After we had our fill of Banff (okay not our fill, but we figured we should make it up to Jasper at some point), we took the Icefields Parkway up to Canada’s largest national park. The Icefields Parkway is a road that will take you from Banff all the way to the town of Jasper (which is in Jasper national park… yes, it’s all very confusing). It also happens to be one of the most beautiful roads in the world. There’s tons of place to stop along the way, so definitely make a day out of it. You can take some hikes, look at icefields, admire mountains, and even jump into some freezing lakes. For our trip down the parkway, we took the following stops.
Distance from Banff: 62.4 km
Distance from Jasper: 226 km
This is the first stop along the parkway. Lonely Planet said you would be able to see the reflection of some mountain in it if the water is still enough. Unfortunately, the water was not still enough. Fortunately, there were bathrooms there so we could begin the never-ending stream of people saying they needed to pee.
Distance from Banff: 91 km
Distance from Jasper: 198 km
After having just learned what a glacier was, I was intrigued in finding one that looked like the foot of a crow. The book said it was actually a two-toed crow because one of the glaciers had already melted (very sad, very sad). It was a nice stop off on the road, but we had to hurry back before the tour buses caught up and forced us to sit behind a caravan of cars desperately trying to pass.
Distance from Banff: 93.6 km
Distance from Jasper: 194 km
We knew bow lake would be amazing because there were approximately 6,087 tour buses parked alongside it. We wanted to see what all of the fuss was about. Turns out, the light mist we passed through made a rainbow right over the lake! We snapped a few pictures, but didn’t make it out before the tour buses. Fortunately, our next stop wasn’t too far away, so we could endure the slow pace of the buses as we went on the Peyto Summit.
Bow Lake / Peyto Summit
Distance from Banff: ~94 km
Distance from Jasper: 195 km
The summit was a short uphill walk from the parking lot (which was so full). It was a nice chance to stretch our legs. It was fairly steep, and I was pretty excited to see what was on top. The pictures mentioned beautiful mountains, but what I got was a sea of selfie sticks. Sure, if you can manage to find a higher vantage point, the view is absolutely amazing, but honestly it was just too crowded. There were people in the dirt part under the platform, so we ventured down there to get some space. A few minutes later, a park ranger yelled at everyone saying there were signs saying to not go off the main path. Woops (I really didn’t see any signs I swear!). We meandered back to the car, and someone pee’d in the bushes because it had been 10 minutes and that is apparently the theme of our trip.
Distance from Banff: 173.4 km
Distance from Jasper: 115 km
Parker Ridge is a hike off the side of the parkway. It takes around 2 hours, and has an elevation gain of 250m. It’s definitely a great way to stretch your legs after a long day in the car. When we went, it was sort of drizzling by the parking lot. It wasn’t too bad, so we decided to zip up our raincoats and go for it, in the hopes of finding the dramatic glacier views we were promised.
Luck was not with us that day. The higher we went, the colder it got. It started to snow! The fog rolled in and we saw some hints of a glacier. Oh well, at least I burned off some of those granola bars I was eating in the car…
Distance from Banff: 260 km
Distance from Jasper: 28 km
Okay, so we actually went here on the way back down to Banff from Jasper, but I just had to mention it. Horseshoe lake is full with beautiful blue/green/clear water. The sign for it isn’t too big, and many people just drive right by it. We stopped in, and decided to take a walk before making our way back. Much to our surprise, we saw some kids cliff jumping! I had never cliff jumped before, so couldn’t say no to the opportunity. I quickly changed into my bathing suit, stood on the edge, and dove right in. The water was FREEZING. Like knock the breath out of you freezing (it’s glacier water, this totally makes sense). It was a struggle to swim back, but absolutely worth it.
The ice fields parkway is something you definitely want to take a day to explore. This is one of those things that feels more about the journey than the destination. There are so many amazing stops to make. It makes it so difficult to choose just a few!