Routinely included in lists of the most scenic drives on the planet, the spectacularly beautiful Icefields Parkway in Canada is easily worthy of the honor, and then some. Read on to discover the best things to see and do along the Icefields Parkway, and tips for doing the drive.
So where exactly is the Icefields Parkway? This beautiful route in the Canadian Rockies is located in the province of Alberta in western Canada. The Icefields Parkway links the mountain village of Lake Louise with the alpine town of Jasper.
The famous Canadian Rockies road, officially Highway 93, is 166.5 miles long, and runs parallel to the Continental Divide, through Banff National Park in the south and Jasper National Park in the north.
Along the length of the Icefields Parkway, you will find some of the most picturesque natural attractions in the region, from lakes and glaciers to waterfalls and canyons. It is such a scenic drive that you’ll be wanting to stop literally every few yards for yet another photo.
Excited? Let’s dive right in and look at the best places to stop along the Icefields Parkway!
Icefields Parkway Points of Interest
There are lots of places along the Icefields Parkway where you can stop and explore. A few stops are just viewpoints or attractions right beside the road, others involve short hikes, and at a few places you have the option to do longer hikes.
Below I describe the must-stop points of interest along the Icefields Parkway, going from south (Lake Louise) to north (Jasper).
Herbert Lake is located just off the Icefields Parkway, less than a couple of miles north of the village of Lake Louise. If you start your drive early in the morning on a bright calm day, you will be able to get absolutely stunning photos of the mountains at the back reflected in the still water.
Park at the pullout and follow the pathway through the trees to the shore of the lake. There is a trail that goes around the lake, and you can swim here in the summer, so it’s a good spot to visit if you plan to spend a few days in Lake Louise.
If you are making Hector Lake a stop on the Icefields Parkway drive, you’ll just have time to admire the views and take some photos if you want to complete the drive in a day.
If you are planning to spend a few days in Banff, you may want to make a special trip to visit the lakes on the Icefields Parkway close to the township, to enjoy them at leisure.
Hector Lake and Crowfoot Glacier
Crowfoot Glacier is your next stop along the Icefields Parkway. You can view the glacier from a pullout, and the strip of turquoise you can see at the foot of the mountains is Hector Lake.
This is another quick stop, but you may be lucky enough to spot wildlife here, as we did when we visited. We saw a mamma black bear and two cubs munching on dandelions here.
We were out of our car taking photos of the glacier when we spotted them, a little ways down the hillside. We returned to our car immediately, to avoid disturbing them. Always give wildlife plenty of room and follow park regulations for their safety and yours.
Did you know that Canada has the highest number of lakes of all the countries on the planet? It has over 2 million lakes, large and small, and along this drive you will see some of the prettiest lakes in the country.
Another beautiful lake for reflection photos on calm days, Bow Lake, on the Bow River, offers views of the Crowfoot Glacier, Crowfoot Mountain, and Bow Summit.
Allow for a little time to walk along the shore at Bow Lake: the views of the surrounding mountains and the blue-green water are stunning. Bow Lake was very quiet the day we visited in late June, unlike other spots along the parkway that were super crowded.
The pretty red building on the shore of Bow Lake is the historic Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, built in 1950. It still offers rooms, and you can step into the Bow Lake Cafe for a snack or a drink.
One of most popular attractions along the Icefields Parkway and one of Canada’s most beautiful lakes, Peyto Lake has to be one of the most Instagrammable places on the planet. With its unique shape and beautiful turquoise color when fully thawed, Peyto Lake will literally make your jaw drop in awe.
You can park at the parking lot, and then walk the short trail up the hill to the lower lookout point, from where you get fabulous views of Peyto Lake from above. This is the best and most accessible viewpoint to appreciate the shape and color of this beautiful lake.
Understandably, the Peyto Lake viewpoint tends to get congested during the day in high season, with tour buses disgorging dozens of passengers that crowd the small platform. If you are traveling independently by car, try and get here before 10 a.m. to be able to view and take photos in relative solitude, or wait for a lull in between buses.
If you are willing and able to climb a little more, you can walk up to the Upper Peyto Lake viewpoint, about a 10-minute walk from the wooden viewing deck at the Lower Peyto Lake viewpoint. The views from the upper viewpoint are also spectacular, and it will likely be less crowded. You can even hike to the Bow Summit if you have the time.
There are multiple gorgeous lakes along the Icefields Parkway! Your next stop is at the Lower Waterfowl Lake, which is located beside the road. With a backdrop that includes the dramatic peak of Mount Chephren, this beautiful blue-green lake is another great spot for photos.
You can walk to the Upper Waterfowl Lake from the southern end of the Waterfowl Lakes campground, but if you are doing the Icefields Parkway drive in one day, you will just have time for a quick photo stop at the Lower Waterfowl Lake.
Carved by the Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon is located about 0.3 mile by foot from the parking lot off the Icefields Parkway. The canyon offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.
The milky blue water roars through the gorge, especially if you visit just after the snow melt, in the early summer. Look for wildflowers and wildlife.
The walk to Mistaya Canyon is one of many hikes along the Icefields Parkway you can do. Many of the hikes are easy and family friendly, but you will find some challenging ones as well.
Saskatchewan River Crossing
Called “The Crossing” because this was the spot where travelers from Alberta headed to British Columbia would cross over, the scenic Saskatchewan River Crossing is your next stop along the Icefields Parkway.
The Crossing is the confluence of three rivers: here, the Mistaya River and the Howse River flow into the Saskatchewan River. At the stop, there is a resort with a restaurant if you want a bite to eat or a drink.
View the river from the road and take photos of the spectacular scene. And if you are up for it, clamber down to the water and put your toes in. The water was still freezing cold in late June when we visited!
If you are traveling north, watch for the Weeping Wall that comes up on your right. A wide expanse of cliff, the wall features numerous waterfalls that dribble down to the bottom of the cliff.
If you visit in the early summer, you are likely to see more waterfalls with the snow melt. We got out of the car for a couple of minutes here to take some photos.
Bridal Veil Falls
The road climbs up the side of a mountain here, and from the top you have a great view of Bridal Veil Falls in the distance. Fed by the Huntington Glacier, the falls plunge into a creek that meets up with the Saskatchewan River.
You can see only the lower part of the waterfall from the parking lot off the parkway. If you love waterfalls and want to view the upper parts, do the short hike to the North Saskatchewan Lookout. We were content with snapping a few photos from the pullout.
Parker Ridge, 7,400 feet high, is the approximate midpoint of the Icefields Parkway. If a good hike appeals to you and you are willing to invest the time and effort, consider the Parker Ridge Trail.
Deemed one of the best hikes you can do in the region, the trail offers views of a number of peaks along with epic views of the Saskatchewan Glacier, the longest glacier that flows from the Columbia Icefield.
The total length of the hike, to the top and back, is a little under 3 miles. The elevation gain is about 900 feet and the trail goes to the top via a number of switchbacks that make the climb a little easier.
Columbia Icefield Discovery Center
Definitely one of the best attractions along the Icefields Parkway, the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center is a must-stop spot on your drive, because here you get the opportunity to walk on a glacier!
Start at the Visitor Center, where you can snap a photo of the Athabasca Glacier across the parkway. Then ride the Ice Explorer snocoach to the glacier, where you can view it up close, walk on the icefield, and even fill your water bottle with glacier melt if you wish.
Allow about 2 to 2.25 hours at the Center if you plan to take the tour. There are restrooms at the Center, as well as a gift shop and a restaurant.
Then take the shuttle to the Glacier Skywalk, a newer attraction right next door. Walk out onto the glass viewing platform that juts out over the Sunwapta Valley and take in the gorgeous panoramas. Allow about 1 to 1.5 hours.
The attraction is super popular, so book your tickets ahead of time, especially if you plan to visit in the summer. Book your tickets for the Glacier Adventure and Glacier Skywalk now!
Tangle Creek Falls
Just a few miles north of the Columbia Icefield is Tangle Creek Falls, right beside the Icefields Parkway. You literally just have to park in the pullout and cross the road to be at the falls!
You can either just admire the falls from the road, take a few photos, and be on your way, but you can also climb up the hillside on either side of the falls to get up closer to the water or pose for photos on the boulders next to the water.
While the Banff stretch of the parkway is home to lots of beautiful alpine lakes, the Jasper stretch boasts several fabulous waterfalls. The amazing waterfalls in this part of the Canadian Rockies are a must on any Jasper itinerary. Sunwapta Falls, your next stop on the Icefields Parkway, is one of the most magnificent of Jasper’s waterfalls.
Located on the Sunwapta River, the Sunwapta Falls are actually a pair of waterfalls: the Lower Sunwapta Falls and the Upper Sunwapta Falls. Sunwapta means “turbulent waters” in the Stoney language, and the falls are truly turbulent in the late spring and early summer, when snow melt makes the waters swell.
The upper falls are just steps away from the parking lot and easily accessed. To get to the lower falls, you have to walk down a short dirt trail. There are several viewpoints at the bottom, and it’s much less crowded in season than at the upper falls.
Goats and Glaciers Viewpoint
It’s very likely you will see goats at the Goats and Glaciers stop on the Icefields Parkway, because they enjoy the mineral salts at the Kerkeslin Goat Lick. Drive slow, because you might come across goats crossing the parkway in this area.
We saw many goats here when we visited, some sitting by the side of the parkway and others busy enjoying the salts.
On the opposite side of the road, walk the short trail to the lookout point to admire the stunning views of mountains and glaciers, with the Athabasca River flowing below. It’s a great spot for photos!
If you want to witness the awesome power of water, stop at Athabasca Falls, the last major attraction before you reach Jasper. Admire the massive force of the falls and take the “money shot” of the falls with Mt. Kerkeslin in the back.
Spend some time walking the different paths around the falls. There are several bridges over the gorge, and it is fun to stand on a bridge and watch the frothy white waters churning below. Interpretive displays provide information on the falls, the Athabasca River, and local flora and fauna.
If you walk a little bit away from the main viewing area, you’ll leave some of the crowds behind, especially if you visit in high season. Athabasca Falls is super popular, and just like at Peyto Lake, you may find busloads of visitors regularly passing through during the day.
Best Longer Hikes along the Icefields Parkway
If you do the Icefields Parkway over a couple of days, you will have time to do one or more of the exciting longer hikes along the route. Hike in good weather and make sure you are appropriately equipped, with good hiking shoes or boots and trekking poles.
Parker Ridge Trail
The Parker Ridge Trail would be our top choice if we could only do one Icefields Parkway hike. This trail is best hiked in July and August. The 3.4-mile out-and-back trail leads to a spectacular view and is classed as challenging. The elevation gain is about 800 feet. The trail goes up the mountain via a series of switchbacks. The meadows along the way are full of wildflowers, so make sure you have your camera!
At the top, the trail branches to the left, and you can walk along the ridge for breathtaking views of the Saskatechwan Glacier, the longest of the Columbia Icefield glaciers and the source of the North Saskatchewan River. Take in the views of the glacier and the surrounding mountain peaks before retracing your steps to the trailhead.
The trailhead for the Parker Ridge trail is right on Icefields Parkway, just south of the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre. You will see signs for Parker Ridge.
Wilcox Pass Hike
Another moderately challenging hike with close to 1,350 feet of elevation gain, the 5.8-mile out-and-back Wilcox Pass Hike offers incredible views of the Athabasca Glacier. Keep your eyes open for wildlife as you walk, because this is a great place to see bighorn sheep.
The trail initially goes through a pine forest before taking you past a stunning view of Sunwapta Pass. You will keep climbing past the tree line (admire all the wildflowers along the way!) until you come to the Red Chairs placed by Parks Canada. The spot has a glorious view of the mountains.
Continue your climb up to the pass, from where you will get expansive views of the mountains and Athabasca Glacier. The last part of the trail involves some scrambling up rocky patches, but the views are rewarding!
The trailhead for the Wilcox Pass Hike is at the Wilcox Creek Campground, just south of the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre.
Upper Chephren Lake Hike
A moderate 4.5-mile round trip out and back trail, the Chephren Lake hike takes you to one of the less visited and less crowded beautiful blue-green alpine lakes in the Canadian Rockies: the Chephren Lake.
Follow the trail around the campground and past the bridge over the Mistaya River. Once you are across the bridge, continue the trek uphill until you come to a junction, where you can choose to hike either to Cirque Lake, or to Chephren Lake. Turn right to follow the trail to Chephren Lake through the trees.
The trail is flat in the final stretch but can be super muddy after a wet spell. Boots are a good idea. Keep an eye out for wildlife. Soon you will arrive to views of the lake!
The trailhead for the Chephren Lake hike is located near (but not in) the Waterfowl Lakes Campground. The parking lot for the trail will come up along the road that runs parallel to the parkway.
Tips for Driving the Icefields Parkway
Driving the Icefields Parkway is an experience you will cherish for a long time. Here are some answers to questions that might come up as you plan your trip and tips that will hopefully make for a wonderful experience!
Structuring your Icefields Parkway drive
Although the route is just under 167 miles in length, there are so many things to see and do along the Icefields Parkway that you will agonize over where to stop and how much time to allow at each stop.
There are many ways to structure an Icefields Parkway drive. You can drive it just in one direction, spending part or all of one day doing the drive. You could do this, for example, if you fly into Calgary and plan to fly out of Edmonton.
You can spend one day driving south to north when transferring from Lake Louise to Jasper, and then another day driving back from Jasper to Lake Louise (or Banff) in the south. We chose this option, because we flew in and out of Calgary.
The views are different depending on the direction you drive, and both directions are very worthwhile. Plus, distributing the stops over two days instead of one allows for more time to enjoy the many places to see along the Icefields Parkway.
You can also do the southern half of the route as a day trip with Lake Louise or Banff as your base, and the northern half as a day trip with Jasper as your base. You would go this route, for example, if you plan to visit only Banff National Park or only Jasper National Park. Driving half the Icefields Parkway is still one of the best things to do on a Canadian Rockies trip!
Renting a car for your Icefields Parkway drive
Driving yourself is the best way to do the Icefields Parkway drive: it gives you lots of flexibility on how to structure your visit, where to stop, and activities to do along the drive.
Calgary and Edmonton are the closest international airports, and you can rent a car for your Canadian Rockies trip at either airport. Renting a car for your trip to Jasper is super convenient with Discover Cars, which allows you to compare prices across multiple car hire companies and pick the car that’s best for you.
What if you do not wish to drive?
If you do not wish to drive, you can drive the Icefields Parkway as part of a guided tour. One-way coach tours are offered in either direction, and of course you can choose to join a tour in both directions.
The 10-hour guided drive includes several stops at attractions along the Icefields Parkway, including the Glacier Adventure and Glacier Skywalk at the Columbia Icefields Discovery Center, and a picnic lunch at a scenic spot. Book your tour from Jasper to Banff now!
You can also book a guided tour from Banff or Lake Louise to Jasper. The groups are small, and the tour is a great interpretive experience. You might even get to photograph wildlife along the way! Check availability and book the tour from Banff or lake Louise to Jasper now!
When is the best time to drive the Icefields Parkway?
From a weather perspective, very late spring, summer, and very early fall are the best times to drive the Icefields Parkway. The alpine lakes that dot the route are likely to be fully thawed at these times. Wildflowers bloom in the late spring and early summer. Waterfalls tend to be at their best in late spring and early summer as well. Opportunities to see wildlife are higher in these times as well.
Although the weather in the mountains can change abruptly at any time of year, your chances of favorable road conditions for driving are best between late June and early September. We visited in late June and there was still snow on the ground at some spots along the side of the parkway, although none on the road.
The road is open all year, and the scenery is just as spectacular in the winter, but the Icefields Parkway is not fully plowed and snow tires or chains are required by law between the start of November and the end of March.
Expect to encounter a lot more traffic on the parkway between late June and early to mid September than the rest of the year. Get an early start to enjoy some sights in relative solitude.
What is the condition of the road?
Highway 93 is fully paved along its entire length. It is one lane in each direction for much of its length, well-maintained, with wide shoulders for unexpected stops (such as wildlife sightings). There are numerous pullouts where you can stop and enjoy the views or take photos.
There are no unduly narrow sections, and only a few sections with elevation changes and switchbacks. We found the Icefields Parkway a breeze to drive in very late spring.
Cell service along the Icefields Parkway
There is no cell phone service along the Icefields Parkway. A downloaded or hard copy map is a good idea, but signage along the road is excellent and you will be alerted to attractions and viewpoints along the route.
Is there a fee to drive the Icefields Parkway?
The Icefields parkway runs through Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, and a national park admission pass is required in order to drive the Icefields Parkway, even if you just drive straight through.
If you are stopped on the parkway without a pass, you will likely be assessed a substantial fine. The National Park pass can be purchased at visitor centers in Banff, Lake Louise, or Jasper.
Amenities along the Icefields Parkway
Gas: There is only one gas station along the parkway, at Saskatchewan Crossing and fuel is super expensive at this gas station. Start your drive with a full tank of gas so that you minimize the need to buy en route.
Food: There are a few dining options along the Icefields Parkway: the resort at Saskatchewan Crossing, the restaurant at the Columbia Icefields Discovery Center, and the restaurant and cafe at the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, for example.
Your best option for food is to pack takeout from places in Banff, Lake Louise, or Jasper, and have a picnic lunch at a scenic spot along the way. We did this on both days we drove the parkway, and thoroughly enjoyed our meals. Many restaurants and cafes in Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper offer convenient and tasty takeout lunches and snacks designed for all-day trips.
Accommodations: We didn’t stay along the Parkway, because the accommodation choices are much better in Banff, Jasper, or Lake Louise. The Num-Ti-Jah Lodge offers rooms for travelers looking for a get-away-from-it-all experience, and The Crossing, at the Saskatchewan River Crossing, offers modest rooms as well.
There are a number of campsites along the Icefields Parkway. They tend to get booked way in advance for the summer though, so reserve early if you plan to go this route.
Enjoy wildlife sightings safely
The Icefields Parkway offers great opportunities for spotting wildlife. If you see cars parked along the side of the parkway at spots where there are no attractions noted on your map, most likely wildlife has been sighted.
If you wish to stop, do so safely, pull well off the road, and look for wildlife from the safety of your car. Do not approach wildlife anywhere in the parks, for their safety and yours. Follow all park regulations regarding wildlife.
Icefields Parkway Map
You can obtain a hard copy map at one of the visitor centers, with all the lookout points and attractions along the parkway identified. Or download an online map ahead of your visit!
Don’t forget to pack these items for your Icefields Parkway drive!
Dressing in layers is the way to go in the mountains, where the weather can go from sunny to stormy in a matter of minutes. A lightweight jacket is a must, as are hiking shoes if you plan to hit the trails. Bear spray is good to have as well!
Travel Insurance: We never travel without travel insurance. It’s not very expensive, and you will appreciate the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you are covered if a mishap does occur. If you are looking for travel insurance, check out World Nomads!
Reusable Water Bottle: Carry a reusable insulated water bottle: it’s the perfect way to stay hydrated while traveling responsibly! This sleek bottle, available on Amazon, is BPA free, suitable for hot and cold drinks, and comes with a lifetime guarantee!
A dry bag will keep your things protected while you enjoy water activities like kayaking, splashing around on the beach or under a waterfall, or even when you are walking around in the rain. This dry bag, available on Amazon, comes in many bright colors and can be carried cross body or over the shoulder.
Rain Gear: Hope for bright sunshine every single day of your vacation, but always be prepared for rain. This jacket, available on Amazon, is lightweight, extra long, packs well, and looks stylish!
Binoculars: A good pair of binoculars will help you zoom in on wildlife! You’ll almost certainly come across some wildlife along the Icefields Parkway: we saw black bear, mountain goats, big horned sheep, and elk, as well as several species of birds and smaller creatures like the pika. Available on Amazon, this compact pair is great for travel.
Bug spray: Bug spray is a must-have, especially if you are out early in the day and after dusk. We encountered mosquitoes along lake shoes even during the day. We use this bug lotion, available on Amazon.
So there you have it: the best places to stop along the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, Canada, and my tips for a fun Icefields Parkway drive! Have you done this spectacular drive? I would love to read your thoughts, if you have: comment below to respond.
If you haven’t I hope I have inspired you to plan a trip soon to this beautiful part of the world, to enjoy what is truly one of the most scenic drives on our planet.
And if you are planning a trip to western Canada, check out my other posts in my Canada destination guide! You will find more information on destinations in the Canadian Rockies, as well as the best things to do on your first trip to Vancouver BC!
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More Information for Your Canadian Rockies Trip!
Lake Louise: The Best Things to Do in Lake Louise
Banff: The Best Lakes in (and near) Banff National Park
Yoho: A Day Trip to Yoho National Park
Jasper: What to Do in Jasper National Park
Mount Robson: A Day Trip to Mount Robson Provincial Park
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