Nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, the Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the world. The highway stretches 233 km from Lake Louise to Jasper, winding through sweeping valleys and rugged mountain ranges, past pine forests, towering glaciers, and turquoise lakes.
There are so many beautiful stops along the way so I’ve put together this Icefields Parkway itinerary with everything you need to know, including the best photography spots and hikes. This guide also includes practical information and tips to help you plan your own Icefields Parkway road trip.
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ICEFIELDS PARKWAY ITINERARY: THE BEST PHOTOGRAPHY SPOTS
As far as scenery goes, the Icefields Parkway is the most spectacular road I’ve ever experienced. The drive from Lake Louise to Jasper takes about 3 h 30 minutes but with all of the beautiful places to stop along the way, you’ll want to make a day of it.
When we drove the Parkway on our 5-day road trip, we ended up pulling over several times to take photos so the journey took closer to 7 hours!
I’ve included the top photography spots that should be on your Icefields Parkway itinerary, along with a few hikes that offer incredible views over the highway and surrounding peaks. You can see most of these stops in one day; however, if you’re planning to do the hikes as well, I’d suggest splitting this Icefields Parkway itinerary into 2 days.
In this post, I’ve listed the best photography spots from Lake Louise to Jasper, but you can do this Icefields Parkway itinerary in the opposite direction as well. At the end of the guide you’ll find a map with all of the places listed here. To save the map, click on the star on the right hand side of the title. This will save the map to “Your Places” in Google Maps.
1. Bow Lake
The first stop on this Icefields Parkway itinerary is the beautiful Bow Lake. Located at the base of Bow Summit, the lake is fed by meltwater from the Blow Glacier in the Wapta Icefield. It’s one of the largest lakes in Banff National Park and offers stunning views of the Crowfoot and Bow glaciers.
As it’s only 30 minutes from Lake Louise, Bow Lake is an ideal spot to stop for a quick break or for some breakfast as there are lots of picnic tables overlooking the lake.
- Distance from Lake Louise: 39 km
- Distance from Jasper: 194 km
2. Peyto Lake and Bow Summit
Just 5 km up the road lies one of the most famous stops along the Icefields Parkway, Peyto Lake. The lake is renowned for its brilliant aqua colour created by the meltwater from the Wapta Glacier. You can get some beautiful photos of the lake from the viewing platform which is a short walk from the parking lots, or you can take the trail up to Bow Summit for even better views.
Peyto Lake viewing platform and trails are currently closed until August 2021 for rehabilitation.
- Distance from Lake Louise: 44 km
- Distance from Jasper: 189 km
3. Waterfowl Lakes
Continue driving along the Icefields Parkway and in less than 15 minutes, the treeline on your left-hand side will open up to reveal the beautiful Waterfowl Lakes. The two lakes offer great photography opportunities, especially on a clear day when the mountains are perfectly reflected in the water. When we went, the larches had just turned golden and the contrast of the yellow tones against the turquoise water was magical.
Waterfowl Lakes Campground is located between the two lakes and is a scenic place to stay if you decide to split this Icefields Parkway itinerary into two days.
- Distance from Lake Louise: 55 km
- Distance from Jasper: 178 km
4. Mistaya Canyon
This beautiful canyon is one of the lesser-known spots along the Icefields Parkway. As a result, it’s a lot quieter than some of the places on this itinerary and is a lovely place to stop and stretch your legs. The canyon is a short downhill walk (1 km) from the car park to the wooden bridge which crosses the river and offers lovely views of the deep canyon.
If you have time, you can cross the bridge and walk along the river for a bit for some different views. There aren’t any barriers here so be very careful on the rocks as they are slippery and can be dangerous.
- Distance from Lake Louise: 75 km
- Distance from Jasper: 158 km
5. Cirrus Mountain Viewpoint (Big Hill & Big Bend)
This may have been my favourite view on our Icefields Parkway road trip. You’ll know when you arrive at the Big Hill and Big Bend as you’ll ascend steeply as the road bends through the valley. This famous hairpin turn marks the border between Banff and Jasper National Parks.
As you begin to descend, you’ll see a pullover on the right-hand side where you can stop to take in one of the best views of the Icefields Parkway. Looking down at the highway cutting through the mountains really encompasses what the drive is all about!
- Distance from Lake Louise: 115 km
- Distance from Jasper: 118 km
6. Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier
The Columbia Icefield is the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies and is one of the most popular stops along the Icefields Parkway. You can park at the Icefield Centre on the right-hand side of the road for a view looking out over the icefield. Alternatively, you can drive to the foot of the glacier for a closer view. For your safety, stay behind the barriers and don’t walk on the glacier yourself.
- Distance from Lake Louise: 128 km
- Distance from Jasper: 104 km
7. Columbia Icefield Skywalk
Located 280 metres above the Sunwapta Valley, this one-kilometre cliff-edge walkway leads you to a glass-floored platform where you can peer down at the valleys and waterfalls below. The interpretive walk along the Columbia Icefield Skywalk costs $36 for adults and $18 for children.
After the walk, head to the Glacier Discovery Centre where you can grab some food and visit the Glacier Gallery. The Skywalk is now closed for the 2020 season and will reopen in May 2021, weather permitting.
- Distance from Lake Louise: 135 km
- Distance from Jasper: 98 km
8. Sunwapta Falls
Fed by the Athabasca Glacier, Sunwapta Falls is one of the many beautiful waterfalls located along the Icefields Parkway. In Stoney native language, Sunwapta means ‘turbulent water’ which is an apt name for this rushing waterfall. There is a viewing bridge near the car park which offers incredible views of the upper falls. If you want to visit the lower falls, there is a short trail (1.3 km) which takes you through the forest and down to the falls.
- Distance from Lake Louise: 177 km
- Distance from Jasper: 56 km
9. Athabasca Falls
The final stop on this Icefields Parkway itinerary takes you to a spectacular waterfall. Athabasca Falls may not be the tallest waterfall in the Canadian Rockies, but it is one of the most powerful. There are plenty of platforms along the interpretive trail where you can get some beautiful photos and learn about the Athabasca River. The waterfall is at its most powerful at the end of spring when the snow has just melted.
- Distance from Lake Louise: 200 km
- Distance from Jasper: 33 km
HIKES TO DO ON YOUR ICEFIELDS PARKWAY ITINERARY
If you have time on your Icefields Parkway road trip, here are a few hikes you may want to try:
Parker Ridge (5 km round trip)
Located just after Big Hill and Big Bend, Parker Ridge is a short hike which offers dramatic views of the valleys, mountain ranges, and the Saskatchewan Glacier to the north west. The hike takes around 2 hours and has a 250-metre elevation gain with some gentile switchbacks.
- Distance from Lake Louise: 120 km
- Distance from Jasper: 112 km
Wilcox Pass (9.3 km roundtrip)
Wilcox Pass is close to Parker’s Ridge but is a bit harder and longer at 9.3 km. It offers incredible views of the peaks and glaciers on the eastern side of the Columbia Icefield and is often frequented by bighorn sheep. The first kilometre is quite steep, but it does level out. It takes around 3 – 4 hours to complete but you can just hike to the first viewpoint which is only a 2.4 km roundtrip.
- Distance from Lake Louise: 126 km
- Distance from Jasper: 106 km
Mount Edith Cavell (8.5 km roundtrip)
This beautiful hike takes you to a viewpoint overlooking the Angel Glacier and Cavell Pond. It continues to climb uphill through the subalpine forest before reaching the Cavell meadows. During the summer, these meadows are covered with colourful wildflowers. This trail is usually closed from October until mid-July until it dries out.
- Distance from Lake Louise: 126 km
- Distance from Jasper: 106 km
Here are the locations of the places listed above. You can save the map by clicking on the star next to the title so you can use it to plan your own itinerary.
PLANNING YOUR ICEFIELDS PARKWAY ITINERARY
Best time to go
The Icefields Parkway is an impressive drive all year round. In summer, the lakes are a brilliant turquoise colour, the meadows are filled with wildflowers, and most of the viewpoints and attractions listed in this itinerary are open. From October to April, Banff and Jasper National Parks are transformed into winter wonderlands. It’s a breath-taking sight, but if you decide to venture out on the Icefields Parkway in winter make sure you are fully prepared.
Restaurants and the only fuel station along the route are closed from November to April, as are many of the attractions and hikes. There is also a lot of snow clearing and maintenance on the highway which sometimes results in temporary closures. Always check the road conditions report before heading out.
The weather can be very unpredictable and incredibly cold so take lots of layers and make sure your car is prepared for these conditions. Snow tires are mandatory from November until April. For more information, visit Parks Canada’s website.
Purchase your Parks Pass
To visit the National Parks, you’ll need to buy a Parks Pass which contributes to the upkeep of the parks. The fees are based on the number of people in your group and the number of days you’ll be in the parks. There are ticket booths along the highway and at the park entrances where you can purchase one for your visit, so you don’t need to worry about buying it online in advance.
As mentioned earlier, there are a few accommodation options along the Icefields Parkway.
If you’re going in the summer months, I’d recommend booking a campground. Waterfowl Lakes campground is a great spot to stay and has access to some lovely hiking trails. Wilcox Creek campground is another good option as it’s situated halfway along the Parkway (126 km from Lake Louise and 106 km from Jasper).
Campsites operate on a first come first serve basis so make sure you bear this in mind when planning your trip. Check in is usually around 2pm and check out is at 11am. Make sure you bring cash as most of the campsites use an ‘honesty box’ where you pay by putting cash into a locked box.
Hostels and lodges
If you don’t fancy camping overnight, there are a few alternative options along the Icefields Parkway. A good budget friendly option is HI Rampart Creek Hostel which is 90 km from Lake Louise. For something a bit more luxurious, I’d recommend Num-Ti-Jah Lodge near Bow Lake if you’re heading from Jasper to Lake Louise, or Sunwapta Falls Resort if you’re driving towards Jasper.
These places tend to book up quickly in summer so makes sure reserve a room in advance. For a full list of accommodation options, have a look on booking.com.
TIPS FOR DRIVING THE ICEFIELDS PARKWAY
Get gas and groceries before you start your trip
I’d highly recommend filling up with gas before you start your Icefields Parkway road trip as there is only one gas station along the highway at Saskatchewan River Crossing and it’s quite expensive. From November to April it’s actually closed so you’ll need to get gas before you leave Lake Louise or Jasper.
Similarly, there aren’t any supermarkets along the Icefields Parkway so get some snacks for the journey before you go. There are a few shops where you can buy food and drinks but they can be quite overpriced.
Watch out for wildlife
As you’re driving through some of the most wild and remote parts of the Canadian Rockies, it’s highly likely that you’ll spot some local wildlife along the way. Drive carefully as you may see wildlife grazing on the side of the road or even trying to cross. Pay attention to drivers in front of you in case they suddenly decide to slow down or stop.
If you do spot wildlife whilst driving, give them plenty of space and admire from a distance. Be respectful and don’t put these animals at risk. It’s always very sad to hear about bears that have been put down because they have had human interactions.
If you’re hiking, try to go in a group and make lots of noise when hiking to alert animals to your presence. Always carry bear spray and make sure you know how to use it safely.
Be sensible when you stop
The views are breath-taking and you’ll probably want to pull over several times just to take photos of the open road. There are plenty of spots to stop safely on the side of the road but be sensible. Make sure you have pulled off the road properly, don’t stop in a blind spot (i.e. on a curve or just after a sharp dip) as you won’t be visible to other cars and increase the risk of an accident.
If you are going to try and get some photos of you in the road then be extremely careful. It is a fast road so make sure you have good vision of cars coming in both directions, and move quickly.
Limited cell service
Once you leave Lake Louise and Jasper, cell service is very limited. There are spots along the drive where you’ll get signal, but it doesn’t last long and usually has gone before you can load a web page! The main sights and attractions are well sign posted so you don’t have to worry about getting lost. However, you can download maps in advance or print them off for peace of mind.
The Icefields Parkway passes through some of the most dramatic scenery in the Canadian Rockies and offers unparalleled views. I hope the information in this itinerary helps you plan your own road trip.
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