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GLACIAL ADVENTURES ALONG THE COLUMBIA ICEFIELD

Author: Debbie Olsen

Debbie is a writer, researcher, traveller, mom, wife, foodie, gardener, housekeeper, photographer, and occasional hormone-crazed maniac. She has contributed to eight Fodor’s guide books about Alberta and writes regular columns for the Calgary Herald and the Red Deer Advocate.

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It is sometime after midnight and I am standing alone on the outdoor viewing deck of the Glacier Discovery Centre with my camera, trying to capture an image of the Athabasca Glacier after dark. In the moonlight, the glacier has an ethereal glow that almost overpowers the twinkling stars above it. There are some scenes too beautiful and too fleeting to ever be recorded and try as I might I cannot capture it. Instead, I stand in the cool night air and imprint it on my mind.

When British explorer, J. Norman Collie first laid eyes on the massive Columbia Icefield in 1898, he was so moved that he later wrote: “The view that lay before us in the evening light was one that does not often fall to the lot of modern mountaineers.” Collie and his companions were the first to discover the Columbia Icefield, but every traveller who sees it for the first time has a similar reaction. Even those of us who see it often never cease to find it magical.

It is almost 2 a.m. when I finally make my way back to my comfortable room at the Glacier View Inn, on the top floor of the Discovery Centre and the only hotel in the area. Though I am reluctant to leave the view, my husband and children will undoubtedly be up early – eager to go up onto the surface of the glacier on a Glacier Adventure Tour. Later we’ll make the spectacular drive up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper for a few days of family time, but this moment was mine alone – forever stamped in memory.

Experience the Columbia Icefield

Scientists believe the Columbia Icefield predates the existence of man and when you see it, you can’t help but feel a sense of your own smallness. Surrounded by jagged mountain peaks and straddling the Continental Divide, no visit to the Canadian Rockies would be complete without experiencing this region. Guided tours can take you to the key sights or you can explore on your own.

Drive the Icefields Parkway

With jaw-dropping panoramic views around every curve, the Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic drives on the planet as confirmed by National Geographic and Conde Nast Traveler. You could drive the entire 232 km (144 mi) from Lake Louise to Jasper in about three hours, but you should plan to take the better part of a day – stopping often at viewpoints and scanning for wildlife along the way.  

Glacier Discovery Centre, Adventure Tours and Skywalk

Interpretive exhibits, interpretive walks, self-guided trails, a cafeteria, a gift shop and a tour desk offering guided excursions onto the Athabasca Glacier are available at this interpretive centre.

Book a tour for the Glacier Skywalk at the tour desk and hop a bus for a five minute ride to this unique attraction. Follow a cliff-edge interpretive walkway to learn about the Columbia Icefield and the wildlife in this region and then step out onto a glass-floored observation platform perched 280 m (918 ft) above the glacier-formed valley to take in the breathtaking view.

Activity Highlights
  • Glacier Walking
  • Sightseeing Tours
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