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The Icefields Parkway

Typical view on and above the Sub-Alpine zone

Last weekend we headed out on Friday afternoon for Banff National Park and the Icefields Parkway.  The Parkway is claimed to be the most beautiful road in the world and there can’t be many other scenic drives where the view is quite as breathtaking for mile after mile after mile.

The Parkway runs through two National Parks in Alberta – Banff National Park and Jasper National Park – close to the border of British Columbia.  From the Lake Louise junction where you turn off the Trans-Canada Highway onto the Parkway the journey to Jasper is approximately 230km and the vegetation changes from the Montane zone in the valleys where Aspens vie with Spruce and Fir, to the Sub-Alpine zone where only evergreen trees grow, and then to the Alpine zone as you reach the end of the tree line.  Apparently about 40% of the Canadian Rockies are above the tree line where you will find snow throughout the year.

We saw moose in the valley near Lake Louise, a black bear rooting unconcernedly at the edge of the road in the North Saskatchwen valley, big horned sheep near Tangle Falls between the icefields and Jasper, and numerous elk, mule and white tail deer around Jasper.

Met a bear along the way

A Pine Marten caught raiding the garbage bin

At the Glacier hotel we watched (and took a photo of) a little pine marten who had decided to raid the garbage bin.

Our hotel room looked straight onto the Athabasca glacier – what a beautiful view!  Looking out onto the glacier, which is fed by the Columbia Icefields, we couldn’t wait to drive out onto it and actually walk on the surface.  The glacier is over 1000 feet thick and has many hidden crevasses so venturing out without a guide is strictly forbidden.  The ice road which the bus follows is cleared every day by a bulldozer whose driver’s sole job is to continuously rake the snow on the surface to ensure that no new crevasses have formed during the night.  Although the typical blue of the ice is not evident when you are walking on it it is awe-inspiring to think of the depth and age of the slow moving ice beneath your feet.

The Columbia Icefields themselves feed eight major glaciers, including Athabasca, Saskatchwen and the Dome glacier.  The Icefields straddle the continental divide and the run off from the Dome glacier, which can be seen from the Athabasca glacier, feeds into three different oceans – the Pacific, the Arctic and, eventually, the Atlantic.

The Athabasca glacier 'flowing' down from the Columbia Icefield

Standing on the glacier next to the Ice Explorer

The splendour of the mountains along this route is almost matched by some of the most scenic waterfalls I’ve seen.  We stopped at a couple of smaller falls and then at the beautiful Athabasca falls where we wandered along the wooden pathways in softly falling snow – snow fell on and off during our journey, followed by clear blue skies and sunshine.

Athabasca falls

The Maligne Canyon

Once we started our descent towards Jasper itself, the scenery was a little less spectacular but a side trip to the Maligne Canyon with its sheer limestone walls was definitely worth the effort.  I would love to go back in winter and do the almost 4km  ice walk tour  through this amazing gorge.

Altogether an unforgettable route and one I intend to follow again very soon.

May 16, 2010 - Posted by | Living in Canada, Travels | , , , , ,


  1. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Christian,Diet Guide!

    Comment by pexelosse | June 1, 2010 | Reply

  2. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Christian,Earn Free Vouchers / Cash

    Comment by pexelosse | June 6, 2010 | Reply

  3. Reading your blog: this is the same / similar trip that you have now just done with Barbara and Gail in the Summer this time. You certainly are getting around. 15.07.2010 Peter

    Comment by PETER & BARBARA | July 15, 2010 | Reply

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