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Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure Review – Is it Worth it?

Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure Review – Is it Worth it?

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If you ask us, the Columbia Icefield is the BEST stop on the Icefields Parkway – and that is really saying something! One of the most popular ways to visit is as part of the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure, but is it actually worth it or should you just admire the glacier from the viewpoint instead?

Bailey hails from the Rockies and we’ve both spent a lot of time living here, so we’ve visited the Columbia Icefields more times than we can even count! Personally, we love this Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure tour because it’s the best way to explore the Athabasca Glacier, but keep reading because we’ve written an honest account of the pros and cons, and our top tips to make the most of your visit.

What is the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure?

Hikers walk on the Athabasca Glacier Trail to the viewpoint of the glacier and Columbia Icefield
The typical Athabasca Glacier adventure is different from the trekking tours!

Only the best way to see the Athabasca Glacier! It’s an epic tour that takes you on and over the oldest and most enormous glacier in the Rockies. And I promise you, it’s not an experience you’ll forget. 

This glacier adventure tour starts at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center, where you head out for a ride on the glacier’s surface in a huge all-terrain vehicle, which is aptly named “the Ice Explorer.” Even after living in the Rockies, we must admit it’s a strange feeling driving over a huge sheet of ice! Then, you get to climb out of the vehicle and walk on the glacier. This was our favorite part, and we even brought reusable water bottles with us to fill up with fresh glacier water. 

After that, we were driven over to the Skywalk, a 450-meter (1,475-foot) walkway made entirely of glass! It hangs above the Sunwapta Valley and honestly, it’s breathtaking. The views of the glaciers and surrounding snow-capped mountains are next-level, and you get as long as you like to stroll along and enjoy them before hopping on the bus back to the Discovery Center. You could do the walk in about 15 minutes but we were up there for at least an hour! 

What are the highlights (Pros) of the tour?

Bailey poses for a photo with an Ice Explorer all-terrain vehicle on the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefield, Canada
That’s a big adventure bus!

Walking on the glacier

It’s not every day that you get to walk on a glacier, is it? We loved getting out of the Ice Explorer and walking around on the ancient ice! There’s really nothing like seeing ice stretch in every direction and feeling it crunch under your feet. 

Riding in the Ice Explorer bus

Normally, the bus ride is not our favorite part of any given tour, but we have to make an exception for the Ice Explorer! Driving over the ice was a surreal experience and we felt a bit like we were in a Sci-Fi movie. The ride was so seamless and smooth, too, and it’s just crazy that the ice can hold up a vehicle as big as this, but then, the ice at the center is actually over 300 m (984 ft) deep – that’s roughly the height of the Eiffel Tower! 

A closeup of the Columbia Icefield Skywalk in Banff National Park
The Skywalk on the Icefields Parkway!

Skywalk

The Columbia Icefield Skywalk was basically designed to make you forget you’re standing on a bridge. I must admit, the way you can see through the glass down to the valley below made my stomach do flips! The views were incredible, though, so it was worth being brave for, and I really liked the complimentary audio tour. It was an interesting way to learn more about the construction of the Skywalk and the Icefield’s history, but of course, the best part was the breathtaking view! 

A fun experience for all fitness levels

We make no secret of the fact that we LOVE to hike in the Rockies, but some of them are pretty challenging and not very well suited to those who have mobility issues or aren’t avid hikers. However, walking on the glacier and along the Skywalk is no more difficult than a stroll in the park, as you’re on a flat surface and can take it at your own pace. We love that this experience is so accessible because you get some of the best views in the Rockies without taking on a grueling hike! 

Cons of the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure 

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

Only get to walk on the glacier in a small area

So, as epic as walking on the glacier was, you only get to stay within a small area. We only got 15-20 minutes on the Athabasca Glacier, so it’s a bit limited in this sense, but still incredibly cool. 

Books up in advance 

This tour is (understandably) super popular, so it books up way in advance. We didn’t realize this the first time we went and had to spend a few hours waiting at the Discovery Center to join the tour. Still, this is avoidable if you book ahead of time – I wish we had! I recommend booking online here as soon as you know your travel dates. That way you can get the day and time slot you want.

Very touristy

The Columbia Icefield is super famous, so it’s not exactly an off-the-beaten-track experience. It’s designed for tourists, so if you’re the kind of person who loves seeking out quiet spots and hidden gems, it might not be to your taste. However, the fact it’s touristy means it’s very organized and well done. 

Our Experience on the Tour

Bailey smiles at the camera on the Athabasca Glacier on a Columbia Icefield Adventure, Canada
Such a cool experience!

As we mentioned earlier, our tour didn’t get off to the best start because we didn’t book in advance, and so we were waiting in the Discovery Center for three hours. There are restaurants, washrooms, a gift shop, and displays here so we walked around and grabbed a coffee from the Starbucks inside while we waited.

However, things quickly improved when we finally climbed aboard the Ice Explorer and were driven across the huge glacier! It was an incredibly cool experience, and our driver shared lots of interesting facts about the glacier with us along the way. 

Even though this tour only runs during summer, we were wrapped up warm, which is just as well because it was freezing when we stepped out on the ice! We got to walk around a little, take lots of photos, and fill up our water bottles with glacier melt, and it was pretty much the purest, freshest water we’ve ever had. 

Then, we climbed back into the Ice Explorer and continued onto the Skywalk. Now, I’m not going to lie, stepping out onto that glass is a little intimidating, but the views are so worth it. The jagged, snow-capped peaks and the forested valley below are just magical! We spent about an hour up there before calling it a day and heading back to the Discovery Center with big smiles on our faces. 

Related Read: Another bucket list experience nearby is the Maligne Lake Cruise – read our review here!

Where can you do the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure Tours from?

A red Ice Explorer all-terrain vehicle travels down a steep hill on the way to the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefield, Canada
The tours run all day long and are often fully booked!

From the Columbia Icefields Discovery Center (self-drive)

We took the self-drive tour option, so we drove to the Glacier Discovery Centre parking lot. It’s pretty big, FYI, so finding a space shouldn’t be a problem – they’ve got tourism down to a T! Parking doesn’t cost any extra, either. 

We just went into the Discovery Center and, after a long wait since we hadn’t booked in advance, got on the Ice Explorer from there. Then, you get driven to the glass-bottomed Skywalk afterward and when you’re done with that, it’s a 5-minute shuttle ride back to the Discovery Centre.

Tickets for the self-drive tour cost $115.50 CAD on Viator, which offers a lowest price guarantee. If you’re driving yourself, then we highly recommend making a road trip out of it and checking out our guide on the other epic stops along the Icefields Parkway. It’s one of the most beautiful drives in the world, and a must when you’re in the Rockies. It doesn’t matter how many times we drive this route, we never get tired of it! 

Banff

An Ice Explorer all-terrain vehicle parked on the Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefield
Tours from Banff also have extra stops on the drive!

If you don’t want to rent a car in Banff, no worries because you can take this tour to the Athabasca Glacier instead! We like this tour because it’s not just about the Icefield, it’s a fantastic road trip along the Icefields Parkway. It stops at some of our favorite places, including the strangely-shaped Crowfoot Glacier, Bow Lake, and Peyto Lake. 

We also think it’s great that this tour includes a picnic lunch because the food at the Discovery Centre is pricey and honestly not worth it. And better still, you get to enjoy the picnic at a beautiful mountain viewpoint, so it’s a win-win situation if you ask us. 

This tour costs $338 CAD, which seems a little pricey at first compared to the self-drive option, but renting a car in Alberta isn’t cheap and this way, you don’t need to organize anything. Sometimes, we don’t mind paying a little more for a stress-free experience!

We also love this option because it’s a small group tour, with a maximum of 24 people, so it’s a far cry from a big, impersonal bus tour – those really aren’t our style.

Jasper

A Canadian Flag on a pole with the Athbasca Glacier in the background as seen from the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure
The view from the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre

Jasper is at the opposite end of the Icefields Parkway to Banff, and the Columbia Icefield is roughly halfway, so this tour from Jasper shows you the other side of the road!

There’s a bonus stop along the way at one of our favorite waterfalls – Athabasca Falls. We always love visiting Athabasca Falls because the valley is stunning and the water here is just so powerful. 

The tour is really well-organized and Alistair, the guide, is super knowledgeable about Jasper National Park and the Columbia Icefield, which really impressed us. And like the tour above, this is a small group experience so it doesn’t feel too rushed or overwhelming. It also includes a warm buffet lunch which, trust me, will be a welcome treat after walking on the glacier. 

The tour costs $299 CAD, including food, transport, and the Columbia Icefields tour, and you also get hotel pickup and drop-off if you’re staying at a central hotel in Jasper. And, unlike when you book a self-drive tour, you get free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance with this one when you book through Viator, which makes planning a breeze.

Related Read: For more helpful info if you’re based in Jasper, check out our tips on how to get from Jasper to the Columbia Icefields!

Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure FAQs

View of people walking to the Athabasca Glacier on the trail
If you visit in July or August you’re more likely to get views like this!

Related Read: If you’re making the drive from Jasper to Banff, check out our list of the best road trip stops!

Is the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure worth it? 

Bailey stands at the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier
Yes!

Yes, we loved it! It’s a very rare opportunity to walk on 240,000-year-old ice. The ride in the Ice Explorer and the glacier walk were both so exciting, and the Skywalk was thrilling – albeit a little scary – with stunning views.

On a more logistical side, we were also just so impressed by how well-organized it was. The Discovery Center gets so busy but everything runs like a well-oiled machine, and we never felt rushed or overwhelmed. This is easily one of the best tours that we’ve ever done in the Canadian Rockies, and we’ll never forget it! 

Where to Stay Near the Columbia Icefields

View from the lounge in the Glacier View Lodge of the Athabasca Glacier
How cool is that view? Photo credit: Glacier View Lodge

There are plenty of places to stay if you want to spend more time in the area or not worry about a long drive back after your tour. We have a guide on where to stay along the Icefields Parkway or check out a few of our favorite options below:

Hotels

Luxury – Glacier View Lodge. It’s the priciest option, but this hotel is part of the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre. Rooms overlook the glaciers and mountains!

Mid-rangeThe Crossing Resort – Near the base of Mount Wilson, there are some stunning views here, and it’s close to attractions in the area.

BudgetHI Beauty Creek Wilderness Hostel – Located on the edge of the Sunwapta River and close to Sunwapta Falls. It’s a more rustic place with no running water or electricity, but the stargazing is amazing!

Campgrounds/RV Parking

Columbia Icefield Campground – 33 tent-only sites that are first-come, first-serve. It’s a beautiful campground with amazing views.

Wilcox Creek Campground – 46 campsites that can accommodate tents and SMALL trailers (big RVs should go to the RV parking lot). The Wilcox Pass trailhead is right nearby for some epic hikes.

Overnight RV parking – (approx 100 sites) in a large asphalt lot on the west side of the Discovery Centre. The RV parking tends to be busier in the middle of the day when people are here for day trips, but it does clear out, so there’s quite a bit of room for overnight stays.

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. Read our honest review of Discover Cars here for more details!

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 you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable! Check out my review of Motorhome Republic here for tips before you book.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie on the Columbia Icefield Skywalk in Banff National Park
Thanks for reading!

The Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure Tour was a highlight of our recent trip to the Rockies! It’s pretty incredible to get the chance to walk on a glacier and across the Skywalk, so it felt like we had a 2-for-1 experience. My biggest tip is to save yourself the stress of worrying about getting on a tour or the long wait for an open spot by booking ahead of time.

This is a special part of Canada and I know you’ll love your time here! Before you explore this part of the country, have a look at our other blogs about Alberta. Here are some of my favorites below:

21 BEST Things to do in Downtown Banff

Banff Gondola Review – Is it Worth it?

Our Favorite 33 Activities in Jasper +Places to Eat

How to Get From Calgary to the Columbia Icefield + Best Tours