The Icefields Parkway link Jasper and Lake Louise through some of Canada's most spectacular mountain scenery. Prepare to be dazzled, says Katrina Lobley.
Highway 93 in Canada is considered one of the world’s most picturesque drives – with good reason. Better known as the Icefields Parkway, the road winds along 232 kilometres of the Continental Divide, passing more than 100 glittering glaciers, snow-frosted peaks and spires, forests, lakes and waterfalls. Two of Alberta’s prettiest spots – Lake Louise and Jasper – bookend this jaw-dropping journey.
Many day-trippers make a beeline for the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre, located roughly halfway along the Parkway on the boundary of Banff and Jasper national parks. The centre, open from mid-April to mid-October, provides several ways to appreciate this stark and stunning sub-alpine landscape.
One of the most thrilling is to board the giant Brewster Ice Explorer – like a bus on oversized wheels – to rumble out onto the Athabasca Glacier. Step on the ancient ice to learn how glaciers are formed and how they shape the surrounding landscape. The experience makes this glacier one of the world’s most accessible, with no hiking or helicopter hops required.
There are many more viewpoints – such as those clustered around Bow Glacier Falls scattered along the Parkway, providing opportunities to pull over and admire the awe-inspiring scenery or to enjoy a picnic. It’s also worth taking a short hike to immerse yourself more fully in the landscape. Discover these iconic landscapes on Travelmarvel's 21 Day Reflections of the Rockies & Alaska Cruise.
Many people say another glacially fed lake, Moraine Lake, 14 kilometres from Lake Louise in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, is even more beautiful than Lake Louise. The road to the lake opens from mid to late May, depending on weather conditions.
At the other end of the Icefields Parkway is Jasper. It attracts nature enthusiasts who come to admire the scenery and wildlife. Among its biggest drawcards is Maligne Canyon, a narrow cleft which, at more than 50 metres deep, is Jasper National Park’s deepest canyon. The canyon is equally fascinating in summer and winter.
In good weather, take a trail hike along the shores of Maligne Lake – with views across to the Maligne Range and the twin peaks of Mount Unwin and Mount Charlton – or cruise the lake’s calm waters, visiting the famous Spirit Island. Keep an eye out for wildlife such as moose, coyotes, wolves, elk and deer. Then, as temperatures plummet, the canyon takes on a wintry cast, where waterfalls are transformed into otherworldly ice sculptures. It’s an image, like almost everything on the drive, that you won’t soon forget.