If you drive the Icefields Parkway, you’ll pass the turnoff for the Parker Ridge hike. It’s an easy to moderate, truly gorgeous two to three hour family-friendly outing I highly recommend. The highlight of the Parker Ridge hike is first-class views of the Saskatchewan Glacier, a major outlet glacier of the Columbia Icefield that feeds the North Saskatchewan River. People who want more hiking can climb the ridge crest. And when you’re finished, you’re just 10 minutes away from the Columbia Icefield.
The trailhead for the Parker Ridge hike 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 available on a first come-first served basis. Saskatchewan River Crossing is close by, as is the hotel across from the Columbia Icefield.
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Parker Ridge hike summary
Distance: 4.o km (2.5 miles) return hike to the saddle
Elevation gain: 272 m (892 feet)
Additional mileage option: If you want to hike to the ridgecrest, it’s 11 km return with 593 m (1945 feet) of elevation gain.
Level of difficulty: Easy to moderate depending on what sort of shape you’re in.
Time needed: Allow 1.5 – 2 hours to hike to the saddle and back and 4 – 5 hours to do the return hike to the ridgecrest.
Best time to hike: June to October
The Parker Ridge hike is in Banff National Park, just a seven minute drive east of the parking to access the Columbia Icefield.
Driving the Icefields Parkway is a visual treat but there aren’t a lot of services – and what there is tends to be expensive. Fill up you gas tank in Lake Louise, Saskatchewan River Crossing or in Jasper.
You won’t get a cell signal along the Icefields Parkway, so download maps for offline use.
Pack snacks and a lunch at home or buy something in Jasper or Lake Louise. I have always been shocked at the prices at Saskatchewan River Crossing.
Even though the Parker Ridge hike is a popular one, don’t discount the fact that you could have a close encounter with wildlife. This is grizzly bear country so be sure to pack easy to access bear spray and know how to use it. If you’re doing a day trip from Lake Louise, you can rent bear spray for the day from Wilson Mountain Sports in the Samson Mall.
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 effort reward ratio for this hike is very high!
Parker Ridge hike description
As you switchback up the moderate to steep slope on the Parker Ridge hike 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 Saskatchewan Glacier remains front and centre in your line of vision.
How hard is the Parker Ridge hike?
I would personally classify the hike as an easy one as there is under 1,000 feet of elevation gain and switchbacks seem to make the ascent go fast. There is nothing technical about the hike and there are no dodgy areas with giant drop offs.
If you’re not a regular hiker, I’d rate it as moderate.
An optional climb to the ridgecrest
There is also the option to climb the ridgecrest on the Parker Ridge hike. 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 – a good payback to see 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 several campgrounds that are close to the Parker Ridge trailhead including Wilcox Creek and the Icefield Campground.
At the Columbia Icefield, there is also a hotel – the Glacier View Lodge. Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge is another possibility along the Icefields Parkway. But if you’ve got your sights on either Lake Louise or Jasper, here are some accommodation options.