Parker Ridge (in the smoke)

Parker Ridge (in the smoke)

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:ย  1.5-2.5 hours
What to bring:
Even in summer, bring warm clothes as the glacier produces itโ€™s own chilly winds
The 10 Essentialsย (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.ย 

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.

Keep going!

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.

Parker Ridge trail - even fun in the smoke - Canadian Rockies Parker Ridge - Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies Parker Ridge trail - Fun easy hike on the Icefields Parkway - Canada

34 thoughts on “Parker Ridge (in the smoke)

  1. Thank you for all of the details! I love that you always tell us where the toilets are! The smoke make for some wildly eerie pictures, doesn’t it? Still very beautiful despite the smoke.

    1. Hehehe thank Jen! You can tell I always seem to want to pee before we hike! ๐Ÿ˜€

      And yeah, it looks a bit like the scenery from Blade Runner 2049!

    1. It’s a great one to visit if you are driving to Banff along the Icefield Parkway. I mean, you might as well stretch your legs for even better views. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Props to you for hiking in all of that smoke! I also love how you pointed out to always look behind you or to look down. Sometimes we get so focused on the destination or the path in front of us that we miss the beauty along our hike.

    1. It’s a bit sad, but after the last few years, we are getting used to smoky days in the summer. ๐Ÿ™ This wasn’t as bad as it can be (we don’t venture out when it’s really bad!)

      But you’re right! There is so much more than the destination when you’re out for a walk.

  3. Another beautiful and scenic hike! Parker Ridge looks like my kind of trailโ€ฆgreat tip about starting early for the solitude!

    1. Thanks Karen! I’m not sure of it always works (there are a lot of early risers in Canada!) but this area was definitely busier later in the day!

  4. Even with all the smoke, the views from your Parker Ridge hike were pretty amazing ๐Ÿ™‚ Those wildfires must have been intense – we got smog and haze from them all the way in New Hampshire!

    1. Right!? That glow was so strange early in the morning. It was even more eerie in real life, but it hard to capture it on camera…

  5. You are brave to visit while forest fires are still going. But thanks for doing so because you have shared yet again another amazing hike. This city girl love “hiking” with you ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. We would have stayed away if the fires were closer… but we’d booked everything ages in advance, so we figured we should see how it was, even with the smoke.

      I have to admit, it did make us change our hiking plans to easier routes and more waterfalls! We didn’t want to breathe too heavily…

  6. I’ve yet to explore much of Canada, but from the photos I’ve seen both in your post and on Instagram, this area looks truly incredible. I will say that even despite all of the smoke, you captured the beauty of this hike quite well! I would really love to see Saskatchewan Glacier. Thanks for sharing all these details! Xx Sara

    1. Thank yoooou! Yeah, this area is incredible the bright blue glacial lakes and rivers make it look sort of fake. I’m always blown away that scenery this good could be just a drive away!

  7. We were sure sorry we did not get to stop and hike at spots along the Icefields Parkway. But I must admit we were super thankful we escaped BC and headed for home in Toronto before the flooding closed the highways! I am sure it must have been strange hiking when the smoke was still in the air from the summer fires. But it still looks like it was worth it for the views.

    1. Oooh did you just leave BC in the last few weeks? The rain and flooding has been mad (and now the gas shortages) It means we have to stay close to the city for a bit, so I am just writing about adventures we had earlier in the year…

  8. I’m from Colorado, so it’s pretty cool to see the Rockies from another perspective! Photos of mountains are always beautiful, and these don’t disappoint! Thanks for all the hiking tips at Parker Ridge!

  9. Another hike I am saving for my places to hike when we move to Canada list! Very much looking forward to these awesome views of Saskatchewan Glacier and Athabasca Mountain along the Parker Ridge! It is a bit sad to see how much smoke is there from the fires, but the views are still lovel.

    1. Woot woot! Moving to Canada is such a good idea. Where are you planning to move to? I think moving here is one of me and my husband’s best decisions…we love it so much!

  10. I’ve always wanted to visit Banff but wasn’t sure if it was worth the trip alone, it’s good to know that Parker Ridge is near by to add to the trip! Thank you for sharing ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Oooh it is totally worth the trip! We’ve been a few times now, and each time we go, I find more and more things to do. You will find sooooo many incredible places to explore.

  11. You are one brave hiker for going during fires! I think Iโ€™d be too worried about air quality to go but I admit itโ€™s still a gorgeous hike even with the smoky haze! I like that itโ€™s not too hard and fairly easy to get views like that!

    1. It’s funny isn’t it? We’ve started to get used to all the horrible smoke, so when it’s not *too* bad we still venture out. The fires were a long way away, so the air looked worse than it felt.

      Marc and I both have smoke/pollution induced asthma, so we take it easy and turn back if the smoke feels too thick.

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