Planning the ultimate road trip through Western Canada? Don’t miss a chance to coast along the Icefields Parkway in Alberta!
The Icefields Parkway is one of most scenic road trips in Canada. (And given Canada’s immense natural beauty, this is no small feat!)
Also known as Highway 93, the Icefields Parkway runs 230 kilometres north to south. It stretches from Lake Louise in Banff National Park to the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park.
Many travellers ride out the entire trip from Banff to Jasper in one day. We’d be remiss, though, to not suggest slowing down. Stretch out your Icefields Parkway itinerary out over a couple days. (You can thank us later.)
Ready to plan the perfect Icefields Parkway road trip? Experience the best of the Icefields Parkway with this complete guide for what to see, where to stay, and when to visit…
What to see along the Icefields Parkway
Beautiful & iconic Lake Louise sits on the southern edge of the Icefields Parkway. The village & famous lake is located between Banff and Jasper in the Canadian Rockies. Lake Louise. It’s the most logical starting point for your itinerary.
If you’ve already tackled a Banff itinerary, Lake Louise won’t likely be a stranger. There’s a ton of incredible sightseeing opportunities in Lake Louise.
In case you’re just passing through, here are few places to look out for:
- Lake Louise: The village’s namesake lake is one of the most coveted destinations in Canada. Lake Louise is fringed by the Canadian Rockies and Victoria Glacier. It’s absolutely stunning year-round. For most travellers, the best time to visit Lake Louise is in the summer months when the lake is (finally!) unfrozen and its turquoise hues are their most shimmering.
- Lake Agnes: Situated uphill from Lake Louise, this glacial mountain lake is a stunning slice of nature. Once you’ve reached Lake Agnes, be sure to relax with a refreshment at its famous teahouse. You can continue your journey nearby along some of Lake Louise’s best hiking trails. Some of the top trails include The Little Beehive, The Big Beehive, and Mount Saint Piran.
- Moraine Lake: Just south of Lake Louise, you’ll find the spectacular Moraine Lake. Like Lake Louise, the colours of this glacial lake shine in varying shades of greens and blue depending on how the light hits it. The road to Moraine Lake closes during the winter due to avalanche risk. You’ll want to time your trip to Banff National Park just right to catch Moraine Lake at its best.
- Lake Louise Ski Resort: If you’re visiting Lake Louise in winter, carve out time to hit the slopes at Lake Louise Ski Resort. The resort offers 145 runs for all skill levels criss-crossing over 4,000 acres. This top-notch resort tops the list of ski resorts in Banff & Lake Louise. It’s even considered one of the best ski resorts in Canada.
Located 25 minutes north of Lake Louise, you’ll encounter your first major stop along the Icefields Parkway, Bow Lake. This stunning lake is fed by the Bow Glacier in the Wapta Icefield.
Bow Lake sits in the heart of the Canadian Rockies in Banff National Park. At an elevation of 1,920 metres with the jagged Bow Summit as its backdrop, it’s a spectacular sight!
Although you’re only 25 minutes into your Icefields Parkway itinerary, Bow Lake is a perfect stop. Hop out for a short walk or for a few quick photo ops before moving along with your day.
Among the most impressive places to see in Banff National Park, Peyto Lake is a mere 5-minute drive from Bow Lake along the Icefields Parkway.
Like other glacial lakes in the Canadian Rockies, Peyto Lake is a stunner. During the peak summer months, its radiant blues and greens shimmer against a dramatic mountainous backdrop. It’s more than just a pretty face though.
The area around Peyto Lake is home to some of Banff National Park’s top hiking trails. Most travellers on a Icefields Parkway adventure opt for the Peyto Lake lookout hike. At just 2.6-kilometres long, it’s an easy, family-friendly route.
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If you’re planning to spend the night nearby to break up the journey, extend your hike to the peak of the Bow Summit. You’ll be able to enjoy even more spectacular views over Banff National Park.
Mistaya Canyon isn’t quite as famous as other canyons in the two national parks. (Most notably, Johnson Canyon near Banff and Maligne Canyon near Jasper.)
Nonetheless, Mistaya Canyon is a must-stop destination on any Icefields Parkway itinerary. It’s located 25 minutes north of Peyto Lake and five kilometres south of Saskatchewan River Crossing.
Start at the parking lot area off the Icefields Parkway. Prepare for a short 10-minute walk through dense forest towards Mistaya Canyon.
About one kilometre into the trail, you’ll arrive at a wooden bridge. From the bridge, you can see Mistaya Canyon in all its grand majesty.
If you’re not in a rush on your Icefields Parkway road trip, spend some time exploring the area. Gaze upon its whitewater river waters, waterfalls, and mountain scenery before continuing on.
Howse Pass Viewpoint
Only about seven minutes up the road from Mistaya Canyon, you’ll find the Howse Pass Viewpoint. It’s another fantastic place to stretch your legs and snag a few Rocky Mountain photo ops on your Icefields Parkway road trip.
Howse Pass was once an ancient First Nations trading route. The mountain pass stretches from the Columbia River Valley through the Rocky Mountains. Its western edge drifts into the rugged interior of British Columbia.
Thanks to its historical importance, Howse Pass itself is listed as a National Historic Site of Canada.
Ironically enough, you won’t see much of Howse Pass itself from the viewpoint. The vistas are, nonethless, incredible. You’ll be able to see the North Saskatchewan River snaking into the peaks along the Alberta and British Columbia border.
Not far from Howse Pass Viewpoint, the Icefields Parkway and David Thompson Highway (Highway 11) meet. At the junction, you’ll find a pit stop with a gas station and small restaurant. It’s the only gas station along the way. If you need to fuel up for the road ahead, this is the place to do it!
Driving 22 minutes north of Saskatchewan River Crossing, you’ll stumble upon Weeping Wall. The wall is formed by cliffs rising over 300 metres from the western base of Cirrus Mountain. It’s named after the series of waterfalls that tumble over its edge into the valley below.
While Weeping Wall is beautiful year-round, one of the best times to see it is in winter. In winter, its frozen waterfalls turn the cliff face to a wall of blue ice.
Weeping Wall is an especially popular stop on the Icefield Parkway for ice-climbers. In fact, it’s often listed as one of the best places for ice-climbing in the world!
From Weeping Wall, it’s a quick 11-minute drive over to Parker Ridge, one of the most spellbinding sights along the Icefields Parkway.
The trail to Parker ridge is one of Banff’s most popular hikes. The hike comes in at just five kilometres return. Even so, it’s certainly not one of the easiest trails to tackle in the area!
Completing the entire Parker Ridge Trail will take about two hours. Should you choose to accept your mission, be prepared to dazzle at some of the finest scenery between Banff and Jasper.
At the trail’s apex, you’ll reach its namesake, Parker Ridge. From the ridge, you’ll witness the majestic Saskatchewan Glacier, dripping its glacial melt below. The mountainside turquoise pool forms the headwaters of the mighty Saskatchewan River.
Parker Ridge is close to the halfway point between Lake Louise and Jasper. It’s a great place to spend the night to split your itinerary into two days.
Travelling south to north, Wilcox Pass is the first official stop in Jasper National Park. It offers a fantastic opportunity to get a closer view of the majestic Athabasca Glacier.
Decided to break up your Icefields Parkway journey into two or more days? You should be able to fine time to take on this 9.3-kilometre-return hiking trail.
Lasting about 3 to 4 hours, the Wilcox Pass hike climbs up 522 metres. At its, you’ll experience arresting views of the Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefield.
Be sure to dress warmly in layers on your hike as the higher elevation here often brings along heavy, cool winds.
By this point, there’s only an hour left to go in your trip between Banff and Jasper. Less than ten minutes from Parker Ridge and Wilcox Pass, you’ll slide into the Columbia Icefield. It’s not only one of the best stops along the route, but one of Canada’s most famous travel destinations!
The Columbia Icefield is one of the world’s largest non-polar ice fields. This eye-popping slice of nature is the perfect complement for this scenic road trip.
Perched upon the Great Continental Divide, this massive ice field feeds six glaciers. (The most famous is, of course, the Athabasca Glacier.)
From the six glacial “toes” flows severals of North America’s mightiest rivers. The North Saskatchewan River, Athabasca River, and Columbia River all start here.
Want to experience the ice field and Athabasca Glacier at its best? Join in on an Ice Explorer Tour and a walk along the Columbia Icefield Skywalk.
The skywalk runs one kilometre along a cliff edge 280 metres above the Sunwapta Valley. On the precipitous Glacier Skywalk, you’ll enjoy a bird’s-eye view over the valley. You’ll see everything from glaciers & rivers to mountain peaks.
Another natural gem listed among the most amazing things to see in Jasper National Park is Sunwapta Falls. It’s located 30 minutes from the icefields.
With its series of three cascading waterfalls along the Sunwapta River, the falls are among the most impressive in the Jasper area.
Sunwapta Falls breaks up into two sections: upper and lower. Over the course of their journey, the waterfalls tumble over 22 metres into the river below.
From main parking lot off of the Icefields Parkway, it’s a quick walk to both the lower and upper sections of the falls. To see them at their best, visit in late spring and early summer.
In this shoulder season, the melt-off from the Athabasca Glacier is at its peak. You’ll get to witness the water flowing from the falls at its strongest.
The natural gems continue less than twenty minutes from Sunwapta Falls. Here, you’ll meet up with another one of Jasper National Park’s finest waterfalls, Athabasca Falls.
The Athabasca Falls sit 30 minutes south of the town of Jasper. They unveil the Athabasca River at its most powerful.
Stop here to witness its raging whitewater crash 23 metres into the river below. It’s an experience any visitor to Jasper National Park needs to etch into their road trip.
Depending on whether your Icefields Parkway road trip travels north to south or south to north, Jasper will either begin or end your journey. And Jasper’s a great fit for both roles!
The small town of Jasper is the base for exploring the vast wilderness of Jasper National Park. During your Icefields Parkway adventure, you might have already seen (or will see) a good chunk of the best places to visit in Jasper National Park.
Nonetheless, here’s a handful of other attractions to check out in Jasper including:
- Jasper SkyTram: The world-class Jasper SkyTram scoot 2,263 metres up Whistlers Mountain. Unsurprisingly, it offers some of the most spellbinding views in Jasper National Park. Once you’re at the summit station, you can take the adventure further. Consider continuing on the challenging trail up to the Whistlers Mountain peak. For its views, it’s definitely one of the best hikes in Jasper National Park.
- Miette Hot Springs: Want to relax on your visit to Jasper National Park? Head an hour northeast of town to Miette Hot Springs. These natural hot springs are the hottest in the Canadian Rockies. They flow into the hot pools at a more-than-balmy 54°C (129°F) before cooling down to a more comfortable 40°C (104°F) for its guests.
- Maligne Canyon: Even more famous than the canyon along the route, Maligne Canyon is a gem. It’s a must to slot in your Jasper itinerary. Unlike many other natural attractions in the Jasper area, the best time to visit Maligne Canyon is in winter. When its waterfalls freeze over and its ice caves are at their peak, it’s spectacular!
Where can I stay along the route?
Despite its popularity, there’s a limited selection of accommodations along the Icefields Parkway. Most of the traditional accommodation options along the way tend to be spartan and simple. They’ll do in pinch, though.
You’ll also see several campsites along the way. Most campsites here take reservations on a first-come first-serve basis.
If you want to stretch your Icefields Parkway itinerary out to two days, here are a few of the best places to stay:
- HI Rampart Creek Hostel: This hostel is the perfect place for budget travellers wanting to crash along the parkway. It’s located 11 kilometres north of Saskatchewan River Crossing. From here, you can indulge in the vast wilderness of Western Canada effortlessly.
- Glacier View Lodge: This lodge sits near the half-way point in the journey. It offers, by far, the most stylish and luxurious digs on the Icefields Parkway. The views of the Athabasca Glacier from the hotel are spectacular.
- Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge: Many travellers will find these accommodations too close to Jasper to be useful. But if you hit bad weather or are too tired to go on, this budget mountain lodge will do the trick.
When is the best time to visit?
Although the road is open all year round, the best time to travel along the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper is between May and October.
Between late spring and autumn, the road conditions are at their safest. The weather is also at its best. The sightseeing & wildlife-watching opportunities will also be at their peak.
Keep in mind that the peak tourist months of July and August can be quite crowded. Both Banff National Park and Jasper National Park are insanely popular summer destinations.
If you’re travelling from mid- to late fall through to mid- to late spring, be sure to keep an eye on the road conditions. The area’s high elevation also brings cooler temperatures and a longer snowfall season. In fact, it’s not unheard of to see snowfall as early as October or as late as early June!
Driving along the Icefields Parkway in winter is particularly treacherous. The Icefields Parkway is not maintained to the same degree as other major highways in Alberta like the Trans-Canada Highway. It’s also subject to frequent random closures during periods of heavy snowfall. There’s often an avalanche risk here in winter.
The road is often snow-covered between November and March. Due to local laws, vehicles travelling the highway require snow-rated tires between November 1st and March 31st.
How do I get there?
The Icefields Parkway is accessible via its to main terminus points, Jasper and Lake Louise. From Edmonton, it’s a 4-hour drive to Jasper via the Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16). From Calgary, it’s about 2 hours to Lake Louise via Banff along the Trans-Canada Highway.
Also note that you’ll require a pass from Parks Canada to travel along this route by car—even if you don’t plan to stop. If you plan to spend any more than a week exploring national parks in Canada, you’ll save money with an annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass. Get the low-down on all the options on the Parks Canada official website.