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ULTIMATE Guide to the Icefields Parkway: 16 Tips Before You Go in 2024

ULTIMATE Guide to the Icefields Parkway: 16 Tips Before You Go in 2024

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Looking to drive the Icefields Parkway in Canada? This blog will literally answer every question you have and more!

Both Dan and I live in Canada and call the Rocky Mountains home, so we know a thing or two about this highway. In fact, we have probably driven it around 20 times! It’s become one of the highlights we do a few times every year.

Because the Icefields Parkway is such a bucket list place to visit, there’s a ton to know before you go! Below is our complete guide to visiting the Icefields Parkway so you don’t miss one thing and visit with tons of local knowledge!

1. About the Icefields Parkway

Daniel at the Peyto Lake Lookout at sunset on the Icefields Parkway, Canada
Peyto Lake!
Bailey steps onto a rock at Waterfowl Lakes on the Icefields Parkway
Waterfowl Lakes!

The Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the entire world. This 230-kilometer (143-mile) long stretch of highway winds its way through both Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. It connects Lake Louise with Jasper – two of the best places to visit in Alberta. 

It is a two-lane highway (Highway 93) that is paved the entire way. The highway is maintained by Parks Canada, and you’ll need a Parks Canada Pass to drive it (even if you don’t plan on stopping). The road is most commonly driven by people traveling between Banff and Jasper – not only is it a scenic route but it is also the fastest route that connects these two towns.

But the Icefields Parkway isn’t just about the scenic drive, there are literally dozens of amazing attractions along the Icefields Parkway. There are countless blue lakes, waterfalls, and hikes. The truth is if you wanted to visit all of the attractions on the Icefields Parkway (and do all of the hikes) you’re going to need a few days at least.  

2. Is driving the Icefields Parkway free? 

Bailey reads a sign at a viewpoint along the Icefields Parkway, Canada
It’s breathtaking!

Yes … and no. It’s free in the sense that there is no toll fee for the road specifically.

However, the Icefields Parkway runs through both Banff and Jasper National Parks, so you will need a Parks Canada Pass in order to access the area. You’ll need this to be in the area anyway, so driving along the Icefields Parkway won’t cost you any extra. 

You can either buy a single or multi-day Parks Pass. This costs $11 CAD per person per day. It includes entry to both Banff and Jasper National Parks, so it covers you for your whole journey along the Icefields Parkway.

The Parks Pass is valid until 4 pm on the date of departure. For example, if you bought a pass for the 5th of the month, it would be valid until 4 pm on the 6th. Do bear in mind that you need a Parks Pass 24 hours a day while in the parks or on the parkway, though! 

You can arrange this via:

  • The Jasper tourism website
  • From the ticket booths on the highways that lead into Banff National Park
  • At the entrance to the Icefields Parkway from either Jasper or Lake Louise
  • Visitor centers in Banff and Lake Louise

However, if you’re staying in the Rockies for a week or more, then it’s worth purchasing an annual Discovery Pass from the Parks Canada website, because this will save you money. This covers entry to over 80 different national parks in Canada (yup, there are a lot of them!), including Banff and Jasper. 

The Discovery Pass costs $75.25 CAD per person. You can also buy a family pass for $151.25 CAD, which covers up to 7 people traveling in the same car, so if you’ve got 3 or more adults in your vehicle, then this is what we recommend doing. (Admission is free for those 17 and under, so you don’t need to count children traveling with you).

3. How long does it take to drive? 

The Icefields Parkway Skywalk with views of the Athabasca Glacier and mountain
The Skywalk!

You could do it in 3 hours without stopping, but take it from us, this would be SUCH a waste.

We recommend allowing at least a full day to drive from one end to the other. There are so many stunning places to explore along the way, so make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to check out the viewpoints and natural attractions along the way. As cheesy as it may sound, this drive is all about the journey, not the destination! 

You can explore a lot of the Icefields Parkway in a single day. You can’t really hit every single stop during daylight hours, but you can see a lot of them and get a feel for the epic beauty of this road.

However, if you’re only staying at one end of the Icefields Parkway rather than in different towns, then we don’t recommend that you drive the entire road and back again in a day, as this is a lot of driving! 

It’s best to stay in Jasper, take a full day to drive to Banff or Lake Louise via the Icefields Parkway, and then stay overnight in either town – or vice versa. But if this doesn’t work for you, you could drive from either side to the Athabasca Glacier, which is roughly the halfway point, and then turn back again.

And if you have more time on your hands, then we recommend spending two days on the Icefields Parkway. This will give you more time to do a few of the longer hikes, such as Bow Lake to Peyto Lake. There are 11 campgrounds along the Icefields Parkway, as well as a couple of hostels and hotels with magnificent views, but we’ll share more about that below.

4. When is the best time to drive the Icefields Parkway?

Time of year

landscape shot of Peyto Lake just before the lake freezes over in winter
Peyto Lake just before the lake freezes!

What’s great about the Icefields Parkway is that you can drive it at pretty much any time of year! 

Our favorite time is during the summer, which is between mid-June and early September. Longer daylight hours give you more time to explore, and you get to see lots of beautiful wildflowers along the way. Plus, this is when the lakes are at their most stunning, and the driving conditions are easy. 

However, if you drive the Icefields Parkway in the fall the wildflowers are replaced by fall foliage, which is also very beautiful to see. 

You can certainly drive the Icefields Parkway in the winter months, and it can be incredibly beautiful, but it takes a bit of extra planning and preparation. You have to have snow chains or winter tires on your vehicle between November 1 and April 1, and restaurants, hotels, and campsites are closed, so you won’t be able to stay overnight along the Icefields Parkway. 

There’s only one fuel station on the Icefields Parkway and that closes between November and April, too, so make sure that you fuel up before you hit the highway! 

You should also make sure that the road is open before you go by calling 511 or visiting the 511 Alberta website. Road closures are infrequent and don’t usually last for more than a day, but they do happen. However, there are gates at some of the higher sections of the highway that can close with little to no notice due to the weather conditions, so make sure to stay informed.

Despite the extra planning required, driving the Icefields Parkway during the winter is still a fantastic experience, especially between December and March when the snow-capped mountains will just take your breath away. If you’re visiting during the winter, make sure to stop at the Weeping Wall because the little waterfalls freeze, turning it into a true winter wonderland! 

Time of day

Peyto Lake at sunset on the Icefields Parkway
Peyto Lake at sunset on the Icefields Parkway

The Icefields Parkway is popular, so it’s best to set out in the early morning before most people hit the road, and then stay until late afternoon when it quietens down again. This way, you’ll beat the crowds and can spend the entire day exploring, so you see a lot more this way. We love to finish up a day on the Icefields Parkway with a sunset at one of the breathtaking stops along the way, such as Peyto Lake.

Early morning and late afternoon are also the best times to see wildlife. There are deer, goats, elk, bears, and coyotes along the Icefields Parkway, so if you set out early and stay until sunset, you can maximize your chances of spotting animals. It’s harder to see them in the middle of the day since they steer clear of the traffic, so if you’re on the road when it’s quieter, you’ll see much more wildlife.

5. Should you rent a car or do a tour? 

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

For us, the best way to explore the Icefields Parkway during the warmer months is with a rental car. This gives you so much more freedom to create your own unique adventure since you can set out early, stop where you want to, and take it at your own pace.

A lot of tours leave around 9 am, but in the summer, you can head out even earlier than that if you’re driving yourself. Since the sun comes up between 5:30-7 am you’ll beat the crowds, see wildlife, and can stick around for sunset, giving you more time to enjoy this beautiful stretch of road. 

However, there are some fantastic tours of the Icefields Parkway, so it just depends on how you like to travel. If you don’t love driving and would prefer to have someone else take care of the planning and logistics for you, then the tours will show you all of the most beautiful spots and you can just enjoy the ride. It can also be nice to have a guide to teach you more about the history and geography of the area. 

It’s also best to do a tour during the winter when it’s more dangerous to drive along the Icefields Parkway. If you’re nervous about taking the wheel when there’s snow and ice on the road, then booking a tour will give you peace of mind, because you’ll have a professional driver who knows the roads and how to adjust their style of driving for this time of year. Plus, the daylight hours are a lot shorter during winter, so you won’t be missing out on any extra time to explore.

Related Read: For more scenic adventures, read our guide to the best tours of the Canadian Rockies.

6. What are the best places to stay?

The Crossing Resort (Our Favorite Hotel on the Icefields Parkway)

Bailey at the Crossing Resort on the Icefields Parkway in Canada
Check out those mountain views!
The inside of our room at The Crossing Resort
Our suite!

Our favorite hotel on the Icefields Parkway, The Crossing Resort, sits pretty much at the halfway mark between Lake Louise and Jasper, making it an ideal location to explore the area.

Besides the location, prices for this hotel are pretty reasonable, and we love all the amenities right on the property – they even have a pub and sauna! Additionally, the hotel is just 30 minutes from most of the local attractions.

Room rates vary depending on the time of year. Rooms average $159 CAD to $239 CAD during the low season and in high season (June 1 to September 30), rates are around $269 CAD up to $379 CAD.

The outside of The Crossing Resort on the Icefields Parkway, Canada
What a place to stay!

Another reason why The Crossing is our favorite among the Icefields Parkway hotels is its wide range of amenities. On the property, you’ll find a general store, on-site restaurant, pub, and cafe. There’s also a gas station and Wi-Fi in a common room under the pub.

Honestly, when it comes to choosing where to stay on the Icefields Parkway, you can’t go wrong with The Crossing Resort. You can check availability and book here on Booking.com.

Glacier View Lodge (Best Luxury Hotel on the Icefields Parkway)

A room at the Glacier View Lodge on the Icefields Parkway
Photo credit: Glacier View Lodge
View out the window of the glacier View Lodge on the Icefields Parkway
Photo credit: Glacier View Lodge

When it comes to luxury, the Glacier View Lodge is your best choice in terms of hotels on the Icefields Parkway. The property is located on the top floor of the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre, so you basically have a front-row seat to the famous Athabasca Glacier! It’s a great choice for people going on Athabasca Glacier tours or those who want to visit the Skywalk.

The accommodations are divided into two types: Mountain View Rooms and Glacier View Rooms. The Glacier View Rooms are a bit more, but waking up to that view is pretty cool! Nightly room rates start at $220 CAD in the low season and can climb all the way to $400 CAD a night in peak season.

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

The property has complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi and a guest lounge with panoramic views of the Athabasca Glacier. There’s also free parking for guests. For dining, the lodge has two options: Altitude and Chalet. Altitude offers glacier-view dining and full-table service. At Chalet, it’s more of a grab-and-go service and it’s just available for lunch. If you’re craving a dose of caffeine to start the day, just head to their on-site Starbucks.

Personally, we recommend Glacier View Lodge to those looking for a beautiful stay in the mountains. It’s also an ideal location to take tours on the Athabasca Glacier (and you should!) since this is where the tours start and end. You could spend the night at the lodge and book for the first tour in the morning, which is the least busy time of day to visit the glacier!

The Glacier View Lodge books up quickly, so you should secure your room online in advance here as soon as possible.

7. What are the best tours?

Ice Explorer and Glacier Skywalk Combined Tour

Jasper Skywalk along the Icefields Parkway
If you don’t like heights, don’t look down!
Daniel on one of the large Ice Explorers on the Athabasca Glacier on a tour
Explore the Columbia Icefield!

If you want to combine both the incredible panoramic views of the Skywalk and the magical experience of walking on the surface of a glacier (and why wouldn’t you?!) then this tour is just the thing for you.

You’ll start with an Ice Explorer tour leaving from the Columbia Icefields Glacier Discovery Center where you’ll drive across the surface of the Athabasca Glacier in a giant vehicle. You’ll also have a chance to get out and walk on the surface of the glacier, which is a super cool experience.

After that, you’ll be driven back to the Skywalk to enjoy a stroll along the glass-bottomed walkway and countless photo opportunities. Say cheese!

The tour costs $119 CAD per person and runs every day from May until mid-October. The whole experience takes around 3 hours in total, and we found that the Ice Explorer drive across the glacier was especially memorable. Book this combo of two of the best experiences on the Icefields Parkway here!

Full-Day Guided Glacier Hike on Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier on an Icewalking tour
Spend even more time on the glacier!

If you’re up for tackling a long hike with incredible views, then this full-day hike on the Athabasca Glacier is perfect.

You’ll hike 10 kilometers (6 miles) across the Athabasca Glacier, which will take approximately 6 hours, including a stop for lunch along the way. This will give you a ton of opportunities to admire all of the unique features of the glacier, learn loads about it from your experienced guide, and take in the stunning views.

The tour costs $208 CAD per person, including crampons for your shoes, and you can also borrow hiking boots, and gloves if you don’t have your own. There will be a picnic stop along the way but you’ll need to bring your own packed lunch with you, as this isn’t provided.

We think that this is the ultimate way to experience the Athabasca Glacier and is definitely worth considering if you have the time, energy, and budget to do it! If this experience sounds like the right fit for you, make sure you book this hike online now!

Lake Louise and Icefields Parkway Tour with Transport from Banff

View from the edge of the platform at Peyto Lake Viewpoint in Banff National Park, Canada
Come and experience paradise!

This full-day tour takes you to some of the most beautiful and far-flung places in the Canadian Rockies. We love this tour because you get to see some of the highlights along the Icefields Parkway along with some neat extras.

First off, you’ll have an hour to spend at the incredible Lake Louise. This spot is beautiful in all seasons, but we especially love Lake Louise during the summer. It is a breathtaking shade of turquoise set against the backdrop of a picturesque mountain valley – worthy of a photo or two!

You’ll also visit Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, and Bow Lake and head to a viewpoint above the Crowfoot Glacier. You’re likely to spot plenty of the wildlife around Banff along the way such as elk, deer, mountain goats, and possibly even some bears!

We think this tour is really worth doing because a lot of these places can be tricky to reach on your own, and almost impossible to find parking at! A tour takes all of the stress out of the equation, so you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.

What stood out to us about this tour is that it’s operated by a family-run company, all of whom have spent their lives exploring the Rockies and sharing it with visitors. The guides are really friendly and knowledgeable, and their passion for the region is contagious!

The tour includes pickup and drop-off from Banff and Canmore at 9 am, whether you’re staying at a campground, a hotel, or an AirBnb. It makes it one of our top picks for tours from Banff to Lake Louise! However, if you’re staying in Canmore you will need to organize a Parks Pass to enter Banff National Park because it’s actually outside the park boundaries.

There’s a maximum group size of 22, which is perfect. We don’t enjoy overcrowded tours, but this one feels personal. It’s great for literally anyone who wants to experience the stunning scenery of the Canadian Rockies and one of the most scenic drives in the world.

The tour costs $195 CAD per person and lasts for the whole day. It allows you to experience the natural beauty that the area has to offer, and it feels a million miles away from a super commercialized tourist experience.

This is a popular tour that can sell out, especially during peak travel times, so make sure you book online here once you know your travel dates!

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.

8. What are the best stops?

Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint 

Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint on the Icefields Parkway in Canada
Can you see how the glacier got its name? Just imagine the ice protruding down the bottom to create the crow’s foot!

The first stop on your Icefields Parkway itinerary is located only 32 kilometers (20 miles) 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 Athabasca Glacier yet, then it’s a great introduction to Canada’s glacier country! 

Bow Lake Viewpoint 

Bow Lake as seen from the Bow Lake Lookout on the Icefields Parkway in Canada
The colors in the afternoon are the best!

Just 1.4 kilometers (0.9 miles) 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.  

The 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” while you’re there.

A grizzly bear in Canada
Such a cool thing to see!

If you’re into photography then you can add one extra stop. Just a little further down the road, there is a larger parking lot right on the edge of Bow Lake. Just continue down the highway a little further from this viewpoint and turn left towards the Bow Lake parking lot.

Here, there are some short walking trails and more viewpoints that during calm weather, offer mirror-reflection photography opportunities. It’s so beautiful that it made our list of Instagrammable places to visit in Banff.

This specific tour departs from Banff/Calgary and will take you to Bow Lake, Crowfoot Glacier, and Peyto Lake 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. It costs $210 CAD per person without admission to the Columbia Icefields (you can add that on if you like!) and lasts up to 12 hours.

Peyto Lake Upper Viewpoint 

Peyto Lake, Canada at sunset
Bailey with her dog rex at the Peyto Lake Lookout

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 the Icefields Parkway is one you should allow a little more time for and if you need help planning a visit to Peyto Lake from Banff, this guide will help!

Once you’re here, the walk to the viewpoint from the 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 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.

Mistaya Canyon 

Mistaya Canyon on the Icefields Parkway in summer
Mistaya Canyon with a mountain backdrop on the Icefields Parkway, Canada

Mistaya Canyon is located a little way further down the Icefields Parkway about 80 kilometers (50 miles) 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 (0.3 miles) 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 showcases the power of the water as it rushes down the Mistaya River.  

The walk back is uphill but only gains about 40 meters (131 feet) 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.  

Saskatchewan River Crossing Café, Hotel, and Gas Station 

The Crossing Resort in Banff Nationa Park, Canada
Photo credit: The Crossing Resort

There are very limited facilities and services along the Icefields Parkway, so if you’re finding yourself getting low on gas or getting hungry, Saskatchewan River Crossing is the place to stop. In fact, this is the only gas station on the Icefields Parkway.

The gas here is purchased at a slight premium to say Banff or Canmore, but with such a remote location that shouldn’t be surprising! 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. And trust me, it’s expensive there!

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 called The Crossing Resort (that we mentioned earlier!) if you decide you’d rather spend two days driving the Icefields Parkway. The price per night averages around $225 CAD. We have done this before and I must say the hotel puts you in the best location possible to spend the night and break up your Icefields Parkway road trip.

Note: Saskatchewan River Crossing closes in the winter months, so plan ahead with a full fuel tank and food!

Athabasca Glacier/Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre 

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!
  • Type of attraction: Short walk to the viewpoint or join one of the Icefields Parkway tours of the glacier
  • Time needed: 1-3 hours
  • Google Maps location link: Icefield Discovery Centre location

This is one place you absolutely do not want to miss on the Icefields Parkway. The Athabasca Glacier is huge at 6 kilometers squared (2.4 miles squared) and is part of the larger Columbia Icefields.  We learned on our recent tour here that it won’t be long before this glacier ceases to exist due to global warming. Would you believe the Athabasca Glacier has lost 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) in the past 125 years?!

There are a couple of different ways to experience Athabasca Glacier but the only way to see it up close is on a guided tour. This guided glacier tour departs from the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center (a large building located just across the road from the glacier) and drives up and onto the glacier itself in a specially adapted ice-explorer vehicle (see the photo above).

You will be able to hop out and walk around on the Athabasca Glacier and take some photos. It also includes the admission for Skywalk attraction just down the road (more about this below). Plus, you will even be able to fill up our water bottle with refreshing glacier water. All this for just around $119 CAD!

Be sure to book this tour in advance, because it is super-popular! Dan and I did this tour last year and made the mistake of not booking in advance, so we had to wait around the Columbia Discovery Centre for a couple of hours before they could get us on a tour. It was such a waste of time!

The only way to get to walk on Athabasca Glacier is on a guided tour. The tour we did with the ice-explorer vehicle is shorter, and you can only walk on a specific section of the glacier. If you actually want to do a half-day hike, you’ll have to book this guided hiking tour.

It is the most in-depth experience you can get! It includes all of your gear and your guide will even look for opportunities for you to rappel down into the glacier. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is totally worth the $184 CAD price tag.

Unfortunately, if you don’t book a tour, you’ll only be able to walk up to a viewpoint next to the glacier for safety reasons. Jump on Athabasca Glacier Trail and hike right up almost to the edge of the glacier. It’s only a short 1-kilometer hike (0.6 miles), but from here you’ll have a better view of the glacier than from the road.  

In the Columbia Discovery Centre, you will also find a restaurant and food court-style place to eat. There is a huge parking lot here too.

If you’re running short on time, there is a beautiful hotel located right next to Athabasca Glacier called Glacier View Lodge. You should book it in advance in the summer months to avoid missing out. It is a more premium stay so the cost for a room here is around $350 CAD in peak season.

Note: Athabasca Glacier tours only operate from May to October.

Skywalk 

The walkway and suports on the Columbia Icefield Skywalk in Banff National Park
The supports and glass that keep the Skywalk safe!
  • Type of attraction: Tour to walk out onto a platform
  • Time needed: About an hour (as long as you have a booking in advance)
  • Google Maps location link: You must park at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre and ride their bus 10 minutes to the Skywalk.

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 amazing.  

If you want to walk on the Skywalk you’ll have to park at Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre because there is no parking lot at the Skywalk. They will put you on a bus and take you to 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 you back to the Discovery Center.  

You should book the Skywalk experience online in advance for just $46 CAD to avoid missing out. During peak times, the tour can be fully booked up. Otherwise, book your Athabasca Glacier tour and Skywalk experience together to get a discounted rate!

Note: The Skywalk is only open from May to October each year.

Tangle Creek Falls 

Tangle Creek Fallsalong the Icefields Parkway in Canada
The falls are really impressive and you can get some great photos!

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 parking lot across the road on your left. You can walk up to the falls and even climb a little way up beside them for a photo.  

This is a quick stop, and you’ll likely only need to spend 5-15 minutes here at most.  

Sunwapta Falls 

The beautiful Sunwapta Falls from the boardwalk
The beautiful Sunwapta Falls from the boardwalk
  • Type of attraction: Short walk to a viewpoint
  • Time needed: 20 minutes
  • Google Maps location link: Sunwapta Falls location

Sunwapta Falls is another powerful waterfall along the Icefields Parkway. There is a large 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) so you can spend as little or as much time here as you want.

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! Many consider it one of the best hotels in Jasper. There is also a restaurant at the lodge that’s open to the public. With that said, both the restaurant and lodge close in the winter months.

Although the nearby facilities close, Sunwapta Falls remains open all year round. In winter, seeing the waterfall frozen is equally as beautiful, in my opinion.

Athabasca Falls 

Athabasca Falls with a mountain backdrop on the Icefields Parkway
Athabasca Falls as seen from one of the back viewpoints
  • Type of attraction: Short walk to the viewpoint or join a glacier tour
  • Time needed: 1-3 hours
  • Google Maps location link: Athabasca Falls location

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 it out.  

This waterfall is crazy powerful, and as such, has created some pretty neat rock formations over the years. To me, it’s easily one of the best places to stop on the Icefields Parkway.  

The falls are easily accessible from the 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 in the winter the falls turn into a frozen winter wonderland. Visiting Athabasca Falls is also one of the best things to do in Jasper in the winter!

9. Can you see wildlife?

A grizzly bear eats grass on the Icefields Parkway
This big boy was at Bow Lake!
A grizzly Bear at Bow Lake Viewpoint on the Icefields Parkway
He was super chill!

Yes! There is a ton of amazing wildlife to see along the Icefields Parkway, including black bears and grizzly bears, elk, bighorn sheep, caribou, goats, deer, and even coyotes and moose! Moose can be surprisingly difficult to spot, even when you’re in the Rockies, but we’ve seen them along the Icefields Parkway before.

We also saw a grizzly bear at Bow Lake. This is why it’s worth getting out on the road early and staying until sunset because you’re much more likely to see wildlife at these quieter times of day. 

If you see some interesting wildlife while you’re driving, you can slow down to take a photo, but it’s bad etiquette to do this when the road is busy because it creates “bear jams” – yes, really! Parks Canada also strongly discourages pulling over your car for bears, and you can even get a ticket for doing so. By all means, slow down when the road is quiet, but don’t pull over. You should stay 30 meters (98 feet) away from large animals and 100 meters (328 feet) away from bears.

10. Is the road in good condition on the Icefields Parkway?

The road through the Icefields Parkway, Canada
The Icefields Parkway travels from Jasper to Lake Louise!

The road is well maintained, so it’s always in fantastic condition for driving. It’s smooth and you don’t need to worry about potholes. During the summer, it’s a breeze!

In the winter the road is sanded and salted, and snow is cleared between 7 am and 3:30 pm when necessary. With that being said, the gates at some of the higher sections of the highway do close without notice in the winter, and the entire Icefields Parkway can be closed if the conditions are really bad. If you’re driving during winter, it’s worth calling 511 Alberta or checking their website for reports on road conditions and closures. 

11. Are there places to fuel up your car? 

The service station at the Crossing Resort in Canada
The service station at the Crossing Resort in Canada

Yes, but only one! The gas station on the Icefields Parkway is at the Saskatchewan River Crossing Resort, which is 153 kilometers (95 miles) from Jasper, and 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Lake Louise. It’s open from April 1 until November 1, but closes for the winter months.

There are two gas stations in Lake Louise, five in Banff, and seven in Jasper, so it’s best to fuel up your vehicle before heading out. Then, during the summer, you can always stop to fill up again at the Saskatchewan River Crossing, but you should be able to make it all the way from one end of the Icefields Parkway to the other with a full tank of gas.

12. Is there cell service?

Baileys dog rex at the Bow Lake Lookout on the Icefields Parkway in Canada
Rex at Bow Lake Viewpoint!

No, not really. If you’re starting at Lake Louise, you’ll lose signal around 5 minutes in, just after you pass Herbert Lake. From Jasper, it ends around the Valley of the Five Lakes trailhead, which is about 10 minutes outside of town.

Since you won’t have cell service for the vast majority of this drive, it’s best to download an offline map of the Icefields Parkway. The hostels and hotels don’t have WiFi, either. It’s actually nice to be off the grid and just soak in the natural beauty of the area, but do let someone know about your travel plans and check in with them once you finish the drive, just in case. 

Related Read: If you’re looking to extend your trip, we’ve got an entire guide to all the best things to do in Jasper during the summer including mountain biking and whitewater rafting.

13. Where can I eat?

Bison Pie from The Crossing Resort on the Icefields Parkway
Bison Pie from The Crossing Resort on the Icefields Parkway

There’s not a huge amount of choice along the Icefields Parkway, but there are a few places to eat. 

If you’re visiting the Athabasca Glacier, you can grab a sandwich and a coffee from the on-site Starbucks, enjoy a bowl of soup or a burger at the Chalet Eatery, or have a fancier experience at Altitude, where you can eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner overlooking the glacier. However, these restaurants are only open between May and October, when the Ice Explorer tour is available.

You can also stop at the Saskatchewan River Crossing to grab a sandwich, burger, or soup at the Crossing Cafe, or if you’re really hungry then the Mt Wilson Restaurant has a lunch and dinner buffet, as well as an a la carte menu. 

There’s also a cafe at the Lodge at Bow Lake (formerly Num Ti Jah Lodge), which can be a convenient place to stop. The food here is just okay, but the incredible views of the lake and the Crowfoot Glacier more than make up for that! 

All of the options we’ve just mentioned will do just fine, but since options are limited along the Icefields Parkway, they can all prove a little pricey. So, as an alternative, you can always bring food with you and enjoy a tasty picnic with beautiful views. 

If you’re coming from Lake Louise, the Trailhead Cafe is our favorite one in the area, and they do fantastic to-go sandwiches for around $13 CAD. I’ve grabbed sandwiches here to take hiking before, and never regretted it! Or, if you’re starting in Banff, the White Bark Cafe does yummy takeaway sandwiches, wraps, and salads, and they cater well to vegans, vegetarians, and those with dietary restrictions.

Meanwhile, if you’re coming from Jasper, Patricia Street Deli makes hearty and affordable sandwiches that will fuel you up for your road trip. 

14. Is it better to drive the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper or Jasper to Banff?

jasper and Lake Louise sign on the Icefields Parkway
Jasper and Lake Louise sign on the Icefields Parkway

Honestly, it really doesn’t matter! 

Either way is fine because you can stop at the same attractions. The road is stunning throughout the drive, so it’s not one of those situations where you’re better off starting at a certain end so that you can finish with the best views. Just do what’s most convenient in terms of your trip itinerary. We’ve done it both ways, and it really doesn’t make a difference.

Related Read: For a relaxing day after exploring the Icefields Parkway, we love these hot springs in Alberta.

15. Is it safe to drive the Icefields Parkway in winter? 

Icefields Parkway in winter
Ready for one of the most scenic drives in the world?

It’s safe enough, but you do need to take extra care. You have to take the proper precautions in order to stay safe, so follow Parks Canada’s directions and make sure that you have snow chains or winter tires on your vehicle. You should also keep some extra space between your car and the one in front, and if in doubt, slow down. 

If you take the right safety measures, you should be fine. However, if you’re not used to driving in very wintery conditions, it might be worth just taking a tour instead. The tour companies all follow rigorous safety standards and the drivers are professionals, so you know you’re in safe hands there.

It is also worth noting that in bad weather conditions, driving the Icefields Parkway is dangerous and should be avoided altogether. In this case, the road will usually be closed and tours will be canceled. It’s fine for most of the winter, but if there are weather warnings, then it’s worth rescheduling. 

16. Is driving the Icefields Parkway worth it?

Bailey, her mum and dog at Peyto Lake Viewpoint in Banff National Park, Canada
Yes!

Yes, absolutely. It’s one of the most scenic highways not only in Canada but the entire world. We drive it frequently, and we love it more and more each time – it’s one of our all-time favorite road trips. 

You really shouldn’t miss the chance to experience the epic beauty of the Icefields Parkway while you’re exploring the Rockies. In fact, I highly recommend setting aside at least an entire day of your trip to explore it. If you’re visiting during summer and would like to do some of the longer hikes, then it’s also definitely worth staying along the Icefields Parkway overnight and spreading your road trip across two days. You won’t regret it! 

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 ith drinks on a rooftop bar in Banff, Canada
Thanks for reading!

And there you have it – everything you need to know about before you explore the Icefields Parkway! We love the parkway and hope you enjoy driving this scenic road just as much as we do. It really is a must-do if you’re in the area.

If you found this blog helpful, you might be interested in reading more of our blogs about Canada. You can get started by checking out one of the blogs below.

How to Spend ONE DAY in Lake Louise (and Moraine Lake!)

12 Absolute Best Lakes in Banff

16 Things to KNOW Before Riding the Jasper SkyTram