Parker Ridge is one of the many fabulous hikes along the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada. This is a great hike for beginners, or anyone that would like to see some magnificent alpine views, without the associated effort that you normally need to hike up to such high elevations.
We visited while forest fires were raging all over BC in August 2021. My photos are all pretty smoke-filled, but you can get the idea about how incredible this hike would be if you could actually see the views down to the Saskatchewan Glacier. Even when the air is filled with smoke, the views from this easy hike are impressive!
Parker Ridge trail map
The map below was our planned route, but we spotted a fun looking extra summit, so popped up that too. This is the map of the route I tracked on strava.
The strange orange glow around the sun is due to the distant wildfires.
Parker Ridge – the basics
Distance: 5.2 km (8 km if you hike to the mini peak too)
Elevation gain: 270 m (570m if you include the mini peak)
Highest Points: 2256m (or 2325 if you go a little higher)
Time: 1.5-2.5 hours
What to bring:
Even in summer, bring warm clothes as the glacier produces it’s own chilly winds
The 10 Essentials (as always)
There are stinky pit toilets at the trailhead.
Dogs will love this, but keep them on a lead as there are lots of ground squirrels.
How hard is it? Easy in summer for the main viewpoint. Intermediate if you plan to hike to the summit. This would be much more challenging in winter or spring when it’s covered in snow.
Parker Ridge – getting started
It’s pretty easy to find the Parker Ridge trailhead. If you’re driving north, it’s just over 5km from the Big Bend. If you’re heading south, it’s 9km after the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre. There is a large sign on the highway, so you can’t miss the car park. From there, there is only one trail, that leads straight towards the ridge.
The trail ascends up some steps and then moves onto switchbacks to help you to zig zag your way up the mountain. It takes very little time to hike above the trees.
How busy is Parker Ridge?
This is normally one of the busier trails on the Icefields Parkway. That is understandable, as it is pretty easy, but will get you up to some incredible views! We started at 7:30am, and we didn’t see anyone for the first 2 hours. If you fancy doing this hike with no crowds, come early. Or maybe there are not many people prepared to hike in the smoke!?
If you feel tired along this route, just turn around! Every time you stop to take a breath, the scenery behind you gets more and more impressive! The huge mountain on the opposite side of the road (photo above) is Nigel Peak South (SE3).
As you get close to the crest of the ridge, you’ll be able to see views of one of the giants of the Rockies, Mount Athabasca (as well as the pointy Hilda Peak in front of it.)
First Saskatchewan Glacier view
The first fantastic viewpoint of the Saskatchewan Glacier is less than 2km into the hike. This is the largest glacier branching off from the Columbia Icefield. It’s 13km long and looks like a giant patterned snow-snake wiggling down the mountain. You can’t see this glacier from the road, so the only way to view it is to hike up.
The Columbia Icefield itself is the largest icefield south of the Arctic circle. It is shrinking (it’s already 20% smaller than it was in the 1920s.) Even while it shrinks it is an awesome hunk of ice! You can read more about it on my post about the Athabasca Glacier.
Mount Athabasca Views
As well as the Saskatchewan Glacier, I loved all the views of Mount Athabasca. I had only really seen it from the other side (by the Athabasca Glacier) so it is awesome to see how different it looks from this angle.
Flora and Fauna
When smoke (or mist) obscures the views, you can still see a lot by looking down! We found so many cool plants along these alpine meadows. Near the first viewpoint, there is a large burrow full of ground squirrels. They are really cute little dudes; So watch out for them.
Lots of people are content just hiking up to the first viewpoint; But if you have time, keep going along to the second viewpoint, further along Parker Ridge.
You’ll hike along the massive valley that has been carved out by the Saskatchewan Glacier/River with great views of Big Bend Peak. The second viewpoint gives a fuller view of the massive Saskatchewan Glacier. At the foot of the glacier there is a large meltwater pond – if you visit when skies are clear, that’ll be turquoise. For us, it merged into the forest-fire haze.
It’s incredible how many epic mountain and glacier views you can get on such an easy hike!
Extra mini Peak
If you fancy it, you can hike up an extra 70-80m on a bump to the west of the first viewpoint. We can never resist a teeny summit, and the path is very obvious, so we followed it up.
The is the view back down to Parker Ridge. It looks a bit dystopian with the orange lighting.
This extra peak provides even better views of Mount Athabasca. It looks like three separate mountains from here, but each of the bumps join up if you look at the map. The pointy Hilda Peak looks great too. There are a couple of rock shelters if you need to escape the wind.
Noise from the Icefields Parkway
The only downside to this fantastic hike is that you can never quite escape the sound from the Icefields Parkway. Still, if putting up with a little road noise allows you to reach high alpine meadows in less than an hour, it’s worth it!
Panoramas from Parker Ridge
These are not the best Panoramas as the scenery was so obscured by smoke; But I hope they give you an idea about how epic the scenery can be on this little hike.
Parker Ridge is a hike that allows anyone with reasonable fitness to see magnificent views in the Canadian Rockies. It was cool to see it on a smoky day, but I would loooove to come back and see the same views when the air is clear! There are loads of other incredible sights and hikes on the Icefields Parkway (click through for more ideas). Or, you can click on the pin below to save this post for later.