Along the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) jaw-dropping scenery is punctuated by more than 100 ancient glaciers, waterfalls cascading from dramatic rock spires and turquoise lakes set in sweeping valleys. There are so many places where you can pull over to take spectacular photos or find a trailhead to hike. You’ll want to take your time, with many must-see stops along the way. Remember to fill up your gas tank before leaving Lake Louise – there’s only one service station along the route.
Start your journey in this picturesque hamlet west of Banff. First, soar to an elevation of 2,088 m (6,850 ft) on the Lake Louise Gondola for some of the best grizzly bear viewing opportunities in the Canadian Rockies. Then enjoy afternoon tea overlooking Lake Louise and the Victoria Glacier at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Pick up the Icefields Parkway and drive north to the lookout point for the massive Crowfoot Glacier on the south end of Bow Lake. Watch for wildlife such as deer, moose, elk, bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
Just up the road is the best Bow Lake lookout where you can get an excellent shot of the historic Num-Ti-Jah Lodge across the sparkling turquoise lake. Nestled on a shoreline of evergreens, the iconic log and stone chalet with crimson roof was built by legendary pioneer and mountaineer Jimmy Simpson.
Your next quintessential Canadian Rockies photo opportunity is Peyto Lake, a few minutes further north. Take the easy 10-minute stroll along a paved trail to the viewpoint. It’s the highest elevation on the Parkway and offers spectacular views of the glacial valley and gorgeous lake below.
The Crossing resort at Saskatchewan River Crossing is just north of Mistaya Canyon at the junction of Hwy 93 and Hwy 11 – about the halfway point between Banff and Jasper. Stop in at the General Store for provisions or have lunch in the roomy restaurant. Gas up at the service station, the last before you get to Jasper.
Continue north to cross the boundary between Banff and Jasper national parks. Now you’re into the Columbia Icefield. Plan to stop at the Glacier Discovery Centre and board an Ice Explorer that will take you up onto the Athabasca Glacier, where you can walk on ice up to 360 m (1,180 ft) thick. For stunning aerial views of glittering glaciers and rugged mountain peaks, take the five-minute shuttle from the Discovery Centre to the Glacier Skywalk, a glass-floored observation platform suspended 280 m (919 ft) over the glacier-formed Sunwapta Valley.
Turn off at the side road to Sunwapta Falls and pull in at the picturesque Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge (halfway between the Columbia Icefield and the town of Jasper). Grab a snack from the deli and take a five minute stroll to the first of two waterfalls. The lower falls are just another 10 minutes away and well worth the journey.
Continue north on the Parkway to the junction of Hwy 93 and 93A and pull into the popular Athabasca Falls Viewpoint to experience the most powerful of the park’s many waterfalls. From the lookout you’ll hear the roar of the rushing water and even feel some of the spray and mist.
Drive on to Jasper – a friendly mountain town surrounded by soaring peaks, sea-green lakes and untouched wilderness. Consider the town your springboard to outdoor adventures in Jasper National Park. Ride the Jasper SkyTram for stunning views of six mountain ranges, glacial fed lakes, with the Athabasca River winding past the town in the valley below. Then stop by the Visitor Centre to learn about guided tours, including the Spirit Island Boat Cruise on Maligne Lake, which takes you to one of the most photographed scenes in the world.