Traversing the Icefields Parkway

It’s proper name, the Alberta Highway, doesn’t really do it justice, but call the route by its other name, the Icefields Parkway, and it really sounds like a “must do” drive.

The Icefields Parkway is one of the best known places in the Canadian Rockies for sightseeing. The drive takes you from Lake Louise to Jasper (or Jasper to Lake Louise) running an amazing gauntlet of enormous peaks, covered in ancient icefields. It’s one of the few places in North America where you can literally drive right up to an icefield and touch it. It’s also widely known as one of the best places to see wildlife in Banff.

It is a paved line which parallels the Continental Divide, the backbone of the Canadian Rockies, traversing the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, and its high altitude marks the point at which all water flows either east or west.  Melting snow and ice feed rivers that drain into the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Arctic Oceans.

This is the route to over one hundred visible glaciers, turquoise lakes, rushing waterfalls and numerous hiking trails, picnic spots and campgrounds.  Displays in the Icefield Centre’s Glacier Gallery tell the story of glaciers, high-country ecology and the fascinating history of the area.

Roadside exhibits at pull-offs and points of interest explain the wildlife, geology and history of the area. Facilities are open from early May to mid-October.    

One of the highlights on the Icefields Parkway is the Columbia Icefield.  The Icefield is about 325 square kilometres in area and is the largest region of ice and snow south of the Arctic Circle. There are 8 glaciers making up the Icefield but only three can be seen from the Icefields Parkway. The average elevation of the Icefield is about 3000 meters with Mt Columbia being the highest point (and the highest point in Alberta) at 3747 meters (about 12,300 ft).

Jasper National Park has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is the largest of Canada’s Rocky Mountain Parks, spanning 10,878 square kilometres (4200 square miles) of broad valleys, rugged mountains, glaciers, forests, alpine meadows and wild rivers along the eastern slopes of the Rockies in western Alberta.

Banff National Park is the first to be declared a National Park in Canada, and it is where you will see stunning Lake Louise. The lake is surrounded by snow-capped peaks, and at the far end is a large glacier.

The Icefields Parkway is open all year, and although the landscape changes with the seasons, it can get very snowy in winter, and not all attractions will be open then.  Although you will want to stop often, the drive can be done in just three hours – but why would anyone rush past such exquisite scenery?

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