…and the epic Icefields Parkway
By Lukas Saville
2020 is the year to hit the road and get out into the wilderness. There’s no better place for a restorative break in nature than the Canadian Rockies. With towering craggy peaks, serene turquoise lakes, and immense, creaking glaciers, this remarkable region is a feast for the senses. Here’s a guide to Canada’s most epic road trip, the Icefields Parkway.
Driving the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway, otherwise known as Highway 93 North, is a serious contender for the title of World’s Most Beautiful Road. Stretching for 230-km between Lake Louise and Jasper, this route will take you deep into the heart of the Canadian Rockies, offering some truly mind-blowing scenery.
Impossibly craggy peaks, kissed by snow at the height of summer, rise high above the road, their tall outlines perfectly reflected in glassy lakes. Beautiful larch forests turn to gold in September, showing off their autumn colors in a final display before winter hits.
Bighorn sheep and mountain goats scramble over the rocks and cliffs, and in the right season, the distinctive bugle call of the elk can be heard echoing through the mountains. This is the Canadian wilderness at its best.
Highway 93 snakes through this majestic landscape, offering stellar views all along the way. However, to really appreciate the Icefields Parkway, you’ll need to get off the road and hit the trail, either on foot or cycle. You’ll find countless epic hiking and backpacking trails along the Icefields Parkway, many of which pass by some of the region’s finest glacier-fed lakes. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a beginner looking for the best way to experience the Canadian Rockies, there’s a trail here for you.
Icefields Parkway Highlights
One of the most impressive highlights of the Icefields Parkway is the immense Columbia Icefield. Straddling the Continental Divide, this incredible ice field includes the ancient Athabasca Glacier. This is a wonderful place to come and learn about the geology and history of this extraordinary natural phenomenon, and enjoy the impressive Skywalk suspended over the glacier.
Peyto Lake, surrounded by lush forests and towering peaks, is one of the most photographed lakes in the Canadian Rockies. Its dazzling turquoise waters are the product of glacial silt, creating a stunning blue color that is perfectly offset by the green forests and snow-capped mountains. This family-friendly hike to the lake offers some of the best views on Icefields Parkway.
One of the best aspects of the Icefields Parkway is the sheer variety of scenery on offer. From the shimmering white glaciers of the Columbia Icefield to the thick pine and larch forests that clothe the base of the mountains, you’ll certainly never get bored. Mistaya Canyon makes for an excellent early stopping point on the road, a deep gorge with otherworldly, smooth rocks, shaped over centuries by the rushing waters. Further along, don’t miss the dramatic Athabasca Falls, with the distinctive outline of Mount Kerkeslin in the background.
Countless short hikes and viewpoints lead from the road itself. You won’t need to be an experienced hiker to feel as though you’re deep in the wilderness. Simply relax and appreciate the drama and majesty of the landscapes as it unfolds before your eyes. Welcome to the greatest show on earth.
The Icefields Parkway crosses Banff, Kootenay, Yoho, and Jasper National Parks. To enter national parks in Canada, you’ll need to purchase a Parks Pass, either per day, for the specific location you are visiting, or a Discovery Pass, which is valid for multiple locations for 12-months. Day passes cost around $10 per day for adults.
If you plan to camp in the backcountry, you may also need to book a spot in advance. See the Parks Canada website for further details and for any current restrictions. For more information on travelling in the Rockies, and for guided tours that include the Icefields Parkway, check out tips on Adventure Holidays in Canada.
About Lukas Saville—He is a travel writer focused on adventure travel. His passion for wildlife and nature has carried him to many countries in the world. He loves hiking the best trails on earth and sharing his experiences through writing. He hopes his experiences will help more people to start their own adventures and appreciate the world surrounding them a little bit more. ~TPM