19 BEST Stops on the Icefields Parkway

View south down the Icefields Parkway
View south down the Icefields Parkway

The Columbia Icefields Parkway stretches for 232 km (144 miles) between Lake Louise and Jasper, Alberta. It’s one of the prettiest drives in Canada – and indeed the world. While you can knock it off comfortably in three to four hours, that doesn’t allow for any stops. At a minimum, take the day to drive the Icefields Parkway – but if you’ve got a week, then you’ll have time to get out and explore some of the gorgeous mountains on foot.

Along the Icefields Parkway you’ll see stunning, turquoise-coloured lakes, glacier-rimmed mountains, the Bow River, far-reaching mountain vistas, wildlife and waterfalls. There are many scenic pullouts – but be careful in summer crossing busy lanes of traffic. If you love a good bike ride with some epic hills, consider experiencing the Icefields Parkway from the seat of your bike. Start in Banff, Lake Louise, or Jasper.

Bow Lake is always worthy of a stop
Bow Lake is always worthy of a stop

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Icefields Parkway summary

Distance: The Icefields Parkway is 232 km or 144 miles long.

Permit: You need a Parks Canada Pass to drive the parkway. Your best bet is the Discovery Pass, good for a year at over 80 parks and national historic sites.

Time needed: You can drive the Icefields Parkway in as little as three hours, but if you want to make any stops allow a day.

Direction: There is no one direction that is better than another to drive.

Winter: You can drive the Icefields Parkway in winter (see blog info at the bottom of the post) but it can be a harrowing drive especially if it’s snowing.

Cell service: Don’t count on any cell service along the length of the parkway.

Accommodation: There are some accommodation options as noted at the bottom of the post. You’ll find lots of choice in Lake Louise and Jasper but along the parkway there are only four hotel/motel options and a handful of hostels.

Camping: There are lots of campgrounds along the Icefields Parkway – and some are first come, first served.

Where to eat: There are a few restaurants along the Icefields Parkway though I highly recommend stocking up in Jasper or Lake Louise as prices – as you’ll see are on the high side. There is a food court at the Discovery Centre at Jasper National Park Icefield Information Centre and a café and convenience store at Saskatchewan River Crossing. You can also buy meals and snacks at Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge.

Gas: There is only one place to buy gas on the Icefields Parkway – at Saskatchewan River Crossing. You can also fill up in Lake Louise or Jasper.

Best time to drive: The best time of year to drive the parkway is after the snow goes in spring and before it arrives in fall. Summer can be lovely but frustrating as it gets busy and you can get stuck behind slow moving RV’s for long periods. 

Best time of day to drive: Early in the morning and after dinner when there are fewer vehicles on the road.

Tours: There are tours you can do, but renting a car offers more flexibility.

Location map of the 19 best stops on the Icefields Parkway

                                             

  • Click on the three dots to the left of the square in the top right hand corner to email a copy of the map.

Herbert Lake stop on the Icefields Parkway

Time needed: 10 minutes 

Activity: Short hike or swim

Herbert Lake, just 7 km north of Lake Louise, is a beautiful lake where on a peaceful morning or evening you can capture mirror-like reflections of Mount Temple. It’s also a place for a quick swim, should you be exploring on a hot summer’s day.

Herbert Lake
Beautiful Herbert Lake is the first stop on the parkway heading north

Hector Lake, 23 km north of Lake Louise on the Icefields Parkway

Time needed: 10 minutes for the viewpoint or 1.5 – 2 hours for an out and back hike

Activity: Viewpoint or hike 

Hector Lake is the second largest lake, after Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park but the largest natural lake in the park. The lake is named after James Hector who accompanied the Palliser Expedition as a surgeon and geologist.

There is a 5 km roundtrip hike to Hector Lake – and a campsite on the far side of the Bow River. Only cross the river when it’s safe to do so. You can reserve the campsite online.

Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway

Time needed: 15 minutes for the views/picnic 

Attraction: Roadside views and an option to hike two different trails

Gorgeous Bow Lake is best viewed from the lookout on the northwest shore of the lake or from the Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint. And there is also an area with picnic tables, accessed just slightly south from the highway pullout. 

If you drive down the road at the north end of the lake you’ll reach The Lodge at Bow Lake (formerly Num-Ti-Jah Lodge)- a place you can’t miss with its bright red roof. You can spend the night here, enjoy dinner or pick up a snack at the Bow Lake Café.

There is also some excellent hiking that starts by the lodge. Head out on the Bow Glacier Trail. At the large limestone boulder spanning the gorge you have the option to hike to Bow Hut (14.8 km round trip hike) or Bow Glacier Falls – a 9 km round-trip hike.

If you head for the hut, there are some creeks to cross. I’d highly recommend water shoes and a pair of hiking poles.

Explore a spectacular landscape along the parkway
Explore a spectacular landscape along the Icefields Parkway – and be sure to stop at Bow Lake
Bow Glacier Falls
Bow Glacier Falls
Bow Glacier Hut seen below St. Nicholas Peak
Bow Glacier Hut seen below St. Nicholas Peak

Peyto Lake 

Time needed: 30 minutes

Activity: Short walk to a viewpoint

The melt from Peyto Glacier feeds stunning turquoise coloured Peyto Lake, located at the Bow Summit, the highest point on the parkway at 2088 m above sea level. 

There has been a paved trail to a viewing deck overlooking the lake and Mistaya River Valley. The area was rehabilitated and finished in 2021 with the addition of more parking, new washrooms, rerouting of trails and expansion of the viewing platform. 

Stunning Peyto Lake - one of the top stops on the Icefields Parkway
Stunning Peyto Lake – one of the top stops on the Icefields Parkway

Waterfowl Lakes – for camping and hiking

Time needed: 10 minutes for viewing but 3 – 4 hours if you do a hike

Activity: Roadside viewing or one of two hikes

The Waterfowl Lakes, located 60 km north of Lake Louise, can be seen from the Icefields Parkway. They are a great spot for camping and photography – at least when the water is calm. Their beautiful colour is a function of the glacial silt from the Peyto Glacier.

At the southwest end of the campground, you’ll find the trailhead for the Cirque Lake and Cephren Lake hikes. It’s 7.7 km return to Cephren Lake, 8.8 km return for Cirque Lake or 13.2 km return for both. Allow four hours to hike to both lakes. Reportedly these are muddy hikes – and Cirque Lake is the prettier of the two.

Waterfowl Lakes
Waterfowl Lakes

Mistaya Canyon – a scenic stop on the Icefields Parkway

Time needed: 30 – 45 minutes

Activity: Short hike

It’s a 1.0 km return hike on an abandoned road to visit Mistaya Canyon. There is an elevation loss and gain of 35 m and footing is pebbly and difficult in places. Allow about 30 – 45 minutes, especially if you are a photographer.

Once at the bridge, admire the deep narrow gorge and marvel at how the power of the Mistaya River has eroded the limestone, making it very smooth over time. You can continue over the bridge to access the 10.4 km return hike to Sarbach Lookout. Also, many visitors go down to the rocks as the area around the canyon isn’t fenced. This isn’t recommended as it is potentially hazardous. 

Fun fact: Just 2.5 miles down from the Mistaya Canyon, the Mistaya River joins the North Saskatchewan River.

Looking down to the swirling waters in Mistaya Canyon
Looking down to the swirling waters in Mistaya Canyon
Quite the view of Mistaya Canyon
Quite the view of Mistaya Canyon

Saskatchewan River Crossing

Time needed: Visible from the car

Saskatchewan River Crossing is located at the junction of Highway 93 and 11. It sits at the confluence of three rivers – the North Saskatchewan with the Howse and Mistaya Rivers.

This is the only place to fill up with gas before you head north to Jasper, 154 km distant. There is also a restaurant, gift shop and a hotel called The Crossing Resort.

The pretty area just before Saskatchewan River Crossing heading north
The pretty area just before Saskatchewan River Crossing heading north

Howse River Overlook – and a red chair opportunity

Time needed: 40 – 75 minutes depending on how long you hike

Activity: Easy hike

Drive the Icefields Parkway 1 km north from where the David Thompson Highway intersects the Saskatchewan River Crossing and look for the signed Glacier Lake trailhead on the west side of the parkway.

Hike the easy trail towards Glacier Lake, reaching the bridge across the North Saskatchewan River at the 1.1 km point. It’s a sight to be seen in itself, especially when it’s flooding. Reach the Howse River Overlook at 2.2 km and enjoy the view from the red chairs. The area has historical significance as David Thompson, a surveyor, explorer, and fur trader camped here back in 1807.

Cross the North Saskatchewan River at 1.1 km
Cross the North Saskatchewan River on the way to the Howse River Overlook
The Howse River Overlook
The Howse River Overlook
Enjoying a red chair moment on the hike out at the Howse River Overlook
Enjoying a red chair moment on the hike out at the Howse River Overlook

Sunset Lookout

Time needed: 3 – 3.5 hours

Activity: Hiking – moderate to hard depending on how much you hike

Most people driving the parkway don’t stop to do the 9.0 km return hike to Sunset Lookout. But if you’re a good hiker and don’t mind a steep trail (it climbs 553 m or 1,814 feet), then you will be rewarded with magnificent views of northern Banff National Park, the Icefields Parkway snaking below, and the sight of beautiful, braided channels of the North Saskatchewan and Alexandra Rivers. 

Looking south down the North Saskatchewan River
Looking south down the North Saskatchewan River from Sunset Lookout
Looking north from the Sunset Lookout
Looking north from the Sunset Lookout

Weeping Wall

Time needed: 5 minutes

Activity: Roadside attraction

Drive 26.8 km north of Saskatchewan River Crossing or 22.5 km south of the Columbia Icefields Centre to see the Weeping Wall. It’s even more beautiful in winter when its frozen – and is considered to be one of the top ice climbs in the world.

There is a pullout to see the water dropping more than 100 m from Cirrus Mountain. Catch the sun at just the right angle at the end of the day and you’ll see a rainbow.

The Weeping Wall taken from a moving car
The Weeping Wall taken from a moving car

Panther and Bridal Veil Falls

Time needed: 25 minutes

Activity: Short hike

Bridal Veil Falls are located at the big bend, 36 km north of Saskatchewan River Crossing and 2.2 km south of the turnoff to Parker Ridge. The water originates on the Huntington Glacier and eventually ends up in the North Saskatchewan River.

Panther Falls can be visited in conjunction with Bridal Veil Falls, but you’ll have to hike there on a sometimes slippery trail so exercise caution. They are more stunning than the Bridal Veil Falls.

Bridal Veil falls
Bridal Veil falls
Panther Falls with a 66 metre drop
Panther Falls with a 66 metre drop

Parker Ridge Hike

Time needed: 90 minutes to two hours

Activity: Easy hike

The Parker Ridge hike is one the must do ones along the Icefields Parkway. Views open on the hike within five minutes of starting out. The hike is just 4.8 km return so you can knock it off in 90 minutes and still have time to gape at the Saskatchewan Glacier. This is a family-friendly hike. 

There is a large, signed parking lot for the Parker Ridge hike, 41 km north of Saskatchewan River Crossing and 8.6 km south of the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre.

The views are close to instantaneous on the Parker Ridge hike
The views are close to instantaneous on the Parker Ridge hike
Looking out at the Saskatchewan Glacier - the source of the North Saskatchewan River
Looking out at the Saskatchewan Glacier – the source of the North Saskatchewan River from the Parker Ridge Trail

Wilcox Pass Red Chair Moment

Time needed: An hour, more if you keep going

Activity: Hike with a view

Start the hike to Wilcox Pass just 2.8 km south of the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre. You don’t have to hike all the way to the pass, merely up the steepest section of trail to get the standout view of the Columbia Icefield from the red chairs. Although it’s steep, most kids six and over should be able to handle the hike.

Enjoy a red chair moment and a view to the Columbia Icefields part way up Wilcox Pass
Enjoy a red chair moment and a view to the Columbia Icefield part way up Wilcox Pass

Columbia Icefield – the most famous stop on the Icefields Parkway

Time needed: 10 minutes to several hours depending if you hike or do a tour

Experience: Photography, hike or Columbia Icefield guided experience

It seems that almost everyone stops at the Columbia Icefield on a pretty, sunny day so the crowds can be intense. If you can ever visit in the off-season, you might just have the area to yourself. 

The Icefields are home to 30 glaciers ringed by 11 mountains, including the highest one in Alberta, Mount Columbia. Meltwater from the Icefields feeds the Columbia, Athabasca and Saskatchewan Rivers. 

There are tours here but you can do a self-guided walk. You can also camp in the area or stay at The Glacier View Lodge.

Trail description and map at the parking lot
Trail description and map at the parking lot
The Columbia Icefields from Wilcox Pass
Civilization seems so close but step back 20 feet and you feel like the mountains are all yours
The Columbia Icefields on the Wilcox Pass hike
The Columbia Icefields on the Wilcox Pass hike

The Glacier Skywalk

Time needed: 2.5 – 3 hours round trip

Activity: A skywalk 

Walk the glass-floored Glacier Skywalk on a cliff-edge walkway that takes you to a platform overlooking a 918 foot drop. There are glass panels to keep you safe, but you might still get an adrenaline rush or a case of the willies once you’re there. Needless to say, the views down the valley are incredible. (Regular prices are $28 – $37 per adult and $18.20 – $24.05 per child in 2023.) 

Get to the Skywalk via a shuttle run by Pursuit. It’s all part of the cost of admission. The actual Skywalk is a short drive north of the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre.

The Columbia Icefield Skywalk in Jasper National Park
The Columbia Icefield Skywalk in Jasper National Park – Photo credit: Columbia Icefield Adventure by Pursuit
Quite the backdrop for the Glacier Skywalk – Photo credit: Columbia Icefield Adventure by Pursuit
Quite the backdrop for the Glacier Skywalk – Photo credit: Columbia Icefield Adventure by Pursuit

Tangle Creek Falls

Time needed: 10 – 30 minutes

Activity: Short hike beside the highway

Thirty five metre high Tangle Creek Falls is located 7 km north of the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre on the east side of the highway. Parking is on the opposite side of the road. The falls are literally right beside the highway. Allow 10 – 20 minutes to visit one of the most photographed waterfalls in Jasper National Park.

Tangle Creek Falls - an easy stop on the Icefields Parkway
Tangle Creek Falls – an easy stop on the Icefields Parkway
John at the upper part of Tangle Creek Falls
John at the upper part of Tangle Creek Falls

Sunwapta Falls – a stunning hike on the Icefields Parkway

Time needed: 25 minutes – 90 minutes

Activity: Short hike with option of making it longer

You’ll find Sunwapta Falls 179 km north of Lake Louise and 56 km southeast of Jasper.

The Athabasca Glacier feeds Sunwapta Falls – made up of an upper and lower sets of waterfalls. The upper falls are extremely easy to access from the parking lot – and as such tend to be very busy. Their drop-off is 18 m – which is especially impressive when you’re standing on the bridge looking over the narrow cleft the water is forced through.

Continue on an easy trail through lodgepole pine forest for 2 km to reach Lower Sunwapta Falls. Almost no one bothers to hike this section, so you may even have the falls to yourself.

The peak season to visit the falls is in late spring and early summer during runoff from snow melt.

The beginning of Sunwapta Falls
The beginning of Sunwapta Falls
Witness the power of Sunwapta Falls
Witness the power of Sunwapta Falls
Sunwapta Falls hike on the Icefields Parkway
There are so many locations on the Sunwapta Falls hike where you can witness the power of the river

Kerkeslin Goat Lick

Time needed: 10 minutes

Activity: Roadside attraction looking for goats. 

If you want to see mountain goats, be sure to check out the goat lick on the Icefields Parkway. It’s located about 15 minutes north of the Sunwapta Falls stop, near a sign with an image of a goat that warns you to slow down. Mountain goats congregate here to lick the mineral rich silt deposit. In fact, they apparently lick so much of it that their droppings are white instead of black.

The goat lick without any goats
The goat lick without any goats
Beautiful view from the goat lick especially first thing in the morning
Beautiful view from the goat lick especially first thing in the morning

Time needed: 30 minutes

Activity: Short hike and photography

Athabasca Falls is an incredible sight in any season despite the fact the drop is only 23 m. But what the falls lack in vertical drop, they make up for in power. Looking down into a frothing, swirling mass of water is a breathtaking sight.

The falls are perennially busy so if you’re trying to avoid the crowds, visit first thing in the morning or late in the day. There are lots of trails and viewing platforms around the falls. Allow a solid hour to get the most out of the area. 

Athabasca Falls has so many looks depending what part of the trail
Athabasca Falls has so many looks depending what part of the trail you view it from
Parts of frozen Athabasca Falls in late winter
Parts of frozen Athabasca Falls in late winter

Where to stay on the Icefields Parkway

If you’re looking for a roof over your head the following are some of the options.

Lake Louise

The Post Hotel and Spa is lovely but it’s in the village and not on the lake. The food is superb.

The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise enjoys the best views of the lake though it comes with a price. 

Baker Creek by Basecamp offers cozy log cabins. There is also an affordable hostel option in Lake Louise.

Our queen size bed upstairs in the loft
Our queen size bed upstairs in the loft at Baker Creek Mountain Resort – also a 2 piece bathroom, a closet and a Jacuzzi tub on this floor

Saskatchewan River Crossing accommodation

Before you reach Saskatchewan River Crossing there is the option of the Mosquito Creek hostel. The Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel is just north of Saskatchewan River Crossing. Your final hostel option is Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel, 42 km north of Saskatchewan River Crossing. 

The Crossing Resorta motel is a good choice if you want to explore the David Thompson Highway.

Sunwapta Falls accommodation

Spend a night or two at the Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge about 100 kilometres north of Saskatchewan River Crossing if you want a good base for exploring the area.

The Athabasca Falls hostel, located 23 km north of Sunwapta Falls is a less expensive option.

Jasper accommodation

For a great location with a price to match choose the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. 

I like the look of The Crimson Jasper though I have never stayed here.

The Maligne Canyon Hostel is an affordable option.

If you want to be on a lake with lots of activities the Pyramid Lake Resort would be an excellent option. But for a main street location in Jasper I think Whistler’s Inn is a great choice.

Where to eat on the Icefields Parkway
Sunwapta Falls Resort is a good place to buy snacks or get a meal on the Icefields Parkway

Driving the Icefields Parkway in winter

The Icefields Parkway in winter is beautiful but it can be tough and dangerous to drive. Go prepared so you can survive the winter drive – knowing that cell service is virtually non-existent, and help can be a long time coming.

If you’re still keen to drive it, try to choose a sunny day without any snow in the forecast. Late spring is a great time to see the snowy covered mountains, without the crowds.

The Parkway in winter on a very good day for driving
The Parkway in winter on a very good day for driving
Lots of snow by at the Parker Ridge Trailhead in late March
Lots of snow by at the Parker Ridge Trailhead in late March

A side trip worth doing from the parkway

From the Icefields Parkway at Saskatchewan River Crossing you can pick up Highway 11, the David Thompson Highway. It’s absolutely beautiful, and there’s lots of camping (mostly first come, first served) and hiking opportunities. In the winter you can check out the fabulous Abraham Lake bubbles.

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

19 best stops on Alberta's Icefields Parkway

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