Home Destinations The Best Stops on the Icefields Parkway

The Best Stops on the Icefields Parkway

by Karen Ung

Countless natural wonders make the Icefields Parkway a must-see. Spanning 232 km (144 mi) from Lake Louise to Jasper, there are glaciers, turquoise lakes, waterfalls, and jagged peaks around every corner. It’s easy to see why the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93N) is one of the world’s most scenic drives! For this epic driving tour, slow travel rules; embrace the journey and make lots of stops.

Make the most of the Icefields Parkway by stopping at the best spots!

Here are the best stops on the Icefields Parkway from south to north:

Bow Lake, Banff National Park

Bow Lake (40 km from Lake Louise): is one of Banff’s largest lakes. Kids will enjoy throwing rocks in the water while you take photos of the lake and Crowfoot Glacier. You can paddle and fish here too! Note that a National Parks Fishing Permit must be obtained in order to fish in the National Parks.

For a quick photo of Bow Lake and the Crowfoot Glacier, you can stop on the west side of the Icefields Parkway, about 39 kilometres north of Lake Louise. If you’d like to stay a while, continue north for another kilometre and turn left at the Simpson’s Num-ti-jah Lodge sign. The day use area by the lodge has pit toilets, picnic tables, and a gorgeous trail around the lake.

Going further: You can hike to beautiful Bow Glacier Falls (4.6 km one way, 155 m elevation gain) from Bow Lake.

Peyto Lake, Banff National Park

Peyto Lake (45 km from Lake Louise): Named for explorer, Bill Peyto, this lake is known for its impossible shade of blue. Save your sanity and skip the Peyto Lake Viewpoint crawling with tourists. Instead, hike to the Peyto Lake Overlook near the southern end of the lake. You will likely have this splendid spot all to yourself, save for a few ground squirrels! You can also hike to Bow Summit from here in the summer, or backcountry ski if you have avalanche training and gear. For more details, see our story: Peyto Lake Viewpoint and Overlook.

  • Park at Bow Summit in the Lower Parking Lot. The Upper Parking Lot (handicapped parking only, and drop-off/pick-up zone) is closed until Spring 2022.
  • Peyto Lake Viewpoint: 600 m one way, 44 m elevation gain
  • Peyto Lake Overlook: 2.5 km round trip from lower parking lot, 94 m elevation gain: 100 m.
  • Bow Summit (summer only – avalanche danger when snow covered!): 5.8 km return, 245 m elevation gain.
  • Nearest washrooms: Outhouses at lower parking lot

Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park

Mistaya Canyon (75 km from Lake Louise): This short, easy walk takes you to a curvy slot canyon. Observe how the Mistaya River has carved the limestone over thousands of years. For more information, see our story: Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park.

  • Park at the Mistaya Canyon pullout on the west side of the highway.
  • 500 m one way, 35 metres elevation loss. 

Saskatchewan River Crossing, Banff National Park

Saskatchewan River Crossing (80 km from Lake Louise): The Crossing Resort is your stop for ice cream, souvenirs, camping supplies, dining, and gas (no fuel for 153 km!). If you’d like a quiet picnic spot with a view, pull in to Howse Pass Viewpoint just south of Saskatchewan River Crossing.

Parker Ridge, Banff National Park

Parker Ridge (117 km north of Lake Louise) is a must-do hike along the legendary Icefields Parkway with spectacular views of the Saskatchewan Glacier. For details, read our story: Hiking Parker Ridge. Distance: 2.7 km one way, Elevation gain: 250 metres.

Columbia Icefield, Jasper National Park

Columbia Icefield (130 km from Lake Louise): This expansive icefield, home to six major glaciers, is the largest in the North American Rocky Mountains! You can hike to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier, take the Columbia Icefield Adventure tour to get a feet-on-the-glacier experience, or view the scenery from a glass walkway (Glacier Skywalk).

  • Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre: Parks Canada Information Centre and home to Pursuit’s Columbia Icefield Adventure & Skywalk Tour. Also in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the building with the most women’s bathrooms for its size (no joke!). Open May 1 – October 10, 2022 weather permitting.
  • Toe of the Glacier Hike: Hike to the edge of the Athabasca Glacier! 1.8 km return; 60 m elevation gain.
    • STAY OFF THE GLACIER! People have fallen into crevasses (deep cracks in the ice) and died of hypothermia. 
  • Columbia Icefield Adventure Tour: Ride a huge Icefield Explorer (all terrain vehicle designed specifically for glacier travel) right onto the Athabasca Glacier where you will have the chance to get out and walk on the glacier for about 15 minutes. It was amazing, but sobering, to see how far the glacier has retreated since I was a kid. Allow 4-5 hours if you are planning on doing the Columbia Icefield Adventure and Skywalk. For more information, please visit Pursuit | Banff Jasper CollectionOpen May 1 – October 10, 2022 weather permitting.
  • Skywalk: Grab a headset and enjoy the interpretive walk to a glass walkway 280 m (918 feet) above the Sunwapta Valley. It was pretty cool to see waterfalls and rapids rushing below our feet. For more information, please visit Pursuit | Banff Jasper CollectionOpen May 1 – October 10, 2022 weather permitting.

Tangle Creek Falls, Jasper National Park

Tangle Creek Falls (137 km from Lake Louise) is a 48-metre high multi-tier waterfall on the side of the highway. Although it’s huge, it’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. Look for a pullout on the west side of the highway 1.3 kilometres north of the Columbia Icefield Skywalk. Tangle Creek Falls is directly across the highway. If you choose to cross the highway, use extreme caution (cars are speeding up here as they go down the hill).

Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park

Sunwapta Falls (178 km from Lake Louise) may be viewed from the viewing bridge or the trail. The upper falls are less than 100 m from the parking lot and the lower falls are a 4 km return hike (80 m elevation loss to 2nd falls). If you’re short on time, skip the lower falls and continue down the road to Athabasca Falls.

Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park

Athabasca Falls (202 km from Lake Louise, 32 km south of Jasper): You will hear these powerful falls crashing before you see them. Observe them from the viewing bridges and then check out the blue lagoon on the other side of the upper viewing platform. The water is really that blue! 1 km interpretive trail; no elevation gain.

Bonus: Lakes on the Icefield Parkway

  • Herbert Lake is a popular spot for photographers at sunrise and sunset. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to capture reflections of the mountains in the lake. There’s a picnic area near the lake if you’d like to stay a while.
  • From Waterfowl Lakes, a lovely destination of its own (paddle or camp here if you’re lucky enough to score a first come, first served campsite), you can hike to beautiful Chephren Lake which sits below Howse Peak and Mount Chephren.

Know Before You Go

  • A National Discovery Pass is required to drive the Icefield Parkway or stop anywhere in a National Park. AMA members get a $10 discount if they buy directly from an AMA office (more info here).
  • Be prepared for sudden weather changes. 
    • From November to May, snow tires are recommended.
    • Carry extra layers of clothing when hiking & don’t forget a windproof, waterproof layer.
  • Ice cleats or microspikes are recommended for hiking from November until May.
  • Fill up in Jasper or Lake Louise as there is only one gas station on the Icefields Parkway: Saskatchewan Crossing.
  • Do not stop in the middle of the road to view wildlife! If you must pull over, stay in your vehicle and do not feed the animals. There is a maximum $25,000 fine for feeding wildlife.
  • Camping / Lodging Reservations recommended as this is a popular destination for visitors from all over the world.

Where to Stay

Glacier View Lodge, at the heart of the Icefields Parkway at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, has luxurious suites with stunning views. See our story, Glacier View Lodge: Treat yourself to a luxurious stay on the Icefields Parkway for more information.

Parks Canada has several campgrounds between Lake Louise and Jasper. Visit Parks Canada | Icefields Parkway for more information.

Hostelling International has several wilderness hostels in scenic locations along Highway 93 North.

Fun Fact

Did you know the Icefields Parkway was completed in 1940? 

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