My feet seem to float on the glass floor that juts over the Sunwapta Valley in Jasper National Park. The wind rises as the river rushes far below. Overlooking mountains and glaciers, some 280 m (918 ft) up, it’s like standing on thin air. I’m overcoming the urge to step back because my friends are right behind me. At least, they said they were.
The Glacier Skywalk, an hour south of the town of Jasper, is one of the best nature and learning attractions along Alberta’s Icefields Parkway. It’s built into native bedrock with steel, glass and wood. Open May through October, this one-hour experience begins at the Glacier Discovery Centre just minutes away.
Glacier Skywalk Promises Learning Adventure
The Skywalk is only accessible by boarding a shuttle in the Discovery Centre’s parking lot. During the brief wait, we gaze at the Athabasca Glacier, which is part of the Columbia Icefield – the largest body of ice in North America at 215 sq km (130 sq mi). As a breeze comes off the glacier, we hug our arms, knowing we’re looking at ancient ice that’s as deep as the Eiffel Tower is tall.
On the short ride to the Skywalk, the shuttle driver explains the forest to our left is made up mainly of subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce, some of the trees upwards of 300 years old. With a growing season of less than 90 days a year, it’s a wonder they can live so long.
Hands-On History of Glaciers
We walk onto the cliff-edge concrete walkway that hugs the canyon wall, taking us through six water-themed interactive stations. Each one highlights interesting aspects including the area’s geology, hydrology and more. I learned the Sunwapta Valley below was formed by a retreating glacier.
My favourite is the last station. The large model of the Columbia Icefield has a wheel that you can spin to see how water flows from the icefield to one of Canada’s three oceans and around the world. Wherever you’re from, you can trace the water to your home.
I stride onto the thick glass of the Skywalk platform, extending out 30 m (98 ft) from the walkway where my friends hang back, and spy a mountain goat as the valley unspools far below me. Breath taking is putting it mildly.
We have booked to stay overnight at the Glacier View Inn on the top floor of the Discovery Centre. At night, they say it looks like the spine of the Milky Way is rising straight up from the Athabasca Glacier.
Tomorrow, we’ll do the Glacier Adventure and take an Ice Explorer bus with giant rubber wheels up onto the glacier where we can fill a cup with the oldest, clearest, coldest water in the world.