Rocky Mountain Majesty
Distance: approx. 232 km (144 mi)
Soaring around a sudden curve, I hammer the brakes and swallow a shriek. The view is breathtaking, but that’s not why I’m stopped. A group of bighorn sheep are partly blocking the Rocky Mountain highway. And they do indeed have big horns! Of course, they have the right of way so we keep our distance until we can resume our journey along one of the world’s most scenic highways.
The stretch of road from Jasper to Lake Louise is punctuated by more than 100 ancient glaciers, waterfalls cascading from dramatic rock spires, and emerald lakes set in sweeping valleys. Watch for an abundance of wildlife. Sleep in a creek-side campground or local hostel. Meet other travellers on one of the many hiking trails along the way.
Depending on the season and your mode of travel, every trip is different along the The Icefields Parkway. To fully explore this section of Alberta, you’ll need a vehicle. Let’s start from the city of Edmonton (and if you’re starting from Calgary, do this in reverse!).
- Head west on Hwy 16 for 286 km (178 mi) to the town of Hinton. Follow the signs and buy your park pass at the entrance to Jasper National Park (you’ll need a pass to drive the Parkway). At the town of Jasper, pick up Hwy 93 and head south.
- Stop at the Columbia Icefield Interpretive Centre and board an Ice Explorer that will take you right up onto the Athabasca Glacier, where you can walk on ice as thick as the Eiffel Tower is tall!
- Pull into the parking lot at Peyto Lake and pull on your hiking boots. This is the highest point on the parkway. You can hike a 10-minute paved trail to the Peyto Lake viewpoint. If you have more time, continue along the old fire road to the Bow Summit lookout. This is about 2.5 hours round trip, so bring your lunch! Other popular Parkway hikes are at Bow Lake and Sunwapta Falls.
- Back on Hwy 93, you’ll soon cross into Banff National Park. Continue on until the Parkway ends at Lake Louise. Stop for a beverage at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and marvel at the astonishing turquoise hue of this glacier-fed lake.
- From Lake Louise, take the Trans-Canada (Hwy 1) or the scenic Bow Valley Parkway to Banff. Then head east to Calgary (approx. two hours from Lake Louise).