Parkway Map

Before setting off on your Icefields Parkway road trip, pick up a map in the Banff Tourism office along Banff Avenue, the main street through town. You can also get one at the start of the drive in Lake Louise.

If you prefer a digital copy of a map, Parks Canada has one available online.

Or, before your trip, download an app like Icefields Parkway GPS Tour Lake Louise – Jasper by GyPSy Guide. It plays automatically and uses GPS to know where you are. Along the way, it narrates what you’re seeing as you drive. It’s worth the few dollars to have a “personal” tour guide in the car with you.

Lastly, if you haven’t paid the park entry fees in Banff, you’ll need to do so in Lake Louise at the start of the Icefields Parkway drive. You can purchase passes based on the number of days you plan to be in Banff and Jasper National Parks.

Icefields Parkway Points of Interest

There are plenty of Icefields Parkway stops where you can take in the wild natural beauty and explore.

Early on in the drive, you’ll want to stop to see Crowfoot Glacier and Bow Lake. There’s also a trailhead at Bow Lake to see the Bow Glacier and Bow Glacier Falls. The hike is moderately easy and just about 5.5 miles round trip.

You’ll need to plan ahead for any of the Icefields Parkway hikes. Obviously, you’ll want to be dressed appropriately and have the right hiking gear. But even more importantly, beware of your timing. If you’re planning to spend just 1 day on the Icefields Parkway, make sure you have enough daylight for everything on your to-do list. Otherwise, spread out your visit over a few days.

Continuing on, you’ll arrive at a must-see along the Icefields Parkway, Peyto Lake. It comes early in the drive, with a well-marked parking lot. You can walk from your car in about 10 minutes along a paved path leading to the lake’s viewing platform.

It’s at this point you’ll begin to shake your head in disbelief at the silky, turquoise in front of you! Surrounded by evergreens, mountains, and glacier ice, you’ll seriously wonder if you’re looking at a real lake.

Icefields Parkway Peyto Lake Canada
The Peyto Lake viewpoint is an easy walk from the pull-off parking lot. The lake doesn’t even look real!

Back on the road and passing by several large mountain peaks, the Saskatchewan River Crossing is the next stop.

It’s here the North Saskatchewan River meets the Howse and Mistaya Rivers. The snaking flow of the riverbed along this shallow, gravely stretch, with the mountains and evergreens all around is pretty spectacular.

Whether you have time for just a quick stop, plan to hike the nearby trails, or want to stretch your legs for lunch in the picnic area, have your trigger finger on the camera!

Icefields Parkway Canada
The Saskatchewan River Crossing is captivating with its swirling riverbed.

Hiking along the Icefields Parkway is absolutely unforgettable. So, if you’re short on time and plan to do just 1 hike along the way, make it the Parker Ridge Trail.

The trailhead is past Coleman Creek but before the Columbia Icefields Centre.

Like Johnston Canyon in Banff, the trail is not long. But, it climbs a progressively steep, winding path. You don’t need any specific climbing gear, but I was glad I’d worn these shoes with great grip and long sleeves because it can be quite windy up there, even in summer!

I hiked it on my own and met plenty of fellow hikers, both ascending and descending, who were happy to chat and offer encouragement.

Icefields Parkway Parker Ridge Canada
The stunning Saskatchewan Glacier comes into view just as you reach the green alpine meadows at the end of the hike.

Once at the top, you’re rewarded with sweeping views of the Saskatchewan Glacier. I wouldn’t rush this spot. The alpine meadows make a perfect spot to find some grass and take in the vastness around you.

Plan on 2 hours for the round trip and more if you plan to picnic or explore. 

Parker Ridge Trail Icefields Parkway
Taking in the mountains and glacier on top of Parker Ridge. I wished I could stay until my eyes tired of the view, but I’d still be there.

Traveling to the Canadian Rockies soon?

Research and find hotels in Banff and Jasper on TripAdvisor or Booking.com!


Pull back onto the Parkway from the Parker Ridge stop, head toward the Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefields Centre, stopping as needed to take photos.

At the Icefields Centre, you can choose to take a ride out onto the Athabasca glacier to walk around. It’s the only Icefields Parkway glacier tour. It’s certainly a bit touristy. But, if you aren’t planning on ice climbing, this is your chance to get up close and personal with a glacier.

Athabasca Glacier Icefields Parkway Canada
The monster ice-mobile takes you down onto the ice.

Glacier tours leave every 15-30 minutes from the Columbia Icefields Centre across the street and take 80 minutes. A specialized monster vehicle designed to handle the icy descent transports you to the glacier’s surface.

Not to worry! An informative, experienced (and witty) guide talks about glaciers and how Athabasca has and is changing to distract you. On the glacier’s surface, icy water runs from small streams of meltwater. Be sure to fill up your water bottle with this glacier goodness and drink up! Legend has it the water makes you look younger.

Keep in mind the Columbia Icefields weather will feel considerably chillier than even just across the street so bring an extra layer or keep those winter hiking pants handy!

Athabasca Glacier Icefields Parkway Canada
The Athabasca Glacier sparkles in the sun.

The experience finishes with the thrilling Icefields Parkway glacier walk.

 Stepping out onto this glass platform offers panoramic views of the Sunwapta Valley. This incredible bird’s eye view of the valley floor 918 feet below gives you the chance to see wildlife, waterfalls, and the surrounding natural beauty from a totally unique vantage point.

At this point, you’ll be nearing the end of the Icefields Parkway. Before reaching the town of Jasper, stop to see Athabasca Falls. The raging water carves its way through a rocky gorge, swirling into caves and crashing into crevices. The plants along the cliffs are lush and leafy because of the steady mist spray.

Athabasca Falls Icefields Parkway Canada
Athabasca Falls raging through the gorge.

Icefields Parkway Weather

The Icefields Parkway drive is most popular in summer. However, the parkway remains open year-round except for sudden closures caused by things like heavy snow or avalanches making the road impassable.

Having visited Banff in winter and summer and driven the Icefields Parkway in both seasons as well, it’s important to understand the weather can change at a moment’s notice.

You’re in the mountains at higher elevations and even when you expect it to be a warm summer day, you could find yourself needing pants or long sleeves.

No matter which season you’re driving the Icefields Parkway, be prepared.

Icefields Parkway
  • Always drive slowly and be careful of wildlife near the road.
  • There’s only 1 main rest area along the Icefields Parkway with a gas station. As you can imagine, prices are high. Plan to gas up in the Lake Louise area or in Jasper before setting off. This service area closes in the winter.
  • There’s very little in the way of food along the Icefields Parkway and what is available tends to be fairly expensive. Buy prepared food and water in Banff, the Lake Louise area or in Jasper to take with you. Expect all lodging with food to be closed in the winter.
  • The Icefields Parkway has little to no cell phone service. Plan to be disconnected while on your drive.
  • In winter, mind all of the above. In addition, you must have a vehicle with snow tires for an Icefields Parkway winter so be sure to specify this if renting a car.
  •  Check local road and weather reports before venturing out but understand Icefields Parkway road conditions can change in a moment. Dress for arctic temperatures. Bring or rent gear like snowshoes. They’re great for winter hikes and, in the event of an emergency, getting through deep snow. Have a plan for a sudden Icefields Parkway closure.

Icefields Parkway Camping and Icefields Parkway Hotels

Icefields Parkway

Your journey on the Icefields Parkway should be savored and enjoyed. Depending on your stops, it’s probably best to camp at one of the many camping areas for a night. Or, alternatively, plan to stay at an Icefields Parkway accommodation.

The Icefields Parkway campgrounds are scattered along the drive. There are 11 sites in total, many of which are on a first come first serve basis. As mentioned above, you’ll need to stock up on food and supplies before getting on the Icefields Parkway.

If you’re looking for Icefields Parkway lodging, the Glacier View Inn, the Crossing Resort, and the Sunwapta Falls Resort are hotels along the way.

Here are a few options to consider for your Icefields Parkway itinerary.

  • Go as far as the Glacier View Inn across from the Columbia Icefields Centre. It’s a perfect stopping point before waking up fresh for Jasper National Park the next morning.
  • If you’re interested in hiking several of the trails closer to the start of the drive, stay in a Lake Louise hotel like the Post Hotel and Spa.
  • Similarly, from a hotel like the Mount Robson Inn in Jasper, you could get back on the Icefields Parkway to take advantage of the hikes closer to town.

Icefields Parkway Driving Guide

Icefields Parkway

To plan your Icefields Parkway road trip, you need to know the distance and time between popular spots in the Canadian Rockies.

The Columbia Icefields Centre is a top spot for Icefields Parkway day-trippers and explorers alike so let’s use this as a point of reference. Driving times reflect the most direct route without stops.

  • Banff to Columbia Icefields: 2 hours 20 minutes, 115 miles
  • Jasper to Columbia Icefields: 1 hour 25 minutes, 64 miles (The Jasper Icefields Parkway proximity to one another make this the quickest way to access to drive.)
  • Lake Louise to Columbia Icefields: 1 hour 50 minutes, 80 miles
  • Calgary to Columbia Icefields: 3 hours 35 minutes, 193 miles

Is it necessary to do an Icefields Parkway Tour?

The short and easy answer is no. In the warmer months, the Icefields Parkway is well-maintained, paved, and marked with plenty of informational signage. You’ll also have the ability to explore, hike, and take photos at your own pace.

If you’d rather go with a group and/or have a local guide, there are day tours like this Jasper Icefields tour that’ll take you to several Icefields Parkway attractions without the hassle of driving your own car.

So, are you planning an Icefields Parkway drive? 

Learn how to use miles and points for Banff and get to the Canadian Rockies for less!

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Why You Should Drive the Icefields Parkway + All the Trip Planning Tips you need!- Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta, Canada are full of adventure and jaw-dropping natural beauty. The Icefields Parkway road trip through the Canadian Rockies is one of the top 25 drives in North America. Cross it off your bucket list! #travel #canada #icefieldsparkway #roadtrip #canadianrockies
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12 thoughts on “Why You Should Drive the Icefields Parkway + Trip Planning Tips”

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks so much for reading, Jan! Glad the info is helpful. You’re sure to love the gorgeous Icefields Parkway. It’s a trip of a lifetime! 🙂

  1. Wow, these pictures are unreal! What a gorgeous road… Thanks for all the practical advice, despite the breathtaking views I would not want to get stranded because I ran out of gas;-).

    A question: do you recommend going camping in June? Is it very cold at night?

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks, Lotte. The Icefields Parkway is just gorgeous. I hiked there in August and needed a light hoodie. Summer is prime camping season so I’m sure you’d be fine. Just plan for some chill in the evenings.

  2. My husband and I are going to Banff next week and plan to drive up to Jasper….pretty much going to do EXACTLY as you did!! Thanks so much for the helpful tips of where to stop along the way!! We can’t wait to experience it!!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Oh, that’s so exciting, Mandy! I hope the two of you have an incredible trip. Thanks for reading and glad the tips will be helpful for you. 🙂

  3. Great article! Is the camping along the drive decent? My husband and I will be up there in 3-4 weeks and are planning on making the drive. We’re hoping to camp almost 100% of the time we’re in the great white north 😉

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks so much for reading, Kristin. 🙂 I didn’t camp so can’t say but I know the campsites are quite popular with visitors. I hope you have an amazing trip!!

  4. Going the end of August and can’t wait! Thank you for the very informative article! Have taken notes and so excited to actually be able to see all that you have written about!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Debi, and enjoy your Icefields Drive! The Canadian Rockies are great at the end of August. The fall chill begins to settle in making for comfortable days and good sleeping weather. Have so much fun! 🙂

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