13 BEST Icefields Parkway stops: 1 day itinerary [2023]

The drive between the towns of Lake Louise and Jasper in Alberta, Canada is the scenic Icefields parkway drive which is rightly named one of the top 10 drives in the world. Every bend in the road brings amazing scenery that is postcard perfect. As we went in early June, there was a lot of snow on the mountains and the white snow contrasted splendidly with the dark jagged mountain peaks. 

13 amazing Icefields parkway stops that you can see in 1 day

When you purchase the Parks Canada pass at the entrance to Banff National Park, they will provide you with a booklet which has a map of the Icefields parkway. We used that map to find the stops along the way. There are signs alongside the road that match the order in the map which makes it easy to know which stop to expect next. 

Most stops are just quick views from the parking lot, but some need small walks/hikes to reach the waterfalls and viewpoints. I will mention this in the individual stop descriptions below. Depending on the time you have in hand you can do all of them in 1 day or keep some for the drive back. 

1. Crowfoot glacier viewpoint

This viewpoint is the first stop on your Icefields parkway drive. You can pullout on the side of the road to view the Crowfoot Glacier. The Glacier is shaped like a crow’s foot and hence it gets its unique name.

The Crowfoot glacier viewpoint is around 21 miles from Lake Louise. You need 5 to 10 minutes here to take pictures and admire your first glacier view on the Icefields parkway.

2. Bow Lake viewpoint

Bow lake in early June on Icefields parkway
Bow lake in early June on Icefields parkway

This lake can be viewed right from the parking lot which is on the Icefields parkway. As we went in early June Bow lake was still frozen.

It was a sight to behold as I had never seen a frozen lake before (Even though I live four hours drive away from Lake Tahoe in California!) Bow lake was beautiful with the snow covered mountains in the backdrop.

3. Peyto Lake panorama overlook

Peyto Lake

Peyto lake views from the panorama overlook is the most photographed spot on Icefields parkway. The Peyto Lake overlook is around 29 miles from Lake Louise. This viewpoint needs a little hike to reach but the views are so worth it.

It’s a 10 to 15 minute hike each side so allow a total of 45 minutes for this stop. The trail is around 1.5 miles loop trial and is paved all the way to the panorama outlook. There is a viewing platform made at the overlook to enjoy the amazing views of Peyto lake and the surrounding mountains.

This is one of the most popular Icefields parkway stops and should be on everyone’s must do list.

4. Waterfowl Lake viewpoint

Waterfowl lake on Icefields parkway
Waterfowl lake on Icefields parkway

This lake can be viewed right from the parking lot and is just a 30 minute drive away from Bow lake. We were amazed to see that this was completely melted as opposed to Bow lake that was still frozen.  It was drizzling and foggy but still was beautiful. 

5. Mistaya Canyon

Mistaya Canyon

The stop to see the Mistaya Canyon is around 47 miles from Lake Louise. Mistaya Canyon view is accessible by a short little hike from the parking lot, very doable for all ages.

The hike is total half a mile slightly downhill to reach the canyon viewpoint. Its incredible to see the gushing waters of the Mistaya river cutting the rocks over the years and creating beautiful curved canyon walls.

6. Saskatchewan river crossing

The Saskatchewan river crossing is about midway on the Icefields parkway drive and the last stop to fill gas before you reach Jasper. There is a café, gas station and restrooms at this stop.

It is recommended to fill gas in Banff or Jasper as it can be more expensive here. The café store is a great place to buy some snacks for the road. 

7. Weeping wall

Weeping wall on Icefields parkway
Weeping wall on Icefields parkway

We didn’t see any sign for this one but it’s hard to miss. A huge roadside mountain with many small waterfalls, which probably gave it the unique name of Weeping wall.

You can see the weeping wall from the roadside. the mountain is so huge and panoramic with the numerous waterfalls that it is easily identifiable.

8. Big bend viewpoint

Icefields Parkway drive – Big Bend

This viewpoint shows a panoramic view of the curvy Icefields parkway drive. You will have to look out for this one as it is on the top of the curve of a windy road you just drove on and easy to miss.

I did not find this viewpoint listed in the map booklet either. While driving from Banff to Jasper this will be on your side of the road. 

9. Columbia Icefields Glacier tour

The Columbia Icefields glacier tour on the Athabasca glacier is probably the most popular Icefields parkway stops, and a must do in any Icefields parkway itinerary. It is around 2 hours from Banff and 1 hour from Jasper. 

Columbia Ice Explorer tour bus
Columbia Ice Explorer tour bus

The Columbia Icefields adventure tour company runs tours from Mid May to mid October. Exact operating dates each year are weather dependent. The whole tour including the skywalk takes around 3 hours. This is a must for anyone visiting this region as it is a very unique experience to walk on the Athabasca glacier, a 10,000 year old sheet of ice. You can book the tour through the link below

https://www.banffjaspercollection.com/attractions/columbia-icefield/

The entire tour is nicely organized. The Icefield center has good facilities, restrooms and even a Starbucks to get some hot chocolate and snacks after the tour. 

Columbia Icefields Glacier experience

Columbia Icefields Athabasca glacier tour
Columbia Icefields Athabasca glacier tour

First you board a tour bus which is a 10 minute ride, and then you change buses and board the massive Ice Explorer vehicle. These special vehicles are amazing and had the biggest tires I had ever seen.

Our driver was really nice and gave a lot of good information about the Athabasca glacier and the Ice Explorer vehicle. The vehicle goes down a very steep grade road and it’s a cool experience. Then it continues to drive on the glacier! 

We were given 15-20 minutes on the glacier. The ice is very slippery but the views are mind blowing. This was our family’s first experience walking on a glacier and it was so cool!

It was very cold and windy on the glacier so bring Jackets, winter caps, and gloves. Overall, it totally made our day and was the most memorable part of our trip. 

10. Columbia Icefields Skywalk experience

Columbia Icefields Skywalk
Columbia Icefields Skywalk

After the glacier experience you board the tour bus again and they take you to the Columbia Icefields Skywalk experience. The skywalk has a glass floor and has jaw dropping views of the Sunwapta valley below. The panoramic views of the surrounding mountains are breathtaking. 

11. Sunwapta Falls

Sunwapta falls on Icefields parkway
Sunwapta falls on Icefields parkway

The next stop very close to Jasper is the Sunwapta Falls. The falls can be viewed from a platform very close to the parking lot so not much walking is required. The falls were rushing and gorgeous. We stopped here for just 10 minutes to admire the falls. 

12. Athabasca falls

The final stop in our scenic drive is Athabasca Falls. These falls are more massive and powerful than the Sunwapta falls and there is a nice boardwalk built to see the falls from different viewpoints.

This is around 30 minutes drive from Jasper and a must see. The trail is a short, easy trail and very scenic. It can be completed in a 15-20 minutes stroll. Athabasca falls is one of the most popular Icefields parkway stops.

13. Valley of the Five Lakes

The valley of the Five Lakes is a beautiful hike that passes five different lakes with waters in varying shades of turquoise and emerald.

The valley of the Five Lakes is a very popular hike in Jasper and is a great way to end your Icefields parkway drive with a scenic hike and a refreshing swim. The fourth and the fifth lakes are the most beautiful and you will find people swimming in the lakes.

The Valley of the Five Lakes hike is around 3 miles long with some elevation and is considered moderately challenging. The entire hike takes around 2 hours to complete.

The Valley of the Five Lakes is just a 10 minute drive from the town of Jasper. If you are staying overnight in Jasper, you can do this hike next day morning as well.

Spotting wildlife along Icefield parkway drive

Black bear potted on Icefields parkway
Black bear spotted on Icefields parkway

Just when we left lake Louise and started the drive on the Icefield parkway we spotted a black bear on the side of the road! We were so excited to see a bear on our first day. We looked from our car at a distance and did not disturb it in any way, it kept on eating the roadside vegetation.

Keep your eyes on the road and alongside for any wildlife spotting. If you see a car stopped on the side of  the road, there is a high chance they have spotted some wildlife, so make sure to look around.

We saw two black bears, a family of bighorn sheep, mountain goats and elk. Make sure to keep your distance from the animals and not disturb them.

Frequently asked questions about Icefields parkway drive

Below is some good to know information about Icefields parkway before your visit:

Where does the Icefields parkway start and end?

The Icefields parkway drive starts at the town of Lake Louise and ends at the town of Jasper.

How long is the Icefields parkway drive?

The Icefields parkway drive is around 150 miles long. The scenic Icefields parkway drive is around 3 hours without any stops, but there are so many views and vistas along the way that cannot be missed.

It is recommended to plan a full day for your Icefields parkway itinerary. If you start early in the day, you can make all the stops along Icefields parkway on the same day including the Columbia Icefields glacier and skywalk tour.

Do you need a pass to drive the Icefields parkway?

Yes, the Icefields parkway drive is within the Banff and Jasper National Parks area and a valid Canada National Parks pass is required to drive on the Icefields parkway.

You can purchase a day pass or an annual pass at the entry checkpoint into Banff or at Jasper.  You can also purchase it from the Parks Canada website but they add shipping cost as they ship the actual physical pass to you. Its easier to just buy it at the gate when you enter Banff National Park.

The Discovery annual pass is good for a year for up to seven people in a vehicle. We bought the Discovery annual pass as we were going to be there for 7 days and it turned out to be cheaper than the daily passes. 

Just remember to bring it back with you and not forget it in your rental car like we did! You can reuse it if you plan to visit any other national parks in Canada in the one year timeframe.

Can you stop on Icefields parkway?

You can pull up to the side of the road almost anywhere on the Icefields parkway as long as it is safe to do so. Most scenic Icefields parkway stops have parking lots or pull out areas on the side of the road making it totally safe to stop. There is such amazing scenery and occasional wildlife spotting, you will find yourself pulling over very often.

Is the Icefields parkway open?

The Icefields parkway road is open year round, but in winter there might be closures in some parts due to weather conditions. It is best to check on the Parks Canada website before driving on it in the winter months.

When is the best time to visit Icefields parkway?

June to September is the best time to drive on Icefields parkway with the road conditions and weather being the most favorable. May and October are still possible but there are chances or rain, snowfall, and fog which can reduce visibility of the mountain peaks.

Read here about my complete 7 day itinerary to Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper.

Where to stay on Icefields Parkway

There are several accommodation options if you would like the spend the night near one of the Icefields parkway stops to explore further or just to take in the natural surroundings around you. The options range from affordable camping, budget hostels, to more expensive lodges and resorts. You are sure to find something for every budget.

Hotels along Icefields Parkway

The Lodge at the Bow Lake (formerly known as Num-Ti-Jah Lodge) is near the Bow Lake on Icefields parkway. This lodge is at a great location right on the Bow lake with amazing views. There is a cafe and gift shop as well.

The Crossing Resort is at the Saskatchewan river crossing, mid way point on the Icefields Parkway. The Crossing Resort area has a restaurant, store and gas station as well.

The Glacier View lodge is at the Columbia Icefields discovery center. The views of the Athabasca glacier are amazing. This lodge has two dining restaurants and the Columbia Icefields building has a Starbucks as well.

Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge is at the Sunwapta Falls. The lodge has a restaurant and is only a 5-10 minute walk to the Sunwapta falls. This lodge is close to Jasper National Park.

Hostels along Icefields parkway

There are several hostels along Icefields parkway to spend the night.

  • Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel
  • Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel
  • Beauty Creek Wilderness Hostel
  • Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel

Icefields parkway camping and RV

There are plenty of campgrounds on Icefields parkway if you would like more time to explore the trails and lakes in the area. Many of these campgrounds can be reserved in advance and some are first come first served.

The complete list of all campgrounds, their check-in and check-out times and reservation system can be found at the Parks Canada website.

Parks Canada website link for Camping in Banff National Park

Parks Canada website link for Camping in Jasper National Park

Please make sure to check the campground status before your arrive as some campgrounds can be closed in the summer for maintenance.

A lot of campgrounds have RV sites for RV camping.

Things to do near Icefields parkway

The Icefields parkway scenic drive is between the majestic towns of Lake Louise and Jasper and near Banff. There are so many amazing things to do in Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper National Park.

Read my post about famous Lake Louise and Lake Moraine and all the incredible hikes and activities it has to offer.

My post about Amazing things to do in Banff lists all of the incredible activities in the Banff region.

There are a lot of amazing things to do in Jasper National Park like –

  • Riding the Jasper Skytram for amazing views from the Whistler mountain.
  • Hike the Maligne Canyon and see the spectacular limestone canyon created by waterfalls.
  • Take the Lake Maligne cruise and see Spirit Island.
  • Soak and relax in the Miette Hot Springs.
  • Hike the valley of the five lakes.

You can read about my experience in Jasper National Park in my post Ultimate 7 days in Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper: Complete Canadian Rockies itinerary

Wrap up of 13 not to miss Icefields Parkway stops

Icefields parkway drive is correctly named one of the most scenic drives in the world. This drive a must do if in Alberta, Canada and make sure to visit all the amazing Icefields Parkway stops.

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