Cruising the Scenic Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is a well-kept roadway that stretches 232km through the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site, passing through two national parks (Banff and Jasper) and providing a unique journey saturated with stunning landscape views of massive mountain ranges, flawless mountain lakes, and crisp, blue glaciers. With our GyPSy guide in our speakers, we set out early in the morning to make the most of the Canadian Rockies’ most famous drive.
We cruised by Hector Lake, Banff’s largest natural lake which abuts Crowfoot Mountain. This mountain hoists the Crowfoot Glacier once named for it’s three-toed appearance (however, one of those “toes” has since melted away). Next up was the beautiful Bow Lake and Bow Glacier which provided a pristine photo-op.
A bit further down the road, we pulled off for a stroll through snowy pines to the postcard-worthy Peyto Lake nestled in a deep glacial valley. This lake was named after the late “Wild Bill” Peyto, a quirky mountain man who became the first warden of Banff National Park.
We continued on past beauties like Mount Cephren which was named after the son of Cheops (the builder of one of Egypt’s great pyramids) since it resembles a pyramid. We stopped to snap a pic of the “Weeping Wall” which is a series of waterfalls on the broad side of Cirrus Mountain, making it look like it is crying a river of tears. In the winter, these waterfalls freeze making this a popular (and dangerous!) destination for ice climbers. We wound the “Big Bend” to climb the “Big Hill” (in our car of course) to get an impressive view of the Icefields Parkway winding through the valley below.
Each new bend in the road brought more staggering beauty; Hilda Peak being the next spectacular sight. Seeing as it was settled right next to Mount Athabasca, we knew we were approaching the famed Columbia Icefield which offers tourists the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk (safely) on an ancient glacier! Having excitedly bought our tickets back in Banff, we couldn’t wait to go on both our Glacier Skywalk and Athabasca Glacier adventures!
The Glacier Skywalk is a relatively new attraction which offers a cliff-edge skywalk over 900 feet above the Sunwapta Valley floor. The last bit of the skywalk actually extends out above the valley and has a glass floor so you can see how terrifying high you are! They provided an informational audio tour along the walkway which added to this neat experience.
After a quick transfer of buses, we caught our tour onto the Athabasca Glacier via the famous Ice Explorer! The Athabasca Glacier is one of the eight massive glaciers fed by the Columbia Icefield. An icefield is like a giant frozen lake that (slowly) flows into the glaciers which are like the rivers. Although the Athabasca Glacier is a whopping 6km long and 1km wide (and as deep as the Eiffel Tower is tall!), it is actually retreating at a rate of 5 metres per year and has retreated a total of 1.5km in the last 125 years! We feel incredibly fortunate to have had this opportunity – glaciers are so beautiful and awesome! Our six-wheeled Ice Explorer dropped us off on the glacier to slip/slide around, throw snow balls and snap amazing photos.
As if that wasn’t enough beauty for one day, we continued along the Icefields Parkway and made a pitstop at the powerful Athabasca Falls. Although not particularly high, this waterfall actually carries the most water of any of Rocky Mountain rivers making it one of the most powerful waterfalls in the parks.
After the most fantastic day of sight-seeing, we finally made it to our campsite in Jasper National Park shortly after dusk.
Adam & Amanda