Let's be honest. There aren't many places in the world that I won’t travel to. I am always up for an adventure. All things considered, Canada wasn't a place I had been dying to go necessarily. But, I had heard rumors that the drive from Banff to Jasper was arguably the most beautiful drive on earth. Naturally, I was curious. Was this the ultimate scenic roadtrip?
Turns out, Canada, in particular, the Icefields Parkway, was more stunning than I could have ever imagined. I quickly fell in love with the country. If I had to describe it all in one word, it would be "ridiculous." It is almost difficult to truly process everything you are seeing and experiencing.
The landscapes along the parkway were rivaled only by drives I have done in Patagonia and Iceland. As a matter of fact, I had spent the previous month road tripping through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park. And while, yes, America was breath taking, the Canadian Rockies fiercely beat out the competition.
Both Iceland and Patagonia require a lot of travel time, commitment, research, and backpacking. But, the evolution of a landscape from melting glaciers (yes, global warming exists) to the pristine lagoons and creeks they produce is something everyone should see before they die. And, Canada is an unbelievably doable option for this.
Add it to your bucket list, make it happen, and don't forget to take photos along the way!
XOXO - KB
This particular article starts the drive in Banff, follows along HWY 93, and concludes in Jasper. Below is a curated list, along with photos, and a COH° designed map (download here) of the Top 10 Stops along The Most Scenic Drive on Earth, The Icefields Parkway:
1. SUNSHINE VILLAGE SKI LODGE:
If skiing or snowboarding is your thing, then you have to start your day here. It is a short drive from Banff, and they offer half-day pricing which is great if you are short on time. Even if you aren't a proficient sportsmen, it is worth a visit. The views from the top of the different lifts are unparalleled. It is the best and only way to really walk around the top of the Canadian Rockies.
2. LAKE LOUISE
"This was one of my favorite moments on the road trip, because it was my first time ever seeing a frozen lake. Because of the lake ice starting to melt, I couldn't ice skate, but considering I have the ice skating skills of a southerner maybe that was for the best (KB)." Either way, Lake Louise is an absolute dream. There is the Lake Louise Ski Resort right on the lake which is quite nice, and another option for skiing if you so choose.
3. CROWFOOT GLACIER
There are quite a few glaciers along the parkway, but Crowfoot Glacier is one of the more popular options as it is viewable directly from the road. Over the last few centuries, the glacier has receded quite a bit and lost one of its "talons" that once made up the look of a crowfoot. Even still, this glacier is well deserving of a place on your must sees.
4. BOW LAKE
The Crowfoot Glacier actually feeds into the Bow River which supplies water for the Bow Lake pictured below. In the winter months and even into the spring, this lake is frozen over. In the summer months, as the ice melts, a stunning lake of turquoise water is revealed making this number 4 on our list.
5. PEYTO LAKE
Unfortunately, in the spring, this lake is still frozen over, but during the summer months, considerable amounts of glacier rock flow into the lake. These rock particles sit suspended in the lake giving it a bright turquoise coloring. This is the lake that is often depicted in illustrations of the Icefields Parkway. If you have to choose only one lake to see, this is the one.
6. COLUMBIA ICEFIELD
The Columbia Icefield is the largest icefield in the entire Rocky Mountains. It lies from the northwestern tip of Banff National Park to the southeast end of Jasper National Park. Crowfoot Glacier and Athabasca Glacier are the two glaciers to see. You can also do a tour of the Columbia Icefield in which you walk on the glaciers, tour the icefields, and fill your water bottle with fresh thousand year old glacier water. Who wouldn't love that?
7. GLACIER SKYWALK
The Grand Canyon now has its glass walk, so of course, why not have a glacier skywalk suspended up in the Canadian Rockies. The architecture of the Glacier Skywalk itself is stunning, nevertheless, the views. Quick Tip: Get your ticketes from the Glacier Discovery Center across from the Athabasca Glacier and take their bus. There is a parking lot at the Skywalk, but it is for buses only.
8. SUNWAPTA FALLS
If you google Sunwapta falls, you will probably say to yourself, "Oh, I have seen this place in every travel instagram feed." "Due to weather conditions, I couldn't visit these falls which was a huge bummer for me because you know I wanted that infamous photo." But, please add it to your list. Where else can you see water rushing around an island and dumping into a large waterfall?
9. ATHABASCA FALLS
Athabasca falls isn't the tallest or widest falls in the area, but it is the most powerful. "After a day filled with lots of snow and glaciers, this was one of my favorite spots. The entire landscape seemed so different to what I had been seeing. It reminded me of Washington or Oregon. The shear force and sound of the water was truly incredible to see."
10. JASPER SKYTRAM
Take the Jasper Skytram and end your day like it began, at the top of the mountains. It is Canada's longest and highest aerial tramway rising over 1,000m into the alpine tundra. It is THE place to watch the sunset. "I had been dying to do the "dinner and star sessions" with the skytram. With all of the rain and snow, the skytram was closed, but I still think this would be tremendous way to end your day."
Jasper National Park is considered a "Dark Sky Preserve" meaning an area with low light pollution and incredible stargazing opportunities. The sky here is never static with explosions of meteor showers, comets, planets, and of course, the beloved Northern Lights.
The drive along the Icefields Parkway begins in the Canadian Rockies and then winds through glaciers, crystal clear lakes, and waterfalls. And, as if the day couldn't get any better, the night comes; and, it is "ridiculous."
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