The Fletchemobile is loaded up and we’re on our way. It’s not a particularly long drive from Jasper to our overnight stop at the Columbia Icefields, but we’re aware that the potential for photo stops may be huge. We have no plans for any long hikes today, but when we see the signs for Valley of Five Lakes we can’t resist a stop.
It’s a kilometre walk from the parking lot to the trail proper, through gently sloping forest and across a meadow which must look spectacular when covered in summer flowers. We opt to do the short loop hike, and turn right at the signpost to approach Fifth Lake first. The trail undulates with a few small sharp inclines and descents, and eventually we can see water glinting through the trees on both sides. The forest opens up, and on our right is the absolutely magnificent Fifth Lake. The green water is so clear and there is a small jetty which just calls out for this Brummie to remove her shoes and dip her toes in the freezing cold water.
(It’s at this point, Mr Fletche on one corner of the jetty and me on the other that a lovely lady asks if she can take a picture for us “because we look so great”. The resulting photograph may be my favourite ever. In fact, it was such a great composition that another couple wanted a picture taken in the same spot! Finally, I’ve cracked this Instagram pic lark 😁)
The other four lakes are charming, but if you do plan to do the lakes in ascending numerical order then you’re definitely saving the best til last. We’re back on the road, having taken a little longer than planned at Five Lakes, but our next stop is not far away. Athabasca Falls is one of the most powerful in the Canadian Rockies, and it’s just a short walk from the parking lot to the first viewpoint. There are more falls to follow, this time Sunwapta Falls, and finally Tangle Creek falls. Where it begins to snow.
Our next stop is the final one of the day; we pull into the parking lot of the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre, which also houses Glacier View Inn, our home for the night. The snow is falling quite heavily now as we drag our suitcases past those who have visited the glacier. The inn is located on the third floor, although the lobby is on the main ground floor concourse. Ours is a cute split-level room with a mountain view. Out here there’s nowhere to go, so we settle down for a nice relaxing evening, only venturing out to the in-house restaurant to grab a drink. We’ve sensibly brought our dinner with us by way of a Subway sandwich and salad as the restaurant for this captive audience is quite pricey. It continues to snow.
We wake up to a winter wonderland. The snow has settled overnight and the temperature is hovering around the -1 mark. It’s going to be cold out on that glacier. We pack up our suitcases and Mr Fletche gamely drags them out to the Fletchemobile. We pick up a quick breakfast croissant from the cafe when it opens at 9am, and then check out and get ready for our 10am tour. We’ve had the Discovery Centre to ourselves all night, and now it’s packed with a largely Oriental crowd. In fact, we are the only non-Orientals in the queue.
Our tickets are scanned and we’re finally on our shuttle bus. Only we have to then get off our shuttle bus as it has no traction and the wheels are turning without us going anywhere. We have a little more luck with Bus No 2, and we’re soon making our way up to the transfer station where we alight one of the 22 strong fleet of $1.3 million all-terrain Ice Explorer buses. Our driver Paige is funny and engaging as well as being informative and it’s a fun drive out onto the glacier.
It’s an amazing experience walking out onto the glacier, almost 1000ft thick. Unsurprisingly, it’s a bit chilly out on the ice, and the wind is strong. We wander around, taking pictures and just gazing at the piercing blue ice field all around us. After a short while on the glacier, we are called back into the relative warmth of the Ice Explorer before being transferred back onto a shuttle bus. Now, our understanding is that, having purchased both the Glacier Adventure and the Skywalk, we will be taken from the glacier straight to the Skywalk. However we are deposited back at the Discovery Centre with no instruction on what to do next. We – along with a bunch of confused Orientals – then have to queue once more inside for the next shuttle bus.
Eventually we get to the Glacier Skywalk, a glass-bottomed platform suspended 918 feet above the Sunwapta Valley. There are stunning views of the valley, forest and waterfalls below, and the mountains all around us. We’re glad we were patient and completed our adventure by visiting. We get the next shuttle bus back to the Discovery Centre and it’s time for us to get back on the road.
For more information about the Glacier Adventure with Brewster Canada, click here.
There’s little doubt that the stretch of Icefields Parkway between Athabasca Glacier and Lake Louise is one of the most beautiful drives we have ever had the pleasure of taking. Mountain after mountain fills the horizon, each seemingly bigger than the next. We leave Highway 93 for the Bow Summit viewpoint. It should be a relatively easy and short hike to the overlook; however the recent snowfall has hampered the trek somewhat. We manage to circumnavigate the first slippery slope, but have no choice but to tackle the second. It is akin to climbing a pane of glass in socks. I sit down before I fall down. This is the second time this trip I’ve been left on my backside. I eventually manage to crawl on all-fours to a slightly more stable piece of ground before attempting to stand once more. Back on two legs, we continue our walk. And the result? Views over the breathtakingly beautiful Peyto Lake. This maybe the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Worth the humiliation of crawling up on my hands and knees.
After a hundred photos, we opt to descend down the ice-free road from the upper tour bus car park. No skidding down on my butt required. We continue on to our final destination, with short spots at Bow Lake and above Vermillion Lakes. I add a definite moose spotting to my possible moose spotting; although we are whizzing past at 90km per hour so there’s no opportunity to stop and gawk.
Soon we’re pulling into the Bow View Lodge in Banff. This will be our home for three nights so its good to unpack properly. We have a quick drive out to Vermillion Lakes and to Bow Falls to suss out potential sunset and sunrise spots before heading out for dinner. With a hankering for fish and chips, Ricky’s All Day Grill at the Elk & Avenue Hotel hits the spot before its back to our room to dream of glaciers, lakes, mountains and mooses.