The Icefields Parkway, Alberta
The Icefields Parkway links the National Parks of Banff and Jasper and is one of the most photographed drives in the World. Famous for the many amazing geographical and natural wonders just moments from the main road it’s something not to miss out on if you are travelling to Alberta, Canada.
Although on our trip last year we almost did miss out on this amazing drive as there was a huge avalanche on part of the route meaning we had to change our travel plans at the last minute and miss out the section of road south of the Saskachetwan River crossing. Our original plan was to do this route; Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise, Icefields Parkway, Jasper, Edmonton then back to Calgary for our flight home. It ended up looking like this; Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise, Edmonton, Jasper, Icefields Parkway, Edmonton then back to Calgary. Even though we missed out some of the highway were still able to join Route 93 and see some of its epic wonder.
Our change of travel plans meant that we randomly ended up booking to stay at the Glacier View Inn, a hotel basically on top of the Columbia Icefield and right in view of the famous Athabasca Glacier. Proving that sometimes leaving things to chance and being flexible with your travel plans can pay off. Our stay meant that the next morning we could be on an early tour of the Glacier and do the Sky Walk before hoards of people descend on the Icefield Discovery Centre.
Tickets are available to be pre-booked in advance with Brewster who run all the tours from the Discovery centre, I’d recommend booking for peak times especially during the summer months but during May we booked the evening before and were able to have a choice of what time we wanted the next morning. If you buy a combi-ticket both the Glacier and Sky Walk are visited as part of one smooth tour called the Glacier Adventure, you can book just the Sky Walk individually if you’re short on time but I’d recommend doing both to make the most of your visit.
The tour starts with being loaded onto a normal coach and told some key information about the Columbia Icefields and surrounding area, the guide will also point out the place where the Athabasca glacier used to start, this clearly shows how much the glacier has receded in recent times a definite result of environmental issues and global warming. This coach journey is just a few minutes long as you are then boarded on to a very large custom made ice explorer that takes you right onto the glacier itself.
The ride is bumpy, fun and a little bit crazy! Amelia didn’t seem fazed in the slightest and actually loved the bumps and listening to the tour guide commentary where we learnt more about the glacier itself and also the ice explorer that we were travelling in.
Once arriving at the 10,000 year old glacier you get off the ice explorer and are able to walk on, touch and even drink the glacier! It’s pretty remarkable and nothing like I have ever done before. Even on my trip to Iceland I got to see and get up close to a glacier but didn’t have the opportunity to actually stand on one! After 20 minutes on the ice where we were able to ask more questions and pose for photos next to the giant Ice Explorer it was back on board to head for our next adventure.
After a quick changeover to the coach again we were then driven just a few km to the start of the Glacier Sky Walk. The sky walk is a 1km walkway that leads to glass platform suspended 918 feet in the air where you are literally standing in the middle of a glacier valley with a fantastic 360 degrees view of the Sunwapta Valley. You are free to spend as much time as like you here as long as you are on the last coach back to the Discovery centre that is. We spent a good hour taking photographs and reading all the information about the natural wonder around us. Staff were on hand to answer questions and of course take photos.
After our two adventures we then headed back to the Discovery centre, got into our hire car and continued on the Icefields Parkway stopping often for a quick photo opportunity or rest break. We could have packed more into our drive on this famous highway but with the road closures and changes to our travel plans already hampering our time we couldn’t get off the road to see some more of it’s famous sights such as the Athabasca and Sunwapta Falls or the famous Peyto Lake. But I just see these as reasons to come back!
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