As far as road-trips go, there are few places in the world more spectacular than the Icefields Parkway in Canada. This 230km stretch of highway through the Canadian Rockies will have you pulling over every few minutes to marvel at the jaw-dropping views and snap yet another pic. From impossibly blue lakes and snow-capped mountains to towering glaciers and waterfalls, this really is Canada at its very best.
You need at least a full day to appreciate all the beautiful scenery and hiking trails along the Icefields Parkway, which connects the national parks of Banff and Jasper. Wherever you choose to pull over, you’re sure to be greeted with some seriously impressive views but there are a few stop-offs you won’t want to miss. If you’re starting from Banff National Park and heading towards Jasper, then this is the order to look out for them!
Read more: A 2-week itinerary for road-tripping the Canadian Rockies
Hector Lake is your first quintessential stop on any Icefields Parkway road-trip. This idyllic glacial lake is one of the largest in Banff National Park and is surrounded by the picturesque Waputik Range. We just stopped for a quick roadside photo but you can also choose to hike the 5km loop from the Hector Lake Trailhead, if you fancy a closer look or even a swim!
Next up, Bow Lake is one of the most iconic sights along the Icefields Parkway. Perfectly framed by snow-capped mountains and lush green forests, it’s impossible to take a bad photo here. Just as famous as the lake itself is the little red lodge that sits all alone, along the shoreline. This is Num-Ti-Jah Lodge – a rustic hotel with unbeatable lake views. I’d recommend popping into the cafe to grab a coffee and cake to enjoy by the lake!
Peyto Lake is the true show-stopper attraction of the Icefields Parkway. Never have I seen such bright turquoise water – you can filter and photoshop anything these days but the photos of this place are 100% real! It’s a short 10-minute walk from the car-park to the viewing point above the lake – get your camera ready and prepare to be wowed.
Also known as the Cirrus Mountain Viewpoint, this hairpin turn in the road may not seem like much on approach but once you turn the corner and look out, you can see the magnificent Icefields Parkway laid right out in front of you – mountains, forests, waterfalls, lakes and all!
Bridal Veil Falls
Just beyond Big Bend, you’ll see a sign for Bridal Veil Falls. You’ll have to keep your eyes peeled to see this narrow waterfall cascading from the mountain walls. While it may not be as powerful and majestic as some of the falls that Canada has to offer, its simplicity is what makes Bridal Veil so beautiful. At its highest point, the waterfall has a 400 foot drop and its thin stream of white water is what gives it its unique name.
Parker Ridge Trail
Most tourists skip over the hiking trails along the Icefields Parkway, stopping only for photos and the views (which, granted, are pretty damn spectacular!). But the Parker Ridge Trail is definitely worth getting your hiking boots on for!
This easy 2-hour round hike takes you from the car-park, up a gradually ascending trail where the views of the surrounding valleys and mountains just keep getting better and better. Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most incredible panoramic scenery in the Canadian Rockies and will come face to face with the incredible Saskatchewan Glacier.
The Columbia Icefield is one of the largest non-polar icefields in the world and is made up of several different glaciers, including the mighty Athabasca Glacier, which measures at 6km long. The most popular way to experience the glacier is with The Colombia Icefield Adventure, which starts at the Glacier Discovery Centre and transports tourists on to the ice via a monster-truck-style bus. From here, you can step out on to the ancient glacier and even drink the water (although it was pretty muddy from the tyres of the monster truck, so not quite the experience I’d hoped for…!)
It’s an incredible thing to say you’ve walked on a glacier but the tour is seriously expensive ($114 a pop!!) and you only get about 15-20 minutes on the ice itself. However, this is the only safe way to actually set foot on the glacier, if you’ve got your heart set on that experience. Alternatively, you can hike the short trail from the Glacier Discovery Centre car-park to the foot of the glacier to see it up close.
Columbia Icefield Skywalk
This skywalk is another unique experience provided by the Columbia Icefield Adventure company. Admission is included with your ticket to the Athabasca Glacier or you can buy skywalk tickets separately for $37 ($34 in advance).
The Columbia Icefield Skywalk is completely different to anything else you’ll experience along the Icefields Parkway. This transparent glass walkway extends over the Sunwapta Valley and is surrounded by giant glaciers and mountains in every direction. It’s quite the thrill to step out on to the glass with nothing but a 900-foot drop below you – whether it’s the vertigo or the sheer beauty of nature surrounding you, this experience is bound to take your breath away.
The final must-see stop along the Icefields Parkway is the thundering Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park. It’s just a few minutes’ walk from the car-park to the waterfall and you’ll hear the powerful falls before you see them! Be prepared to fight your way through some serious crowds to get a proper look but it’s worth it to experience the falls up close and personal.
Wherever you choose to stop along the Icefields Parkway, you really can’t go wrong – this is one of the most beautiful drives you’ll ever encounter, so enjoy every second of it! We didn’t get a chance but, if you have time, it’s also worth driving this route in reverse, as the roadside scenery looks completely different going the other way.
Exploring more of Canada? Check out my 2-week itinerary for road-tripping through the Canadian Rockies, or if you’re headed to Van City next, take a look at my top 10 things to do in Vancouver.
Happy Canada Day! x