Icefields Parkway: Canada's Must-Do Roadtrip

Updated: Nov 15, 2020


Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip

I've driven the world-renowned, beyond beautiful Icefields Parkway many times over; it just doesn’t get old. The scenery is unfailingly stunning, weather permitting -- turquoise lakes, mountainous peaks, twisting roads and even Canada’s largest icefield. This drive defines the word roadtrip : adventurous, impactful, awe-inspiring. Not to mention it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a nature lover’s fantasy and a photographer’s dream.


Need further convincing? Here are 17 excellent reasons why a drive down the Icefields Parkway is an absolute must-do if you’re visiting the Canadian Rockies.


Distances from both towns (Lake Louise and Jasper) are indicated for convenience. I wouldn’t recommend trying to hit all spots in one (very long) day, so pick and choose the ones you prefer, and stop by the ones you missed on the way back. Better yet, plan an overnight or two somewhere along the way. So whether you’re leaving from Lake Louise or from Jasper, set your odometer to zero, slap on some great driving tunes, and let the jaw-dropping begin.


The drive of a lifetime. --National Geographic

1. Herbert Lake (7.3 kms from Lake Louise - 226 kms from Jasper)

Roadside viewpoint - Parking lot (1-minute walk to shoreline)

Herbert Lake Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
Lake Herbert, seen here from the road, is a beautiful glacier-fed lake. So it’s a tad frosty.

Herbert Lake Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
Autumn sunrise, Lake Herbert shoreline

Lake Herbert appears soon after leaving Lake Louise, and its waters are usually glassy-calm (great for catching reflections). Mount Temple is visible, with its glacier perched on its summit. It’s worth parking the car in the small lot and walking 30 seconds to the lakeshore to see Lake Herbert from a different viewpoint.




2. Hector Lake (22.9 kms from Lake Louise - 211 kms from Jasper)

Roadside viewpoint, shoulder parking - 5km walk (one way) to lakeshore

Hector Lake Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
Hector Lake, blanketed by thick morning fog (roadside view).

Hector Lake is another glacier-fed lake, but you’ll have to get your legs moving to see this one up close. From the roadside shoulder (where you can leave your car), there is a 5km downhill walk (one way) that brings you to the water’s edge. It’s on my bucket list. Hike to Hector Lake


3. Mosquito Creek (28.4 kms from Lake Louise - 205 kms from Jasper)

Parking lot at Mosquito Creek Hostel - Campground

Mosquito Creek Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
No mosquitoes here today. Actually, don’t count on getting bit more often at Mosquito Creek than anywhere else in the Rockies; the reference is an unsuitable misnomer for such a pleasant space.


This is a cool area with a HI hut (Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel) and campgrounds open year-round.


There’s tons of hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice climbing to enjoy throughout the year, and the scenery is lovely regardless of the season.








4. Bow Lake (40.5 kms from Lake Louise - 194 kms from Jasper)

Roadside viewpoint - Leisure walks from large parking lot

You might want to hang out here for a while; there’s plenty to enjoy around Bow Lake. Take a stroll around the grounds. Visit Num-Ti-Jah Lodge. Enjoy an ice cream or a hot drink by the lakeshore. Follow the trail (heading right around the lake) to Bow Glacier Falls - a beautiful, easy, and family-friendly hike (1.5 hours one way).

Bow Glacier Falls Bow Lake Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
Bow Glacier Falls (far right), best visited with a furry friend.

Bow Lake Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
Yep. Bow Lake is one of my favourite places to catch fantastic reflections, especially at sunrise.

5. Peyto Lake (45.5 kms from Lake Louise - 188 kms from Jasper)

Parking lot - Brief uphill walk to viewpoint (or to Bow Summit Hike, 2-3 hrs)

Peyto Lake Bow Summit Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
The Peyto Lake area was unfortunately closed in the fall of 2019. Hopefully, it will reopen in 2021 (as scheduled) so that we can all enjoy its beauty again.

At 2070m, this is the highest point of the entire Parkway, and arguably its most popular stop; no hopes for any romantic alone time here! This turquoise glacier-fed lake was named after Wild Bill Peyto, a British pioneer, guide and park warden in the early 1900s.


If you can spare 2-3 hours or need a break from the crowds, take an unofficial (but perfectly safe and legal) trail to Bow Summit. From the viewing area, turn left and head up the hill on the paved trail. At a 3-way junction, take the middle path. You’ll eventually pass a signpost. Straight ahead, a gravel road will lead off the paved trail. Follow gravel switchbacks to the final lookout spot.


6. Waterfowl Lake and Mount Chephren (61.3 kms from Lake Louise - 172 kms from Jasper)

Roadside view - Many walks from Waterfowl Lakes Campground parking lot

Mount Chephren Waterfowl Lakes Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
Mount Chephren looms over one of two Waterfowl Lakes. I absolutely love how that morning's heavy frost covered everything in a cool, wintery glaze.

This is probably my favourite roadside view on the Icefields Parkway. So accessible, yet so stunning.


If weather and time permit, the easy 1.5-km walk to Upper Waterfowl Lake or the 8km hike to Chephren Lake are great ways to kill a few hours (park at Waterfowls Lakes Campground for either).


7. Mistaya Canyon (75.1 kms from Lake Louise - 158 kms from Jasper)

Parking lot - 8min (1 km) downhill walk to canyon.

Mistaya Canyon Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
Beautiful Mistaya Canyon






The Mistaya River carved through limestone over tens of thousands of years to create this thunderous canyon, which means 'grizzly bear' in the Cree language.


Exercise extreme caution if you choose to walk on the very slippery rocks, as there are no guardrails keeping unwary visitors from plummeting to their chilly deaths.










8. Saskatchewan River Crossing (80.3 kms from Lake Louise - 153 kms from Jasper)

Parking lot - Restaurant, restrooms, gas station and store

Mount Murchison Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
The great Mount Murchison, just south of Saskatchewan River Crossing. Three great rivers meet here : the Saskatchewan, the Mistaya and the Howse.

The Crossing Gas Station and Store is the perfect (albeit the only) spot to refill on necessities, although be warned that the gas here is quite pricey. Don’t risk it though; there is no other gas station between Jasper and Lake Louise. If you need to, just fill it up and suck it up!


Also of note in this region is the beautiful David Thompson Highway (Hwy 11), a turnoff just south of The Crossing Store. Although David Thompson County is outside the boundaries of Banff National Park, its mountain views rival those of its neighbour. I drove one hour down the highway, then turned around again to continue my trip on the Icefields Parkway. Totally worth the 2-hour detour.

David Thompson Country David Thompson highway The Crossing Alberta Canada roadtrip
Mountain sheep monopolizing the road on the David Thompson Highway.

9. The Weeping Wall (106 kms from Lake Louise - 125 kms from Jasper)

Roadside view

Weeping Wall Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
The Weeping Wall, not my photo (Flicker)

That’s right, a wall that weeps. This intimidating, enormous rockwall has dozens of cascades spewing out of it, each at least 100m high. If you’re passing by in wintertime, you might be lucky enough to spot some ice climbers clawing their way up, as this is an understandably popular area for the sport.



10. Big Bend - Cirrus Mountain Lookout (116 kms from Lake Louise - 118 kms from Jasper)

Roadside viewpoint

Cirrus Lookout Cirrus Mountain Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
Cirrus Mountain Lookout, on top of Big Bend. Cirrus Mountain is on the left. You’re at the halfway point now, and close to the point where Banff NP and Jasper NP meet.

They don’t call it Big Bend for nothin’. Yes, you really did just drive up from that tiny road down there. And drivers, if you see cyclists clambering up Big Bend, for Pete’s sake, encourage them and honk. A lot. It’s kind of a rule. Be cool.


11. Parker Ridge (118 kms from Lake Louise - 115 kms from Jasper)

Parking lot - One-hour hike (one way)

Parker Ridge hike, Saskatchewan Glacier Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
Parker Ridge is sooooo worth the minimal effort, it almost hurts (but your legs won’t). If you stop for only one hike along the parkway, make Parker Ridge your choice.

This is just about as far North as you can get on the Parkway and still stand within Banff National Park. The Parker Ridge hike is as stellar a best-bang-for-your-buck as a hike can possibly get. Just a short, one-hour uphill walk on switchbacks (2.7 kms) gets you this incredible sight of the Saskatchewan Glacier. This is where I take visiting family and friends for that WOW factor. You’ll wanna sit and stare for a while.

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12. Wilcox Pass (128 kms from Lake Louise - 106 kms from Jasper)

Parking lot - Moderate ridge walk from Wilcox Creek Campground (you can turn around at any time.)

Wilcox Pass hike Athabasca Glacier Columbia icefield Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
Athabasca Glacier (left) and Dome Glacier (right). Stand above them all at Wilcox Pass.

Just over the border inside Jasper National Park, Wilcox Pass is easily one of the best day hikes in Jasper NP. The reward-to-effort ratio is pretty high on this one, although not as high as Parker Ridge. Keep going as far as you would like along the ridge, but it won't be long before you get amazing views of the Columbia Icefield. When you’ve had your fill of the majestic landscapes across the road, just turn around and march straight back to the car.



13. Columbia Icefield (130 kms from Lake Louise - 103 kms from Jasper)

Roadside views - Columbia Icefield Discovery Center

Columbia Icefield Discovery Center Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
The Columbia Icefield is the largest of its kind in Canada, occupying the biggest glacial area in the Northern Hemisphere outside the Arctic Circle. The massive 10,000 year-old sheet of ice can be seen from the International Space Station and contains 30 distinct glaciers.

The Columbia Icefield Discovery Center is open from May to October (check website for dates) and offers all kinds of cool activities, including a snowcoach ride onto Athabasca Glacier (Ice Explorer Tour) and a Skywalk Adventure on a glass-bottomed, raised platform (918 feet high). Walk on a glacier and float above the valley floor - fun for your kids and your inner child!



14. Tangle Creek Falls (137 kms from Lake Louise - 96.5 kms from Jasper)

Roadside view - Parking lot across road from falls

Tangle Creek Falls Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
Blink-and-you’ll-miss-them Tangle Creek Falls.






Tangle Creek Falls is a multi-tiered cascade that’s worth a quick stop, especially if you have a camera and tripod. Be careful while slowing down and turning into the parking lot, as there’s a hidden corner right around the bend.













15. Sunwapta Falls (179 kms from Lake Louise - 55.8 kms from Jasper)

Parking lot - 1min walk to falls

Sunwapta Falls Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
Sunwapta Upper Falls is a beautiful Class 6 waterfall, just a minute’s walk from the parking lot. It just doesn’t get easier than that!






Beautiful Sunwapta Falls are fed by the Athabasca Glacier, which is part of the Columbia Icefield. There’s a 2km trail leading to smaller-but-still-beautiful Lower Falls (not pictured). I don’t know what it is about falling water, but I find waterfalls mesmerizing and stunning and so very photogenic!











16. Athabasca Falls (202 kms from Lake Louise - 32.4 kms from Jasper)

Parking lot - 1min walk to falls

Athabasca Falls Icefields Parkway Lake Louise Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
They’re not high, but they’re so pretty!





Just like Sunwapta Falls, Athabasca Falls is an easily-accessible viewing area, so you certainly won’t be the only ones admiring the crashing water. Don’t let the crowds stop you.











17. Edith Cavell Mountain 244 kms from Lake Louise - 27.7 kms from Jasper

Hwy 93-A begins near Athabasca Falls parking lot

Mount Edith Cavell hike, Angel Glacier Icefields Parkway Highway 93-A Jasper Alberta Canada roadtrip
Not my photo (commons.wikimedia.org)

Cavell Meadows Trail is renowned as a beautiful hike, famed for its close-up view of Angel Glacier (pictured above). This one is high on my bucket list. Unfortunately, Hwy 93-A was closed due to hazardous weather when I came through. (I mention it here in case it’s open when you swing by.)


Apparently, Hwy 93-A is worth the drive for the views alone. It runs parallel with the Icefields Parkway, so it’s not a detour on your way to or from Jasper. There's nothing to miss on the Icefields Parkway in that particular stretch, so I would recommend taking 93-A if it’s open; you have nothing to lose.

Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.

-- The Dalai Lama

There’s nothing quite like a long drive on an open road, with good music and good company (even if YOU are your only company) to clear the mind. So what do you need to recharge; how do you like to remember a trip? Bring your journal, your guitar-ukulele, your favourite book, your best camera, or nothing at all. Pack a tent and a sleeping bag, and you can be much more spontaneous. Press your reset button under the stars, against a tree or over a waterfall.


So there you have it, folks! The Icefields Parkway, bursting with beauty. If it somehow disappoints you, please check your pulse.


I want to see more beautiful sights of the Canadian Rockies !

Logistics!

The Parkway connects Lake Louise and Jasper; we’re talking 230 kms of two-laned, entirely paved highway, and it’s in excellent condition with wide shoulders and occasional passing lanes. Even large RVs navigate it easily. Give yourself at least 5 or 6 hours one-way (that’s two full days for the entire Parkway), plus some time to enjoy Jasper and-or Lake Louise. Relax, savour the different landscapes and take in Canada’s most majestic scenery.


Note that winter tires are very seriously recommended from early fall to early summer (yes, you read that correctly: from October to June). They are required by law between November 1st - March 31st. The Parkway sometimes closes due to bad weather or avalanches; always check road conditions before heading out. And don’t forget your Parks Canada pass and emergency kit.


Road Conditions:

Dial 5-1-1 (within Alberta only) or 1-855-391-9743 toll-free

AMA Road Reports

Alberta511 - Road Conditions

Banff National Park website Jasper National Park website


BANFF - LAKE LOUISE TOWNSITES JASPER TOWNSITE TOURISM SITE


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