The Best Stops on the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway in Alberta is one of the most scenic drives in Canada and quite possibly the world! It is 232km (144 miles) long and can be driven in one day or over the course of a few days. The stretch of road takes you from Jasper to Lake Louise with some of the most amazing views we have ever seen along the way! The Icefields Parkway stops include different kinds of viewpoints and hikes, like insanely beautiful waterfalls, glaciers and turquoise lakes.
We drove the whole Parkway from Jasper to Lake Louise in a day and stopped at as many awesome viewpoints and hikes as we could fit in!
In this guide, I am going to spill the tea on which are the very best Icefields Parkway stops and which ones were our favourite and which we would have happily missed. 😆
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Where is the Icefields Parkway?
The Icefields Parkway is located in Alberta Canada and is the stretch of road in between Lake Louise and Jasper. A lot of people visit the Icefields Parkway when they are holidaying in Banff or elsewhere in the Rockies.
Click here to open the Icefields Parkway map in Google Maps!
When is the Best Time to Drive the Icefields Parkway
You can drive the Icefields Parkway all year-round but Summer is a great time to spot wildlife along the side of the road such as deer, elk and bears!
Can I Drive the Icefields Parkway in Winter?
The Icefields Parkway remains open in Winter except for if the weather conditions become dangerous. For example, if there is a snowstorm during Winter which means the road is unsafe to drive, it will be closed. There is no cell service for most of the parkway and so it can be extremely risky if you are out there in dangerous conditions.
⛄ Wondering what to do in Banff in Winter? Here are some of the most amazing Banff Winter tours!
If the road is safe and open, Winter on the Icefields Parkway can be truly magical with frozen waterfalls and snow on the ground! We were too scared to drive the Parkway during Winter when we were there as we had never driven in snow before and didn’t know how scary it would be. Now we kind of wish we had just done it!
How Long Does it Take to Drive the Icefields Parkway
If you did the whole thing without stopping, it would take you around 3 hours to drive from Jasper to Lake Louise or vice versa. However, as you will likely be stopping at the very best viewpoints at a minimum, it will probably take you an entire day.
Tips for Driving the Icefields Parkway
- Leave early. The road is long and you will end up spending longer at each stop than you expect to.
- Bring your own food and plenty of water so that you can save time
- Expect to be exhausted by the end of the drive 🥱
- Be up to date with bear safety and have bear spray with you for the hikes and quieter viewpoints.
- Bring bug spray and sunscreen! It’s a big day in the sun so you will get burnt without it. Oh and the bugs can be awful in Summer. 🐛
Icefields Parkway Itinerary – from Jasper to Lake Louise
You can choose to drive the Icefields Parkway in either direction. When we did the drive during Summer, we started in Jasper and so we drove from Jasper to Lake Louise, stopping at all many stops as we could along the way. This guide will also list the stops in that order, but you can easily swap them around if you are planning on driving from Lake Louise to Jasper.
Valley of the 5 Lakes
Valley of the 5 Lakes is the first stop that you will come to and is about 9km from Jasper. It is a 4.8km loop hike which has 163m elevation gain and will take you around 1.5 – 2 hours to complete. Along the hike, you will come across 5 beautiful turquoise and jade coloured lakes which you can even take a dip in to cool off if you like.
The third and forth lakes are supposed to be the most beautiful. Watch out for bears in the Summer months as they are frequently seen on this trail in search of berries.
Athabasca Falls is one of the most popular stops along the parkway and one that we found to be the busiest. I’m not sure if its popularity is because it is so close to Jasper or if it’s just because it is such an epic waterfall.
The falls are only a short walk from the parking lot and once you reach them, you can walk along and see them from a few different viewpoints.
Athabasca Falls are about 30km from Jasper and are located on the upper Athabasca River.
Goats and Glaciers Lookout
This is an awesome spot overlooking the Athabasca River and the Fryatt Mountain Range. Unforuntaely, we missed this spot so it is on our list for when we go back! We didn’t realise what it was when we were there.
The best time of the day to stop at the Goats and Glaciers Lookout is at sunrise (if you can wake up that early) as the light is absolutely epic as it hits the mountain ranges.
The Sunwapta Falls make a great photo! This is a quick stop with a short walk from the parking lot to the falls. The falls have a drop of around 18.5 metres.
If you go in Spring or early Summer, all of the waterfalls along the Icefields Parkway will probably still be flowing like crazy! When we stopped at Sunwapta, there was actually an overflow of water in the pedestrian pathway overlooking the falls which is crazy!
Tangle Creek Falls
Tangle Creek Falls surprised us! Its a really really epic waterfall literally on the side of the highway so very easy to miss. Make sure you have the location plugged into your GPS ready to go so that you don’t miss it!
As you head from Jasper to Lake Louise, the small parking lot will be on your right hand side. There is also a toilet located in the carpark so it is a good place for a quick stop.
The falls are across the road from the parking lot. You can admire them from the side of the road or hike up the side of them to the upper waterfall which is extremely powerful! Beware you will probably get wet!
Columbia Icefield Skywalk
The Skywalk is a paid activity where you can walk on a glass bottom platform which is almost 300m high above the valley floor. The views from the skywalk look out to the mountain peaks and glaciers and the valley below.
This is something we chose to miss as it was going to be too time consuming to fit into our itinerary. You cannot park at the Skywalk and instead have to take a shuttle from the Glacier Discovery Centre. When we drove past, the skywalk looked extremely packed full of people and not at all like the photos we had seen online.
Athabasca Glacier / Columbia Icefield
The Athabasca Glacier is a massive glacier that sits above the Columbia Icefield. It is extremely accessible to get to and you do not need to book a tour to see it. There are tours that you can book that will take you onto the Icefield itself where your guide will tell you all about the history of the glacier, however you can also just walk from the parking lot to the viewpoint. The walk will take you around 10-20 minutes to reach the viewpoint.
We did not do the tour and were happy to see the glacier from the viewpoint only which is where the above photo was taken but I think the tour would have been really informative and interesting. You can pair the Columbia Icefields tour with the Skywalk admission ticket.
Big Bend Viewpoint
This is a quick stop and 100% worth it! From the Big Bend viewpoint you can look down at the Icefields Parkway in front of you and below you, surrounded by insane mountains!
The reason it is called Big Bend is from the massive curve in the road. Because of this curve, you need to be ready to pull over at the lookout or you will miss it. We actually missed it and had to turn around and go back. Oops! The lookout is on the left-hand-side on your way to Lake Louise from Jasper.
This one came up so fast that we didn’t even have time to stop! The Weeping Wall is a kind of waterfall that literally looks like the rockface is crying. You can still see the Weeping Wall from the road while driving if you don’t have time to pull over, otherwise there is a small pull out where you can park to view the falls.
The water trickling down the wall comes from a natural spring located high up on the mountain that never stops flowing. During Winter, the entire rockface turns into an incredible wall of blue ice and is named one of the best ice climbs in the world!
Mistaya Canyon is beautiful and gives you the feeling that you have escaped to the middle of the wilderness. There is a short 1.9km loop hike involved to get to the canyon which will take you around 30-45 minutes. We actually didn’t realise that this was a loop and did the hike as an out and back which work too.
This is one of the stop along the Parkway that a lot of people seem to miss but it is so so worth the stop! There are lots of photo opportunities here and we spent way too long have fun with our camera. 😂
Waterfowl Lakes are the first of a few epic lake stops and they are a fantastic start! There are two lakes and upper and lower lake.
First you will come to Lower Waterfowl Lake which is small pull out parking lot just off the Icefields Parkway. The lake is right next to the parking lot so there is no walk to get to it. The view of the lake is absolutely gorgeous. It is bright blue with rugged mountains towering up behind it.
The Upper Waterfowl Lake involves a small 1.4km return hike to the lake which will take around 30-45 minutes. Once you reach the lake, you can continue along the shoreline which will make your hike a little longer.
Peyto Lake Upper Lookout
The Peyto Lake Lookout is a must do on the Icefields Parkway. It is a little hike to reach the viewpoint from the parking lot but it is worth every second! The lake is bright turquoise and makes for a really great photo!
📌 Fun Fact! Peyto lake is shaped like a wolf’s head!
The hike is 2.4km return and will take you around an hour altogether which includes some time at the viewpoint. Of course if you are into photography like us, you will need to allow for some extra time to take photos. We found that during Summer, the viewpoint was so busy that there was a little line to take photos at the best spot.
Once you reach Bow Lake, you will know that you are almost at Lake Louise. Only around 30 minutes for driving to go from here! By the time we reached Bow Lake it was getting pretty late and we were starving so we didn’t stop for long.
Bow Lake is one of the largest lakes in Banff National Park and is absolutely gorgeous especially when on a calm day when the water is still as the reflections are pretty incredible.
There are a few different places to choose from to stop at Bow Lake. The first that you come to shows you the lake from the side and you can walk down to a little bridge. The second spot is a 5-10 minute carpark just off the Icefields Parkway which doesn’t require any walking. This carpark is an overlook viewpoint for travellers who are short on time. Both carparks are free to use.
Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint
Your last stop on the Icefields Parkway before Lake Louise will be Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint which is only about a 1 minute drive from the Bow Lake Lookout. Congratulations on making it all the way and you probably have some pretty epic photos of all the amazing views by now!
You will be able to see Crowfoot Glacier from the Icefields Parkway roadside lookout with Bow Lake in the foreground.
Our Favourite and Least Favourite Stops
We love road trips and to us the Icefields Parkway is the Ultimate Road trip experience because of the number of viewpoints that there are to stop at. If you are spending time in Banff, you should definitely save some time to hit a couple of the spots along the Icefields Parkway off your list.
Okay here we go – Our all time favourite stop was Peyto Lake Lookout! Followed by Mistaya Canyon which we thought was just so underrated! It was a short walk to the canyon which we thought may have deterred other people as it took a bit more time than many of the other stops, however there was barely anyone else around and it felt like we went from the highway to being in the middle of the wilderness in 10 minutes! Absolutely incredible!
It is hard to choose a least favourite stop but if we had to choose, it would probably be Athabasca Falls purely because of the crowds of people at this stop. Even with the crowds though, we don’t regret stopping here and its definitely a stop that you should miss!
If we could only stop at 5 places next time, we would choose:
- Peyto Lake Lookout
- Mistaya Canyon
- Athabasca Glacier / Columbia Icefield
- Bow Lake
- Athabasca Falls
We found that there were SO many more stops than we had thought there would be (a lot of which we missed and which aren’t included in this list) so if you have more than one day to spare to travel down the Icefields Parkway, I recommend taking it!
You might also be interested in:
- 13 Amazing Things to do in Banff this Winter
- 11 Banff Winter Tours You Need to Check Out!
- Little Beehive, Big Beehive and Lake Agnes Teahouse Hike
- Mistaya Canyon – The Most Beautiful Icefield Parkway Stop
- Tangle Creek Falls – A Must-See Icefields Parkway Waterfall
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