The Icefields Parkway is about 140 miles long and it was completed in 1940. The scenery is quite spectacular along the entire route. Mountain peaks border the Parkway on either side of the road with heights from 8,000 on up to almost 11,000 feet. On the first segment of our drive, Mount Hector, which was actually on the east side of the road, was the tallest peak at 10,850 feet.
The Parkway parallels the Continental Divide on the left as one drives north… However, rugged mountains and ridges border both sides of the road. Icefields Parkway travels through Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, linking Lake Louise at its south end with Jasper to the north.
The parkway is fairly busy in July and August. According to the web, up to 100,000 vehicles use the Parkway during each of those months. The road is mostly two lanes but there aren’t many steep hills and it’s not at all curvy. We didn’t see any wildlife along the shoulders of the road but I’m sure they represent an accident hazard. The biggest issues are presented by tourists parked on the shoulder to take photos or pulling back out into traffic. By our standards, traffic was minimal…
Icefields appear along the Parkway shortly after you depart Lake Louise. Before long, you’ve passed the Wapatik, Wapta, Freshfield and Mons Icefields...all on the west side of the road. There are also a number of smaller glaciers on both sides of the road.
Several lakes border the Parkway…and others can be reached via auto not far off the highway. There are at least 8 lakes along the route in just the first segment of the road. These include Hector, Peyto, Herbert, Helen, Katherine, Bow, Chephren, Cirque, Glacier and the Waterfowl lakes.
During one stop, Laurie captured a photo of the only wildlife that we saw during our drive… It’s a fierce Canadian Chipmunk!!
FYI… A Canadian national parks permit is required to travel on the Icefields Parkway…and the law is enforced! The speed limit is 55 miles per hour…which is good as it allows visitors to take in the views and safely pull off and on the roadway. The good news is that commercial trucks are prohibited!
We sure lucked out during the first portion of our drive. However, the weather did change as we slowly moved north, taking photos and sightseeing as we went.
All of these glaciers and icefields mean water…and lots of it. During August of course, the ice is melting and feeding the streams, rivers and lakes. For part of the drive, we bordered headwaters of the Bow River. Then we came upon the Howes River which fed into the North River. All of the rivers along the first part of our drive flow east into the Saskatchewan River, and eventually into Hudson Bay. River valleys along the road are wide and very scenic!
All along the Parkway there are plenty of sites to have a picnic, lots of hiking trails, places for camping and RV’s, and of course, a plethora of scenic viewpoints for visitors to pull off the road…
This is ‘The Crossing’. It’s located about a third of the way along the Parkway heading north to Jasper. It’s a resort where you can buy gas, grab a snack or a full meal, find a restroom and spend some money in the gift shop. The Crossing is at the junction of Hwy. 93 (Icefields Parkway and Hwy. 11, which goes east to Red Deer Alberta. Highway 11 is the only road intersecting Icefields Parkway for the Parkway’s entire length… For more, go to http://www.thecrossingresort.com/.
This is just one of the many streams flowing down from the mountains and icefields into the valley where the road is located…
There weren’t many open meadows like this along the Parkway. It offered a nice contrast to the mountains and the forests…
By far the largest of the icefields along the Parkway is the Columbia Icefield and its associated glaciers. For those of you who like geographical factoids, the Athabasca River and the North Saskatchewan River originate in the Columbia Icefield, as do tributary headwaters of the Columbia River. In effect, the icefield is atop a triple Continental Divide as these rivers eventually flow north to the Arctic Ocean, east to Hudson Bay, (and then to the North Atlantic Ocean), as well as south and west to the Pacific Ocean.
What happened to the blue skies and sunshine? Once again, the Canadian Rockies demonstrated that the weather can best be described as ‘bi-polar’… You just never know what it’s going to do next!
The Columbia Icefield lies partly in the northwestern section of Banff National Park and the southern end of Jasper National Park. It is about 842 square miles in area and the ice is 328 to 1,197 feet deep. The Columbia Icefield receives up to 275 inches, (roughly 23 feet), of snowfall each year.
The Columbia Icefield feeds at least 6 glaciers: Athabasca, Castleguard, Columbia, Dome, Stutfield and Saskatchewan.
FYI… I didn’t know this but an icefield is an area less than 19,305 square miles They consist of an extensive area of interconnected valley glaciers from which the higher peaks rise as ‘nunataks’. Icefields are larger than alpine glaciers, smaller than ice sheets and similar in area to ice caps. From what I can determine, as compared to an icefield, a glacier is “a persistent body of dense ice exceeding a specific surface area which is constantly moving under its own gravity.
This is about as close as we got to one of the glaciers. I’m not sure which one it was…but I believe that it was the Athabasca Glacier. One can go on ice walks on the icefield and take rides on ‘Brewster Ice Explorers’, vehicles that are specially designed for glacial travel. Accommodations are available near the icefield as well. For more information, go to http://www.explorerockies.com/columbia-icefield/.
This pretty waterfall was right along the Parkway on the east side of the road… It’s called Tangle Falls. I’ve since learned that these are the upper falls and, if one is willing and able to hike a bit, there is much more to this cascade than meets the eye. If you’d like to see some great photos of this series of waterfalls, go to http://www.northeastwaterfalls.com/waterfall.php?num=1345&p=0.
Also, for some great (truly professional) scenery photos of the Canadian Rockies, you can click on this link: http://www.pbase.com/deanhueber/canadianrockies.
That’s about it for the first 80% of our drive north along the Icefields Parkway. Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by and checking out this chapter of our Canadian Rockies adventure!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave