Length: 230 km (143 mi.)Driving time: at least 4 hoursIcefields Parkway (Highway 93) crosses the northern part of Banff National Park and southern part of Jasper National Park, and forms a link between TransCanada Highway 1 and Yellowhead Highway 16. Unlike the busy TransCanada Highway, the Icefields Parkway is purely and simply a sightseeing route through magnificent high mountain scenery.
The Columbia Icefield is the largest of its kind in the Rockies. Glaciers spill down the valleys from the icefield, and visitors can access the tongues from points along the Icefields Parkway.
Early in this century the tongue of the Athabasca Glacier still covered the whole valley, including where the highway runs today, so explorers and early travelers went over the nearby Wilcox Pass to reach Jasper.After parking at Sunwapta Lake and climbing up to the debris-strewn tongue of the glacier, it is possible to see from the date-posts just how fast the ice has retreated, leaving clearly identifiable moraine deposits in its wake.The Glacier is best viewed from the Columbia Icefield Centre. It is also possible to take a snowcoach, a large bus with tires designed for driving on ice, out onto the glacier to walk on it yourself. Visitors can also walk up to the edge of the glacier without a guide. It is not recommended to walk on the glacier without a guide due to the danger of falling into a crevice. Unguided tourists have fallen through in the past and been killed. Today there are ropes indicating a safe viewing distance for visitors.The Athabasca Glaicer is one of the highlights of the Icefields Parkway and is definitely worth a stop.
About 4 km (21/2 mi.) further north a winding path climbs 275 m (903 ft) from the car park up to Parker Ridge.Parker Ridge is a popular day hike, about 6 km / 3.7 miles in length. The trail leads up a rather uninspiring mountain side above the highway and is moderately difficult. At the top of the trail hikers are rewarded with beautiful views over the backside of the ridge which looks out over the Saskatchewan Glacier. The glacier stretches11 km / 7 mi. and is the longest glacier tongue of the Columbia Icefield. Mountain goats can often be seen on the ridge. Parker Ridge is a particularly attractive area in summer when the wild flowers are in bloom.
Bow Lake, 34 km (21 mi.) north of Lake Louise, lies below the Crowfoot Glacier (shaped like a crow's foot and clearly visible from the road) and Bow Glacier. The lake's still, clear waters mirror the towering, snow-covered peaks of the continental divide. These glaciers form part of the great Waputik Icefield. Num-ti-jah Lodge, a little hotel on the shore of Bow Lake, built in 1939 by Jimmy Simpson, an early pioneer of mountain tourism, was the setting for many a Nelson Eddy movie in the 1950s. There are lovely walks along the lake to a waterfall at the foot of the Bow Glacier (half a day) or to Helen Lake and Catherine Lake at the Dolomite Pass to the east (whole day).
At 2068 m (6787 ft) Bow Pass is the highest pass in the Banff National Park, and the watershed between the river systems of the North and South Saskatchewan River. A short branch road leads to the magnificent Peyto Lake viewpoint and there is another superb lookout point that can be reached on foot about a third of a mile further on. This is especially lovely in summer, when Bow Summit's mountain meadows are carpeted with wild flowers.A long steep path from Bow Pass leads down for 2.5 km (1.5 mi.) to Peyto Lake, named after the mountain guide Bill Peyto, who began exploring the area in 1894 and took packhorses of supplies north over Bow Summit.
Highway 93A, which used to be the main road to Jasper, branches off near the waterfalls and serves as an alternative route. It can be used to reach the approach roads to Mount Edith in the Cavell district, with the Angel Glacier and the Marmot Basin, very popular for skiing in winter.It parallels the Columbia Icefields Parkway for a short distance. Highway 93A can be used to reach the approach roads to the Mount Edith Cavell area, with the Angel Glacier and the Marmot Basin, both very popular for skiing in winter.
About 70 km (43 mi.) north of Lake Louise, a short path leads down from the car-park to the narrow, winding Mistaya Canyon ("mistaya" is Indian for "grizzly bear"), with its virtually vertical rockfaces and characteristic "pot-holes".This canyon, like many in the Canadian Rockies is the result of erosion from the glacier-fed rivers that cut through the limestone rock. It's possible to walk to the edge of the canyon and watch the water rush by below. This is a popular photography spot.
David Thompson Highway (Highway 11)
The David Thompson Highway branches off towards the east where the North Saskatchewan River cuts north/south through the Rocky Mountains.The highway runs east, through Rocky Mountain House, Red Deer and Settler. It is a great alternative to the Trans-Canada, offering scenic views. This is a lesser known route, following the Saskatchewan River. The most impressive area of the David Thompson Highway is the area West of Nordegg.
About 120 km (75 mi.) north of Lake Louise there is a path leading from the far end of the car park down to Nigel Creek and the awesome Panther Falls. These can be seen from above by taking the footpath from the top end of the car park.Panther Falls can either be viewed from above or below the falls. From the top be careful, the rocks can be very slippery and people have fallen from here. If viewing the falls from the bottom it can be a wet experience and photographers may have trouble keeping their gear dry while trying to photograph.
Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Rocky Mountian House
Between 1799 and 1875, five different fur-trading posts existed along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. Rocky Mountain House Historic Site tells the story of the fur trade with exhibits of trade items and aboriginal objects. Two walking trails connect the remains of four forts. On site interpreters can also offer insight into the time period of the fur trade.Rocky Mountain House Historic Site is located approximately 6 km (3.5 mi.) west of the town of Rocky Mountain House.
The Sunwapta Pass (2035 m (6679 ft)) forms the watershed between the North Saskatchewan River which flows into the Hudson Bay and the Athabasca River which flows into the Beaufort Sea. It is also the borderline between Banff and Jasper National Park.Although the scenery here is spectacular with mountains in the not too far distance and a green pasture in the foreground, it's hard to tell that you have crested a pass.
Just 180 km (112 mi.) north of Lake Louise, and 60 km (37 mi.) south of Jasper, a side-road leads to the Sunwapta Falls ("sunwapta" 5 rushing waters) where the Sunwapta River abruptly changes course and cascades down into a deep limestone gorge.A walking area at the top of the falls allows for good views.From Sunwapta Falls it's possible to hike to Fortress Lake and Hamber Provincial Park. This is about a 25km (15 mi.) hike.
About 200 km (125 mi.) north of Lake Louise (and 33 km (20 mi.) south of Jasper) the Athabasca River plunges down over a solid rock of Pre-Cambrian quartz sandstone. By retrograde erosion the waterfall is steadily retreating leaving a narrow gorge which funnels masses of water into a seething maelstrom, especially when the snow melts in early summer.A path with a bridge and various lookout points circles around the 22 m (72 ft) waterfalls and the gorge with its precipitous rockfaces