Guest Post by: Sharon Mason
The Greatest Road Trip in the Rockies – Tips for Driving the Icefields Parkway
The amazing Icefields Parkway is one of the most jaw-dropping roads in the Rockies, and possibly one of the best drives in Canada. Along the way you will see turquoise mountain lakes, alpine meadows, rocky peaks that touch the sky…and, enormous glaciers.
This road stretches for 228 kilometres, from Lake Louise to Jasper National Park. There is no question as to why it was referred to as the “Wonder Trail” during the early 1800s. It was even named in National Geographic Traveler as one of the top 20 “Drives of a Lifetime.” You can pick up a car rental in Banff, Lake Louise or Jasper and spend the day exploring this amazing route.
How Long Does It Take?
Simply driving the route itself takes three hours, but this does not include any time to stop for fuel, food and photo opportunities. Because there are so many beautiful places to stop along the way, you should allow yourself a full day to explore the Icefields Parkway.
When to Go
Although the snowy winter scenery can be spectacular, driving along the Icefields Parkway in the winter is not advised for those who are unfamiliar with icy-mountain driving conditions. The roads are windy and steep and can be a bit dangerous when frozen. Also, in the winter months the route is sometimes closed for a number of days due to avalanches. If you do choose to drive the route at any time between October and April, check the road report and the weather forecast first.
Summer offers perfect driving conditions on the route, but also brings with it more traffic. During the Canadian summer holiday there might even be traffic jams due to the abundance of tour buses and motor homes along the route.
Your best bet is to visit during the very early or very late summer, such as in May or in September.
Where to Stop on the Way
As you drive the Icefields Parkway you will notice a number of signs along the way directing you to the many attractions. Be sure to check out Peyto Lake, which shines a deep green colour due to the mineral-rich rock particles deposited by the glacier. Mistaya Canyon is also an interesting stop, filled with many intricate rock formations created by the water over millions of years. One of the best natural wonders is the Columbia Icefield, an enormous glacier that covers just over 200 square kilometres. You can even see it up close by taking a rise on the Ice Explorer vehicle.
A practical stop will be the Crossing Resort at the halfway point, as this is the only place to fill up your tank on the route. However, it’s recommended you fill up before the journey, as the prices here are expensive.
What to Bring
When driving the Icefields Parkway you might want to pack a lunch to bring with you, as there are not very many places to stop for food along this rugged mountain road. Also, in the peak tourist season of summer the restaurants will be very crowded. Plus, it is much more enjoyable to get out of the car and go for a short lunchtime hike to find a peaceful place to sit and eat your food.
It is also a good idea to bring a jacket or a sweater with you, even if it is a warm and sunny day. Once you get up into high altitudes amid glaciers, ice-cold lakes and mountain winds, you might start to feel the chill.
Of course, it goes without saying that you should bring your camera on this stunning journey. You might want to also consider bringing a panoramic lens or a camera with a panoramic setting. It is difficult to capture the true enormous scale of the Rocky Mountains on a simple camera lens and a panoramic shot is better at fitting everything in.
Don’t forget to also bring your favorite music, because a road trip is always better with great tunes to listen to as you drive through the scenic mountain roads.
Driving the Icefields Parkway is an unforgettable experience and one of the best road trips in Canada, so enjoy your journey!
About the Author: Sharon Mason is a freelance writer and travel blogger. She recently went on a vacation to the Rocky Mountains of Alberta and maxed out her camera’s memory card taking hundreds of photos along the Icefields Parkway.