The Icefields Parkway is the most scenic drive in all of Canada. Sure, some may throw some votes to the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island (I’ve done it, it’s fantastic), but nothing tops the raw, majestic power of soaring among the glaciers along the 227 kilometre stretch between Lake Louise and Jasper.
At only 227 kilometres, The Icefields Parkway should only take you 2.5 hours to drive at the posted limit of 90 km/h, but many take nearly double or triple that time because of all the stops made along the way. Don’t feel guilty for it, this is not a commuter highway, this is a drive to be savoured and while the driver is keeping their eyes on the road, they deserve some breaks to enjoy the scenery too!
Now, you could easily make a dozen or more stops along the way – and you still can if you want to – I’m just trying to give you the top spots so you still make good time between Lake Louise and Jasper. So here are the top 5 places to stop and take pictures on The Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.
1. The Road
First things first: make sure you top up on gas before you hit the road. There is only one (very expensive) gas station, at Saskatchewan Crossing, about halfway through the drive. That means about 100km on either end without a chance to fuel up, misread the fuel and you’re done.
This can be anywhere along the drive, you’ll see big stretches of empty road in front of you drifting off into the mountains. These stretches are popular with pensive Instagrammers, but I’ve found they really offer insight into the immense scale of this drive. The mountains are absolutely towering over the valley and the Icefield Parkway curls right up beside them.
Find a long empty stretch, look both ways before crossing into the road, and get some great shots – there’s got to be at least half a dozen of these types of scenes along the drive.
2. Bow Lake / Peyto Lake / Bow Summit
This is a three for one all in a short area. There’s the Bow Lake pullout along the highway, but if you head north a few hundred metres, you’ll find a better spot to pull over – the Num Ti Jah Lodge. Here you can wander a meadow alongside the lake and get some amazing reflective shots (especially if you arrive at the still of sunrise).
Peyto Lake and Bow Summit are just up the hill and offer one of the most quintessential lookouts in Canadiana. This stop is ridiculously busy in the summer with tour buses and finding a parking spot will be a bonus.
Here you’ll find all sorts of influencers in inappropriate hiking gear making the few hundred-metre trek up to the lookout over Peyto Lake to get their perfectly pensive pose. It may be totally played out, but it’s still absolutely worth it. (Note the lot is closed in 2020 for construction)
If you want more of a unique view of Peyto Lake, head back south from the lookout and climb up the ridge to get to Bow Summit. Here you can see Peyto Lake and walk back across the meadows and rocks to climb for an overhead view of Bow Lake as well.
3. Big Hill And Big Bend
Just after you pass through Saskatchewan Crossing, you make a big climb up through a big bend at big hill. At the top there’s a pullout at Panther Falls overlooking the valley below offering a spectacular perspective of just how massive the mountains are on the Icefields Parkway.
4. Columbia Icefield
Most of the stops along the way can be done in just a few minutes or less. Columbia Icefield, however, might be a place where you want to pull over for a few hours. You have a couple of options to explore here:
1) You can pull over to the side of the road, marvel at the vastness of this glacier that feeds three oceans, and then continue on
2) You can navigate the potholed parking lot at the toe of the glacier and wander around the area on your own free of charge
3) You can visit the Visitor’s Center and book a trip out on to the Icefields.
I’ve done all three, and each is just fine, it literally just depends on your schedule and budget.
5. Sunwapta Falls / Athabasca Falls
You can take your pick, or you can visit both. Each of Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls make for quick pit stops as they’re just off the highway and offer easily accessible dramatic cascading waterfalls and canyons.
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!
And there you have it, the best 5 places to stop and take pictures along the Icefields Parkway (and even then I actually gave you EIGHT places to stop!)
Yes, there’s also Waterfowl Lakes, Mistaya Canyon, and dozens of other places to stop along the Icefields Parkway, but no matter which you choose, you’ll be richly rewarded. Just remember to stop! This is not a drive to be blazed through!
When you finally make it to Jasper, make sure you make a visit to the Jasper Park Lodge. It’s a great place to relax and read a book or play a round of golf at one of the absolute best courses in Canada!