The Icefields Parkway … if you have never heard of it before, let me just start by saying it has been ranked among the 10 most beautiful roads of the world. Which is great considering it is in this magnificent country of ours more precisely in the Canadian Rockies, in the heart of Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. 150 miles of pure pleasure, where every turn promises a new spectacular view: a glacier reaching up to the clouds, a turquoise blue lake revealing itself, falls crashing down a few meters away from the tar of the road, or gigantic summits racing toward the sky.
Fortunately the road provides several stops to take pictures, with many hiking trails available. So if there is no shortage of tours where you just ride through this area in a few hours, I really suggest you to actually spend up to ten days in the region: you will not be disappointed ! And as to make this experience even better, I recommend you try camping, for this will truly reveal to you the greatness that surrounds us.
One can indeed easily find camping spots along the Icefields Parkway, from which to go on hiking. Here are a few ideas for a well-made trip. Please note that planning your trip according to the season is of paramount importance; as for me, I went in June in the beginning of the summer season, and yet some trails were still closed due the snow. So we had planned our trip according to available trails. 🙂
By the way, during June and September, the number of tourists was relatively small, so these are perfect periods to avoid the crowd.
Day 1- arriving in Jasper
You can directly reserve your campground on the official Parks Canada Reservation Service.
As for us, we were in charming Wabasso campground, directly next to the Athabasca River, so the surroundings were amazing.
I recommend you to spend a few nights in the same camping spot as to enjoy all the related trails. This will allow you to save time and planning, and having a vehicle would make it even easier.
Use this first day to adapt to the Rocky Mountains and pack up all the necessary supplies in Jasper. Then take road 16 to discover the Miette Hot Springs, the road is a journey in itself!
Spend the night at Wabasso Camp site.
Day 2 – jasper- Discovering Maligne Lake
The wonderful Maligne Lake awaits! Cruising on the Lake is one of those activities you just cannot miss, especially to reach Spirit Island (some call it the most photographed island in the world). Take this opportunity to hike through the area: at the top of Bald Hills (7 miles up and down, quite the challenge) you will get a breathtaking view. On the way back, stop by the Medecine Lake, which completely dries up in autumn due to a network of underground caves and get refueled in the spring as the glaciers melt away… Everyone has his own version of the legend surrounding this phenomenon. Finally, Maligne Canyon will allow you to follow a 2 hours trail through spectacular view.
Spend the night at Wabasso Camp site.
Day 3- Jasper-Mount Edith Cavell
On this morning, you will follow a winding road that will take you close to Mount Edith Cavell, 3300 meters high. You would then complete a 3 to 5 miles trekking circuit, dotted with mountain flowers, leading you to the front door of the magnificent Angel Glacier.
Spend the night at Wabasso Camp site
Day 4- The Icefields Parkway : Jasper-Columbia Glacier
This morning, you will finally take the Icefields Parkway. This might take a while as you will certainly stop for pictures! Coming across moose, bears, grizzlies and bighorns is more common then you may think, so keep those eyes opened. A first stop a few kilometers away from the Wabasso campground is the perfect way to admire the Athabasca Falls, just make sure to arrive early to avoid the crowd!
Follow the road until a second spectacular stop at the Sunwapta Falls.
Then you will reach the Columbia Ice field. It is possible to approach by foot and you will see some panels depicting how alarmingly quickly the Glacier has been melting over the years… Many tourists choose the SnowCoach option on the ice, but why not actually go for the Wilcox Pass Trail (7 miles up and down, takes about 3 hours and a half) and its superb lookouts, away from the crowd? This will also give you the opportunity to meet the locals, like this pretty bighorn.
Spend the night at the Wilcox Creek Campground, first-come first-served
Day 5- Columbia Glacier-Yoho
This day is going to be filled with many shades of blue and green. First stop is Peyto Lake, where you will be left speechless. Take the 1, 5 miles trail that will lead you away from the parking lot and grant you the intimacy you need to really enjoy this beautiful lake. Once again, try to arrive early in the morning to avoid the crowd. Further down the road, stop at Bow Lake along the 93.
Next you will arrive at the Yoho National Park. A stop at the Emerald Lake is sure to be delightful, and there is a 3 miles long trail around the lake.
Spend the night at the Kicking Horse Campground, first-come first-served
Day 6- Yoho- Lake Louise
Today you will walk along the path of the Iceline Trail, which will grant you astonishing lookouts on Moraine and the gigantic Takakkaw Fall. To do the all trail in a day is demanding, for it is about 12 miles long, one of the most beautiful trails of the Rockies, it takes you up to a terrific lookout on the surrounding glaciers. So it is really worth the effort.
At the end of the trail, you will reach Lake Louise.
Spend the night at the Lake Louise Campground.
Day 7- Lake Louise
Another beautiful day of hiking with the famous Plain of Six Glacier (about 9 miles, 4 to 5 hours long)! Do not miss the opportunity to eat a scone and drink a good tea at the Lac Agnes Tea House, only reachable by walk. This will be a breathtaking environment as you will be surrounded by Glaciers and summits.
Spend the night at the Lake Louise Campground
Day 8 – Lake Louise-Banff
Enjoy the tranquility of the morning to paddle on the Moraine Lake, by far my favorite one. If you’re looking for something quieter, a two hours long hike will take you to Consolation Lake.
And if you feel like it, the Sentinel Pass can offer you exceptional landscapes. I didn’t get the chance to do it though, as there was still a risk of avalanche along the path in June.
In the afternoon, you could stop by the wonderful Johnston Canyon (an easy two hours long trail) before reaching Banff.
Spend the night camping in Banff.
Day 9- Banff
On a sunny day, you cannot miss the chance to go to Lake Minnewanka. This will give you the opportunity to walk along the shore (4 to 10 miles long) and reach Aylmer Lookout. Or you could instead choose to have a little cruise.
While you’re in Banff, board the Gondola to reach the top of Mount Sulphur to enjoy the epic views.
Spend the night camping in Banff
Day 10- Departure
There you have it! After ten days in the splendid Rocky Mountains, this is the end of the trail.
But have no worries, this tour is just our take on such a trip, and there are many ways to make it last a little longer: you could for example reach the pacific coast through Wells Gray National Park or the Okanagan Valley.
The treks mentioned in this article are of course just a sample of the choices available to you in the Rocky Mountains. Some are for experienced hikers, some are for beginners. Just make sure you choose them according to weather conditions and your own physical abilities.