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The views are close to instantaneous on the Parker Ridge hike
The views are close to instantaneous on the Parker Ridge hike

Parker Ridge Hike, Banff National Park

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If you drive the Icefields Parkway you pass the turnoff for the Parker Ridge hike. It’s an easy to moderate, truly gorgeous two to three hour family-friendly hike I highly recommend. People who want more can climb the ridge crest. And when you’re finished you’re just 10 minutes away from the Columbia Icefield. 

The trailhead is almost exactly halfway between Lake Louise and Jasper so both are good options for the night. You can also camp along the Icefields Parkway – with most campsites on a first come-first served basis. Saskatchewan River Crossing is close by, as is the hotel across from the Columbia Icefield. 

Parker Ridge hike for the views

Do the Parker Ridge hike for the gorgeous Rocky Mountain scenery you get over its entire length but especially for the big in your face views of the Saskatchewan Glacier. Although you’ll only see a fraction of the glaciers 13 km length, I’m betting you’ll be blown away. And this is one hike where the views open up within five minutes of hitting the trail.

The hike starts right at the parking lot
The Parker Ridge hike starts right at the parking lot

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Parker Ridge hike details

As you switchback up the moderate to steep slope through patches of stunted trees you’ll pass swaths of pink heather. If you’re here in mid-summer you may get a real wildflower display with fleabane and Indian paintbrush the predominant flowers.

Reach the saddle at the 2 km mark after climbing 272 m. It will take you between 30 minutes and an hour to reach this point. Think of it as a test of your conditioning program. Continue. The hiking above tree line just gets more glorious.

You’re going to want a camera to capture the expansive mountain and glacier views once you reach the saddle. The Saskatchewan Glacier is the prominent landmark and can be seen below from many vantage points. The water from the glacier feeds the North Saskatchewan River.

Stellar views of the Saskatchewan Glacier
Stellar views of the Saskatchewan Glacier

There are a couple of options once you reach the saddle. Do nothing but sit and admire the views. Or continue on a trail that parallels the North Saskatchewan River until it peters out in about 20 minutes time. On the return to the saddle the glacier remains front and centre in your line of vision.

Ccontinue past the main viewpoint of the Saskatchewan Glacier and get into a wilder world
You can continue past the main viewpoint of the Saskatchewan Glacier and get into a wilder world
Yellow crowned sparrow seen on the hike
Look for yellow-crowned sparrows in July

An optional climb to the ridgecrest

There is also the option to climb the ridgecrest. That will add a couple of hours of hiking time to your day. You can find a boot beaten path to the crest – if you look carefully.

Providing you’re not in fog, there’s little chance of getting lost. Along the way there is a wind shelter – testament to what happens without the protection of trees up here.

If you elect to climb the ridgecrest (I only went partway because of poor weather) you will ascend a total of 1,800 feet – not bad for the reward of so many mountain peaks.

With a little sun this landscape would be truly incredible
With a little sun the landscape on the Parker Ridge Trail would be truly incredible

 

Be prepared for snowfields in early July
Be prepared for snowfields in early July on the hike

Parker Ridge hike location

Drive north from Saskatchewan River Crossing along the Icefields Parkway for 41 km. Alternatively drive south from the Banff – Jasper National Park’s boundary for 4.2 km. The trailhead is on the south side of the highway beside a large parking lot. It’s hard to miss. There are washrooms here as well.

                                                 

A few things to take on this hike

Always take the 10 hiking essentials, even on a short easy hike like this one. Include a few high energy bars or a lunch, sunscreen, a rain jacket and even a warm hat and a pair of gloves. It can be chilly on the hike even in July.

I’d also recommend a can of bear spray in an easy to access holster.

Take the Gem Trek Columbia Icefield map with you.

Further reading on Alberta hikes

Visit the Banff National Park website for up to date information.

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The Parker Ridge hike in Banff National Park - one of the top, easy hikes along the Icefields Parkway

 

 

 

 

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