Written by Brian Callender | Photography by Julie Boyd
With Banff squarely in our rearview, we continued our journey along the Icefields Parkway, headed for the town of Jasper. If you’re a fan of stunning mountains and breathtaking waterfalls, then this is the place to be. Our first stop on the second half of our drive was the Columbia Icefield, a place that is truly spectacular.
The Columbia Icefield is an extensive network of glaciers that date back to the last Ice Age. Located at the crossroads of Banff and Jasper National Parks, and alongside the Continental Divide, eight glaciers make up the icefield. When you visit, the most prominent and visible glacier is Athabasca, which immediately catches the eye.
We stopped and visited the Glacier Discovery Center where tours are readily available, including their much touted Glacier Skywalk. As we had arrived later in the day on our visit, we decided to forgo the tour and instead walked up to the toe of the glacier. Directly across the street from the Discovery Center is a parking lot that serves as a jumping off point for the short walk to the glacier. Driving up to the trailhead, you can see the various levels that the glacier once occupied before receding to its current location. While it’s still a spectacular sight, it’s sad to see how much of the glacier has been lost.
It’s important to note that if you are not on a guided tour, you cannot walk on the glacier nor get up close to it. There is a rope that separates you from the glacier, something we had not anticipated. If you feel like breaking the rules, of which we saw many people, you can bypass the rope and walk up to the glacier. However, there are warning signs throughout the area alerting you to the possibility of unstable conditions within the ice, so be sure to use your best judgement here.
After visiting the glacier, we continued north, staying one step ahead of the slowly setting sun. The next point of interest along the parkway is Tangle Creek Falls, but we missed it on our way up and instead stopped to visit it on our return trip. Tangle Falls is located alongside the road and was particularly crowded when we stopped as several bighorn sheep were lazing about nearby. A great feature about the falls is that you can get up close to them with a short and easy climb alongside them. We took a very short hike to the top of the falls which was well worth the extra effort.
Easily one of the most anticipated stops along the parkway was our next at Sunwapta Falls. An absolutely stunning waterfall, Sunwapta is a famous destination for photographers who flock to take in the falls and small island at its center.
Our last stop of the day was yet another of our favorites, Athabasca Falls. Similar to Sunwapta Falls, Athasbasca is located a short walk from the trailhead just off the Icefields Parkway. The falls are particularly impressive due to sheer power and force that are produced by them. Several viewpoints let you get incredibly close to the falls and signs remind visitors not to get too close. The glacial water is unforgiving, so be sure to stay on the platform and avoid the temptation step out onto the slippery rocks.
Break away from the crowds and follow the river as it flows through the canyon for more beautiful views.
Driving along the Icefields Parkway was an incredible experience and arguably one of the more beautiful drives I have been on. It’s without a doubt, something we recommend everyone experience for not only its sheer beauty, but also the accessibility of the popular stops along the way. Nearly every point of interest is right off the parkway or just a short walk from the parking lot. We loved the drive but were also excited to explore Jasper next!