Top five stops driving the Icefields Parkway

The drive along the Icefields Parkway, in Banff and Jasper National Parks, is one of the most scenic drives in the World. There are so many stops that you could take, but there isn’t always time to make a stop at every viewpoint. So here’s five stops which are good ones to make on the Icefields Parkway. I’ve ordered them in a South-North manner starting from Lake Louise to Jasper town.

One of the best pieces of advice is to leave early – you’ll get calmer water on the lakes which makes for better photographs, and the road should be a little quieter.

1. Bow Lake

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Bow Lake

Bow Lake isn’t too far north of Lake Louise, but it has some pretty awesome views. The lake forms part of the headwaters of the Bow River, which flows alongside the Trans-Canada highway through Banff National Park, going over Bow Falls near Banff Town, and out towards Calgary. If you have time, the hike to Bow Glacier Falls is a great one to do.

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The hike to Bow Glacier Falls

Driving past Bow Lake you’ll see the bright red roof of Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, which is a fnatsatic building, and also has a good cafe, if you’re looking for a snack (which are few and far between on the Icefields Parkway unless you bring your own!).

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Num-Ti-Jah Lodge and it’s bright red roof!

2. Peyto Lake

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Peyto Lake

Just north of Bow Lake is Peyto Lake. Along with Lake Louise, it must be one of the most photographed lakes in the Canadian Rockies, but it’s incredibly beautiful so definitely worth the stop! The lake is named after Bill Peyto, who was a guide and warden in the early years of Banff National Park.

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Peyto Lake and the delta entering it

There’s a short walk along a paved trail from the parking lot to get to a lookout over the lake, where you’ll be able to take some beautiful photographs. It can get busy here, as it’s a popular stopping point for coach tours, so it’s a good one to get to early!

3. The Big Bend

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The view from the top of the Big Bend

This is one of my favourite views on the Icefields Parkway, and the above photo really doesn’t do it justice! Coming from Banff, you ascend the ‘Big Bend’, which is best described as a massive switchback, and there’s a pull in at the top. The view looking back southwards is amazing. It is an incredibly dramatic landscape, and you can truly appreciate the actions of glaciers to shape it.

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Bridal Veil Falls

From this pull in you will also be able to see Bridal Veil Falls, which is another good reason to make a stop at the Big Bend! If you’re headed south-north (Banff to Jasper) you might not notice the landscape here, whilst you’re in your vehicle driving up the Big Bend, so it’s definitely getting out for a couple of minutes just to take it in!

4. Parker Ridge

Saskatchewan Glacier

The Saskatchewan Glacier seen from Parker Ridge

This shortish hike is a great place if you have a couple of hours spare and want to stretch your legs. After hiking up to the ridge you’ll get an excellent view of the Saskatchewan Glacier and it’s glacial outwash plain. It’s a delicate alpine environment, so make sure to stick to the marked trails!

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The view on the hike up to Parker Ridge

5. Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls

Really this counts as two stops, but both sets of falls are very beautiful and are each worth stopping for. Athabasca Falls are closer to Jasper town than Sunwapta Falls. There are short marked trails for both sets of falls, with viewpoints at convenient locations to get some good photographs from.

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Sunwapta Falls

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Athabasca Falls

© Rockies Outdoors 2015.

 

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19 responses to “Top five stops driving the Icefields Parkway

  1. Icefields Parkway is our favorite drive. The overlook at Peyto is seen by thousands but if you walk back on the nature trail you can take a side trail that gives you a better look at the lake with a lot less people. Simple a spectacular area.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for this post, Rob! I had been misidentifying Peyto Lake as Bow Lake. One of these days when I do my throwback post for that trip, I’ll have the lake correctly identified, thanks to you!

    Jim

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I drove the Icefields Parkway a couple years ago – I didn’t have any expectations, and it was one of the most beautiful drives I have ever been on (easily Top 5 – quite possibly Top 3). I can’t wait to take the hubby on the drive sometime!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. We have stopped and photographed Peyto Lake several times now, but I am still amazed every time! It is beautiful! Have you tried the Wilcox Pass hike, a great one along the Parkway that also is fairly short (a bit longer than Parker Ridge though).

    Liked by 1 person

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