Cranbrook bills itself as the basecamp of the Kootenays as it offers easy access to…
If you drive the Icefields Parkway you pass the turnoff for the Parker Ridge trail. It’s an easy to moderate, truly gorgeous two to three hour family-friendly hike. People who want more can climb the ridge crest. And when you’re finished you’re just 10 minutes away from the Columbia Icefield.
Parker Ridge hike for the views
Hike the Parker Ridge trail for gorgeous Rocky Mountain scenery 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.
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The details of the hike
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.
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.
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.
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
- Tonquin Valley Hiking Guide – What You Need to Know
- 8 Stunning Hikes You’ll Want to do along the Icefields Parkway
- 10 Breathtaking Lake Louise Hikes, Banff National Park
Visit the Banff National Park website for up to date information.
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