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8 BEST Athabasca Glacier Tours to See the Columbia Icefield

8 BEST Athabasca Glacier Tours to See the Columbia Icefield

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Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, the ancient Athabasca Glacier is easily one of the most impressive places to visit in Alberta. In fact, it’s the most popular glacier to visit in the world! It was formed around 240,000 years ago and the ice here reaches depths of up to 365 meters (1,197 feet), which is taller than the Eiffel Tower. 

The best way to explore this majestic glacier is on a tour because that’s the only way you’re allowed to actually set foot on the ice and walk the famous glass-bottomed Skywalk nearby. Otherwise, you’ll have to settle for a short hike in the icefield which, while cool, just doesn’t really compare. 

Since Bailey is Canadian, and we have both lived in Canmore, which is about 2 hours away, for years, we’ve visited the Athabasca Glacier countless times and done some really fun tours here. We’ve rounded up our top picks to ensure that you have a seamless, educational, and awe-inspiring experience on the glacier before too much of it melts away. 

Don’t have time to read the full article? Our absolute favorite Athabasca Glacier tours include:

  1. Driving on top of the glacier on the Ice Explorer, then getting to view it from above on the Skywalk on this tour from Banff.
  2. Explore the best of the Canadian Rockies and hike to a viewpoint of the glacier on this private tour.
  3. Take this full-day tour to explore attractions along the Icefields Parkway including the Athabasca Glacier!

Best Athabasca Glacier Tours

1. Athabasca Glacier Snow Trip from Banff

Daniel on one of the large Ice Explorers on the Athabasca Glacier on a tour
It’s cold on the glacier!
Columbia Icefield Skywalk
Columbia Icefield Skywalk

We love this day tour from Banff because it gives you the complete Athabasca Glacier experience. After being picked up in Banff, you’ll be driven to the glacier via the Icefields Parkway, which is one of the most scenic drives in all of Canada – and probably the world, if we’re being honest. We’ve driven along here hundreds of times, and we never get tired of its beauty. 

Then, once you arrive at the Columbia Icefield, it’s all aboard the Ice Explorer, which is the huge vehicle that is used to drive across the glacier so that you can take a walk on its surface. It’s an amazing thing to do and truly the best way to experience the glacier. Plus, if you bring a water bottle with you, you can refill it with pure glacier water during the icewalk, which is so cool (literally!).

After the icewalk, you’ll be transported over to the Glacier Skywalk, which is a glass-bottomed walkway that protrudes from a cliff, over the Sunwapta Valley. You get absolutely insane views of the canyon, mountain, and of course the glacier itself from here, and you can snap some pretty amazing photos. 

The tour also includes a picnic lunch, and after a morning of exploring the glacier, you get to visit other scenic spots in the area, including the Crowfoot Glacier, Bow Lake, and Peyto Lake. So all in all, it’s a really great way to immerse yourself in the spectacular natural beauty of the Rockies. 

The tour costs $338 CAD per person. This is an all-inclusive tour, so the price covers transport, admission fees, activities, and lunch. Pickup is at 7:40 am and you’ll be out for around 11 to 12 hours, so this is a long day, but we think it’s 100% worth it because this tour gives you the ultimate Athabasca Glacier experience from Banff. 

The tour is available daily from May to October, but it books up fast because it’s so reputable. You can book this tour here through Viator with free cancellation up to 24 hours before.

2. Columbia Icefield Adventure 1-Day Tour from Calgary or Banff

the ice explorer athabasca glacier bus drives on the glacier with a mountain backdrop
This bus actually drives you onto the glacier!

You can choose to do this Icefield tour from Calgary or Banff, and it’s up to you whether or not you want to include the Ice Explorer experience. We would recommend opting in, though, because it’s such a fantastic experience, and this tour is an easy way to see the glacier, especially as a day trip from Calgary. Plus, you get to check out some of the highlights in the nearby area, such as Peyto Lake, the Crowfoot Glacier, Bow Lake, and the Waputik Range. 

If you opt into the Ice Explorer experience, then you also get a lunch break, but you should be aware that this experience doesn’t include the Skywalk due to time restraints. However, it’s a convenient way to visit the Athabasca Glacier from Calgary, which is roughly a 3.5-hour drive away, as it’s a bit too far to get yourself there and back in a single day. Skipping the Skywalk also shortens the day which makes things a bit easier if you’re traveling with kids – who will LOVE the Ice Explorer, by the way! 

The tour costs $210 CAD from either Calgary or Banff without the Ice Explorer and $305 CAD with the Ice Explorer. Even if you don’t end up doing the Ice Explorer, it’s a great way to explore the Rockies when you haven’t got your own car to use and to check out the icefield, but we do recommend opting into that because the Ice Explorer really is the main event, and if you change your mind, you probably won’t be able to secure tickets on the day. 

This tour is available on Wednesdays and Saturdays from May to mid-October. The tour leaves from Calgary at 8 am and Banff at 9:35 am. It doesn’t include lunch but there is time to buy some at the Icefield Discovery Center, or you can bring your own to cut down on costs. Check the different options and book this Icefield tour here!

Related Read: For more tour options from Calgary, check out our guide to getting to the Columbia Icefield from Calgary!

3. Banff, Jasper, and Columbia Icefields Private Tour

Bailey poses for a photo with an Ice Explorer all-terrain vehicle on the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefield, Canada
I was so cold, even in the middle of summer!

If you’re short on time and want to see the best of the Rockies in one day, then we highly recommend this private tour from Calgary, Canmore, Jasper, or Banff. It’s led by an incredible guide, Jerzy, who will go out of his way to make sure that you have a fantastic day exploring, and teach you a lot about the area as you go. 

This is a full-day tour, and you’ll get to visit spectacular lakes and beautiful waterfalls, and even complete a couple of short hikes as you explore multiple national parks, including Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, and the Columbia Icefield! Since this is a private tour, the itinerary can be tailored to your interests but suggested sites include Emerald Lake, Takakkaw Falls, Herbert Lake, Peyto Lake, the Icefields Parkway, and, of course, the Athabasca Glacier. 

The tour doesn’t include the Ice Explorer experience, but you will be able to do the short hike near the edge of the glacier to a viewpoint, and it packs so many other fantastic experiences into a single day. It’s actually hard to believe that you can visit so many stunning attractions in this timeframe, but that’s precisely why we love touring the Canadian Rockies so much!

What we love about this experience is that your guide really goes out of his way to show you the park through the eyes of a local, and he has tons of fascinating and often funny stories about the places you visit. Plus, since he’s been doing this for years, he can help you to find hidden viewpoints to get away from the crowds. 

The tour costs $375 CAD per person and is only bookable for 2-3 people, so it’s perfect for those traveling in small groups. If you book midweek from Tuesday to Thursday, the price drops to $325 CAD per person. It’s available almost daily all year round, so it’s a fantastic way to explore three different national parks plus the Athabasca glacier, no matter when you’re visiting the Rockies. 

To see the best of the Rockies in just one day, you can book this private tour here.

4. Full-Day Tour at Columbia Icefield Glacier

Jasper Skywalk along the Icefields Parkway
If you don’t like heights, don’t look down!
a car drives down the Scenic road down the Icefields Parkway in Canada
The Icefields Parkway

This full-day tour is a fantastic way to explore both the Icefields Parkway and the Athabasca Glacier. If you’re booking for 5 people or more, complimentary hotel pickup is included. If not, you’ll meet at central points in Banff or Calgary and set out for a full day of glacial fun. 

As you explore some of the most stunning attractions on the Icefields Parkway, such as the Crowfoot Glacier and Bow Lake, your guide will teach you all about the history, geology, and ecology of the Canadian Rockies and explain how these beautiful sites came to be. 

Then, you get to go and visit the Skywalk, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the gorgeous, glacier-formed valley. If you’re lucky, you’ll also spot some mountain goats and bald eagles! 

After that, it’s time for the main event of the day which is a ride on the Ice Explorer out to the glacier. For us, this is the highlight of any visit to the Athabasca Glacier because riding across it in an all-terrain vehicle is so cool, and walking on the surface is even better. 

An Ice Explorer all-terrain vehicle parked on the Athabasca Glacier during a tour
The Ice Explorers are so cool!

On the way home, you get to check out Peyto Lake which is bright turquoise and shaped like a dog’s head! Your guide will also take you to some lesser-visited viewpoints over Herbert Lake, so you end the day on a high note. 

This tour costs $380 CAD per person for 2 people with admission to the Athabasca Glacier or $280 CAD per person for 2 people without but to be honest, it’s a lot easier just to include your admission rather than trying to arrange it yourself and risking missing out. The price drops by $60 CAD per person if you book for 3 or more people. This price doesn’t include meals but everything else – including National Park fees, bottled water, guides, transport, and parking fees – is covered! Check availability and book this tour online here.

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

5. Columbia Icefield Tour with Glacier Skywalk

A groupd of Ice Explorer all-terrain vehicles on the Athabasca Glacier
The glacier does get busy!

If you’re planning on renting a car in Alberta, then you might not want to pay for a full-day tour with transport, which is where this Icefield tour comes in! It includes a ride on the Ice Explorer, which allows you to step out onto the ice, as well as a visit to the Skywalk. 

You’ll need to get yourself to and from the Glacier Discovery Center, but once you arrive, your transport to the glacier and the Skywalk is organized for you. You’ll also have a guide who will teach you a ton about the glacier, how it was formed, and how it’s being impacted by global warming. We were saddened to learn that it shrinks by 5 meters (16 feet) every year and has halved in volume over the last 125 years. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom! The tour is really fun and engaging, and you learn lots of cool, non-depressing facts about glaciers as well. The Athabasca Glacier is so amazing and this experience is really in-depth. We have a review of our experience on this tour of the Columbia Icefield with more details!

Plus, booking the Ice Explorer and Skywalk together in advance actually saves you over $30 CAD compared to booking them separately. This experience costs $115 CAD per person. It books up fast, so don’t hang around for too long if you want to do this tour – remember, this is the most popular glacier in the world we’re talking about here! 

You can book this tour daily between May and mid-October and there are time slots every 15 minutes from 9:45 am until 5 pm, and then the tour lasts for around 3 hours. So depending on when you book it, you can check out some of the other amazing stops on the Icefields Parkway on your way there and/or back! 

Make sure you get a spot on this tour by booking in advance here!

Related Read: This tour is only available in the summer, but there are still plenty of awesome things to do in Jasper during the winter.

6. Columbia Icefield Skywalk Admission

View from the glass viewpoint on the Columbia Icefield Skywalk in Banff National Park
The view that makes the Skywalk worth it!

If you only want to do the Skywalk at the Columbia Icefield, then you can book admission tickets separately to save money. The Skywalk really is amazing, and it’s a fantastic stop along the Icefields Parkway, so if you’re renting a car then you can easily combine it with independent visits to other sites of your choosing, such as Mistaya Canyon, Waterfowl Lakes, and the Weeping Wall. 

When you book tickets for the Skywalk, you’ll need to park at the Icefield Discovery Center, which is free, and then take the complimentary shuttle from there. They depart every 15 minutes from 9:45 am until 5 pm, and you can choose your slot in advance. 

You get as long as you like to explore the Skywalk and take in the views, but realistically, you’ll probably spend 1 to 1.5 hours here. I mean, you don’t want to rush those stunning mountain and glacier views or the experience of standing on a glass floor while suspended over a deep valley! 

It’s an easy walk from one end of the Skywalk to the other, and you’ll have an audio guide and headphones to listen to, plus information boards around to read. Although we do love the Ice Explorer and recommend doing it if you can, the Skywalk alone is also a fantastic way to experience the Athabasca Glacier. 

You can enjoy the Skywalk between May and mid-October, and tickets cost $46 CAD per person. The tour books up months ahead of time, so make sure that you secure your place well in advance here

7. Tread Lightly Glacier Hikes

A tour group walk on the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefield on a trekking tour
The typical Athabasca Glacier adventure is different from normal trekking tours!

For the adventurous and outdoorsy among us, a guided hike is the perfect way to explore the Athabasca Glacier. You actually get more time out on the glacier than you do with the Ice Explorer tour, and if you’re feeling brave, your guide can even help you to descend below the glacier’s surface! 

This half-day tour takes you on a flat and easy but fun hike on the glacier’s surface. You’ll don your boots, crampons, and poles (all of which are included) and head out from the Icefields RV parking lot at 10:30 am to spend 3-4 hours on the ice.

You can’t help but be enchanted by the icy landscape as your knowledgeable guide helps you to identify interesting ice formations, meltwater streams, and waterfalls while sharing some lesser-known secrets about this famous glacier with you. Plus, you’ll be able to descend into a crevasse if you wish too, which really amps up the adventure factor. 

This is a self-drive tour and it costs $184 CAD per person, which includes all equipment and a highly trained guide. I think that this is one of the coolest ways to experience the glacier because it’s such a unique thing to do! If you want to really get up close to the glacier, book this half-day hike in advance here.

Related Read: Maligne Canyon in Jasper is beautiful year-round, but it’s especially breathtaking when it freezes during the winter and you can take an icewalk through the canyon.

8. Columbia Icefield Tour with Glacier Skywalk from Jasper

An Ice Explorer all-terrain vehicle parked with the Athabasca Glacier in the background on a summers day in Canada
What a beautiful day to explore a glacier! Photo credit: TReinhard Depositphotos

If you’re visiting the Athabasca Glacier from Jasper, then this small group tour is perfect. It’s very comprehensive since it includes return transport from Jasper, the Ice Explorer experience, Skywalk admission, and a hot buffet lunch to top it all off. Everything is made so easy for you that all you need to do is relax and enjoy the views! 

You’ll depart Jasper at around 8:30 am from one of the multiple pickup options, and you’ll stop at Athabasca Falls and a few specially chosen viewpoints as you travel along the Icefields Parkway. Then, you’ll spend the day taking in the beauty of the glacier from the Ice Explorer and the Skywalk, as well as having a hot lunch in the park. 

On the way there, your driver will share lots of fun facts about the landscape with you and introduce you to some local history, and then the Ice Explorer and Skywalk are both very incredible experiences. Plus, you’ll also be able to spot some of the area’s cute mountain goats, and perhaps even elk, caribou, or bighorn sheep. 

We think that this tour is ideal for anyone who’s staying in Jasper but doesn’t have access to a car. It costs $299 CAD per person. It’s well organized and allows you to experience the best of the glacier in a day, without having to make separate bookings or really plan anything at all! Check availability and book this tour online here.

About the Athabasca Glacier

Visiting this unique spot is like stepping back in time – in fact, some of the ice at the end of the Athabasca Glacier was snow that fell on the Icefield some 400 years ago! This is not only a geological wonder but a truly unique spot you won’t find anywhere else in the country.   

The Columbia Icefield formed around 240,000 years ago. Because it was in an isolated area, it wasn’t found until the late 1800s, making it one of the last major geological areas discovered by humans.  

This is the largest icefield in the Rockies and it gets around 275 inches (698.5 centimeters) of snow every year. Water from the Columbia Icefield and its glaciers makes up underground rivers and flows to three different oceans. 

The Athabasca Glacier is just one of the enormous glaciers that make up the Columbia Icefield. Because of its location, it’s the easiest glacier to get to and the one you can see – not only with a tour but also from the road!  

While we toured this amazing place, we found out that it won’t be long before this glacier ceases to exist due to global warming. It has already lost more than half of its total volume in the past 125 years and is shrinking by 5 meters (16 feet) every year. 

Parks Canada Pass Quick Info

If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.

Single Daily Admission:

This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.

  • Adult (ages 18-64) is $11 CAD
  • Senior (65+) is $9.50 CAD
  • Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE

Group Daily Admission:

If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)

  • $22.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day

Parks Canada Discovery Pass

The “Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.

  • Adult (age 18-64) – $75.25 CAD
  • Senior (65+) – $64.50 CAD
  • Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $151.25 CAD

Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!

Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.

Renting a Car in Alberta

A car drives along the Icefields Parkway
The drive is mesmerizing!

If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.

Renting a car will definitely make exploring all of the fun things to see and do in Alberta easier.

Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.

Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie at Peyto Lake Viewpoint in Banff National Park, Canada
Thanks for reading!

The Athabasca Glacier is such an impressive sight to see, and I know you’ll have an amazing time exploring it on one of these tours!

We’ve spent so much time in the area, and we’ve written a ton of guides for spots nearby and throughout Canada. If you’re planning a trip elsewhere, we’ve also got travel tips for destinations around the world! You can get started with one of the popular blogs linked below.

10 Absolute EASIEST Hikes in Banff (with EPIC Views!)

13 Things to KNOW about the Lake Minnewanka Cruise in Banff

5 AWESOME Lake Louise Tours from Calgary to See All the Highlights!