The Columbia Icefield, the most important of the icefields from which the parkway gets its name, is close on 130 km (80 mi.) north of Lake Louise. Covering a total area of 389 sq. km (150 sq. mi.), with the surrounding glaciers, it is the biggest continuous icefield in the Rockies. On the main field, the ice is 600 m to 900 m (2000 to 3000 ft) thick in places.From the Columbia Icefield, which lies on the continental divide, several hanging glaciers flow down the mountain, their tongues stretching deep into the valleys.Mount Snowdome (3520 m (11,553 ft)) is the very apex of Canada, from where the melted snow and ice flow into three different oceans, the Pacific to the west, the Beaufort Sea to the north through the Athabasca River and Mackenzie River, and hence the Arctic, and through the Saskatchewan River into Hudson Bay, and thence the Atlantic. The enormous icefield - its size can only be appreciated from the air - is a relic of the immense glaciation in the Rocky Mountains during the ice age which shaped the present topography of the area. Over the last 300 years the individual tongues of the Columbia Icefield glaciers have retreated considerably.
Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure
The Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure™ is one of the most unique attractions in the Canadian Rockies. Board massive Ice Explorers, specially designed for glacial travel, which takes you on a remarkable journey to the surface of the Athabasca Glacier.Each 80 minute journey is lead by a driver-guide, who shares a wealth of information about glaciers, icefields and their impact on our environment. Mid-point in the tour, you can safely step out onto the glacier and stand on this powerful ancient ice. Tours depart every 15-30 minutes from the Icefield Centre on the Icefields Parkway.Columbia Icefield scenic walks can also be booked, take a behind the scenes look at this harsh environment and learn how plants and wildlife survive in such conditions. This guided walk provides you with visible evidence of the glacier's path and enlightenment on the impact of glacial melt water. This 2 hour walk is rated easy and is perfect for the whole family.
Columbia Icefield Centre
A model of the Columbia Icefield can be seen in the Columbia Icefield Centre and a multi-vision slide show explains the development of the icefield and its individual glaciers.From the Icefield Center there is an excellent view of the tongue of the 7 km (41/2 mi.)-long Athabasca Glacier and the glaciated north wall of Mount Athabasca (3491 m (11,457 ft)). There is an even better view from the meadows above the Icefield Chalet (overnight accommodation), which is also a good starting point for several hikes in the mountains.Ask at the Icefield Center about taking a coach trip on the Brewster Ice Explorer out onto the Athabasca Glacier.