Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Icefields Parkway: Things To See On the Drive

Continued from Surprise Corner, Two Jack Lake and Banff Ave

There is a highway the likes of which are rare in the world. The Icefields Parkway links Lake Louise, Alberta with Jasper, Alberta. Many lists of top drives or top beautiful journeys in the world include Icefields Parkway amongst the very top. 

The Icefield Parkway is a 232 km stretch of double-lane highway winding along the Continental Divide through soaring rocky mountain peaks, icefields and vast sweeping valleys. You don't get sights like this on most highways. There's more than 100 glaciers dotted all across the highway,  cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires, and emerald lakes set in sweeping valleys of thick pine and larch forests.

I first travelled on this road in 2016, and then later again in 2019, and still I am in awe of this majestic drive. Here are some stop overs you should take when you head from Banff (or Lake Louise) towards Jasper.

Bow Lake (39 km from Lake Louise)

This is one of the first stops you should make on the way to Jasper. It's a beautiful, not too large a lake, with a magnificent mountain behind it. 

There's a lodge (Num Ti Jah Lodge) nearby (if you want to stay the night), and from the lookout point off the highway you can climb down a bit to the edge of the water.

Peyto Lake and Bow Summit (44 km from Lake Louise)

Unfortunately this year the Bow Summit was closed for visitors, as Parks Canada is doing some renovations. It was scheduled to be open in August 2021, but there must have been some delay. You can take a look at my pictures from my last visit there in 2019.

Waterfowl Lake

This is honestly one of the most peaceful and serene scenes I saw from my trip.

There is a campground nearby (which was full). Honestly, as you stand there, taking in the beautiful sight, the cries of the birds (water fowls) and the slow lapping of the waves on the shore, you have to be moved at the peaceful, pristine nature of the place.

Untouched by human activities that require motorized (and hence has the possibility of oil leaks), these lakes were shimmering, lovely, untouched, and gorgeous to look at.

Beautiful sunny weather, blue skies, a gorgeous warm temperature and only a slight breeze made this a fantastic place to photograph, and spend some time just soaking it all in.

And of course, as the clouds moved across the sky, you couldn't help but think - just how big are the mountains, and so how big MUST be the cloud that can cover a WHOLE mountain?!

I had to wait for a long time so there was no body on the shore, just so I could take this picture. I would say this was worth the wait!

Big Hill and Big Bend (114 km from Lake Louise)

It is just as the name sounds like. If you are driving, you KNOW when you are there. The descending road clings to the wall of a mountain and offers expansive views of the valley and river below. Though it sounds dangerous, it's really not. It just is ... BIG. 

And the Big Bend is the famous hairpin turn that wraps in a circle below towering peaks. You can see in the picture where we were (the road below) and where we are now (how high).

Remember: If you choose to stop, please ensure that you are completely off the road. There's places to pull over.

Columbia Icefield (128 km from Lake Louise)

As our drive continued along this beautiful highway, at one point we left Banff National Park and entered Jasper National Park.

Pretty close to this place is the Columbia Icefield. These glaciers are the largest south of the Arctic Circle.

In the picture above, you can see the glacier on the other side of the road, and the parking for visitors on this side of the road. And then you see the notice - what it says is that a 100 years ago, the glacier used to cover the parking lot (where it is today). This is how much our activities have contributed to global warming.

These icefields receive up to seven metres (275 inches) of snowfall per year. During the summer months visitors to the area can travel onto the glacier in the comfort of large "snowcoaches". Since I have already done this in 2016 and again in 2019, we just stopped by the side of the road to take some pictures, and then was off again. However, I would advise any first time visitor to visit these icefields. You don't get an opportunity to walk on a glacier all the time. Be sure to do the Glacier Skywalk as well.

Sunwapta Falls (177 km from Lake Louise)

As you continue your journey along this road, you will notice that while Banff is somewhat developed, Jasper is still untamed. It's still wild. During our visit previously, we often saw wildlife on the side of the road in Jasper.

The Sunwapta Falls is a class 6 waterfall, located south of the Jasper town site.

It has a drop of approximately 18 metres (60 feet). The falls are particularly impressive in the late spring and early summer when snow pack run off is high. 

The mountain on the horizon, the trees and the colour of the falls makes for an exquisite picture. There is a bridge here that is one of the most popular places in Canada for selfies (as noted by me from my own experience).

Just see how many folks here are taking pictures! Thankfully there's guard rails to protect visitors from walking too close to the edge.

There is this small island there - but you cannot visit it just by swimming across (don't try).

The Sunwapta Falls are fed by the Athabasca Glacier. Speaking of Athabasca ...

Athabasca Falls (200 km from Lake Louise)

Among the most breath-taking and powerful falls in the Canadian Rockies, the Athabasca Falls are located 30 kilometres south of Jasper town site. 

The falls are impressive for the volume and force of water, less for its height. The falls can be safely viewed and photographed from various viewing platforms and walking trails.

What is really unique here (as opposed to Sunwapta) is the multiple action taking place everywhere. It's not just one place the water is falling. It is carving into two or three different streams because of the rocks, all flowing down and curving with tremendous energy, before going under and coming around again way below to combine again into one river.

Continuing on, you can visit the town of Jasper. There's lots of things to do there, but we had been there before, and it was time to make the return to Banff. It would take almost 3 hours to return, but when the view is as pretty as this, can you complain?

In the picture above, you can see Bow Lake in the distance.

Dinner was some lovely Yakitori Chicken in Canmore.

My return flight to Toronto was the next day. It is hard to leave Banff, but you leave with precious memories and snapshots. Hopefully to return again soon. The picture below is showing Wasaga beach catching the morning sunrise, as seen from my flight.

Home Sweet Home!

Overall, the Covid19 situation has shut off all international tourism to Banff and Jasper. As (fully vaccinated) Americans slowly return, the crowd was still far less compared to its usual. Which made it perfect for Canadians to take advantage of this pristine place. After all, when was the last time you can just decide to go to Lake Louise, and go, with your own car?

Till next time, Banff!

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