The icefields parkway driving south from jasper national park into banff national park.

2024 Guide to Driving the Incredible Icefields Parkway

When it comes to the most magnificent places in North America, the Icefields Parkway ranks at the top. It’s 145 miles of pure brilliance with never-ending lakes and stunning peaks that will make your jaw drop and cause a constant “oh my god” to come out of your mouth.

This was my third time on the road, but my first time driving the entire road from Lake Louise to Jasper. And while we didn’t plan to get all the way to Jasper, we’re so thankful we did because the views kept getting better and better.

I can honestly say the Icefields Parkway offers the most picturesque sights I’ve ever seen. It is a bucket list achievement and a must-do drive for anyone who visits Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.

Inside, I take a deep dive into all the things to do on the Icefields Parkway, including top hikes, waterfalls, and lakes.

2024 Road Trip Guide: The Best Places to See on the Icefields Parkway

  • Distance: 145 miles
  • Estimated Time from Lake Louise to Jasper no stopping: 3 hours
  • Reasonable time you should spend: 5-9 hours

The Icefields Parkway offers incredible views of lakes, glaciers, jagged peaks, waterfalls, and wildlife. It’s undeniably the most beautiful patch of paved terrain in North America. Because of that, there are a vast number of things to do on the Icefields Parkway.

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Things to do on the Icefields Parkway: Explore the Lakes

Herbert Lake

Herbert Lake sunset banff icefields parkway

Herbert Lake is a small lake just as you get onto the Icefields Parkway. There’s a small parking lot with some picnic tables for lunch or dinner. There’s a trail that hugs the road and the lake that can offer some nice photography spots, especially for sunset.

If you’re staying in the Lake Louise area, this is a really nice, easy-to-reach spot with great views!

Peyto Lake

Views of peyto lake on the icefields parkway.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

This one is so popular they had to close it down to remake the overlook and parking lot. Now, it’s a gorgeous setup, but still popular – for a good reason. The landscapes surrounding Peyto Lake might be the most stunning in the entire area.

This is one of the must-see things to do on the Icefields Parkway.

Bow Lake

banff national park bow lake

Bow Lake is notorious for being windy and cold. Chilly air blows directly down from the glacier above, creating a much different environment than just 50 yards away at the parking lot. Make sure to have a jacket here.

For views, this spot is magical. It’s truly hard to believe how picturesque it all is!

Waterfowl Lakes

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Another stunning lake on the Icefield Parkway. Keep an eye out for the pull-off, and spend some time here to take photos and soak in the beauty. This is also the last of the major lakes until you hit the River Crossing.

The Waterfalls

Athabasca Falls

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

It is probably the most famous waterfall on the Icefields Parkway and is incredibly accessible. Walk a short distance down to the multiple overlooks, and you’ll have stunning views of the falls and gorgeous backdrops of the Canadian Rockies.

This one sees plenty of tour buses, so be prepared for crowds. We were there around 7:30 p.m. and found it to be calm compared to what I can only imagine is chaos in the middle of the day.

Sunwapta Falls

The gorgeous Sunwapta Falls along the Icefields Parkway
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

This is another popular area on the drive and even has lodging and a market at the turnoff for those looking to grab something to eat. The walk is pretty short, maybe a half-mile round trip, to see the falls.

Panther Falls

This is right after the Big Bend as you head north towards Jasper. We only saw it from the car, but photos make it look pretty sweet. I don’t think you can get close to it.

Tangle Creek Falls

Tangle Creek Falls is directly off the road, and unless you intend to stop, you’ll probably pass right by it without fully noticing it. I didn’t have it on my list, so we kept going, but after seeing it briefly as we dove by and other photos, I wish we had stopped.

It’s a lovely cascading waterfall that would be great to photograph with long exposures.

Mistaya Canyon Waterfall

This one is 10 minutes before the Saskatchewan River Crossing. We didn’t stop – I actually had no idea it existed until researching this article – but it looks pretty rad and has some cool cascading/canyon features.

Overall, it’s less than a mile walk from the turn off and is basically flat.

The Icefields Parkway Glaciers

We stopped at almost all of the glacier lookouts and soaked up these massive views. Plus, with a telephoto lens, it’s pretty cool to see the intricate details of the Icefields Parkway glaciers.

Stutfield Glacier Viewpoint

Views of the Stutfield Glacier along the Icefields Parkway in Jasper!
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

This one was incredibly cool, and the glaciers were MASSIVE. One thing to note: You can only pull into this while driving south. So, make a mental check to stop here when you head back to Lake Louise.

Athabasca Glacier

One of the most famous glaciers in Canada. His is the Athabasca Glacier from the toe of the glacier hike.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

When you visit the Columbia Icefield and either take a short walk from the parking lot or do your tour of the glacier, this is what you’ll be looking at. I recommend taking a walk to the toe of the glacier. You’ll see how far it has receded over time.

Goats and Glaciers Lookout

One of the pull offs between Jasper and the Columbia Icefield. We didn’t stop here but it has nice views and potential wildlife. (Considering the signs to not stop.)

Crowfoot Glacier

The crowfoot glacier in banff national park.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Crowfoot Glacier has a viewpoint minutes before Bow Lake. I recommend taking a few minutes to see it. It’s beautiful, and you never know how much will melt out the next time you see it.

Bow Glacier

Bow Glacier hangs over Bow Lake, which is why the area is so cold. It’s a bit further back, so you won’t get a great vantage point unless you have binoculars.

Wapta Glacier

It’s in the same area as the above but further to the left as you’re looking across Bow Lake.

Peyto Glacier

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

This glacier has mostly receded. It’s on the far left side of the lake and high above. Make sure you check out the sign at the viewpoint that talks about the glacier and shows you where it is.

Top Hikes on the Icefields Parkway

This area is full of hiking, with many tough multi-day treks possible. Below are some trails that I think would be good ways to break up your drive. I didn’t do any of these as we only had time to drive.

That said, these look phenomenal and will be totally worth your time. Remember to carry bear spray as you hike.

Parker Ridge Hike

This one looks like a great hike. We talked to a group of ladies who did it and said it was challenging for them. But they said it was beautiful and highly worth it!

  • Length: 6.4 km (4 miles) round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 400 meters (1200 feet)
  • Difficulty: Moderate
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Wilcox Pass Hike

  • Length: 8 km (5 miles) round trip to the pass, or 11.2 km (7 miles) if you continue from point to point
  • Elevation Gain: 335 meters (1,300 feet)
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Valley of Five Lakes Trail

  • Length: 4.5 km (3 miles) loop
  • Elevation Gain: 500 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

Glacier Lake Trail

  • Length: 10 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 2,600 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Mt Edith Cavell Trail

This is a classic trail just south of Jasper. It’s a winding dirt road that probably isn’t great for RVs (trailers are not allowed) and has some steep drop-off spots. But the views back here are supposedly gorgeous (my parents have been), and we were aiming to go but spent more time at Maligne Lake.

There are a few variations of the trail here. Some are shorter than others.

  • Length: 8.5 km (5.3 miles) round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 600 meters (1,840 feet)
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult

Chephren Lake Trail

This is actually the one trail I have done, but I did it back in 2017. It was a great hike, but it was quite muddy for nearly the entirety. Granted, this was many years ago, but we had no one else on the trail with us!

  • Length: 8.2 km (5.1miles) round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 300 meters (846 feet)
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Cirque Lake Trail

Starting from the same parking lot as Chephren Lake, this lake looks epic with a massive rock backdrop. Now I wish I’d done this when I was on the Icefields Parkway!

  • Length: 5.6 round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,174 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Helen Lake and/or Cirque Peak

  • Length: 12 km (7.5 miles) round trip for Helen Lake; 16 km (10 miles) round trip if continuing to Cirque Peak
  • Elevation Gain: 500 meters (1,700 feet) to Helen Lake; 1,150 meters (3,575 feet) to Cirque Peak
  • Difficulty: Moderate for Helen Lake; Difficult for Cirque Peak

Beauty Creek Trail

  • Length: 2.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: Minimal
  • Difficulty: Easy

Sunset Lookout Trail

  • Length: 5 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 2,200 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Boundary Lake Trail

Needing a place to stretch your legs but not wanting to hike too far? Boundary Lake looks like a wonderful option.

  • Length: 1.8 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 300 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

Tangle Ridge via Wilcox Pass

  • Length: 6.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 3,800 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Iceberg Lake and Bow Glacier Falls

Starting from Bow Lake, you’ll hike up behind the main lake to a smaller one with some small falls near the top. This is a great way to ditch any crowds at the bottom.

  • Length: 6.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,500 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Book Tours Along the Icefields Parkway

Here’s a complete list of tours to book if you’re in the area!

Columbia Icefield Adventure and Skywalk

Take a tour from Banff up the Icefields Parkway to the Columbia Icefields. You’ll get a chance to walk directly on the glacier and see what life is like on ice. Then, you’ll get to drive over to the famous Skywalk and soak in the massive views! It’s only 90 minutes from Lake Louise, so it’s an easy drive!

Highlights:

  • Stop at Lake Louise, Crowfoot Glacier, and Peyto Lake.
  • Lunch included
  • Guided trip
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Day Tours of the Icefields Parkway

Looking for a guided trip where you don’t have to drive and can enjoy the views?
Find a group or private tour and enjoy the ride!

5 Tips for the Icefields Parkway

Keep your speed down

While I wouldn’t say this is a crowded road, there are plenty of people on it. But more so, there’s the possibility of animals. Bear, deer, and moose could run across the road at any time. The speed limit for most of it is 90kmph (55mph), so you’re already not going too fast.

I wanted to see the sights, so I kept my speed below 55mph and just cruised.

Plan to stop a lot

I feel like this is a given, considering we’re this far into the guide, and I’ve given you about 30 places to see! Still, some people may do this in a short time frame. DO NOT DO THAT!

Plan out a full day here. During summer, you’ll have over 16 hours of daylight to enjoy the drive. I suggest taking advantage of every single last minute.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Bring plenty of food and water

While there are places to stop, they are not numerous. If you want to stop for lunch or a snack, it’s better to have enough food and water on you so you won’t have to worry. This is especially important if you plan to hike.

I recommend having over a gallon of water per person in the car for safety reasons.

Do not approach wildlife

Keep wildlife wild by not approaching wildlife, giving them plenty of space if you do see them, and NEVER feeding them.

We were pulled over on the side of the road, and a bear approached us. We never left the car and let it move on through. At the same time, more cars showed up, and people got out of their cars and came within 25 yards of the black bear.

Luckily, the bear had plenty of room to walk away and didn’t seem at all concerned with them. Still, this was not smart bear safety and could have created a bad situation if the bear felt threatened.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Have a full tank of gas

Go into the Icefields Parkway drive with a full tank of gas. There’s only one place to get it on the way (the River Crossing), but it’ll keep your anxiety lower if you fill up in Jasper or Lake Louise before setting out on the drive.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

What is the Icefields Parkway

The 145-mile (232km) Icefield Parkway is arguably the most scenic paved road in North America. Spanning Lake Louise to Jasper, Alberta, this magnificent drive offers tourists the best possible way to see the Canadian Rockies.

Maps say it would take 2.5 hours to drive it, but anyone who does this drive correctly will take triple or longer. We easily stopped a dozen times to photograph, hike, and enjoy the scenery!

Here are some things to know about the area.

Is the Icefields Parkway worth it?

I’ll be blunt. If you don’t drive the Icefields Parkway when you’re in the area, you’re crazy! It is the most gorgeous place to spend a day(s). So yes, it is incredibly worth it, and you’ll be amazed at the landscape and what you see as you drive.

How long should I spend driving it?

I would budget 5-8 hours on all the things to do on the Icefields Parkway. This obviously depends on whether you’re going to drive up and back on the same day or make a pitstop in Jasper for the evening.

Should I visit Jasper?

I’ll be honest with ya’ll. We were not planning to drive the entire road to Jasper. We had camping reservations at Lake Louise and decided at the Columbia Icefield that we loved this so much that we might as well keep driving.

We stayed the night in Jasper at Maligne Inn and quickly saw some of the top places to be in Jasper before coming down.

For a quick trip, we loved the area and think everyone should get to see Jasper.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

What to do around Jasper:

Do I need a pass to see it?

There is no separate pass to see the Icefields Parkway. If you have already bought a pass driving into Banff, you’re good. If you haven’t purchased a pass, you’ll have to do so at the entrance booth at the beginning of the road.

If I’m short on time, what should I see?

I recommend at least driving until the Saskatchewan River Crossing. This is about halfway up the Icefields Parkway and will showcase some incredible sights along the way.

Will I see bears?

There is never a guarantee of seeing bears or any wildlife on the Icefields Parkway. That said, there’s a very good chance to see some either along the road or at the lakes and rivers. Animals, like us humans, like ease of movement, and the road and flat areas of the valley are much easier to traverse than the mountains and steep slopes.

Due to this, please follow the speed limit and watch for anything trying to cross the road.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Final Thoughts on the Things To Do On The Icefields Parkway

As you can see, the Icefields Parkway is one of the most incredible places on planet Earth. The views, A+. And the hiking and waterfalls are phenomenal.

You will have the time of your life on this drive and won’t get tired of all the things to do on the Icefields Parkway.

Until next time, adventurers, stay safe.

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on ExploreWithAlec.com. Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside