Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park

DSC00311                                                         Glaciers along the Icefields Parkway

After seeing it the previous day, on our second day in the park Chuck and Carla wanted to go back to Maligne Lake with their kayaks. Since it was another clear day, Jim and I decided to take a drive south on Icefields Parkway, said to be one of the most scenic drives in the world. 

There are waterfalls and hiking trails along the way to our destination, Athabasca Glacier, some 60 miles south of Jasper. Our first stop was the thundering Athabasca Falls. It’s only 75’ high but a huge amount of water spills over it. We’ve really been impressed with the falls we’ve seen in Canada so far, and can only imagine how they must look in the spring when the snow is melting.





Below the falls the river flows through little canyons carved into the rock.



Over the years the river cuts new channels, abandoning others like this one that is now part of the trail down to the river.


After the falls the river is surprisingly calm and wide.


Next we stopped at Sunwapta Falls, not quite as large but still interesting in its own way.




We were fascinated by this rock that appeared to be tumbling over the falls.



From there we continued on another 30 scenic miles south to the Icefields Centre.



Just before the center we passed the Glacier Skywalk, where buses drop off loads of passengers who’ve each paid $30 CAD to walk out on a glass bottom platform 900’ above the valley floor.


We parked in a dirt lot across the road from the Icefield Centre, which contains a hotel, restaurant, gift shop, and visitor center, and is where the glacier tours and Skywalk buses originate.


The restaurant and some of the rooms have fantastic views. It was in the 50s and quite windy, as you can see by the flag.


We bundled up with hats, gloves and down jackets for a hike on the Forefield trail, a mile across a glacial moraine and rock debris left behind by the Athabasca Glacier as it receded.




Not much grows here but this red plant scattered about the rocks added a nice touch of color.


Our trail through the rocks looking at the Columbia Icefield, the largest ice field in the Rockies, and Athabasca Glacier.


The Forefield trail ends at a parking lot, picnic shelter and restroom, where the Toe of the Glacier trail begins. From there it’s about another half mile of fairly steep uphill to the toe, or bottom edge.


Along the way there are signs showing where the glacier used to be. It’s receding about 16 feet per year so get here sooner rather than later.

 Jasper National Park, Canada



Tour buses take a dirt road to the glacier where the passengers are transferred to a hybrid bus/truck that actually drives out onto the ice. There’s a certain area where they let people off to walk on it.



There are also guided walks out onto the glacier, but for those of us who didn’t pay for either one, we were able to hike up to just before the ice, where it was roped off. We were fine with that since it was still a great experience being that close.


The northern half of Icefields Parkway through Jasper National Park is pretty spectacular, so we’re looking forward to seeing what the rest of it looks from the Icefields Centre south to Lake Louise, our next destination after Jasper.


Glad we made the decision to come to the Canadian Rockies.


  1. Excellent reporting again. Thank you for taking me along.

  2. I'm glad you made the trip, too! We have the same photo with John standing on those steps!! Loved the Icefields Parkway drive.

  3. LOVE those raging rivers and falls! What stunningly beautiful scenery all around. Looks like September is a busy month for tourism up there.

  4. Decades ago, when we visited Athabasca Falls, a tourist trying to get a "better photo" went beyond the fence, slipped and fell into the falls the day before. The found the shredded body later, downstream. So much water up there. We loved Jasper; looking forward to that post :).
    Box Canyon Mark

    1. I lived at the Warden Station just above the falls for a time. We scuba dived under the falls in winter having a look for the guy who fell in, but didn't locate him till spring when some raft guides spotted him down river. I gave him a ride to the morgue. Stay behind the fences and observe all the signs!

    2. Interesting. Those falls are so powerful there's no way anyone could survive.

    3. Actually, I am aware of one fellow who did go over those falls and survive. But he had been in a canoe or raft, so was wearing a life jacket, and I believe that an off-duty paramedic below the falls pulled him out and resucitated him. Very lucky though!

  5. Mountains, glaciers, waterfalls....awesome scenery. Glad to see that the weather cleared up for you. Great photos!

  6. Gorgeous photos! We did the same hike across from the Icefields Visitor Centre last year. Took Charlie's photo next to a '1982' sign standing on rocks. He was actually there in 1982 and stood on snow at that time! Yes, folks, get there soon as the glaciers are receding! I'm glad you two went to Canada too!

  7. LOVE seeing all that water, as I sit in dry AZ. I'd even be happy to bundle up for those walks to see the glacier. 16 feet a year is a major loss.

  8. For me driving the Icefields Parkway is the most scenic we had ever been. Glad you did the drive.