The Icefields Parkway that connects Lake Louise in Banff National Park to Jasper National Park, Alberta (Canada), is one of the most scenic drives in the world. Stretching a mere 232 km’s it can take a few days just to explore and take in all the incredible sites.
There are numerous road side lookouts, scenic viewpoints and even a few hikes along the parkway but not everyone has the time to see and do everything. When I drove this gorgeous parkway last summer, I had limited time so I had to plan my stops strategically. If you’re like me and short on time, here’s a list of 8 of the most easy to access sites and lookouts along the Icefields Parkway.
The sites listed below are in order if you’re driving from Lake Louise north to Jasper. All sites listed are free of charge to enter.
The first site you’ll come across is Hector & Herbert Lakes, just 10 min from the beginning your drive along the Icefields Parkway. Herbert Lake is small and unassuming though absolutely gorgeous with the backdrop of the snow capped mountains. Located just 25 m from the parking lot, it doesn’t take too long to walk to its shores. If you have the time and feel like going for a hike, you can make your way 5 km down the trail to Hector Lake as well.
One of the most gorgeous glacier fed lakes in the Canadian Rockies, stopping here to admire the brilliant blue lake is a must. Located along the Bow River, both the river and lake are fed by the Bow Glacier, part of the Wapta Icefield which rests along the continental divide.
There are a few lookouts along the parkway for Bow Lake as it’s one of the largest lakes in Banff National Park (although it’s generally considered to be a small lake). I suggest stopping at the red roofed Simpson’s Num-Ti-Jah Lodge sitting right on the edge of the lake. Here you can wander along the shores of Bow Lake following a short walking path.
One of the most iconic and most photographer sites in Banff National Park, Peyto Lake is a simply stunning. This beautiful teal colored, glacier fed lake stretches out from it’s glacier in the the shape of a dragons paw, reaching down the mountain valley. Surrounded by glaciers and mountains, Peyto Lake is one of the most scenic lookouts in the Rocky Mountains.
To reach the lookout over Peyto Lake it requires a 10-15 walk along a paved pathway as the parking lot isn’t located right at the lake. Though this is a bit farther away than the other sites listed here, it’s worth it. Trust me.
Big Hill & Big Bend Lookout
If you want to get the biggest bang for your buck, stop here. The Big Bend Lookout is literally a parking lot on the side of the parkway but what a lookout it is! With views of the parkway stretching down a long valley boarded by high mountain peaks, stopping here is a no-brainer.
As a side note, this is where Banff National Park ends and Jasper National Park begins.
Athabasca Glacier/Columbia Icefield
One of the most popular stops along the Icefields Parkway, you could spend at least half a day here if not a full day. But you don’t need to! Avoid the congested main parking lot and visitors center on the right and park in the lot on the left side of the road. You’ll get prime parking right in front of the famous Athabasca Glacier. Admire views right from here or take a walk part way or all the way to the base of the glacier.
You can sign up for a ride in one of those huge buses that drive you right up onto the glacier, though this will be more time consuming and there’s a cost involved.
Located a mere 600 m off the parkway, this waterfall are gorgeous. The main falls drop approx 18.5 m down into a deep into a canyon carved by the Sunwaptu River. Meaning “turbulent river” in Stoney Indian language, the Sunwaptu River is fed by glacier melt run-off from the Athabsaca Glacier.
There are 2 waterfalls to be seen and I suggest you take an extra few minutes to walk the short paved trail with bridges over and around the falls for excellent views. The first one is the closest and easiest to access but the second falls aren’t too far away.
Goats & Glaciers
Though you’re not guaranteed to see any mountain goats (who are attracted to this site due to the high mineral content found in the soil) the views are just stunning! Take the short walk from the parking lot up a trail to a lookout over the Athabasca River. From this vantage point, there’s 180 degrees of mountains, glaciers and the river.
Another one of the most popular and most photographed sites along the parkway are the Athabasca Falls. Located just 30 km from the town of Jasper and within Jasper National Park, these falls are set up much the same as Sunwaptu Falls. A short paved walking path takes you over a bridge right in front of the falls for front row views.
This Class 5 waterfall drops 23 m, flowing over hard quartzite rock into a soft limestone canyon, carving deep gorges and potholes. Though these falls aren’t very large in terms of height, they are well known for the shear volume of water flowing over them and down the Athabasca River.
So there you have it! If you’re driving the spectacular Icefields Parkway and short on time, there are plenty of amazing stops and lookouts you can still see along the way. After all, it would be a shame to drive right by the beautiful blue lakes and rivers, glaciers and the gorgeous mountain lookouts. With a bit of planning you’ll have lots of time to see these 8 quick stops along the Icefields Parkway.