The Icefields Parkway connects two of the UNESCO inscribed Rocky Mountain National Parks, Banff and Jasper. I had never heard of it before planning our road trip last summer to the Canadian parks, but once I got up there I noticed that it was not a well-kept secret. RVs from Canada and the U.S. were everywhere, as were many other vehicles especially motorcycles. However, this did not decrease the vast beauty that surrounded us on this magnificent ride.
I absolutely love an Alberta road trip, so after getting back to the States and watching my youngest daughter receive her Master’s degree, four of us headed out for a celebratory tromp. We started in Tacoma, WA., headed up to the US and Canada border in Sumas, then on up to Kamloops to spend the night.
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A Road to Remember – Icefields Parkway
From there, we continued onto Banff National Park traveling at speeds that were downright scary. Huge trucks would be pushing 80-90 miles per hour and even though it was highway, there wasn’t a lot of extra room on the road. We thought we’d make it to Edmonton, because there is so much to do there, but we spent way too much time ogling wildlife and being outdoors.
Once we got to Banff National Park, thankfully the traffic slowed down, we were able to catch our breath in the freshest of air, and we started to explore our surroundings. Majestic, stunning, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, and gorgeous were all adjectives that immediately sprung to mind as we ooh’d and aah’d our way around the parks. The views were amazing, but then so was being able to stop along the road and gawk at the wildlife.
From Banff, we continued on to Jasper, which is full of really fun things to do, and the road that connects these two parks is the magnificent Icefields Parkway or Highway 93. We love a great scenic drive – especially through a national park – One hundred and forty-four miles of stunning views, rocky peaks, turquoise-y lakes full of glacial run-off, snow and icefields that last all year round, as well as plenty of wildlife, it takes a full day at least to traverse this route.
Additional Reading: 23 Incredible Things to Do in Banff
We couldn’t believe our luck. We’d been in the area for a few days and it had rained, rained, rained. We ran into a couple of motorcyclists that were shivering through and through as they rode, not enjoying the socked-in scenery at all. However, the day we were on the parkway, it was a lightly cloudy cornflower blue. The sun was shining, to the point where it was difficult to look at all the snow as it would be so reflective it hurt our eyes.
Of course, with beautiful days comes that many more tourists taking advantage of it. At the Columbia Icefield, there were so many buses filled with tourists that we didn’t even consider stopping for a snack. Cars, trucks, campers were all over the roads, stopped on both sides. One guy had pulled over his camper and let his cat out to explore a few snow patches. She (the cat) had traveled over 3000 miles just on their current trip. Lucky cat!
We’re not really the type to hang out where everyone else is hanging out, so we took advantage of all the tiny turn-outs that many people passed by. Many times, I would jump out of the car, and Jim would have to go find a place to turn around and come back and pick me up, because it was too narrow to stop where we were.
There are plenty of stops along the way, but some of our favorites other than the Columbia Icefield were the Saskatchewan River Crossing, Peyto Lake as well as all the small lakes along the way, and of course Lake Louise. We couldn’t believe there were even more tourists at Lake Louise, so many that it was difficult finding a parking spot.
- It goes without saying that during summer is the best time to go on the Icefields Parkway so that you can take advantage of the better weather, but if I were going to do it again, I would try and go late spring or early fall.
- Weather-wise it can snow at any time, so it’s very important to bring lots of layers and be prepared for cold and rain.
- There are not many commercial places to stop along the way, so bringing a thermos of drinks and a lunch is a good idea or you will be competing in long lines with all the busers.
- Make sure to gas up either in Jasper or Banff before you head out.
- Usually you will be combining this trip with visiting at least two of the parks, but even if you aren’t you must buy the Canadian National Parks pass. We paid for one week to give us lots of time to explore both parks and the parkway.
For more photos, check out this post on “Rocky Mountain High! 20 Stunning Photos of Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise” on SandInMySuitcase, and if you are interested in seeing the Northern Lights in Canada, check out Leigh’s Post.
Have you ever driven the Icefields Parkway or visited the Rocky Mountain Parks in Canada? What were your impressions?
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.