On the Icefields Parkway
We spent several fabulous days exploring Jasper National Park. Afterwards, it was time to head south and see more of the Canadian Rockies. Our drive from Jasper to Banff takes us along the Icefields Parkway which is undoubtedly one of the most scenic drives anywhere in the world. Get ready for the drive of a lifetime as you take in roaring waterfalls, expansive icefields and also several stunning glaciers.
Sculpted by both glacial ice and flowing water, Athabasca Falls was our first stop on our drive south from Jasper to Banff along the Icefields Parkway. Athabasca Fall is located just off the Icefields Parkway. There is a large car park and then it is just a short walk down to the pathway to the falls. Allow at least 30 minutes to visit this site. Since you’ll want to explore the many paths which give different views of the Falls.
As can be seen in the video, the flow of water is incredibly powerful for such a small waterfall. This is due to the narrow channel in the Athabasca River at this point which forces a huge volume of water into a small space. Below you can also see the steep gorge that the water passes through. The colours are amazing.
The series of bridges and pathways allow you to view the falls from both sides quite easily.
Then take the steps down through the gorge. Also, be sure to take a good look at the different colours in the rock as you pass by. Without a doubt, Athabasca Falls area is a truly beautiful area.
Once on the lower observation level, you will get fabulous views as the water empties into the wider expanse of the river at the bottom of the gorge.
Afterwards, we drove a bit further south and made our next stop which was at another waterfall, Sunwapta Falls. Still in Jasper National Park, Sunwapta Falls is actually three major waterfalls. You get a choice of trails to explore Sunwapta Falls and we chose the shorter 3.6km trip to the lower falls and then back.
One of the star attractions of the drive from Jasper to Banff is undoubtedly the Columbia Icefield. This is the largest icefield in the Rockies and it spans the border between British Columbia and Alberta. The map below is on display in the visitors’ centre and shows the extent of the icefield.
You should definitely start your visit at the visitors’ centre as it has some really fascinating exhibits and I learned a lot about the icefield there. In fact, the Columbia icefield has probably existed for over 3 million years and the Athabasca Glacier was at its peak around 1844. Since then it has been receding.
Toe of the Glacier Trail
If you walk up the trail to the toe of the glacier you will see the markers showing where the glacier reached at various times in history. In the photo below, you can see where the glacier reached in 1982. As you can see, at this point on the trail, the glacier is no longer even in sight which just emphasised to me how far it had receded.
I found the short trail quite strenuous but that was mainly due to the weather. It was very cold on the day we visited and the wind was icy. Although it is slightly uphill it’s not a difficult path but it is uneven and quite rocky underfoot so you need to tread carefully.
It was well worth the short climb though for this up-close view of the Athabasca Glacier. We were limited on time during our drive from Jasper to Banff but if you have more time then there are lots of other activities to get you up close to the glacier. Check out the experiences at the visitor centre for details of how you can take a trip to the glass Skywalk or take the large-wheeled explorer bus right up to the glacier. You can even walk right on the glacier.
Crowfoot and Bow Glaciers
Where else in the world can you drive along the road and see one glacier after another. Our expectations of the scenery on the drive from Jasper to Banff along the Icefields Parkway were high but they more than exceeded them. It’s a surreal landscape that surpasses, in reality, anything you see in photos. Nevertheless, I took many, many photos and they are a wonderful reminder of this amazing part of the world.
Both these glaciers are in Banff National Park so we were now in the southern section of the Icefields Parkway and nearing our destination in Canmore, near Banff. What a drive it was too. I recommend the drive from Jasper to Banff as one of the most scenic anywhere in the world.
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