They say the Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic and awe-inspiring drives you can take in the world. As we set off from Banff to Jasper, this statement rang true.
The Icefields Parkway is a 144-mile (231km) stretch of highway (Highway 93N) that begins just beyond Lake Louise in Banff National Park and ends in Jasper National Park.
It is possible to road trip the Icefields Parkway in one day, but plan for a jam-packed itinerary as there are many stops along the way that are worth getting out of the car for.
We had the opportunity to road trip the Icefields Parkway twice — once with Radventures on a full-day excursion from Banff [hosted], and once on our own as we drove to camp and explore in Jasper for a few days. The first option is wonderful if you are short on time and don’t have your own vehicle.
If you have just one chance at seeing what the Icefields Parkway is all about, then you may skip out on the hiking trails and activities to do around the lakes.
Some of the best spots on the Icefields Parkway mentioned in this guide will be more recognizable than others (e.g. Peyto Lake); however, I’ll include lesser-known gems to discover as well!
Icefields Parkway Itinerary: Banff to Jasper
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What to Know Before You Drive the Icefields Parkway:
⛽️ There is only one gas station located about mid-way (135km from Banff)
📱 No cell service; download offline maps
🐻 Carry bear spray, give wildlife their distance
🌲 Leave No Trace, stay on marked trails, pick up your trash
⛈ Check the weather plus road and trail conditions before heading out
🎫 You need a valid Parks Canada national park pass
I have listed the must-see stops in this Icefields Parkway itinerary in order on a road trip from Banff to Jasper based on our own experiences.
This drive is one of the best things to do in Banff in the summer, so if you’re going in the winter or during the shoulder seasons, you’ll need to do extra research when planning your trip in case of snowfall or road conditions, etc.
If you are not staying/moving on to Jasper National Park for a few days, then you’ll need to do a roundtrip drive to and from Banff in one day, which is doable but plan for a full day.
Popular Icefields Parkway Tours
Icefields Parkway Map
Herbert Lake, Hector Lake, & Helen Lake
The first few lakes you’ll pass on your way to Jasper might make you feel like you’re living in Groundhog Day, as they are all similarly named.
Herbert Lake offers up a nice, 1-mile lakeshore loop trail that’ll take about 30 minutes to complete. Don’t expend all your energy right out the gate, though! There are many more easy hiking trails to discover along the Icefields Parkway.
Hector Lake has a convenient roadside viewpoint, but if you have time and wish to do some hiking, the 3-mile hike with a Bow River crossing will lead to an unspoiled, glacial lake.
For hikers only: If you are an avid hiker then you’ll be intrigued by the challenge of hiking to Helen Lake via the Dolomites Pass. You should only commit to this hike if you are an experienced hiker and have planned a full day.
Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint
Crowfoot Glacier is one of the first roadside viewpoints along the Icefields Parkway to stop at. The viewpoint will be on the lefthand side of the road, so be careful as you cross lanes. Most likely, you’ll see other people taking photos — that’s when you know there’s something to look at!
🐻 If you see wildlife on the side of the road, please keep moving and don’t create a “bear jam.”
Bow Lake & The Lodge
Right beyond the Crowfoot Glacier viewpoint lies Bow Lake. So you won’t be going very far before you need to pull over again. But before you reach the parking lot for Bow Lake, near The Lodge, there is a viewpoint on the lefthand side of the road.
Bow Lake is simply stunning, with the Bow Glacier and a range of mountain peaks reflecting on the water. From here, you can see Mount Jimmy Simpson, Mount Thompson, Vulture Peak, BowCrow Peak, Bow Peak, and Mount Gordon.
The iconic red-roofed Lodge at Bow Lake built in 1922 by Jimmy Simpson (formerly called the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge), is well worth the visit. The café and gallery are currently open, but the hotel will rewelcome guests in 2023.
Why the name change?
“Formerly known as Simpson’s Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, The Lodge at Bow Lake honours the deep history of the property and individuals who built it while seeking to reconcile transgressions of the past. In working with Indigenous consultants and an Elder from the Stoney Nakoda Nation, it was determined that “Num Ti Jah” was not officially gifted to Jimmy Simpson. Therefore, at the Elder’s recommendation, the new stewards of The Lodge decided to remove it from the name.”The lodge at Bow Lake
If you fall in love with Bow Lake, you can depart on many hikes from the lakeshore. The most popular hike from Bow Lake is to Bow Glacier Falls (5.5 miles roundtrip).
The next lake attraction to admire along the Icefields Parkway heading north to Jasper will be the famous fox-shaped Peyto Lake.
Peyto Lake is likely a lake you’ve seen before — on Instagram. This fox-shaped glacial lake is a stunning teal blue that will leave you in awe.
To reach Peyto Lake from the Icefields Parkway is super easy; just follow signs to Bow Summit (the highest point in elevation on the Icefields Parkway) to the Peyto Lake parking lot.
The upper parking lot tends to be less crowded and is a gentle 5-minute walk through the trees to the boardwalk and viewpoint.
Do you know why the glacier-fed lakes in Canada are so turquoise blue?
Rock flour! When glaciers melt and retreat, they grind the rock beneath them and produce a fine substance called glacial silt, or rock flour. This sediment sits on the water and refracts pigments of light, but absorb blues and greens. Neat, huh?
From Peyto Lake continuing on, you’ll pass by the Waterfowl Lakes viewpoint (21km from Bow Lake). There is also the first-come, first-serve Waterfowl Lakes Campground here (open June to September).
Mistaya Canyon is a little hidden gem on the Icefields Parkway that’s worth stopping for.
Here, the powerful Bow River has carved out a swirling, snaking canyon. There are a few hiking trails you can do around, otherwise, the hike down from the roadside parking lot is easy and takes about 10 minutes one way.
There is a panoramic and photogenic viewpoint from the bridge, but you can walk beyond it to the rocks by the riverside — just be extra careful as you take photos as there is no railing preventing you from falling or slipping in!
If you are going to visit Jasper afterward, you can see a similar carved-out canyon, maybe even more impressive, at Maligne Canyon.
Saskatchewan River Crossing
After driving the Icefields Parkway for 80km from Lake Louise, you’ll reach the Saskatchewan River Crossing where there is the one and only fuel station. From here, there is still 153km until you get to Jasper.
Note: If you are on the Radventures tour, you will pause here for a picnic lunch before continuing on to the Columbia Icefields.
Don’t forget to stop at the historic Howse Pass viewpoint. The Howse Pass is the “Great Divide of the Canadian Rockies” used for thousands of years by Indigenous Peoples to camp and hunt until European fur traders arrived.
From this vantage point, you can see the North Saskatchewan River which was proclaimed a Canadian National Heritage.
Beyond this point, there is a bit of driving until your next stop so you might take advantage of a night over at the beautiful Rampart Creek Hostel or campground.
Upcoming stops between here and Jasper are:
- Weeping Wall
- The “Big Bend” and Nigels Pass
- Bridal Veil Falls
- Sunwapta Pass (marking the boundary between Banff and Jasper National Park)
- Wilcox Pass
After those mini stops/viewpoints, you’ll reach the famous Columbia Icefields Center where you can ride a giant Ice Explorer vehicle onto the Athabasca Glacier.
Weeping Wall, Big Bend, Bridal Veil Falls
The Weeping Wall viewpoint features a sheer cliffside with numerous waterfalls tumbling over the edge from glacial run-off. The parking lot is on the left side of the road heading toward Jasper.
Next, you won’t miss the Big Bend, which is quite literally a huge bend in the road. As you climb up the road, another pullout will be on the righthand side. Here, you can stop for a minute to look back at where you just came from — the immensity of the mountains around you is incredible!
While you’re here at this viewpoint, glance to your left. You’ll see another cascading waterfall tumbling out of the forest. This is Bridal Veil Falls.
Columbia Icefield Center & Athabasca Glacier
The Jasper National Park Icefield Information Centre and Glacier Gallery are what most tourists come to see on the Icefields Parkway.
Inside the center, on the bottom floor, there is an amazing interactive museum/exhibition that will tell you everything you want to know about the geology and history of the area, including some terrifying facts about climate change that everyone should read.
On the top floor, as soon as you walk in, you’ll be greeted by huge crowds in line to get a coffee at the “highest elevation Starbucks in Canada.”
Across from the center is the striking Athabasca Glacier. If you squint, you’ll see the tank-like Ice Explorer vehicles slowly shuffling hoards of tourists onto the glacier for a closer, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
If you go on the tour, reserve ahead because tourists coming from both Banff and Jasper make these tours sell out fast!
Between the Columbia Icefields and the next popular stop, Sunwapta Falls, are several other creeks, trails, and campgrounds. At this point, you only have one hour left of driving to reach Jasper.
If you’d like to stay one night to explore the trails and take your time around the Columbia Icefields, then you can stay overnight at the beautiful Glacier View Lodge.
Sunwapta Falls lies 40 minutes (55 km) south of the Jasper townsite and is a popular stop along the Icefields Parkway as it features a little islet in the river with a gushing, plunging waterfall in front.
Since this is a very popular attraction, you’ll likely be visiting beside lots of other people. If you want to “get the shot” or are a photographer, you may need to plan a return trip in the early morning (if you’re staying overnight in Jasper, for example).
From here to Athabasca Falls lies Honeymoon Lake, Mount Christie, Goats and Glaciers, Kerkeslin Campground, and the Athabasca Falls Hostel.
Athabasca Falls is another picturesque viewpoint and falls that everyone stops to see. The walk from the parking lot is an easy 5-minute jaunt, but plan to stay for at least an hour as there are many viewpoints along the trail.
Similar to Sunwapta, there’s a stunning photograph to capture if you’re willing to make the effort to set up your tripod or have your buddy snap a photo of you! (Go early in the morning to beat the crowds, if possible.)
At this point, you are only 30 minutes (33km) away from Jasper.
Valley of the Five Lakes
One of the last stops on the Icefields Parkway is the Valley of the Five Lakes!
Did you think only Banff National Park had incredible lakes? Think again! Jasper is teeming with lakes.
One of the first groups of lakes you’ll pass on your way up is the Valley of the Five Lakes. These lakes have a mesmerizing emerald-green, turquoise-blue hue, and are the perfect day hike (4.9km circuit).
Beyond this point, you’re pretty much in the townsite of Jasper, marking the end of the Icefields Parkway.
I hope you found this Icefields Parkway Road Trip Guide helpful! If you have any questions, drop them in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!
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