The Icefields Parkway is a popular highway weaving through the mountains connecting the town of Banff and Jasper in Canada’s Rocky Mountains (technically it starts just after Lake Louise), but the drive is absolutely stunning. If you’re in Banff or Jasper National Park you have to do at least some (but preferably all!) of the parkway. Keep reading for the best places to stop along the Icefields Parkway!
Lake Louise & the Fairmont Chateau
Although technically not on the Icefields Parkway highway, Lake Louise is on the route between the town of Banff and Jasper. So why not stop and make a visit to this iconic Canadian landscape! While visiting the lake, the beautiful Fairmont Chateau is right there as well, so head inside and take a look at one of the most luxurious hotels in Banff.
You don’t need much time to explore Herbert Lake, but it does offer great photo opportunities of the mountains, lake, and nature, but with fewer crowds. Snap a few photos here for a great start to your road trip!
23 minutes up the road from Herbert Lake is Bow Lake, which is another less visited/touristy lake in Canada, but still delivers on the beautiful blue water and mountain views! Stop here to take in the beauty and nature away from the crowds.
Super busy. Super well-known. But still incredible! To get to Peyto Lake, you essentially park at the Peyto Lake parking lot and walk up a well-maintained trail to the viewpoint. It’s not a crazy hike and is actually a very accessible viewpoint. (Get here early or around sunset to try to escape the crowds). Hands down one of the best places to stop along the Icefields Parkway – which is probably why it’s always so busy!
Waterfowl Lakes Viewpoint
The Waterfowl Lakes are beautiful! They have the stunning aqua colour Canada’s lakes are known for, so for that reason alone you have to stop here. The viewpoint is easily seen from the highway, so you can’t miss it!
Mistaya Canyon isn’t as popular of a stop as some of the other ones along the Icefields Parkway, and I have no idea why! It’s a pretty quick hike to the main area of the canyon, and it is absolutely stunning! Make a stop here to see some roaring water carve through the canyon and awesome mountain views.
Although technically not on the Icefields Parkway, it is nearby! If you’re visiting the area in the wintertime you should definitely plan a stop at Abraham Lake. The plants at the bottom of the lake release bubbles of methane, and as these bubbles rise, they freeze, making the frozen lake look super cool and bubbly!
There are a few different hikes along the Icefields Parkway, so if you have more than one day to explore, I would definitely plan to do at least one hike! A few hikes to check out are:
Cirque Peak Trail
A pretty easy hike to start out with, but gets harder once you get to Helen Lake. This hike takes a good chunk of the day, but you’ll be rewarded with great views once you make it to the top.
Beauty Creek Trail
A relatively easy hike (and one of my favourites), Beauty Creek is a lesser known hike that takes you along a beautiful river and a few waterfalls. The endpoint is Stanley Falls and takes about 1-1.5 hours to complete.
A well marked and popular hike off the parkway, Parker Ridge is a moderate hike that you can complete in a few hours depending on your physical ability. The hike offers great, picturesque views – you will not be disappointed!
Wilcox Pass is a great trail where bighorn sheep frequent, so be prepared for wildlife! The parking lot to this hike is pretty small and fills up quite fast. If you stay at the Wilcox Creek campground overnight (first-come first-serve) you won’t have to worry about parking and crowds.
Columbia Icefield & Athabasca Glacier
At the Columbia Icefield centre you can have a bite to eat at the restaurant or take in the views from their patio. There are also a few picnic tables at the parking lot if you want to have your own lunch/snack and sit down to enjoy it. Across from the centre you’ll find another parking lot, and this is where the hike to the glacier starts from. You can hike close to the glacier for free and at your own leisure, or pay for a tour on one of the big ice explorer trucks that will take you up and closer to the glacier, where you’ll have a chance to walk on it!
Ticket price: Varies. Depending on what you want to do there a few different packages/tours to choose from.
Columbia Icefield Skywalk
The skywalk is a unique way to experience Alberta’s rocky mountains. It’s a glass-floored walkway hanging out from the side of a cliff that visitors can walk on, and provides great views of the icefields and mountains around the skywalk. You cannot visit without a ticket, as you have to park at the Icefield centre and shuttle up to the walkway because it is a narrow highway and there’s no parking lot.
If you are driving the parkway though, you’ll catch a glimpse of it as you drive by regardless if you visit or not!
Ticket price: Varies from $27 CAD – $32 CAD for adult admission. Alberta residents receive a 20% off discount at the time of writing (with proof of residence)
Tangle Creek Falls
A pretty, multi-tiered waterfall on the side of the Icefields Parkway, Tangle Creek Falls is a quick stop you can make on your road trip. The parking lot is across the road from the falls; it comes up fast and is easy to miss, so make sure to program the falls into google maps so you know when it’s coming up and you can prepare to enter the parking lot.
Camp at a first-come first-serve campsite
Camping at one of these campsites is a great option if you’re planning to spend multiple days on the parkway (which I would recommend at least 2 days!). You cannot reserve a site in advance (at most campgrounds), so if you show up later in the day it might be harder to secure a spot. The campground along the parkway include:
- Mosquito Creek
- Silverhorn Creek
- Waterfowl Lakes
- Rampart Creek
- Wilcox Creek
- Columbia Icefield
- Jonas Creek
- Honeymoon Lake
- Mount Kerkeslin
There are also a few lodges to stay at along the parkway, and even a hostel! Basing yourself at a campground near Jasper and Banff is also an option as well.
Fed by the Athabasca Glacier, Sunwapta Falls is beautiful and is definitely one of the best places to stop along the Icefields Parkway. With a tree-filled island centered just before the waterfall and mountains in the background, it would be hard for this view to be more picturesque.
The Athabasca Falls are fierce, there is so much water moving here it’s crazy. There are a few trails in the area to explore as well that I would highly recommend exploring if you have time.
Cliff Jump at Horseshoe Lake
A hidden gem worth mentioning – on a hot, sunny day, cliff jumping into the icy blue waters of horseshoe lake is so refreshing, and not to mention so picturesque. Come with your bathing suit under your clothes because there is just an outhouse and nature to change in (and it’s just easier). I really only jump from the smaller cliffs and it is lots of fun!
* The area is unsupervised, so jump at your own risk. Cliff jumping can be dangerous if not done properly and people have unfortunately died here before
Watch for wildlife along the way
The best chances to see wildlife in Canada’s rocky mountains is definitely along the Icefields Parkway! Keep your eyes peeled the whole way – I saw 3 black bears and a ton of goats and elk over my 2 days on the Parkway.
Budget time for other viewpoints
There are viewpoints the whole way along the Parkway. If you stop at all of them the time adds up – so make sure you budget your time while driving because it is so tempting to stop at all of them!
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Hopefully, this guide on the best places to stop along the Icefields Parkway helps you plan your trip to the area or inspires you to visit!
Comment below with any questions or other recommendations for fellow travelers to see, and send me an email if you have any requests, questions, or just want to say hi!
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