The drive between from Calgary all the way through to Jasper, Alberta is a treat. Once you’re about 20 minutes west of Calgary you get into big sky country and from there it just gets better and better. Highlights include the area around Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise, Bow Lake and the Columbia Icefields. I personally think the drive between Banff and Jasper is the most scenic drive in Canada – though there is some close competition – the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia for instance and the the Trans-Canada Highway between Revelstoke and Golden in British Columbia.
Its 289 gorgeous kilometres (175 miles) of mountainous country between Banff and Jasper. There is so much jaw dropping scenery packed in that distance that I’d suggest taking your time. Plan on a minimum of four hours between Banff and Jasper if it’s your first time driving the Icefields Parkway. There are lots of pull-offs along the way, usually at the most scenic points.
The drive doesn’t require any route finding. You won’t get lost. Just be sure to turn north, not west, onto the Icefields Parkway shortly after Lake Louise. In winter the road can be treacherous – and with almost no cell service – it’s one you don’t want to do in a storm.
There are places to eat in Banff, Castle Mountain (just off the highway), Lake Louise, Saskatchewan Crossing, the hotel at Columbia Icefields, Sunwapta Falls Resort and then of course in Jasper.
For great coffees and treats for the car, I recommend the Wild Flour Bakery Cafe in Banff, Laggan’s Mountain Bakery and Deli in the Samson Mall in Lake Louise and the Bear’s Paw Bakery in Jasper.
Bring some warm clothes for this drive. I’ve left Calgary when the temperature has been in the mid twenties Centigrade and three hours later it was just above freezing at the Columbia Icefields. If you plan to do the Columbia Icefields tour then include a hat and mittens too.
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