Top 10 Spots Along Icefields Parkway (Banff-Jasper, Highway 93 Alberta)
Hi friends! I’m so excited for you as you plan to take on one of the most awe-inspiring road trips there is on the planet. From one of Canada’s most remarkable national parks to another, the scenic drive of Icefields Parkway is unmatched. Banff and Jasper are both incredibly breathtaking, but wait and see how the route that connects both parks becomes its own wonder to marvel at.
After my fiancé Jason and I ventured along Icefields Parkway in July 2016 and October 2020, we determined that these 10 sites are the best views you can find and most easy to access off route 93. Both this video and blog post take you to these incomparable destinations driving north from Lake Louise to the town of Jasper. Enjoy the sweet drive that awaits you!
Check out the top 10 must-see and easy-to-access spots in Banff National Park here!
1. Herbert Lake
Herbert Lake is the first site you’ll spot shortly after taking the exit off TransCanada (Highway 1) to AB-93 from Lake Louise. When driving north towards Jasper, most of the landmarks you’ll see will be on your left and Herbert Lake is one of them. The lake has a designated parking lot and outhouse, with a footed downhill path leading to the lakeshore. Be careful in the winter as the lake may not be completely frozen under the snow and stick to the shore to admire the mountain behind the trees from this calm body of water.
Tip #1: In the winter months (October to June), the road conditions may be deemed “poor” as you enter Icefields Parkway. Always ensure your vehicle has functioning winter tires on for safer traction on the snowy/icy road.
2. Hector Lake Viewpoint
Hector Lake is the next great lake you’ll spot from Icefields Parkway. Though Hector is some distance west of the road, you’ll be able to see its vastness from the side of the highway. There is no lookout area to park at but you’ll be able to snap a few photos from the Icefields Parkway as you drive past the vista.
3. Bow Lake
One of the most notable destinations on AB-93 is Bow Lake and you definitely don’t want to miss the creeks, streams and bridge that lead to one of Banff’s best views. There is a viewing area of Bow Lake on the south end but the place to be is at the north shore where you’ll find a secluded lodge and parking lot. The shoreline is calm, quiet and walkable on the small pebbles as you face the mountainous walls and glaciers of Mount Thompson and Bow Peak.
4. Bow Summit & Peyto Lake
Planning to open back up in summer of 2021, Bow Summit/Peyto Lake Viewpoint are a site you cannot miss! There are two parking lots for this destination when you drive up Bow Pass: the first is on your right near the highway, the second is in the open area at the end of Bow Pass about 10 minutes walk from the first. The main parking lot is open year-round to allow for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. From here, you’ll be able to take the short hike to Peyto Lake Upper Viewpoint either via the foot trail or up the Bow Pass road continuation to the second parking lot that’s closed during the winter and taking the fair flat foot trail from there. The viewing deck is now much more spacious and open for visitors as construction finalizes. Peyto Lake is one of the most insane lakes to see on the north end of Banff National Park because of its pristinely opaque green-blue colour and its fox-like shape.
5. Waterfowl Lakes
Waterfowl Lakes might be the quickest stop along Icefields Parkway and you’ll love it nonetheless because of the majestic mountain behind the blue water. It makes for a gorgeous skating spot in the winter when the lake freezes and a marvellous canoeing spot in the summer.
6. Mistaya Canyon
Icefields Parkway doesn’t just offer views of mountains and lakes but waterfalls and canyons too! The river that leads all the way to the northern Waterfowl Lake we viewed earlier originates from this very point. The bridge that offers a panoramic view of Mistaya Canyon can be accessed from a short 300 m downhill hike from this site’s parking lot. In the fall/winter, the hike feels like a stroll through a magical winter wonderland and will definitely be worth the brief out-of-breath feeling you’ll get later on as you head back up from the canyon. Mistaya Canyon is the last destination on the itinerary before you’ll reach the very first crossroads on AB-93: Saskatchewan River Crossing.
Tip #2: There are no gas outlets or charging stations along the whole 268 km length of Icefields Parkway so make sure you fill up your car in Lake Louise before you head up!
Tip: Saskatchewan River Crossing is the only place to dine at on Icefields Parkway apart from in Columbia Icefields so take a pit stop here if you’re stomach starts to grumble. You’re now past the halfway point in your Banff-to-Jasper road trip itinerary!
7. Icefields Parkway Viewpoint
As the road continues northwest up to Jasper, it horseshoe bends about 25 minutes from Saskatchewan River Crossing to ascend up further in elevation. After this switchback in the highway, a scene looking back and down to the road just travelled can be taken in from the Icefields Parkway Viewpoint which is only accessible going northbound along the highway (people going southbound along the parkway may not be able to enter the parking lot due to blindspots on the curved road). The view is incredible with the captivating Cirrus Mountain.
8. Columbia Icefields
You have now officially made it into Jasper National Park and you get to experience on the park’s most renown landmarks: the Columbia Icefields. Even in the dead of summer, the glaciers here are pronounced and can be reached via hiking or bus tour. The buses that get to Athabasca Glacier are particularly special in that they have these massive traction tires that can drive uphill on ice. When we came in July and took the Columbia Icefield Adventure tour, it was still extremely cold up on the glacier – we had to wear windproof clothing and traction boots to walk on Athabasca Glacier, but the trip up was well worth the freshest sip of glacier water we’ve ever had. If you ever decide to take the glacier tour, be sure to bring fillable water bottles with you to get a real taste of the mountains!
Across from the Columbia Icefield Visitor Centre building you’ll find one of the most picturesque sceneries you might ever experience in your life if you decide to take this trip in the winter. Drive into the Snocoach Road parking area to capture this gorgeous vista. A couple of hiking trails that lead to the glaciers start at this point as well if you decide to continue on.
One final attraction in Columbia Icefields you might decide to check out is the Skywalk. This one is a little underwhelming as the glass floor of the curved bridge doesn’t offer much of a spectacular experience. You might, however, be able to save some money by driving up to the parking lot and viewing the valley lookout from the skywalk area without actually paying to get onto the skywalk. Watch our video to see the kind of view you’ll still get!
BONUS STOP: Tangle Creek Falls
Shortly before the Stutfield Glacier Viewpoint is a beautiful yet hard-to-spot waterfall on the east side of the highway. Be sure to be on the lookout of the falls as the signage is minimal and the parking area is on the other side of the road. You might see the pedestrian crosswalk before you realize that Tangle Creek Falls is right there. Check it out if you can, it’s beautiful!
9. Sunwapta Falls
Now here come the gorgeous waterfalls I mentioned earlier. Sunwapta is one of the most iconic in Jasper with the little forest island that finds itself dividing the Sunwapta River before it crashes down astoundingly down below. In the winter, the short descending pavement path that takes you down to the Sunwapta Falls viewpoint bridge can get icy so be prudent as you make your way down to see the gorgeous waterfall. Now onto our last amazing spot along Icefields Parkway before we finally reach Jasper, Alberta!
10. Athabasca Falls
Athabasca Falls is very popular for a reason that you’ll see for yourself when you get to this destination. It is only about 15 minutes north of Sunwapta Falls and has a number of walkways and bridges to offer views of the reverence of the crashing drop of the Athabasca River, the majesty of Mount Kerkeslin and the depth of the Athabasca Canyon behind you which you can view from Highway 93A.
After driving up from Banff to Jasper on one of Canada’s most scenic drives, you won’t be able to deny the glorious beauty of Icefields Parkway. And what you’ll find is that not only are these 10 spots memorable must-see’s, but that the drive itself is a whole experience of its own. You might find yourself wanting to stop every 10-15 minutes just to snap pictures off the road spotting rivers, cascades and mountains that catch your eye with no intention of letting it go.