Driving the Icefields Parkway, Alberta

Although we live close to the Canadian Rockies and have visited quite a few times in the two years we have lived in Calgary, we have never driven the Icefields Parkway to Jasper. For those who don’t know, Icefields Parkway, also known as Highway 93, starts just north of Lake Louise and meanders north-west to the town of Jasper. Originally we thought of spending the night in Jasper but decided instead to set out early and make it a day trip.

The night before I took a look at all the suggested stop-off points along the route so that we wouldn’t miss anything. We made the decision, as time was a factor, not to do any hikes, but just take in the scenery etc that was accessible by vehicle. After all, we live close enough that we can go back to any spots we want to explore more in the future. So, with food, drink and a list of places to visit we set off about 7am.

Our first stop was Bow Lake, located around 40 km north of Lake Louise. This turned out to be a beautiful spot as you can see from the photos. The water in the lakes and rivers in the Rockies are very turquoise or green due to the face they originate from glaciers. Basically, glaciers carry silt from grinding on the rocks below them. This creates what is called rock flour which is very light and stays suspended in the water. When light reflects off it, it creates the colours we see as blue/green and turquoise. As you can see, even though it’s June, there is still some ice in the lake. Clicking on any image will open a slideshow of large images.

We continued to drive and saw some lovely scenery along the way.

The next big stop was Waterfowl Lakes about 60 km north of Lake Louise.

As we were driving from here, we saw some Rocky Mountain Sheep at the side of the road.

Next, we were looking for some waterfalls. The first was Weeping Rock and the second Bridal Falls. At first, we had a hard time finding Weeping Rock and pulled over at the side of the road to work out where we were. Then I looked out the window and realized we had parked right next to it! It was a large wall of rock with several small waterfalls cascading down, not quite what we were expecting, but pretty. On the way to Bridal Falls, we came across another waterfall which was larger and then finally Bridal Falls, a delicate cascade of water.

Our next big find was the Columbia Icefield which is a large glacier, approximately 130 km north of Lake Louise. The glacier is approximately 325 sq km in size and its depth ranges from 100 – 365 metres deep (the height of the Empire State Building in New York!). However, it was once much larger, as along the drive to the parking lot are markers indicating where the glacier once reached. Since it was first measured in 1898, it has receded around 1.5 km and reduced in overall mass.

You can park in the parking lot and then hike to the edge of the glacier. The hike is on uneven, rocky and shingly ground and even though it is only 1 km and climbs 30 meters, it feels like you are climbing much more as the elevation is so high and the air is thinner. When we were there, despite it being June, it was very cold and snowing!

The next location we came across was a bit warmer and more hospitable, Tangle Creek. There is a pretty waterfall here.

We then saw a moose on an island in the middle of a lake. He was happily grazing and didn’t mind the people taking his photo.

Athabasca Falls was our next stop and this was a really pretty location. The area has several walkways and viewpoints where you can see the waterfall from different vantage points. You can also see the river where it falls into and the views beyond. A very good place to stop off.

Then it was on to Jasper. We decided to detour off the parkway onto 93A which parallels the main road but is much twistier and narrower. We hoped we would see some wildlife and as it happened, we did. First, we saw a deer, then as we entered Jasper we saw three elk.

After reaching Jasper, we turned back for the 420 km return trip. This is some more of the scenery we passed. Also, we saw the same bull moose in the same area, but the opposite side of the road. He was once again grazing and thankfully for the idiot tourists who stood in front of him, outside their vehicle taking photos, he was quite docile. You have to remember, these animals are huge and powerful and if they wanted to could easily kill you.

By now, we had managed to see sheep, deer, elk and a moose, so we jokingly said that if we saw a bear it would make the day. Well, just then we spotted a black bear at the side of the road. This really made our day as we never get tired of seeing bears. All in all, this was a lovely day with some beautiful scenery, a great drive and fabulous wildlife sightings.