Part-time traveller, Full-Time Brummie

Canada Day by Day: Driving the Icefields Parkway

Photo of the Athabasca Glacier by CPF Photography

The Fletchemobile is loaded up and we’re on our way. Today and tomorrow, we are driving the Icefields Parkway to Banff. 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.

Valley of Five Lakes

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 😁)

A Brummie Home and Abroad and Mr Fletche snuggle up on a jetty overlooking Fifth Lake in Jasper National Park
Possibly my favourite picture of us since our wedding day!

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.

Waterfalls for Days

We’re back on the Icefields Parkway, 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.

Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park
Athabasca Falls
Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park
Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park

A Snowy Night at Glacier View

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.

A snowy scene from the terrace of the Glacier View Inn, overlooking Athabasca Glacier
Waking up to a Winter Wonderland at The Glacier View Inn.

A Winter Wonderland

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. Later we’ll be heading back out on to the Icefields Parkway. But not just yet. We pick up a quick breakfast croissant from the cafe, check out and get ready for our 10am tour. We’ve had the Discovery Centre to ourselves all night, and suddenly it’s uncomfortably packed.

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 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.

A Brummie Home and Abroad and Mr Fletche on the Athabasca Glacier
Just chilling on a glacier. Literally
A Brewster Canada employee makes sure that no-one walks where they shouldn't on the Athabasca Glacier, whilst another Ice Explorer Bus arrives
Keeping watch
Visitors to the glacier, in a bright array of outerwear contract to the whites and blues of the glacier
Having fun on the glacier
The huge Ice Explorer buses transport visitors to the Athabasca Glacier
You wait ages for an Ice Explorer then three turn up at once…
A multitude of brightly dressed tourists line the glass-bottomed Skywalk
A colourful scene on the Skywalk

For more information about the Glacier Adventure with Brewster Canada, click here.

Back on the Icefields Parkway: From Athabasca to Banff

There’s little doubt that the stretch of Icefields Parkway between Athabasca Glacier and Lake Louise is one of the most beautiful drives we’ve 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.

The Snow Forest - living up to its name - leading up to Bow Summit
To get to Bow Summit lookout we had to hike through this snow forest. Sometimes on all fours…
Bow Summit overlooks the glacial-blue Peyto Lake in the Canadian Rockies
Peyto Lake. Yes, it’s snowing.
A Brummie Home and Abroad admires the mountain and lake vista of Peyto Lake
Admiring the view. From here you can’t see the snow still clinging to my backside

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 along the Icefields Parkway, 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.

Bow Lake in Banff National Park, Canada
Beautiful Bow Lake. Image by CPF Photography
Vermillion Lakes, Banff National Park
Vermillion Lakes

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.

Driving the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Banff

16 responses to “Canada Day by Day: Driving the Icefields Parkway”

  1. josypheen says:

    Squeee your Canada trip posts just keep getting better. The scenery up there is amaaazing isn’t it!

    I really love the photo of you two by the lake. You should get it printed and framed.

  2. Wow, that skywalk looks amazing! 🙂

  3. Rosie Amber says:

    Beautiful, we were there in July and I LOVED it, would definitely return.

  4. What lovely pictures 😍 this is definitely on my bucket list!

  5. So beautiful. It’s a winter wonderland. We just got an email from Lake Louis that skiing was open for the year. Snow comes early in Canada. This looks like a beautiful way to see the country and a nice time to go when there is snow but no skiing yet.

    • emfletche says:

      It’s crazy to think we were hiking there just a month ago although there was snow on the ground at a higher level. Was a great time to visit! Thanks for popping by 😊

  6. thebeasley says:

    I’m very jealous of your Canada trip. That Skywalk looks amazing!

  7. Ruth Daly says:

    Loved reading this. It’s years since I’ve done the Icefields Parkway roadtrip – maybe next year!

  8. Yeesh I’m so jealous. The photos are amazing! And I can feel the joy and satisfaction spilling between your words. I came really close to detouring into Canada to see what everybody has been talking about recently but time ran out on me. Now I really regret it.

    And I can see why you love the image of you and your husband so much!

  9. What an awesome trip and truly beautiful photos! 🙂

  10. […] The short hike to Bow Summit from the parking lot was memorable for a number of reasons. Not least because I spent a significant portion of the ascent on my thankfully well padded ass. […]

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