1-Day Icefields Parkway Itinerary – 15 Stops on the Icefields Parkway You Can Visit in One Day
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There are a ton of amazing places to visit along the Icefields Parkway, which makes it difficult to choose which ones to check out and which ones to miss if you’re driving the entire road in one day. This blog outlines the best stops along the Icefields Parkway that you can easily do in just a day – it’s your complete 1-day Icefields Parkway itinerary!
The Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the entire world, and definitely the best drives in Canada! This 230 kilometer-long (143 miles) stretch of highway winds its way through both Banff National Park and Jasper National Park connecting Lake Louise with Jasper.
For this reason, most travelers drive the Icefields when they are exploring the Canadian Rockies traveling between Banff and Jasper.
There are literally dozens of amazing stops along the Icefields Parkway and if you wanted to visit them all (and do all of the hikes) you’re going to need a couple of days at least.
That poses a problem for most travelers who plan to drive the entire Icefields Parkway in just one day. Not to mention, the limited accommodation options along the Icefields Parkway make it difficult to spend more than a day exploring the route.
For that reason, we have created this carefully designed 1-day Icefields Parkway Itinerary! We have driven this route numerous times and based on all of the places we’ve explored along the Parkway, we’ve selected the best quick stops to create an awesome itinerary anyone can accomplish if they only have 1 day to spend along the Icefields Parkway.
So without further ado, here is our 1-day Icefields Parkway Itinerary!
Note: This Icefields Parkway itinerary runs in the direction of Banff/Lake Louise to Jasper, however, you can complete it easily driving in the reverse direction starting in Jasper too.
Icefields Parkway Map for a 1-Day Itinerary
Above is a map of the Icefields Parkway including the best stops along the drive! These are all the shortest stops that don’t involve a long hike. They are also the most beautiful places to check out along the Icefields Parkway that you really shouldn’t miss!
Below I’ve included more details about each stop so you know what exactly to expect and plan accordingly.
15 BEST Stops Along the Icefields Parkway – 1 Day Icefields Parkway Itinerary
15 stops along the Icefields Parkway may seem like a lot to accomplish in just one day, but the truth is that it isn’t. The stops I’ve included in this Icefields Parkway itinerary are simply quick stops, some of which are viewpoints that you don’t even have to get out of your car if you don’t want to!
This list is in order of stops starting from Lake Louise and driving towards Jasper, but this list can easily be reversed for those traveling in the opposite direction.
1. Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint
The first stop on your Icefields Parkway itinerary is located only 32 kilometers from Lake Louise. This is just a quick viewpoint stop where from a small pull-off bay on the side of the highway you will see beautiful mountains and of course, Crowfoot Glacier!
Crowfoot Glacier feeds the Bow River as it melts. It was originally named because of its shape – like a crow’s foot! However, it has been receding over the years and the shape of the glacier has changed. With that said, it’s still large and easily seen from the viewpoint on the Icefields Parkway.
Crowfoot Glacier is wedged between mountains and sits above Bow Lake. It’s really beautiful and if you haven’t seen the Athabasca Glacier yet, then it’s a great introduction to Canada’s glacier country!
2. Bow Lake Viewpoint
Just 1.4 kilometers further down the Icefields Parkway from the Crowfoot Glacier is the Bow Lake Viewpoint. Like Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint, this viewpoint is simply a pull-over bay on the side of the highway. Its location has been created because of the amazing view from this specific spot overlooking Bow Lake.
Last time Daniel and I stopped at this viewpoint we actually saw a Grizzly bear! He was just in the grass near the road chowing down on some grass. We stayed in our van (a good distance away) and watched him eat peacefully for a little while. Let this be your reminder that bears and other wildlife are very prominent along the Icefields Parkway and to be “bear aware” when you stop as well as when you’re driving!
If you are into photography then you can add one extra stop to this Icefields Parkway Itinerary on Bow Lake. Just continue down the highway a little further from this viewpoint and turn left towards the Bow Lake car parking lot.
Here, there are some short walk trails and more viewpoints that during calm weather, offer mirror reflection photography opportunities so beautiful, it made our list of Instagrammable places to visit in Banff.
This specific tour departs from Banff/Lake Louise and will take you to both Bow Lake and Crowfoot Glacier along with a few other stops along the way! It is a great option for those who don’t want to drive the entire Icefields Parkway!
3. Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake is probably one of the most popular stops along the Icefields Parkway, and as such, likely the most photographed.
Peyto Lake is well-deserving of its popularity though because it really is a special lookout. From the upper viewpoint, you will look down onto this bright turquoise-colored lake. It is a view you’ve probably seen before on Instagram or even on postcards!
This stop on your Icefields Parkway itinerary is one you should allow a little more time for. The walk to the viewpoint from the car parking lot takes most people about 10-minutes. It’s a well-marked track and easy enough for all fitness levels and children. Once you arrive at the viewpoint, you’ll want to allow some time for taking photos – it’s beautiful.
If you have extra time, you can actually hike from Bow Lake to Peyto Lake. Although this is a nice trail, I don’t recommend it if you are planning to complete the icefields parkway drive in just one day.
Please note: Petyo Lake Upper Viewpoint is currently closed and will remain closed for the 2020 season.
4. Waterfowl Lake Viewpoint
This is Daniel’s favorite stop along the Icefields Parkway! On a calm day, the water at Waterfowl Lakes reflects the mountains behind it perfectly. Daniel, being a photographer, could take pictures here all day long (as I’m sure most photographers could.)
But on your one day Icefields Parkway itinerary you don’t have time to spend all day at Waterfowl Lakes. That’s okay though, a quick stop to check out the view, take a photo, and then hit the road again is all you need.
You’ll reach Waterfowl Lakes after driving 19 kilometers from Peyto Lake. You’ll see the lake and car parking lot on your left-hand side.
5. Mistaya Canyon
Mistaya Canyon is located a little way further down the Icefields Parkway about 80 kilometers from Lake Louise. This is one of my personal favorite stops along the Icefields Parkway because it is actually a little bit of a walk and makes for the perfect place to stretch your legs.
From the Mistaya parking lot it is a 0.5 kilometer-long walk to the canyon. The walk is all downhill on the way there and it ends at a viewpoint overlooking the canyon. The canyon is beautiful and it really showcases the power of water as it rushes down the Mistaya River.
The walk back is uphill but only gains about 40 meters in elevation making it suitable for all fitness levels. Do be careful if you’re hiking in winter or late spring as there can be lots of snow and ice making the trail slippery. Also, be sure to stay on the marked paths.
6. Saskatchewan River Crossing Café and Gas Station
Okay so this isn’t necessarily a “fun” stop, but it might be a necessity for your Icefields Parkway itinerary. There are very limited facilities and services along the Icefields Parkway, so if you’re finding yourself getting low on gas or getting hungry, this is the place to stop.
The gas here is extremely overpriced, if you can avoid filling up here I would. However, if you’re getting low then fill up – this is only the halfway point along the Icefields Parkway drive.
There is also a café and souvenir shop here. It’s a good place to grab a coffee or sandwich if you need it. The only other place to buy food along the Icefields Parkway is at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center across the street from the Athabasca Glacier.
They also have a nice bathroom anybody can use (even if you’re not buying anything.) This is the place to stop for a bathroom break if you want to avoid using the pit toilets/outhouses you’ll find everywhere else along the Icefields Parkway.
There is also a hotel at Saskatchewan River Crossing that you can book online in advance if you decide you’d rather spend two days driving the Icefields Parkway.
7. Weeping Wall
27 kilometers after Saskatchewan River Crossing you’ll reach the Weeping Wall. The Weeping Wall is simply a viewpoint where lots of tiny waterfalls stream down the cliff face of a mountain – making it look like it’s crying or weeping.
To me, this is one Icefields Parkway attraction that is even better in the winter! Sure, in the summer you’ll see the little waterfalls, but in the winter they freeze making it look like a winter wonderland!
This is another quick viewpoint stop where you actually don’t even need to leave your vehicle to have a good look. In fact, you can even see the Weeping Wall from the road and you may choose not to stop at all.
8. Big Hill and Big Bend
Big Bend is the name of a massive curve in the road along the Icefields Parkway. Any Icefields Parkway itinerary will include Big Bend, as you have no choice but to drive on it!
However, at the top of the curvy road, there is a viewing area where you can look back on the Icefields Parkway called Big Hill! You’ll see the road you just drove wrap its way around mountains through the valley floor. On a clear day, this is the perfect place to stop for a photo!
The viewpoint is on the right side of the road and somewhat on a blind corner so be very careful pulling in and out here. Drive all of Big Bend with caution and take your time to be able to see the pullover bay where you can safely get out of your vehicle.
9. Athabasca Glacier
This is one place you absolutely do not want to miss along the Icefields Parkway. The Athabasca Glacier is huge and the best part is that you can experience it in a couple of different ways.
If you want, you can book a glacier tour where you’ll depart from the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center (across the road from the Athabasca Glacier) and actually drive up and onto the glacier itself! Here, you’ll be able to get out and actually walk around on the Athabasca Glacier. Daniel and I did this last year and although very touristy, it was a pretty cool experience to walk around on the glacier ice.
If you do want to do the glacier tour, be sure to book it in advance because if you book when you arrive, you’ll likely have to wait a couple of hours for a departure (it’s a very popular activity!) Daniel and I made this mistake and wasted a big portion of our day just waiting around for our tour departure time.
If a tour isn’t your thing, then you can still get up close to the glacier. Jump on the Athabasca Glacier trail and hike right up almost to the edge of the glacier. It’s only a short 1-kilometer hike, but from here you’ll have a better view of the glacier than from the road. If you want to hike onto the glacier you’ll need to book a tour with a guide.
Alternatively, if you’re running short on time you can easily see the Athabasca Glacier from the road too!
Just down the road from the Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center is the Skywalk. The Skywalk is a structure with a glass floor that hangs off the edge of a mountain almost like a weightless bridge.
It’s a pretty impressive structure that is said to be an engineering feat so strong that it would hold a 747 airplane.
I must admit, it is a little nerve-racking walking out onto the glass floor, but it is also pretty neat too! The views from out on the Skywalk are really amazing.
If you want to walk on the Skywalk you’ll have to buy your ticket from the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre. They will actually put you on a bus and take you to the Skywalk (because there is no public parking available at the Skywalk) where you’ll be given headphones for an included audio tour. When you’re ready to leave, you just jump back on the bus where they’ll take back to the Discovery Center.
Hot tip: It is cheaper if you book tickets to do the Athabasca glacier tour and Skywalk together in a package deal.
11. Tangle Creek Falls
Tangle Creek Falls is an absolutely gorgeous waterfall that is right next to the road along the Icefields Parkway. In fact, if you’re not mapping for its location, you’ll likely drive right past it and maybe even miss it!
When driving towards Jasper, the falls will be on your right with the car parking lot across the road on your left. You can walk up to the falls and even climb a little ways up beside them for a photo.
This is another quick stop like the Weeping Wall and you’ll likely only need to spend 5-15 minutes here at most.
12. Sunwapta Falls
Sunwapta Falls are another powerful waterfall along the Icefields Parkway. There is a large car parking lot here and you park pretty much next to the falls so no walking is required. There are a couple of trails around the falls that you can walk to get different views of the falls as well as from the bridge (pictured above.)
The very highly rated and popular hotel Sunwapta Falls Lodge is also located here. For those who want somewhere quiet to stay in nature away from the hustle and bustle of Jasper town, this would be a great option!
Sunwapta Falls is only 55 kilometers from Jasper town. By the time you make it here you are on the home stretch and nearing the end of your one day Icefields Parkway adventure.
13. Goats and Glacier Viewpoint (Goat Lick)
Just 15 minutes after Sunwapta Falls is the Goats and Glacier Viewpoint, or what many refer to as the “Goat Lick.” The name comes from the fact that mountain goats are often found here licking the minerals from the cliffside.
When Daniel and I visited we weren’t lucky enough to see any goats, we did see the amazing view though which is well worth the stop on its own!
It is just a small parking lot on the side of the road where the viewpoint is located right on the edge of the parking lot. This one is just another quick stop but well worth it if you ask me! Just keep your eyes open for it as you won’t find the location on Google Maps.
14. Athabasca Falls
Athabasca Falls is very famous and very impressive. Many people who are just visiting Jasper and have no intention of driving the Icefields Parkway make the 30-minute trip to Athabasca Falls just to check them out.
This waterfall is crazy powerful and as such, has created some pretty neat rock formations over the years.
The falls are easily accessible from the car parking lot and there is a short trail you can walk over a bridge to the far side of the falls. Information boards line the walkway telling about the history of the falls as well as the nature around you.
Athabasca Falls is open all year round and to me is easily one of the best places to stop on the Icefields Parkway.
15. Valley of the 5 Lakes
The Valley of the 5 Lakes is a 4.5 kilometer-long hiking trail that I absolutely love! It is easy, relatively flat, and takes you in a loop past 5 different turquoise lakes. On a sunny day, the water is super inviting and you’ll likely want to go for a swim. This is definitely a hike that’s best suited for the summer season.
The only thing about hiking the Valley of the 5 Lakes on your one-day Icefields Parkway itinerary is that you may be running out of time by the time that you reach the trailhead. If this is the case don’t worry too much because it is only a short 10-minute drive from Jasper and you can always come back later to hike it.
The Valley of the 5 Lakes is definitely one of the best things to do in Jasper, so even if you don’t get time now, make sure to make time later and come back to check it out!
Hop tip: If you’re traveling from Jasper to Lake Louise/Banff along the Icefields Parkway then be sure to get an early start if you want to hike the Valley of the 5 Lakes. Not only will this give you enough time to see the rest of the attractions along the Icefields Parkway, but you’ll also get the trail almost all to yourself!
Icefields Parkway Itinerary Tips and Important Info
Before you set off on your Icefields Parkway road trip there are a few important bits of information you should know.
- In the winter you are required to have winter tires or use snow chains. Depending on weather and road conditions it can be dangerous to drive the Icefields Parkway in the winter. If you’re not a confident winter driver then I would suggest going on an organized tour with an experienced driver instead of self-driving.
- There is only one gas station along the Icefields Parkway and it is expensive. Fill your tank completely in either Lake Louise or Jasper before you leave or your wallet will take a hefty hit at the Saskatchewan River Crossing gas station.
- You will need a Parks Canada Pass to drive the Icefields Parkway. Since the Icefields Parkway is in both Banff and Jasper National Parks, you will need a Parks Canada Pass to drive this route. There are gates at the entrance to the highway where you can purchase this, or you can buy it in advance online. Expect to pay about $10 CAD per day per person, or $140 or an entire year for one vehicle of up to 7 people, you can check their website for all of the updated prices.
Before you go…
And there you have it, an Icefields Parkway itinerary perfect for anybody planning to tackle this amazing stretch of highway in just one day! If you follow this guide, you won’t be rushed and will see all of the best highlights along the way!
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September 24, 2020