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How to Get from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield + Best Tours

How to Get from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield + Best Tours

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Jasper is a great hub to visit the Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier from since it’s only about an hour away. Trust me, it’s worth the drive here! People travel from around the world to visit, so if you’re this close, it’s a must-do.

Since Bailey is an Alberta local, we have become very familiar with all the ways to make the trip to see this natural wonder. In this blog, we’ll cover everything we’ve learned about getting to the Columbia Icefield and the sightseeing options along the way. So let’s jump right in!

The 2 Best Ways to Get from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield

The beautiful Sunwapta Falls Jasper National Park during summer
Sunwapta Falls is a great stop along the way!
Athabasca Falls along the Icefields Parkway, Banff
So is Athabasca Falls!

Tours

The Columbia Icefield and the Athabasca Glacier are some of the best places to visit in all of Canada and since they’re so close to Jasper, there are plenty of great tours. We’ve taken guided tours here from Jasper and it took the stress out of our visit. There’s no worrying about driving or navigating, so we found we could really enjoy the scenic route.

Plus tours typically have cool experiences added on! Our favorite is this combo tour that includes the Ice Explorer ride onto the glacier, the glass-floor Skywalk, and other highlights like Athabasca Falls.

Driving

If you ask me, renting a car is the best way to get to the Columbia Icefield. The freedom and convenience greatly outweigh the cost (which isn’t that much). As a bonus, it also means you can visit some other incredible places on the way!

Our go-to when we need a rental car is Discover Cars which has never let us down. With downtown Jasper pick-up and drop-off, the whole experience is seamless and simple. We know many people who use other car rental services and also have a good experience. Either way, you can expect to pay around $100 CAD per day to rent a car in Jasper.

The Best Tours from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield

Round-trip Columbia Icefield Tour with Glacier Skywalk from Jasper

Bailey stands next to the 4wd bus on the Athabasca Glacier Icewalk tour
Standing on the Athabasca Glacier!

This full-day tour from Jasper is perfect for anyone looking to explore Columbia Icefield’s main attractions without having to deal with any of the planning. It includes round-trip transportation from Jasper, the Ice Explorer experience, Skywalk admission, and a buffet lunch!

After being picked up around 8:30 am, the tour begins its trek along the Icefields Parkway. There are stops at notable viewpoints like Athabasca Falls, and honestly, the sights along the way are incredible! It’s always nice when someone else does the driving so I can sit back and be reminded of just how beautiful this part of the world is.

I love that this tour includes admission to the Glacier Skywalk as well. This is a 1 km-long (0.62 miles) glass-floor platform that you can walk along while viewing the peaks and valleys. I could go on and on about how much I love this place, but we’ve already written about it so you can check out all our tips on visiting the Glacier Skywalk.

One of the coolest parts of this tour is riding in the Ice Explorer on top of the Athabasca Glacier and then getting out to walk on the glacier itself. It’s such a unique experience exploring something that’s been around for thousands and thousands of years. It’s pretty wild to think about it!

This tour costs $298 CAD, and while it takes up most of the day, we still got back in plenty of time to enjoy dinner. It runs from June to mid-October, and it’s so well organized and hits all the highlights.

Jasper to Lake Louise One-Way Tour 

Jasper Skywalk along the Icefields Parkway
The skywalk at the Colombia Icefield!
Bailey stands on a rock at Lake Louise, Canada
Lake Louise is so pretty!

Have plans to head to Lake Louise after Jasper? This full-day tour to Lake Louise conveniently gives you a ride there and couples it up with some sightseeing along the way!

I love when hotel pickup and drop-off are included, so the fact that this tour offers both from Jasper to Lake Louise gives them automatic brownie points in my book. After leaving Jasper, we began our journey by spotting wildlife and admiring the sights along the Icefields Parkway. This tour also includes stops at the Athabasca Glacier and the Glacier Skywalk, with additional attractions like the Weeping Wall, Bow Lake, and Crowfoot Glacier to name a few.

We had a simple but tasty picnic lunch, and our guide was also super friendly and knowledgeable, often pointing out certain areas and explaining the history. It made the trip go by fast, and we ended up wondering where the time went.

Since this tour takes up an entire day, we highly encourage you to spend a few days in Lake Louise when you arrive. It’d be a shame to miss out on this magical place.

Jasper to Banff One-Way Tour 

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

This Jasper to Banff tour is pretty much identical to the Jasper to Lake Louise tour we mentioned above but with a couple of different stops and the endpoint being in Banff.

The same conveniences are in this tour with hotel pickup and drop-off, lunch, amazing guides, and bucket list stops along the way, but it includes drop-offs at Banff accommodations. You’ll see Athabasca Falls, Bow Lake, Crowfoot Glacier, and the Weeping Wall. Talk about a loaded itinerary!

Of course, the major highlight of the day is taking an Ice Explorer bus out onto Athabasca Glacier and walking around! Make sure to bring an empty water bottle with you – we got to fill ours up with fresh glacier water!

If you enjoy amazing views, you’ll have the option to take in Sunwapta Valley from the Glacier Skywalk or see some cool exhibits in the visitor center. This tour runs from May to October and tickets are $305 CAD.

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.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • 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.

About the Drive from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield

A grizzly bear eats grass on the Icefields Parkway
Spotting wildlife is common on this drive
Scenic road down the Icefields Parkway in Canada
The Icefields Parkway from Jasper is epic!

To get to the Columbia Icefield Visitor Center from Jasper, it takes about an hour and 20 minutes by car. But considering how often we like to stop and take pictures, I usually budget at least 2 hours total. 

Even though it’s only a 104-kilometer (65-mile) journey, I am always diligent about filling up the gas tank before leaving town. There is only one gas station on the Icefields Parkway and it’s very expensive. 

The drive through this part of the Icefields Parkway is stunning and there are tons of places to stop and explore on your way. This road is my favorite in Canada if not the whole world!

Something to keep in mind is you’ll need to purchase a Parks Canada Pass to see the icefield. I always buy mine online beforehand so I don’t have to wait at the gate of the park to buy a pass with sometimes hundreds of other people. A day pass for up to 7 people costs $22 CAD while individual travelers will need to pay $11 CAD for a day pass.  

6 Best Stops on the Drive from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield

1. Jasper 

Bailey sits on a dock at Spirit Island, Canada
Maligne Lake!
Bailey stands on one of the viewpoints on the hiking trails at the top of the Jasper SkyTram
From the top of the SkyTram!

Jasper is one of my favorite places in Alberta and if it’s your first time visiting, we’ve got a whole list of things to do in Jasper. There are some great experiences nearby like the stunning Maligne Lake Cruise or this evening wildlife tour where our guide helped us spot a bear!

Downtown Jasper is really fun to walk around, and I always stop into Estio Jasper for their crab meat grilled cheese. There are some amazing trails and Jasper National Park is the perfect place to go for a hike. If you’re short on time, a ride on the Jasper Skytram is also a must.

Related Read: If you’re staying for a while, we’ve got the details on the best tours in Jasper and Jasper’s best restaurants too. This town is worth exploring, so we love visiting for a few days.

2. Valley of the Five Lakes 

Two red chairs in the Valley of the 5 Lakes near Jasper, Canada
The Valley of the Five Lakes is so beautiful!
Bailey walks out onto a dock at the Valley of the 5 Lakes in Jasper
You can swim, but the water is freezing!

For an easy hike, stop off at The Valley of the Five Lakes. There are signs on the left-hand side of the road along the Icefields Parkway, and the trailhead is about 15 minutes from Jasper. The hike itself is 4.5 km (2.8 miles), so it’s great for anyone looking to spend a few hours in nature.

The hike is true to its name as there are 5 lakes the trail leads to. If it’s warm out and you’re feeling brave, I suggest bringing a swimsuit to test the cool water! This hike is great for all ages, so it’s a great stop if the littles need to get some energy out.

3. Athabasca Falls 

Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park
The falls are so powerful!
Blue and green water below Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park
It’s just as stunning in winter!

About 30 km (18) from Jasper town is one of the most popular stops – Athabasca Falls. This waterfall might not be very tall, but it’s one of the most powerful falls around here.

It crashes into the Athabasca River and it’s just a beautiful place to see in person. This is a quick stop, but feel free to stay as long as you like. There is a boardwalk that offers different viewpoints, and in the winter, the falls freeze over which makes for some really epic photos.

4. Sunwapta Falls 

The beautiful Sunwapta Falls from the boardwalk
The beautiful Sunwapta Falls from the bridge.

Another short drive away is Sunwapta Falls. While it’s not as big as Athabasca, we think it’s still worth a stop. The rock formations that have been carved from the falls are really interesting, and they can be seen from both the bridge and the viewpoint.

This is another quick stop, and will probably take about 20 minutes which includes the walk from the parking lot.

Accommodation option: If you’re looking for a quiet getaway in the wilderness, consider staying at Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge. If you’re hungry, they also have an on-site restaurant and a small store.

5. Tangle Creek Falls 

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

And if you thought we were done with waterfalls, guess again! Tangle Creek Falls is less than 10 minutes from our final stop, so it’s easy to squeeze into the trip. It’s not as popular as the waterfalls we mentioned above, but we think it deserves a place on the list.

Tangle Creek Falls will be on the left, but the parking lot is on the right side of the road, so just keep that in mind. You can see the falls from the parking lot, but we like walking up to the viewpoint to get a closer look. We usually don’t stay too long here, so this is a really quick stop.

6. Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre (Athabasca Glacier and Skywalk) 

Columbia Icefield Skywalk in Banff National Park with views of the mountains
Columbia Icefield Skywalk in Banff National Park with views of the mountains

Our road trip ends at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, which has a bathroom and a food court-style cafeteria (and a Starbucks for coffee lovers like us!).

There are plenty of things to see, and we highly recommend starting with the Columbia Icefield Skywalk. I was a little nervous the first time I did the Skywalk. Even without having a fear of heights, a glass floor 300 meters (984 feet) above the ground is pretty intimidating!

The views are worth it though, and for a combo deal, you can get this Skywalk and Athabasca Glacier tour online here. I recommend getting tickets ahead of time because waiting in line at the Discovery Centre can take a while – trust us, we once waited 3 hours because we hadn’t pre-booked.

Daniel hangs out the door of an Ice Explorer all-terrain vehicle on the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefield, Canada
On the Athabasca Glacier!

The Athabasca Glacier is across the road from the Discovery Centre. As we mentioned above, this combo tour will get you access to the Skywalk and a ride in the Ice Explorer that drives onto the glacier itself. It’s an awesome experience and is the most popular tour of the bunch. We wrote a review on the Glacier Adventure tour if you want more details on what you’re in for!

Another option is to join this small-group hiking tour which includes a more in-depth inspection of the Athabasca Glacier. An expert guide will explain all about the glacier over 3 hours, which includes 5 km (3 miles) of hiking time.

The final option is to view the glacier from the viewpoint. Because guided tours are mandatory, this is an alternative for those who can’t book a tour or don’t want to walk on the glacier. The Athabasca Glacier trail goes right up to the edge of the glacier after a 1 km (0.62 mile) hike.

There is also a beautiful hotel located right across from the Athabasca Glacier called Glacier View Lodge. If you want to do any of the above tours, staying a night at the hotel isn’t a bad idea just so you aren’t rushed. I recommend booking in advance in the summer months to avoid missing out.

Note: Both the Skywalk and Athabasca Glacier tours are only available from the beginning of May until mid-October. The Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre is closed in winter, too.

Are there shuttles from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield?

Shuttle in the canadian rockies taking visitors down the icefields parkway
What a view!

Technically the answer is no, but don’t worry, we found a workaround!

While there isn’t a direct shuttle from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield, this shuttle transfer has an option from Jasper to Banff that’s available between May to October. What you will need to do is book the Banff to Jasper option, select the pick-up point as Jasper with the drop-off at Banff, then contact them beforehand and let them know you want to get off at the Icefields Visitor Center or Glacier View Lodge. Voila, problem solved!

However, this service is one-way so they do not make a return trip back to Jasper which means you’ll have to spend the night and get a ride back the following day. Just remember to contact them beforehand and let them know that your pick-up is at the icefields.

Overall, it isn’t the most efficient or cheapest way to get there, but we searched high and low and this is the only shuttle we found that did the job. If you are interested in using this shuttle, one-way tickets are $149 CAD per person and can be booked here.

Related Read: There are a couple other great shuttles we’ve taken in the Rockies including this shuttle from Banff to Lake Louise and this sunrise shuttle to Moraine Lake!

What is our recommended option?

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!

Honestly, whether you drive from Jasper or join a tour, both are great options. It really is a matter of personal preference.

The tours we talked about earlier are all highly-rated and some we’ve even enjoyed ourselves! A tour is a good pick if you’re short on time, don’t want to drive, or just want to leave the planning to a pro.

While driving takes a bit more effort, it’s our preferred option. We love the freedom of a rental car and the drive from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield is pretty easy and only takes just over an hour. Plus, there are so many great stops to turn the drive into your own mini sightseeing tour!  

Other Activities to do While You’re in Jasper

Bailey smiles while white water rafting in Jasper National Park, Canada
Rafting in Jasper is so much fun!
Bailey walks the dock at Spirit Island on Maligne Lake, Canada
Cruising to Spirit Island is gorgeous!

Jasper National Park is just filled with fun things to do and see! So besides visiting the Columbia Icefield, there are a few other activities that we recommend that you check off your to-do list. They are:

  • Whitewater rafting – Jasper is one of the best places in Alberta to go whitewater rafting with a few different rivers nearby. For an adrenaline-filled rafting experience complete with class 3 rapids, opt for this rafting tour. It has nearly all 5-star reviews. For something a little calmer and family-friendly but just as highly rated, choose this scenic rafting experience.
  • Spirit Island – Maligne Lake is arguably the most famous lake in Jasper National Park. You can hike, canoe on the lake, or eat at a lakeside restaurant. However, the best activity is this scenic Maligne Lake Cruise which takes you out on the water for the best vantage point. The cruise also takes you to the famous Spirit Island, which is so picture-perfect that you’ve likely seen it on Instagram before.
  • Take the Jasper SkyTram – For the best views from the peak of Whistlers Mountain, the SkyTram is a must. It’s a large gondola that takes you to a huge viewing platform with an area to explore at the top including a restaurant and gift shop. Tickets to the Jasper SkyTram are available here.
  • Explore Maligne Canyon – Located on the edge of Jasper town is the beautiful Maligne Canyon, where you can hike alongside and peer down into the deep canyon. There are also a few bridges you can walk on to really take in the views.
  • Visit Pyramid LakePyramid Lake is a calm lake that offers reflections of the surrounding mountains including the symmetrical Pyramid Mountain. In the summer you can swim, hike, canoe, and SUP on the lake. In winter, go ice skating or ride in a horse-drawn sleigh.

Where to Stay in Jasper

The spa at the Whistler Inn in jasper
What a view! This photo is taken from the gorgeous Whistlers Inn.

When compared to Banff, there actually aren’t that many hotels to choose from in Jasper. That’s right, accommodation in Jasper is limited, and therefore it’s important to book your stay as far in advance as possible!

Here, I’ve handpicked some of my personal favorite hotels in Jasper suitable for any type of traveler with any type of budget!

Pyramid Lake Resort – $$$

Pyramid Lake Resort is beautiful, and it is set in an even more beautiful location! Pyramid Lake is the perfect place for hiking, swimming, kayaking, or even skating in the winter. Located about 6 km (3.7 miles) outside of Jasper town center, Pyramid Lake Resort doesn’t cut any corners and it’s a highly-rated hotel. It’s also a popular place to stay for those visiting Jasper on a honeymoon!

Rooms start around $188 CAD and can reach $550-$600 CAD during the peak summer months. Check availability and book online here.

Whistlers Inn – $$

Whistlers Inn is the perfect place to stay if you are looking for a nice escape right in town and only a short walk from popular bars, attractions, and restaurants in Jasper. They also have a rooftop hot tub (pictured above) – need I say more? Prices range from around $150 CAD to $430 CAD. Reserve a room here!

Jasper Downtown Hostel – $

Jasper Downtown Hostel is the best place to stay for those on a tight budget. The central location, shared facilities, and friendly atmosphere make it a great place to stay. They offer budget dorm beds for around $41 CAD, as well as affordable private rooms starting at $117 CAD. You can book Jasper Downtown Hostel on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.

For more detailed info on the best hotels and areas to stay in Jasper, read our blog!

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 at the top of the Skytram in Jasper, Canada
Thanks for reading!

We hope this guide has you excited to visit the Columbia Icefield from Jasper! We love spending time in both these areas, and there are beautiful sightseeing opportunities along the way.

If this guide has been helpful, we hope you’ll check out some of our other posts. Since Bailey is from Canada, we visit regularly and would love to share our adventures with you. Here are some blogs to get you started:

Is Banff Worth Visiting? 10 Reasons You MUST Visit Banff!

5 BEST Maligne Lake Tours in Jasper +Our Favorite Tour and Review!

11 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Mount Edith Cavell, Jasper