Consistently voted one of the most scenic drives in the world, Icefields Parkway is a full experience in itself. Snowcapped peaks, abundant wildlife, lakes of all sizes, and some of the most accessible glaciers make the stretch of the road an absolute marvel. If you’re planning to make the drive, there are a number of things to consider for your safety. I enjoyed a summer journey on Icefields Parkway this summer courtesy of Pursuit, and here’s what you should know.
Columbia Icefield View (©Melanie Lee)
Do Not Stop
There are hundreds of things to see on Icefields Parkway—from the stunning scenery to wildlife encounters; there’s so much going on. That said, for safety reasons, do not pull over to take photos. Icefields Parkway runs through Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, and stopping to take photos of wildlife is not allowed—you can, of course, snap a couple of pics as you stop for them to cross, but you cannot pull over to do so for your safety and theirs. Many areas along Icefields Parkway are also rockslide areas, and stopping is not advised, even though the park upkeeps these areas very well. Don’t worry—there are designated areas to stop along the way that will allow you to capture some of those stunning views with your camera.
Glacier View Lodge View (©Melanie Lee)
Exploring Icefields Parkway doesn’t take that long, but with so much beautiful scenery, why rush? Plan your trip in advance and book a stay at Glacier View Lodge. This fully off-grid, sustainable boutique property is located directly across from the Columbia Icefield, providing the most beautiful bucket list views of the Athabasca Glacier. The property has only 32 rooms, all located on our floor.
Glacier View Lodge Lounge (©Melanie Lee)
The property has two restaurants—a quick casual option (Chalet) and a delicious sit-down for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (Altitude). An elevated deck provides beautiful outdoor views of the glacier, and guests can access the Columbia Icefield Adventure tours from the ground level of the property. The hotel also has the most stunning lobby lounge (its gorgeous a-frame design has won awards) that gives you a chance to sit back, unwind (there’s coffee, tea, and hot chocolate on demand), play a game, and enjoy the scenery at a leisurely pace.
Glacier View Lodge Room (©Melanie Lee)
Walk on a Glacier
Even if you’re not staying overnight, book tickets for the Columbia Icefield. The tour is brief, but it allows you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk on the surface of a glacier. You’ll be walking where NASA scientists recently walked as they use the Athabasca Glacier for testing the surface of future explorations. You’ll climb aboard an Ice Explorer—a specialized vehicle designed to handle the steep terrain of the approach to the glacier and the unpredictable terrain of the glacier itself.
Columbia Icefield Ice Explorer (©Melanie Lee)
The Ice Explorer takes you down the steepest unpaved commercial road in North America before it drives directly onto the glacier itself. Here, you’ll have time to take photos, wander the surface, and even fill your water bottles with fresh glacial water. Make sure to bring sunglasses and sunblock—the surface of the glacier is highly reflective, and you’ll burn quickly if you don’t bring sun protection!
Athabasca Glacier (©Melanie Lee)
Explore the Skywalk
You can purchase a combo pass that includes both the Columbia Icefield and a visit to the Columbia Icefield Skywalk. Similar to the skywalk at Grand Canyon West, this skywalk provides staggering cliffside views—but without the crowds you’ll find at the Grand Canyon. Interactive exhibits on your walk up to the skywalk provide education about the area and the skywalk itself for a fun and educational experience. The skywalk isn’t for the faint of heart, but even if you have an aversion to heights, it can be a pretty spectacular experience.
Columbia Icefield Skywalk (©Melanie Lee)
Book the Best Trip For Your Time
There are a few ways to enjoy the Columbia Icefield. Enjoy a fully guided experience that includes lodging and tours. Book your activities in advance as part of your road trip journey from Banff to Jasper. You can also book a tour from Banff to Jasper to the Columbia Icefield, a tour from Jasper to Banff, or roundtrip tours from Banff or from Jasper. No matter how much time you’ve got, there’s always time to cross this visit off your bucket list!
Glacier View Lodge Exterior (©Melanie Lee)