We drove from Jasper to Banff in April, and although we were worried that the temperamental spring weather would mean rain, mist and no views; We ended up driving under blue skies dotted with fluffy clouds. It is possible to drive along the whole route in one day. However there is loooads to see, so by the time we made it halfway, we were running out of steam. I recommend spreading this drive over a few days, so you can fit in more hikes and spectacular views. Still, if like us you are short on time, I hope this driving guide will give you some ideas of fantastic things to see on your road trip from Jasper to Banff.
Icefields Parkway Map – Hikes and Highlights
This map shows some of the hiking and sightseeing options along the route.
Icefield Parkway – How long does it take to drive:
If you google how long it takes to drive from Jasper to Banff, the simple answer is 3 hours and 40 minutes. However life is never simple, and if you drove that fast, you’d miss most of the joy of this road! It took us 11 hours to drive from Jasper to Banff. We managed 3 mini hikes (all less than 5km) and we stopped at about 12 viewpoints along the way.
I have written in more detail about quite a few of these stop-offs, so if you’d like to read more about them, just click on the links for more photos and details.
Wildlife on the Icefields Parkway
It is very likely that you’ll be able to spot some Canadian wildlife along the Icefields Parkway. You might see big horned sheep, caribou, elks and mountain goats. If you’re lucky you might meet pikas, squirrels and marmots when you stop off for mini walks or hikes. If you are super lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a bear! You can see a good roundup of the wildlife here.
Viewing bears from your vehicle
To minimize the bears’ exposure to you, it is best to drive past slowly, rather than stopping your car. Having said that, if you are anything like me, you’ll reeeally want to stop if you spot a bear! If you do stop, only stay for a minute or two (you don’t want to make the bear used to humans!) We were very lucky on our drive. We spotted this huge black bear on the opposite side of the road, so stopped to watch him. He then crossed the road and looped around to sit on a tree really close to where we had parked! I used a huge zoom lens to take this photo, but he still seemed reeeeally close to me! We didn’t stay long, so I was soooo sad to drive away.
However we saw some truly crazy behaviour on our trip! Cars (and even tour buses) stopping in the middle of the road, or pulling in on the opposite side of the road (in the way of oncoming traffic). It’s almost like bear sightings make humans turn into gibbering idiots that forget how to drive(!) We even saw a man get out of his car and walk right up close to the bear with his zoom lens!
- Whatever you do, do not feed the bears (or any of the wildlife.) It may change their behaviour to associate humans with food. This can lead to the bear having to be killed because you fed it to get your photo.
- Don’t stop in the middle of the road or get in the way on oncoming traffic. (Duh!?)
- Do NOT get out of your car!
- Never drop litter (I mean you shouldn’t be throwing litter out from your car anyway…)
So, now you know what to do when you see wildlife, I’ll list some possible stops and highlights on the road trip from Jasper to Banff.
Icefields Parkway Highlights: Marmot Basin – Jasper’s Ski resort
If you like the idea of starting your day with an epic view from up high; Drive up to Jasper’s Ski resort, Marmot Basin. This is only a minor detour (15 minutes) from the main Icefields Parkway. The ski resort’s base is at 1,698 m, so even if you don’t get on a ski lift, you can enjoy views like this while you grab a coffee from the cafe. Or, if you have more time, spend a whole day enjoying these views! You can read about skiing at Marmot Basin here.
Icefields Parkway Hikes: Athabasca Falls
This is more of a mini walk than a hike, but you’ll definitely want to stop and take a peek at Athabasca Falls. This waterfall has a drop of 24 m, then the river rushes through a picturesque limestone canyon. I actually fell in love with the crazy rock formations in the canyon even more than the falls. It’s beeeeautiful!
Icefields Parkway Hikes: Sunwapta Falls
Sunwapta Falls is the next no-brainer stop-off. If you are short on time, you can pop out of your car to see the upper waterfalls. However, I recommend hiking further down the trail to the lower waterfalls too. The walk leads you through pretty woodland, with fantastic views of the surrounding mountains.
Icefields Parkway Hikes: Beauty Creek
There is a lovely-sounding hike along a creek to Stanley Falls. It’s just 3.4 km in both directions. It’s on my list for next time we visit.
Viewpoint: Stutfield Glacier
This viewpoint is right before the Tangle Creek Falls, and gives you your first view of a glacier! I love the way the snow and rocks make the mountain look stripy in the springtime. It’s totally worth stopping for a moment for this view!
Sightseeing: Tangle Creek Falls
Tangle Creek Falls is the most amazing waterfall for the least effort! This view of the waterfall is right next to the road, so no walking is required. However, if you’d like to stretch your legs, it’s pretty easy to climb up the cliff to get a closer view of the upper layers of Tangle Falls. In springtime, the top part of the waterfall was a massive wall of ice.
Icefields Parkway Hikes: Athabasca Glacier hikes
This was my favourite stop-off of the day! We combined a couple of mini hikes to walk right up to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. If you didn’t see my post about this already, please take a peek as the scenery is spectacular! You can also pay for tours to drive on the glacier, or to go on a “glacier skywalk” where you can walk on a glass platform overlooking these epic views.
If you’re hungry by this point, you can find food at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre. But…I don’t recommend it. The food we ordered was overpriced and underwhelming. I wish we had brought a picnic.
Icefields Parkway Hikes: Parker Ridge
There is a fun sounding hike just after the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre. It is 5.4 km (with 250 m elevation gain). It was still a little too early for us to do that hike, but I think you’d be rewarded with spectacular views if you did it.
Viewpoints: Weeping Wall and Bridal Veil Falls
We didn’t manage to stop at Bridal Veil Falls, but we did manage to take a peek at the Weeping Wall. This waterfall looks extra impressive in winter and spring, when the water freezes onto the rocks as large sheets of ice.
Icefields Parkway Stops: Saskatchewan River Crossing
It is easy to miss the viewpoint at Saskatchewan River Crossing. it pops up right after the junction with Highway 11. There is a short walkway that will give you a chance to see these stunning views of the surrounding valley and mountains. This would be a fantastic spot for a picnic.
This is the view you are about to drive towards. Isn’t it gorgeous?
Once you get closer, there is one large area with burnt trees on Mount Murchison.
Icefield Parkway Viewpoints: Waterfowl Lake
There are a couple of places you can pull in to stare in wonder at the mountains around Waterfowl Lake. The Lake itself is bright blue later in the spring and in the summertime. I thought it still looked amazing under ice.
Icefields Parkway Hikes: Bow Summit Viewpoint or Peyto Lake
The hike up to Bow Summit was on my list as one of the things we *had* to do. Alas, by the time we made it this far along the Icefields parkway, we were too tired (and hungry) to do another hike. Still, if you can fit it in, the hike is 5.8 km with 250 m elevation gain. This area will be closed for rehabilitation in August 2019, so you will may not be able to stop at Peyto Lake if you come this summer.
Icefields Parkway Viewpoints: Bow Lake and Crowfoot Glacier
We couldn’t resist making another stop to see Bow Lake and the Crowfood Glacier. This was the busiest stop of our day as there were several tour buses stopped here. If you’d like to hike in this area, there is a fun sounding walk up to Bow Glacier Falls. It is 9.2 km with just 155 m elevation gain.
Icefields Parkway Hikes: Lake Louise
Lake Louise is located just after the official end of the Icefields parkway. It would be a great place to stay at the end of your day if you do not want to drive the final 40 minutes to Banff. I recommend saving lake Louise for a full day of exploring, as it has it’s own fantastic hikes. If you can’t spare a whole day, do still stop off and see the views.
I adored visiting Lake Louise later in the year when it has that stunning blue colour, but it has it’s own charm when covered in ice in the springtime.
Icefields Parkway Hikes: Castle lookout
There are a few more fantastic viewpoints between Lake Louise and Banff, one of these is at Castle Junction. Marc and I had great fun hiking up to the Castle Mountain lookout. If you fancy this hike, it is 7.4 km with 550m elevation gain. You’ll be rewarded with fabulous views over Bow Valley.
Icefields Parkway Hikes: Johnston Canyon
This is another really fun (and super popular walk) that you can do on the way to Banff! We actually came back a couple of days later to re-walk up to Johnston Canyon as we loved it so much the first time we visited. It is 5.4 km round trip to the upper falls, with 120m elevation gain.
In the springtime, the waterfalls were covered in ice, and so were most of the footpaths. Bring microspikes, or be ready to slide your way along the ice.
So, now I have listed enough hikes and highlights to give you a fantastic holiday along the Icefields Parkway. I hope seeing the photos gives you some idea about how pretty this road trip can be!
Are you planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies? Which part of the route do you fancy most? Or, if you have visited this area, do you think I missed any points of interest or hikes that you love along this route? If so, please let me know in the comments. I am sure we’ll be back to explore this area again!