A Guide to Driving Canada’s Icefields Parkway

Winding for 232 km (144 miles) along the Continental Divide between Lake Louise and the Town of Jasper, Canada’s Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) is one of the country’s most scenic drives. The paved highway runs just east of the BC/Alberta border and connects two of Canada’s most well-known mountain national parks – Banff and Jasper.

With myriad lakes, waterfalls, hiking trails, montane views and dozens of glaciers, one could spend weeks exploring the areas along the Icefields Parkway. That said, most visitors have just a day or two to take in the sights along the scenic route. Luckily, there are more than a dozen viewpoints and waterfalls that can be accessed immediately off the parkway.

Without stops, it takes about three hours to drive the entire length of highway. However, with all that natural beauty to check out, you’ll want to make at least a full day of it. If you’re staying in Banff, consider spending a night or two up in Jasper. It’ll break up the drive, allow you to poke around a bit up there, and offer the opportunity to see quite a bit between the outbound and return drives.

When is the best time to drive the parkway?

The Icefields Parkway is accessible year-round, with each season having something special to offer. We’ve now driven the parkway – either in part or in full – in summer, fall, and winter. Each time has been beautiful, and each time has had something unique to offer. If you asked what season was our favorite, I think we’d be hard-pressed to decide.

Summer affords travelers warm weather and the longest days of the year. With sixteen-ish hours of daylight during much of June and July, you can really maximize your time taking in all the beautiful scenery. Additionally, the lakes are at their most vibrant during the second half of summer (late July through August) when glacial melt is at its maximum. As you’d expect, the one downside is that there are unquestionably more people (and coach buses) along the parkway’s points of interest during the peak summer months.

If you’re visiting in autumn (September through early October), the parkway transforms into a gilded passageway under a canopy of yellow aspen. On the Banff end of the highway, alpine larches pepper some of the hillsides with brilliant flecks of gold. The crowds have dwindled significantly, and you can still enjoy the mountains and lakes under warm, sunny skies. As beautiful as it is, the colors are fleeting, so it’s difficult to predict when the foliage will be at peak color.

Winters along the Icefields Parkway are snowy and frigid, but offer a sense of solitude and frozen magic. Be aware that winters start early in the Canadian Rockies, and it’s not uncommon for the landscape to be snow-covered as early as October. If you choose to drive during the transition months (October or possibly November), there’s a good chance you can enjoy lakes that are still intensely blue and snow-free. It’s exceptionally beautiful after a fresh snowfall when the lakes are still vibrant and the rest of the landscape stark white. Keep in mind, however, that traveling in winter can be treacherous. Winter tires are mandatory from November 1 to April 1 each year and, while crews do clear the road regularly, the highway can close unexpectedly due to avalanche risk. If you visit in winter, plan on the drive taking significantly longer and have a backup plan in case of an unforeseen closure.

Scenic spots & points of interest

As mentioned earlier, there is a lot to take in along this 232-kilometer stretch of road. To help you maximize your time, we’ve highlighted a number of scenic spots along the Icefields Parkway. We’ve listed them from south to north, as if driving from Lake Louise toward Jasper. Whether you’re into quick pull-offs and short walks, or pairing the drive with a couple of longer hikes, hopefully there’s something for everyone here. However you choose to spend your time along the parkway, it’s guaranteed to be a stunner.

Herbert Lake

Distance from Lake Louise: 4miles (7 km), 10 minutes driving

Herbert Lake is one of the smaller lakes along the parkway, but it still makes for a scenic stop for breakfast or lunch if you’re just beginning your northbound journey towards Jasper. There are shaded picnic tables surrounding the parking area, and the lakeshore offers some nice views of Mt. Temple and the peaks of the Lake Louise group. It’s also a great spot for a quick paddleboard, and its proximity to Lake Louise makes it a nice alternative if you’re looking to escape the crowds.

Hector Lake

Distance from Lake Louise: 14 miles (23 km), 20 minutes driving

Driving from Lake Louise, the first eye-poppingly blue pool you’ll come to is Hector Lake. Along the parkway, you can hop out and stretch your legs at the Hector Lake Viewpoint. From here, you get a peek at a thin sliver of turquoise water nestled beneath the base of Pulpit Peak.

While not much of the lake is visible from the roadway, it is possible to hike down to the shore. If you want to make a trip down to Hector Lake, it’s a short three-mile roundtrip hike with just 250 feet of elevation gain on the return trip. The trailhead sits just south of the viewpoint beside a small, unmarked parking lot. The weather wasn’t fantastic when we visited, with some relentless morning clouds refusing to yield, but it was still a really gorgeous little spot – and one we’d definitely return to.

Crowfoot Glacier

Distance from Lake Louise: 23 miles (37 km), 30 minutes driving

One of the most prominent glaciers along Alberta’s Icefields Parkway is Crowfoot Glacier. Named for its uncanny resemblance to the three front talons of the corvid, the mass of ice clings on the north side of Crowfoot Mountain above Bow Lake. The glacier’s meltwaters feed into the Bow River, which flows for 365 miles (587 km) through Banff National Park, east to Calgary and eventually to Alberta’s prairies where it joins the Oldman River.

A signed viewpoint offers the best perspective of the park’s iconic glacier. However, if you’d like to explore more on foot, head just a couple miles north to Bow Lake.

Bow Lake

Distance from Lake Louise: 25 miles (40 km), 30 minutes driving

Bow Lake is a favorite spot for many along the Icefields Parkway. Lying beneath the massive summit of Crowfoot Mountain, Bow Lake is fed by nearby Bow Glacier Falls – the headwaters for the Bow River. The falls are formed from meltwater from Bow Glacier and the larger Wapta Icefield. If you want to view the falls up close, you can make the six-mile roundtrip hike to the base of the cascade. Tumbling 505 feet (154 meters) from a headwall beneath Bow Glacier, the falls are one of the largest along the Icefields Parkway.

If the hike to the falls isn’t for you, there is still plenty to enjoy here. Bow Lake is a great spot for a picnic, a little paddleboarding, or a shorter walk. A flat path skirts the lakeshore for about a mile (1.6 km), and you can walk as much of it as you’d like before turning back. As you make your way around the lake, you get a distant but scenic view of Bow Glacier Falls as well as the surrounding summits along the Wapta Icefield (Mount St. Nicholas, The Onion, Portal Peak and Mount Thompson).

We first visited Bow Lake back in 2014, when a morning rainfall washed out our nearby summit attempt and swayed us to instead hike to Bow Glacier Falls. Having always wanted to return during better weather, we finally made it back to the area eight years later. What we thought would be a single trip turned into about a half dozen over the course of our six-month stay. Unquestionably, Bow Lake was beautiful to us. But something about this spot sparked an intense and unexpected joy in Sanchez. She absolutely loved it here. Every so often she finds a place that just calls to her for no reason that we can understand, and we sure wish she could tell us about it.

Pro tip: If you’re spending more time in the area and are interested in some longer, more challenging day hikes/scrambles, consider The Onion, Mt. Jimmy Simpson, or Jimmy Junior. Just across the parkway from Bow Lake, you can also hike up to Helen Lake or scramble to the top of Cirque Peak.

  • Bow Glacier Falls – 5.7 miles, 700’ of gain (easy to moderate hike)
  • The Onion – 12 miles, 3,000’ of gain (more difficult hike with some light scrambling)
  • Helen Lake – 8.7 miles, 2,300’ gain (moderate hike)
  • Cirque Peak – 10.2 miles, 3,400’ gain (more difficult beyond Helen Lake with some moderate scrambling to the summit)

Peyto Lake

Distance from Lake Louise: 28 miles (45 km), 35 minutes driving

Peyto Lake’s Upper Viewpoint is one of the most visited and most photographed spots on the Icefields Parkway. Arguably, it’s also one of the most beautiful. This is not a spot you’re likely to have to yourself, but it’s undoubtedly one worth visiting.

From the parking area, just a five-minute drive north of Bow Lake, a short uphill walk along a paved path leads to the overlook. The walk is about three-quarters of a mile – just over a kilometer – each way, with about 250 feet (75 meters) of gain to reach the viewing platform. It should be suitable for most abilities, but if you’re visiting in winter, be prepared. The path can get pretty slick and icy, so you may need to bring poles or even traction.

The vista overlooking Peyto Lake may be one of the most bang-for-your-buck views you can get anywhere. Cauldron Peak’s massive summit looming above the blindingly blue water is something truly incredible. You may find yourself wondering – why is the water so blue? The answer is glacial silt, also known as rock flour. The ‘flour’ isn’t what you find in your kitchen. Rather, it’s a mixture of ultra-fine particles that flow into the lake from glacial meltwaters.

Like other glacial-fed tarns, Peyto Lake’s color changes with the seasons. The lake is typically at its most vibrant hue in July and August when glacial melt is at its maximum. Even then, the shades can shift slightly as the concentration or composition of suspended particulates changes. The lake’s hue can also vary depending on the angle of the sun, which affects how the mineral-rich granules refract light. Consequently, lake color can also fluctuate with the time of day. When we visited this spot in 2014, the water was a vibrant green. Exactly eight years later, it was a striking shade of blue.

While most visitors choose to enjoy the lake from above, there is a faint, overgrown trail you can follow to access the lakeshore. The trail begins at an unmarked pull-off along the Icefields Parkway just north of the overlook. It’s a short, easy walk to the lake, clocking in at around 1.5 miles roundtrip with just 300’ of gain. While there’s a good chance you’ll have this spot all to yourself, it doesn’t quite compare to the panoramic view from above.

Waterfowl Lakes

Distance from Lake Louise: 39 miles (62 km), 45 minutes driving

Yet another gorgeous set of pools along the Icefields Parkway are the Waterfowl Lakes. The signed Waterfowl Lakes Viewpoint looks out over the larger of the two lakes, with Mount Chephren’s striated summit soaring overhead. Unlike Peyto and Bow Lakes, you’re likely to find a bit more solitude here.

If you’re looking for a short hike to stretch your legs, several hiking trails branch off from the Waterfowl Lakes Campground, which sits between the two lakes. The Upper Waterfowl Lakes Trail is a quick, 1.2-mile (2 km) out-and-back along a flat trail. For something longer, it’s also possible to hike to Cirque Lake – a 5.5-mile (9 km) return with around 1,200’ (370 m) of gain.

From the Waterfowl Lakes Campground, you can also hike to Chephren Lake, an alpine lake that sits beneath the summits of Mount Chephren and Howse Peak. The out-and-back route clocks in at around 5 miles (8 km) with 800’ (240 m) of elevation gain. We’ve not yet done this one, but would certainly be keen to check it out given how much we’ve enjoyed the rest of the parkway’s lake hikes.

Saskatchewan River Crossing

Distance from Lake Louise: 50 miles (80 km), 1 hour driving

Saskatchewan River Crossing is one of the few signs of civilization you’ll find along the Icefields Parkway. Located at the intersection of Highway 93 and Highway 11 – the road that leads to Abraham Lake – the small settlement offers a gas station, lodge, restaurant, pub, and general store. Sitting about an hour north of Lake Louise, The Crossing is the only gas station you’ll find along the Icefields Parkway. As you’d imagine, the fuel here is a bit more expensive. However, if you neglected to gas up in either Lake Louise or Jasper, you do have this lone opportunity.

While The Crossing’s main drawn is primarily for absent-minded drivers who forgot to top of their tanks, there are several pull-offs in this general area where you enjoy a gorgeous view of the Saskatchewan River and Rampart Creek River Valleys. Additionally, the trailhead for Glacier Lake is just 1 kilometer north of the service station. The 10.5-mile (17 km) out-and-back route has around 2,800 feet (870 m) of elevation gain and is rated as moderate. This is yet one more lake hike we hope to come back and check off our list at some point.

The Big Bend

Distance from Lake Louise: 72 miles (116 km), 1 hour 20 minutes driving

For a view of the Icefields Parkway cutting through the Rocky Mountain landscape, take a moment to pause at the Big Bend. The lone hairpin loop on Highway 93, the Big Bend offers a view of the roadway twisting beneath the summit of Cirrus Mountain. If you’re into photography, keep in mind the view is south-facing, so plan on a later-day photo or else you’ll be shooting directly into the sun.

If waterfalls are your jam, there are two that are easily accessible from the parking area here. Bridal Veil Falls can be seen right from the parking lot, while a short walk (less than a mile roundtrip) will take you to Panther Falls.

Parker Ridge Trailhead

Distance from Lake Louise: 75 miles (121 km), 1 hour 30 minutes driving

If you’re looking for a short hike to break up the drive, Parker Ridge is about the perfect midpoint between Lake Louise and the Town of Jasper. The trailhead is easily accessible from the highway, and boasts a large parking area and public restrooms.

This 4-mile (6.4 km) out-and-back trail gains about 1,100’ (340 m) of vertical as it switchbacks up the roadside ridge. At the top, you are treated to sweeping views of the Saskatchewan Glacier. While a lot of people seem to love this hike, it admittedly was not our favorite. It’s a pretty heavily trafficked route, and you do get the constant hum of road noise the entire way up. For us, it’s just not how we prefer to hike. That said, our opinion is just one of many, and you do get to check out another glacier without a ton of effort.

Boundary Lake

Distance from Lake Louise: 78 miles (125 km), 1 hour 30 minutes driving

If you aren’t yet sick of scoping out dazzling glacial lakes, here’s one more for your parkway itinerary: Boundary Lake. Aptly named for its position along the border of Banff and Jasper National Parks, Boundary Lake is another where you’re likely to enjoy some real solitude.

Getting to Boundary Lake requires a short hike – about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) roundtrip with a modest 200’ (60 m) of elevation gain. It may not have the striking mountain views that envelop some of the more well-known area lakes, but this humble little tarn is picturesque in its own right. Importantly, Sanchez had a blast at this one coming off a nearby scramble.

Wilcox Pass Trailhead

Distance from Lake Louise: 80 miles (127 km), 1 hour 30 minutes driving

One of the highlights for many travelers along Canada’s Icefields Parkway is the Athabasca Glacier, one of the six toes of the vast Columbia Icefield. One of the most accessible glaciers in the world, this massive tongue of ice can be easily admired right from the side of Highway 93.

While the glacier is certainly impressive even from road level, a trip up to Wilcox Pass affords hikers a bird’s-eye view of the sprawling ice sheet. The hike to the pass is roughly 5.5 miles (9 km) roundtrip with around 1,300 feet (400 m) of vertical gain. We hiked this one during our first visit to Banff in 2014 and enjoyed it immensely. Atop the wide alpine bench, the views of Mount Athabasca, Mount Andromeda, and the Athabasca Glacier are sweeping. Additionally, this a beautiful spot for wildflowers in the summer, including paintbrush, globe flowers and forget-me-nots. Be sure to stay on the trail to not disturb the fragile vegetation along the ridge.

Note: For those looking to extend the hike, it is possible to continue further along the pass, around the northeast side of Mount Wilcox, and out toward Tangle Ridge. If you want to take advantage of the views along this longer option, check out trail maps on Gaia or AllTrails for more specific details.

Columbia Icefield

Distance from Lake Louise: 81 miles (130 km), 1 hour 35 minutes driving

Covering a total area of around 90 square miles (230 square kilometers), the Columbia Icefield is the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains. Reaching depths of up to 1,200 feet (265 meters), the icefield sees around seven meters (275 inches) of snow annually. Despite the massive amount of snowfall, however, Athabasca Glacier – the long toe of the icefield seen from the parkway – has been receding for the last 125 years. It’s estimated that the glacier has receded more than a mile (1.5 kilometers) and lost half its volume over the last century.

Athabasca is one of the world’s most accessible glaciers, and it’s possible to view and photograph the tongue of ice just off the Icefields Parkway. A dirt parking area sits alongside the highway off Snocoach Road, just across from the Glacier View Lodge. If you want to stretch your legs and explore a bit, a short walking trail (Toe of the Athabasca Glacier; less than a mile roundtrip) leads across the glacial moraine beside Sunwapta Lake toward the base of the glacier.

If you’d like to hike out onto the glacier itself, it’s possible to do a guided half- or full-day outing with local tour agency IceWalks. If hiking isn’t your thing, it’s also possible to visit the glacier by Ice Explorer – a bus-sized, all-terrain vehicle that drives passengers out onto the ice. Make sure to plan ahead, as advance reservations are required for each experience (more below in Still Need More?).

Note: Do not attempt to traverse the glacier on your own. Mountaineering experience and gear is required. Glacial crevasses can be hidden and are extremely dangerous (fatalities do occur). Experience Athabasca Glacier from a safe distance, or use one of the park’s professional tour services to access the glacier.

Sunwapta Falls

Distance from Lake Louise: 111 miles (179 km), 2 hours 10 minutes driving

Sunwapta Falls in Jasper National Park is probably my favorite set of falls in the Canadian Rockies. If you’ve got time to see just one cascade along the Icefields Parkway, we’d definitely recommend making it this one.

The word sunwapta comes from the Stoney (Nakota) language and translates to ‘turbulent waters.’ The falls sit along a bend in the Sunwapta River, a tributary of the Athabasca and one whose headwaters originate 30 miles (50 km) southeast at Athabasca Glacier. After wrapping around a small, treed islet, the photogenic falls tumble 60 feet (18 m) down a limestone gorge. With Shackle Peak rising behind Sunwapta Falls, it’s an extraordinarily scenic little spot.

Sunwapta’s Upper Falls – the cascade described above – is just a short walk from the parking area (maybe a quarter mile roundtrip). If you’d like to continue on to the Lower Falls, it’s about two miles out-and-back from the parking area.

Goats & Glaciers Lookout

Distance from Lake Louise: 121 miles (195 km), 2 hours 15 minutes driving

I’m not going to lie… this one had me with the name. Goats and glaciers. I mean, what more could you possibly want in life?

Located just a half hour south of the Town of Jasper, the viewpoint overlooks the Athabasca River and surrounding peaks of the Fryatt Range. When we visited in 2014, it was one of our favorite spots along the Icefields Parkway. Eight years later, it remained as such.

Mountain goats supposedly frequent the spot to lick salt from the rocks along the river banks and escarpment. However, we didn’t see any either time we visited. If you do spot them, though, remember to maintain a safe distance (at least 50 meters) and respect them and any other wildlife.

Athabasca Falls

Distance from Lake Louise: 126miles (202 km), 2 hours 20 minutes driving

Located about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of the Town of Jasper, this set of falls tumbles down a narrow gorge along the Athabasca River. Jasper’s largest river system, the word athabasca originates from the Cree language meaning a ‘place where reeds and grasses grow.’

The falls themselves are small in stature yet absolutely massive in flow. While they are just 75 feet (23 meters) tall, the cascade is astonishingly powerful and the volume of water roaring down the canyon is an impressive sight to see. Standing there, the noise of the falls is almost deafening, and the views of nearby Mount Kerkeslin gorgeous.

Athabasca Falls can be accessed via a half-mile (1 km) roundtrip walk from the parking lot along a paved pathway. A small, wooden bridge crosses the Athabasca River near the falls, with the left-hand fork leading to a viewpoint overlooking the falls and the right-hand split leading to a view of the river below the gorge.

Town of Jasper

Distance from Lake Louise: 144 miles (232 km), 2 hours 45 minutes driving

After a full day of sightseeing along the parkway, the Town of Jasper makes a great place to crash for at least a night or two. The town center is super cute and, although still fairly bustling during the summer months, significantly less crowded than Banff’s woefully over-congested downtown.

If you decide to stay the night and are looking for an absolutely fantastic spot for dinner (or lunch) while you’re in town, don’t miss the Raven Bistro. We ended up eating here twice and each time the food was phenomenal. The small café even offers a solid variety of vegan and gluten-free dishes, and their ‘La Pastille’ was easily one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. The flaky phyllo pastry was stuffed with cumin-roasted yams, chickpeas, kale, and dried apricots. It was topped with warm tomato chutney and toasted almonds and served over a bed of jasmine rice. I think I could eat one every day. Even Stephan raved about it, and said he’d order his own in a heartbeat.

For all the carnivores out there, Sanchez and Stephan highly recommend the old-fashioned bison short ribs – locally-raised Alberta bison finished with an orange-bourbon glaze and topped with a gravy made of black cherries & Angostura bitters. If you need an appetizer to pair with them, Sanchez also applauds their bison and bourbon-candied boar belly flatbread. With high-quality, local ingredients, a thoughtful menu that changes seasonally, and beautiful attention to detail, the Raven Bistro is truly top-notch. Pro tip: order your meal to-go and enjoy it in the sun-drenched park across the street.

If you decide to stay longer, there’s no shortage of gorgeous hiking opportunities within Jasper National Park, and you can also take some time to relax in the area’s famous Miette Hot Springs – the hottest natural springs in the Canadian Rockies.

Still need more?

Like we said… there is a lot of beauty to be found along the Icefields Parkway. Other spots not featured on our list include Tangle Creek Falls and Weeping Wall Viewpoint, smaller falls that are right along the parkway. Looking for more lakes? Honeymoon Lake sits just beside the Honeymoon Lake Campground, just off the highway between Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls. In need of another easy/moderate hike? Just south of Jasper, Valley of the Five Lakes offers a three-mile (5 km) lollipop route with around 530 feet (160 m) of elevation gain. Back along the parkway, just south of Saskatchewan River Crossing, another easy but more popular route is the 1.2-mile (2 km) out-and-back to Mistaya Canyon.

If the Columbia Icefield is something that’s piqued your interest, there are a couple options for a more up-close experience of the Athabasca Glacier:

  • The Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure is a three-hour tour that traverses the ice by means of an all-terrain vehicle. The Ice Explorers are large, carrying up to 56 passengers at a time, and there’s the option to get out and stand on the glacier halfway through the excursion. Tickets for 2023 cost $79 CAD (~$60 USD) and also include admission to the nearby Glacier Skywalk. The skywalk is a 400-meter-long, glass-bottomed bridge that juts out from the mountainside over the Sunwapta Valley. The handicapped-accessible walkway floats more than 900 feet (almost 300 meters) above the valley, and makes a nice option for those who are unable to hike. Note: At the time of writing, the only way to access the skywalk was through a paired Glacier Adventure tour.
  • If you want to get out and actually hike across part of the Athabasca Glacier, Ice Walks offers half- and full-day guided glacier hikes. The half-day tour currently costs $124.50 CAD (about $91 USD) for adults, while the full-day option is $194.25 CAD ($143 USD) for adults. As mentioned previously, do not attempt to traverse the glacier on your own without gear and proper experience/training.

Hiking along the Icefields Parkway

For those with just a day or two to drive the parkway, your window for hiking is likely quite small. However, for those with more time – and who would like to explore the backcountry beyond confines of the pavement – there are dozens of short trails, day hikes, scrambles, and multiday backpacking routes to choose from.

So far, we’ve ticked off about a dozen trails along the Icefields Parkway. That said, we keep adding to our ever-growing list of hikes and scrambles significantly faster than we can check them off. If you’re interested in reading some of our trip reports, check out the links below. A few date back to our first visit to the area in 2014, while the others are from our six-month stay in BC in 2022. Similar to the driving itinerary, trails are listed here from south to north, and all are out-and-back routes:

North Molar Pass & Molarstone (scramble* to Molarstone)
15 miles (24 km), 3,500’ (1,100 m) elevation gain

Bow Glacier Falls
5.7 miles (9 km), 700’ (200 m) elevation gain

The Onion (scramble*)
12.2 miles (20 km), 3,000’ (900 m) elevation gain

Helen Lake & Cirque Peak (scramble* to Cirque Peak)
8.7 miles (14 km), 2,300′ (700 m) elevation gain to Helen Lake
10.2 miles (16.5 km), 3,400’ (1,050 m) elevation gain to Cirque Peak

Sunset Pass
12 miles (19 km), 3,100’ (950 m) elevation gain

Parker Ridge
3.7 miles (6 km), 1,100’ (340 m) elevation gain

Wilcox Pass
5 miles (8 km), 1,100’ (340 m) elevation gain

Boundary Peak (scramble*)
5 miles (8 km), 3,000’ (900 m) elevation gain

*For those unfamiliar with the term scrambling, it’s broadly considered a more difficult variation of hiking. Typically, the terrain is more challenging and should be reserved for those with some meaningful hiking experience. Scrambling typically involves navigating steep (and often loose) terrain – including scree and rock – and often requires using your hands for balance or pulling yourself up trickier sections.

Scrambling may involve route finding, and routes are typically not maintained/groomed like most hiking trails within the national parks. Scrambling is divided into several classes of increasing difficulty, with greater exposure and technical skills required as you move up in class. Additionally, a lot of scrambles are more remote than maintained hiking trails within the park and you likely will have no cell reception. Do your research thoroughly before heading out to make sure the routes are within your ability and that you are carrying all necessary gear.

Know before you go:

  • Because it stretches between two national parks (Banff and Jasper), a Parks Canada Discovery Pass is required to drive the Icefields Parkway. Park entrance gates are located at both ends of the highway, near Lake Louise Village and the Town of Jasper.
  • Other than Lake Louise and the Town of Jasper, the only spot for gas along the highway is at Saskatchewan River Crossing. The service station is roughly 50 miles (80 km) north of Lake Louise and 95 miles (150 km) south of Jasper. Make sure to plan accordingly.
  • While the parkway is open to passenger vehicles year-round, take proper precautions if driving in winter. Road crews do plow and treat the highway, however conditions can be slick and unpredictable. Additionally, there is little to no cell service along the full stretch of roadway. Make sure you’ve got an emergency kit with you as well as extra supplies (food, water, layers, blankets). Since we do a fair bit of off-road travel, we also always travel with a shovel and recovery boards. Importantly, be aware that winter tires (and/or chains) are mandatory by law if driving along Highway 93 from November 1 to April 1 each year.
  • If planning a trip in winter, it’s also important to be aware that Parks Canada occasionally closes the road due to avalanche risk or for avalanche control. Closures are typically brief, but are not always predictable. Current conditions can be checked here: https://511.alberta.ca/.
  • Be wildlife aware. There is a lot of wildlife along the parkway, including larger animals such as deer, elk and bears. Maintain the appropriate speed, pay attention when driving, and give animals the space they need when hiking (50 meters for herbivores, 100 meters for carnivores).
  • Always carry bear spray when hiking in the Canadian Rockies and know how to use it.
  • Do not stop along the parkway or impede traffic. Use designated pull-off areas if you need to make a stop.
  • If paddleboarding or using any other type of non-motorized watercraft, Parks Canada requires a self-certification permit before entering a body of water. Permits are provided by Parks Canada and can be filled out on-site. Look for a small wooden box with instructions beside each lake/campground. Permits are valid for the date and waterbody indicated, and you must fill out a new permit if relocating watercraft. Watercraft must be cleaned, drained, and properly dried to prevent the spread of invasive species. Park wardens can ask you to present your permit, and failure to self-certify can result in fines of up to $25,000. An online copy of the permit can be found here.
  • Prepare for all types of weather. It’s kind of crazy how different the weather can be between Lake Louise and the areas along the Icefields Parkway. Temperatures can vary by 20F or more in just a few miles, and storms can quickly roll in and out along the Continental Divide. When we visited the last week of July in 2014, we needed winter coats atop Wilcox Pass, and there was even a light snowfall one night along the parkway. Bring layers, rain gear, and even a warm jacket.

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2 Responses

  • Hello,

    Really enjoyed this site. Very good information. I know there is no way of predicting weather, but what would you say is the average condition of the Icefields Parkway in early October? As someone who is not that familiar driving in icy conditions, I want to be as prepared as possible. I would like to have my rental car details sorted with the rental company before actually getting to the car. . . any help would be appreciated!

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