The Icefields Parkway drive is one of the highlights of the Canadian Rockies. The one hundred forty four mile (232 km) scenic road from Lake Louise in Banff National Park to Jasper National Park has been named one of the most beautiful road trips in the world by many travel publications.
I have been living close to the Rockies for more than a decade. This has given me an opportunity to drive the Icefields Parkway countless times. Every time I still find new places to explore, new hiking trails, and lakes to visit.
This road trip travel guide features all the best spots to visit. It includes roadside viewpoints, waterfalls, hiking trails, lakes, glaciers, and local tips for visiting at the end.
Prepare for a trip of a lifetime!
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Table of Contents
10 Best Places to Visit Along Icefields Parkway
1. Moraine Lake and Lake Louise
The most popular lakes in Canada are Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. They’re the first images that pop up when you Google “Canadian Rockies”. Moraine Lake is an insanely blue-colored glacial lake with Ten Peaks in the background. Lake Louise is turquoise with mountains and a glacier.
Not only are they incredibly picturesque, but they’re both accessible for all, as they do not require any hiking. They’re reached from the same village, yet they have different restrictions for visiting.
Parks Canada runs the most popular and budget-friendly shuttle. You can purchase your tickets online months in advance when they release 40% of tickets or 48 hours before the departure date when they release the rest. The awesome thing is you can use your tickets to visit Lake Louise with the connector bus. It’s truly a hassle-free option to see both lakes on the same day.
I recommend getting the earliest bus as both lakes get busy in summer. First, go to Moraine Lake, enjoy the short hike up the Rockpile for the best view, walk along the shore, or rent a canoe to paddle around. Then, hop on the connector bus to Lake Louise.
Lake Louise also offers canoe rentals and many scenic hikes. Popular ones are the Lake Agnes or Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse or any of the hikes to see the famous Lake Louise from above.
My favorite is Mount St. Piran because it passes the Lake Agnes teahouse. The trail leads up the mountain that few travelers visit. You get to enjoy the views without the crowds. The 8.7 mile (14 km) round-trip hike with 3150 feet (960 meters) of elevation gain is worth it!
2. Bow Lake
When you leave Lake Louise and continue driving northwest on Highway #93, the next stop is Bow Lake. It’s one of the largest lakes in Banff National Park. This is where you leave the crowds of Moraine Lake and Lake Louise behind and start to enjoy the solitude of the Rockies.
Bow Lake is another beautiful lake along the Icefields Parkway with views of Wapta Icefield, Bow Glacier, and Crowfoot Glacier. You can take a short walk along the shore, hike up to Bow Glacier Falls (the trail starts at the end of the shoreline), or grab a snack at Lodge at Bow Lake.
If you don’t want to take a short walk, there’s also a pullout parking lot along the highway. This allows you to make a quick stop to admire Bow Lake with minimal effort. Morning and evening are best to enjoy the perfect mirror reflections.
3. Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake is among the favorite glacial lakes in the Canadian Rockies because of its unusual shape, incredibly blue color, and easy accessibility.
The ‘Bow Summit’ sign along the highway is the highest point of Icefields Parkway at 6,850 feet (2,088 meters) and the turn-off for the Peyto Lake parking lot. It’s about a 1.25 mile (2 km) walk from the parking lot on the well-trodden hiking trail to reach the Peyto Lake lookout.
The viewing platform has been recently renovated to accommodate more visitors and have the best possible bird-eye view of Peyto Lake.
4. Wilcox Pass Hike
Several waterfalls are along the highway as you drive north toward Jasper National Park. The Weeping Wall is a series of waterfalls directly above you as you drive on the Icefields Parkway. Next up is Panther Falls, which requires a short .62 mile (1 km) hike from the highway.
However, I highly recommend, after seeing so many lakes, to make a stop just past the Banff and Jasper border to hike the Wilcox Pass.
While the full hike is about 5 miles (8 km) one way, the good news is that you can hike only 1.5 miles (2.4 km) one way to experience the best views. As soon as you hike above the treeline, the views of Athabasca Glacier across the valley open up.
Continue hiking through the gorgeous alpine landscape, where you can meet the resident mountain goats and relax in the famous red chairs with the best views.
5. Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier
Columbia Icefield is the largest ice field in the Rockies and feeds eight glaciers. You can easily visit Athabasca Glacier on a guided tour or by yourself.
The Columbia Icefields tour takes you on a giant bus up to the glacier, where you can walk around, drink directly from the glacier, and snap cool pictures.
If you’d like to visit without a tour, leave your car at the parking lot and walk towards the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier. While you can only visit a small part of it, seeing how the glacier melts over the years is very interesting.
For perfect accommodation with a view, check out Wilcox Pass Campground or Glacier View Lodge, which overlooks Athabasca Glacier.
6. Sunwapta Falls
To rest after the hike to Wilcox Pass, there are two stunning waterfalls you can see a short walking distance from the parking lot when you continue driving towards Jasper.
The first one is Sunwapta Falls, with a drop of 60 feet (18 meters). This is the meltwater coming from the Athabasca Glacier.
7. Athabasca Falls
Further down the road is Athabasca Falls, which is even more impressive. It has a drop of 78 feet (24 meters). The deep rocky canyon with the stunning turquoise water flowing through is breathtaking.
You can picnic on the bench and then continue to another water adventure.
8. Horseshoe Lake
Horseshoe Lake is locals’ favorite as it’s a cliff diving heaven. Because travelers visit Horseshoe Lake and often jump without experience, you might not see the sign for a Horseshoe Lake, only for a picnic area.
I highly recommend visiting Horseshoe Lake, whether for a walk around the lake, jumping off the cliffs (based on your experience), or swimming. The crystal clear emerald water offers a perfect summer cool spot!
9. Valley of the Five Lakes
Valley of the Five Lakes is a gorgeous, family-friendly hike outside Jasper. The full 2.76 mile (4.5 km) loop through the woods takes you to five lakes. Each one is a different shade of green.
Take photos in the iconic red chairs, have a picnic with a view, and don’t forget to carry your bear spray as wildlife also really like this area.
The town of Jasper marks the end of Icefields Parkway. However it’s not the end of beautiful views, hiking trails, and other fun outdoor activities.
I suggest spending at least three days in Jasper to see the main highlights. There are endless fun things to do in Jasper, so if you’re visiting for the first time, these are my recommendations so you don’t get overwhelmed:
- Go up Whistlers Mountain with Jasper’s SkyTram – the 8-minute ride offers panoramic views of Jasper and surrounding mountain peaks, including Mount Robson (3,954m), the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies.
- Take a Maligne Lake cruise across the glacial-fed lake to see the famous Spirit Island.
- Hike to Bald Hills or Opal Hills just above the lake to see it from a bird’s eye view.
- On the way back to Jasper, stop at Medicine Lake for sunset and wildlife watching; bears, moose, and eagles are most commonly seen.
- Rent a bike in town, drive to Lake Annette for a swim, or bike towards Edith Lake for beautiful views and wildlife watching.
- Visit Pyramid Island with the iconic Pyramid Mountain in the background. You can swim in the lake, enjoy the beach, or ride the canoe.
Tips for driving the Icefields Parkway
What is the best time to visit the Icefields Parkway?
The best time for an Icefields Parkway itinerary is during the summer months. Roads are open year-round, but from mid-June through September the weather is more favorable, wildflowers bloom, and you can go out on the turquoise lakes. Even though you will have to deal with crowds, road conditions are best during the summertime.
Do I need a Parks Canada Pass to drive on the Icefields Parkway?
To enter any of the national parks in Canada, you need to purchase a Parks Canada Pass. You can choose between a daily pass or a yearly pass, so if you’re on a road trip for a week or longer, the yearly pass is the way to go. I recommend purchasing the park pass online in advance to avoid huge line-ups in summer.
Are there amenities like gas and cell service on Icefields Parkway?
Icefields Parkway has very limited amenities; therefore, it’s best to stop at a gas station in Banff, Lake Louise, or Jasper before you head off.
The same goes for meals and snacks. There are limited options along the way and they are overpriced and not worth it. There’s no cell service or WiFi on Icefields Parkway, so carefully plan your Icefields Parkway road trip before you go.
What wildlife is on the Icefields Parkway?
In case you didn’t know, there are plenty of wild animals along the Icefields Parkway. We’re talking moose, elk, bighorn sheep, and even grizzly bears. Parks Canada recommends carrying a bear spray within arm’s reach and knowing how to use it.
In the Canadian Rockies, you’re in a bear country. While bear attacks are rare, it’s good to know what to expect when encountering a bear. If you’re driving the Icefields Parkway in May or June, you see lots of black bears along the side of the road feeding on berries. Staying in your vehicle and giving all wildlife space is recommended.
I hope you found this Icefields Parkway guide helpful in planning a trip along one of the most beautiful drives in the world!
*All photos credited to Maya Steininger with the exception of the Pinterest image and featured image.
About the author: Maya is an adventure athlete and world traveler. She loves traveling to places beyond the beaten path. She shares her travel stories and comprehensive adventure travel guides on her blog Travel with the Smile.