Leaving Jasper southbound on the 93 opens to expansive mountain ranges and the start of the Icefield Parkway. We, on the other hand, chose an alternate route to continue our journey. If you want to avoid some traffic for a bit and check out another region of the park, I suggest 93A. The road weaves parallel to 93 and leads you to the Edith Cavell Region of Jasper National Park. Unfortunately, Edith Cavell Road was closed at the time so we couldn’t hike to the glacial lake. However, with the low amount of vehicles on the rest of 93A, we were able find a secluded pull off and sleep in the car undisturbed.
We started early the next morning to avoid the crowds at the first stop of the Icefield Parkway. Athabasca Falls is a beautiful and powerful waterfall with silty blue water that rushes through a short, narrow canyon. Although it can get crowded in the parking lot, there’s plenty of area to explore for yourself.
The next stop I recommend is Sunwapta Falls, which is another stretch of the Athabasca River that runs deep against the rocky walls. Walking along the river and looking down as the glacial water pushes its way through the canyon below, it’s stunning to see the force of nature fluctuate from the upper to the lower section of the falls.
After peeling yourself away from the mystic waterfalls you will continue on one of the most scenic drives in the world. Climbing higher into the mountains, you will have the opportunity to pull off at different vistas and overlooks. One highlight is Tangle Falls, a beautiful multi tiered cascade, just steps from the highway.
By the time you make it up over the pass you’ll have reached the Columbia Icefield. It’s a popular spot along the border of Jasper and Banff National Parks. A majority of tourists stop in at the visitor center there to sign up for the $90 Athabasca Glacier Tour, which offers a guided journey along the glacier and up to the icefield.
For a more cost effective adventure, I suggest making time for one or two of the many hikes in the surrounding area. Wilcox Pass Trail is about 7.5 miles round trip that climbs up into the Canadian tundra towards an unparalleled overlook of Athabasca Glacier. We had such a great time on this hike, with great weather and a surprise encounter with a herd of Bighorn Sheep.
Another hike we enjoyed was right around the corner, after crossing the border into Banff National Park. Parker Ridge Trail is 3 miles round trip with a steep incline of nearly 1,000 feet. You’ll come to a few separate trails at the top that will lead you to impeccable views of the surrounding snow-covered peaks and mighty Saskatchewan glacier nearby.
Along the rest of the parkway, for another 75 miles, there are plenty more trailheads that will take you to mountain tops and alpine lakes of the Canadian Rockies. Having already climbed 10.5 miles for the day, we decided to retire our stiff bones. We used the rest of the precious daylight to throw the kayak in at Waterfowl Lake, one of many glacial alpine lakes off the road system. We could’ve spent hours paddling around in awe of the wild scenery, but the sun was starting to drop behind the glorious mountain peaks.
We learned in the summer months that although campgrounds are a plenty, the crowds can be overbearing. Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are overcome with tourists trying to capture the iconic shot of the famous lakes. Feel free to attempt it, but our desire to see the renowned lakes faded as we sat in line to be directed by a parking attendant. There are plenty of other lakes to choose from that are just as majestic and don’t attract the overwhelming crowds, if you look hard enough.
As the sun began to set we were entranced with the effects the lighting had on all the grandeur that surrounded us. There is so much to see and explore that we knew it would take a second, if not a third trip to see it all. As we ended our voyage along the Icefield Parkway, we turned our attention west, back to British Columbia….