Icefields Parkway

This article is an itinerary.

The Icefields Parkway is the primary north-south route through the Alberta Rockies in Canada, and one of the most spectacular scenic drives in the world. The 232 kilometres (144 mi) road runs through the heart of the Jasper and Banff National Parks from Jasper to Lake Louise and it's a marvellous way to see the mountains - and a "must do".

Herbert Lake, just one of the many spectacular mountain views along the parkway

Understand

Rocky mountain goat at the goat lick on the Icefields Parkway

The road itself is kept open year-round, but during the winter months it is extremely snowy and none of the tourist attractions along its length will be open or able to be visited. The gas-station, store and tourist centre will all be closed for the winter, so there is nowhere to get food or petrol on the Parkway at that time. In fact, the road is often closed due to weather during the winter. Check with park officials for the road conditions before you choose to travel it and be well prepared for winter conditions on the trip.

History

The route was discovered in 1884, the road being completed in 1940.

Landscape

The road runs in the flat of a U shaped glacial valley climbing from the south and the north ends to its highest point. In the northern section the Athabasca and Sunwapta rivers runs north, the southern section the Bow river runs south, central section is the source of the Mistaya and North Saskatchewan rivers which flow north then east. The mountains, mainly sandstone but also some limestone rock rise high on both sides of the road displaying spectacular sedimentary and glacial formations. The ridges of the western mountains form the continental divide.

Flora and fauna

The area is mainly an alpine and sub-alpine Montane ecology. There is a good chance of sighting of black bear and elk as well as a possibility of mountain goats and bald eagles.

Prepare

There are fuel stations in Jasper, Lake Louise and Banff. In summer, a fuel station operates at Saskatchewan River Crossing. It's advisable to fill up before entering the area as the prices are at a premium. Jasper and Calgary fuel prices are cheaper than in Canmore, Lake Louise and Banff.

Fees/Permits

As you are travelling through two national parks, you will need to pay park fees and display the ticket, but once in the park there are no parking fees or entrance fees to sights (with the exception of the Brewster attractions). There is a park entrance gate just south of Jasper to purchase and check for the national park pass. From the south, if you have not already purchased a park pass at the Canmore-Banff entrance then there is usually a check point on the 93 just after the Highway 1 exit.

Get in

The Athabasca Glacier and Icefields Parkway

The Icefields Parkway is a fifty minute drive west of Banff, two and a half hours west of Calgary along the Trans-Canada Highway 1 and three and a half hours west of Edmonton along the Yellowhead Highway 16. For the southern entrance take the 93 exit of Highway 1 just over 1 km north of the Lake Louise exit, signs for Icefield Centre and Jasper. For the north entrance simply drive west out of Jasper and cross the 16 heading south.

Get around

The actual parkway itself runs for 230 km (143 miles) and is a three-hour drive. But you will want to spend as much time as you can to have time to take in the views. The largest choice of accommodation can be found at Lake Louise and Jasper and there are a few lodges, hostels and campsites along the way. The road is for the most part one lane each way with a few dual lane sections for overtaking slow vehicles, with a speed limit is 90 km/h. The southern section has been recently resurfaced but the majority of the road is of reasonable quality tarmac with the odd bumpy section. There are plenty of pull off points and day parking places along the route.

Drive

Stay safe

View from the Icefields Parkway driving north from Lake Louise to Jasper

This is bear county; stay in your vehicle if you come across one.

Also keep an eye out for other animals on the road, such as deer and moose. And watch out for the odd crazy cyclist also doing the route.

There are no medical facilities along the route but there are small hospitals in Lake Louise and Jasper.

There are toilets at the Sunwapta Lodge, Columbia Icefield centre, Saskatchewan crossing and Num-Ti-Jah Lodge. Also at many of the day parking pull-offs and main sights along the way there are pit toilets, which are generally kept in a very good condition.

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, June 25, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.