Nick and I recently just PCS’d to Alaska. We were given the opportunity to drive it, and we gladly took that offer. I spent weeks preparing the perfect route up to Alaska. We saw so many incredible things along the way. Honestly, every day was beautiful and unique in it’s own way, but driving the Icefields Parkway was one of my favorites. I had to change our route a bit so that we would actually be able to hit Banff and Jasper. It added some miles and time, but it was SO worth it.
I am a firm believer in taking the scenic route. The Icefields Parkway is something that you should DEFINITELY do if you find yourself in that part of Canada. Most people opt to visit Banff or Jasper and don’t venture out to explore the drive in between. Let me tell ya, it needs to be apart of every itinerary to the Canadian Rockies.
We started the day in Canmore, Alberta and finished in Hinton. According to Google Maps, the drive should’ve taken about 4.5 hours. We did it in 10. It was a long day. But we saw SO much during that day, and it was absolutely breathtaking.
The first stop along the way was going to be Moraine Lake. Unfortunately, the parking lot was already full when we got there. Yes, it was FULL at 7 a.m.! We continued on to the famous Lake Louise. Now, that morning was very cold and rainy. We were able to see the beautiful glacier water at Lake Louise, but we weren’t able to see the mountains in the back. It was still nice, though. We stopped for some breakfast and coffee on our way out, so it was worth it! Normally I would be disappointed that we weren’t able to fully experience that part, but I’m not even sad about it. It just gives us an excuse to go back and see it again 🙂 Plus the rain was much needed! There had been a LOT of fires in the area the week we arrived. The drive through Kootenay National Park the day before was so smokey that we could hardly see the mountains. So the rain was a really, really good thing!
Fortunately for us, it didn’t rain the whole morning. It actually stopped about an hour and a half into our drive. Not only did the rain help settle the smoke, it also put some fresh snow up on the peaks in Banff National Park. It was dreamy.
I made Nick stop at every single pullout for the first 30 minutes after it stopped raining. Okay, maybe not every single one. But the scenery was beautiful. I couldn’t help but stop to take it in and snap some pictures.
Towards the front end of our trip, we stopped to see Bow Lake, which was stunning. It was chilly getting out of the truck, and the clouds were low but not low enough to cover the mountains nearby. It was still early, and the lake was still, making an almost perfect mirror image of the mountain on its shore. There was also a lodge and nice bridge right off the lake. It was a beautiful spot that would be a perfect vacation destination.
I get giddy thinking about our next major stop along the Icefields Parkway: The Snow Forest. Remember how I just said that the rain was actually snow on the peaks? Well, it also made the Snow Forest an actual winter wonderland. That may be an exaggeration, but I’m from Texas. I don’t see snow a whole lot. And this walk through the Snow Forest to the Peyto Lake overlook was magical. Seeing the fresh snow in this evergreen forest made me think of Christmas and all the wonderful things that accompany it. Because of the low clouds, we couldn’t really see the lake at the overlook, though. Occasionally we would catch glimpses of the teal waters below. I imagine that the view would be breathtaking when you can see the lake, but it was still special, even with the heavy clouds that morning.
We drove on from here to the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center. The scenery on the way was beautiful. There was seriously no part of the drive that was boring. I was constantly looking out my window and snapping pictures.
Unfortunately, some of the really cool things that you can do on this drive are relatively expensive. If we had planned to spend money here, we would have done it. But not on the way to Alaska– we were penny pinching at that point!
At the Discovery Center, you can purchase tickets to ride out onto the Athabasca Glacier as well as step out on the the famous Glacier Skywalk. We were able to see tourists doing both of these activities, and it looked like a lot of fun! We will have to do them the next time we visit. 🙂
Even though we didn’t get to walk on the Athabasca Glacier, we were able to do a short hike to toe of it! It was a good place to stretch the legs and get up (somewhat) close to an active glacier. As you walk the loop, you are able to see the glacier from different perspectives. It is a great photo op.
At this point we were in Jasper National Park. From here we stopped to see a couple different falls– Sunwapta and Athabasca. Both of them are points of interest on the park map and give you a good chance to walk around. I thought that the Athabasca Falls were stunning. At this location, you can hike down to get closer to the water. The river also runs through a canyon, which is always interesting to see. I honestly wish we had more time to spend at the Athabasca Falls!
Nick and I were nearing the end of our day and were getting tired. We decided to drive through the town of Jasper and head towards Maligne Canyon. There are a series of bridges that cross this canyon and you can choose which hike you would like to do. We didn’t have a whole lot of time in the park left, so we only spent about an hour there to see Bridges 1-4. This was a very unique part of the trip. We loved getting out and hiking alongside this canyon. The water was beautiful rushing through it. It was the perfect way to end our day.
Nick and I were completely beat by the end of the day. Even though the 10 hours of driving was full of awesome scenery, it was still exhausting. We stayed in Hinton that evening, ordered some pizza, and hit the hay!
The Banff/Jasper area has a lot to offer. I recommend taking a few days in each park and using a full day to drive along the Icefields Parkway. There is so much to take in that you need at least the full day, and make sure to start early! If you like to camp or RV, there are a lot of neat spots along the way as well.
While driving the Icefields Parkway, you will want to pull out your phone or camera to take photos the entire way. That’s pretty much what I did. But don’t forget to put the electronics away for a moment and enjoy what you are seeing and experiencing. Those pictures don’t do it justice.
Let your jaw drop a little, and take it all in.