Alberta Highway 93 Scenic Drive
Icefield Parkways Road Trip Exploring the Canadian Rockies
Without a shadow of doubt one of the world’s most jaw-dropping day drives, Alberta Highway 93 Scenic Drive, otherwise known as the the Icefields Parkway leads road trippers through the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Running for 144 miles (or 232 kilometers) through a landscape of towering mountains, deep valleys and dense woods, it’s a truly world-class journey.
An Epic Journey in a World Heritage Area
The Alberta Highway 93 and travels through both Jasper and Banff National Parks, two of Canada’s most famous and spectacular national parks. The entire Icefields Parkway road lies within the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site.
The road is named after the Columbia Icefield and other glaciers, some of which can be seen from the parkway. For most of its length, it’s a two-lane road with the occasional passing lanes. Although it lies within rugged mountain territory, there are surprisingly few hairpins turns and steep grades. This obviously makes it a very pleasant and easy drive. When driving the Alberta Highway 93 Scenic Drive, though, you’re advised to keep your eyes on the road as wildlife is often present in the verges or even on the road itself.
Two Awesome National Parks, Numerous Highlights
Just like the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina links Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, the Alberta Highway 93 Scenic Drive connects Jasper and Banff National Parks in the Canadian Rockies.
On the way from Jasper to Banff National Park, these are the major highlights you’ll come across, in order.
Arguably the most iconic waterfall in the Canadian Rockies, Athabasca Falls is the first major attraction. The waterfall lies about 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of Jasper and is impressive because of its mighty force. There are several hiking trails and viewing areas.
Glacier Sky Walk
If you’re not afraid of heights, you’ll want to visit the Glacier Sky Walk. Soaring more than 900 feet (280 meters) above the Sunwapta Valley, this spectacular glass-floored platform is one of the greatest viewpoints in the region. Tickets cost $25 for adults.
The Columbia Icefield is one of the glaciers that gave the parkway its name and one of the largest south of the Arctic Circle. You can admire this massive chunk of ice from the parking area on the side of the road or, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can travel on the actual ice on “snow coaches” in summer.
Hikers will relish the opportunity to hit the trail at Parker Ridge. This two-hour-long hike offers amazing views of the region’s mountain ranges and the Saskatchewan Glacier, which is the longest glacier of them all.
Big Hill & Big Bend
Big Bend is one of the few hair-pin turns on the Icefields Parkway Scenic Drive, it’s definitely the most famous one. As the road descends into the valley, there are numerous sensational views. Make sure your vehicle, whether it’s a rented motorhome or car, is parked completely off the road when you’re admiring the vistas.
Saskatchewan River Crossing
An important historic and natural site, the Saskatchewan River Crossing is the meeting point of three different rivers—the Mistaya, Howse and Saskatchewan Rivers. This is the starting point for many tours that head onto the Columbia Icefield. Additionally, if you’d like to top off your fuel tank, grab a bite to eat and/or go to the bathroom, this is the place to do it.
Peyto Lake & Bow Summit
One of the Canadian Rockies’ most photographed and visited lakes is Peyto Lake, a glacier-fed mountain lake featuring stunningly blue water. The best view is enjoyed from the top of Bow Summit, which is the highest point on the Icefields Parkway. In fact, 6,800 feet (2,088 meters) high, it’s the highest point on any public road in Canada
Another spectacular lake, Bow Lake, 3 miles (5 kilometers) down the road from Peyto Lake, is a fantastic stopping point. The panoramic view includes Mount Thompson, Crowfoot Mountain and Glacier, Bow Glacier and the Wapta Icefield.
With such a wealth of breathtaking natural scenery, all lining a road that doesn’t take longer than half a day to drive, it’s no surprise that the Icefields Parkway scenic drive and the Alberta Highway 93 gets extremely busy. In July and August, for example, there are up to 100,000 vehicles per month on the road. To avoid these huge crowds, consider visiting in June or September.