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A rugged adventure along the Icefields Parkway

Gorgeous lodges, majestic glaciers, pristine lakes, and more

  • 12
  • 05:03
  • 236 mi
  • $45
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Created by RoadtrippersCanada - December 28th 2016

For those who like their road trips a little on the wild side, set your GPS for the Icefields Parkway. You'll drive right into the untamed wilderness that makes up most of Canada's interior, but along the way, there are plenty of cozy lodges where you can cuddle up for the night. It winds through some of the country's prettiest scenery as it passes near several National Parks. A road trip with the word "ice" in the name might give some people pause, but we promise, once you see the pictures of this scenic route through the Canadian Rockies, you'll fall in love.

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Start in the South, at Banff National Park. It's Canada's OG National Park, and it's not hard to see why: hot springs, electric blue glacial melt lakes, lush forest valleys, and glacier-studded mountains make up the landscape here. It's amazing to visit in both winter and summer; if you're a winter sports junkie, the skiing, and other snowy fun will lure you in during the colder seasons, while hikers will love the more mild summer season. The bright blue lakes are a famous feature of the park (Peyto, Lake Louise, and Moraine are the most popular) and hikes to Johnston Canyon and the Plain of Six Glaciers, scenic drives like Bow Valley, and trails like Parker Ridge are other highlights. The town of Banff is adorable as well, so take a day to explore.

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1
The Fairmont Banff Springs

If you need a place to stay in Banff, it doesn't get any better than the Fairmont Banff Springs. The grand, historic hotel (seriously, it looks like something from a fairy tale) offers absolutely jaw-dropping views and incredibly comfortable accommodations. The experience here is all about the details, from the hot chocolate bar and cookies to the welcoming staff. The spa, onsite restaurants, and the shops inside are all just as perfect. Whether you're coming back to the hotel after a day of exploring the park, or you plan on cuddling up in your room and visiting the spa all day, you'll fall in love with the place.

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Upper Hot Springs

The Icefields Parkway isn't just incredible scenery, gorgeous lakes, stunning hikes, awesome outdoor sports, and cute little towns... it's known for having hot springs along the way, too. These are the only springs actually in the park, and they're the highest-elevation hot springs in all of Canada, so the views are stellar. The water is usually between 98 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit, so they're nice and warm, even during the winter, and the minerals in the water include sulphate, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium, and sodium, so it's great for your skin and muscles, too.

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3
Lake Louise Inn

As you continue along the Parkway, you'll see that there's no lack of cozy lodges where you can crash for the night after a long day of exploring. The Lake Louise Inn is perfect for those who want to immerse themselves in the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Ski storage, a heated indoor pool and whirlpool, an outdoor ice skating rink, and snowshoe rentals make winter stays great for those who like to get outside, and the grounds of the hotel are super fun to explore during the summer. They've got suites and rooms for all budgets and groups, and, of course, there's the incredible scenery.

As you follow the Parkway north, you'll hit another famed Canadian park: Yoho National Park. The word "Yoho" comes from the Cree word for "awe" and "wonder" and it's an incredibly fitting name for the park. It's similar to Banff, with its granite peaks, alpine forests, and lush, blue lakes, but it's a little quieter in its beauty. You can find solitude and reconnect with nature on the many glacial lakes, winding trails, and scenic viewpoints dotted throughout the park. The park also has some awesome facilities, like the visitor centers, that can really add another layer to a visit here.

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Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake is one of the most famous features in Yoho. The lake takes on different shades of turquoise and aqua from different angles in the sunlight, and canoeing right out onto the water is an experience all its own. If you're visiting in the winter when the lake is frozen, it's still worth a visit: you can snowshoe right out onto the ice. There's a trail around the lake's edge that is perfect for a stroll, and the lodge set right on the shores is a great spot to stay the night, or just grab a bite to eat and enjoy the views.

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Columbia Icefield

While on the Icefield Parkway, you definitely can't miss out on the Columbia Icefield. This massive patch of ice and snow is over 130 square miles and it feeds several glaciers throughout the Rockies. It's pretty wild to think that the ice is hundreds to thousands of feet thick, even in the summer, and has been around for hundreds of thousands of years. You can just hope out of the car and just walk around a glacier, but bus tours are a popular way to explore the icefield. Glacier Adventure is one: their ice explorer vehicles drive right across the Athabasca Glacier, and you'll make a stop at a stream where you can fill up a water bottle with and drink fresh glacier water!

Another way to experience the icy wonder of the Canadian Rockies? The Glacier Skywalk. It's a little pricey, but it's one of those things that you should do at least once in your life because the views from the Skywalk are unlike anything anywhere else in the world. You get access to a hike along the edge of a cliff, offering sweeping views of valleys, streams, and waterfalls carved by glaciers. It all ends with a stunning glass floor platform that lets you peer down 900 feet down. It has lots of interpretive signs along the way, so you'll learn the story of the Rockies as you hike. Some glacier tours include this experience in their itineraries, so look for one that features both.

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8
Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge

As the Parkway winds its way towards Jasper National Park, the rustic atmosphere only gets cozier. The Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge is another great hotel along the route. With cabins and lodge rooms that all are super comfy, and if you're looking for something that feels like it's a hidden gem tucked away in the woods, but doesn't sacrifice too many amenities, then this is the spot for you.

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Athabasca Falls

Glacial waterfalls can be found all along the Icefields Parkway, but Athabasca is an especially gorgeous one. It's not the tallest, but it's easily the most impressive because it's one of the most powerful-- the amount of water that rushes down the falls is crazy, and the sound and atmosphere of Athabasca makes quite the impression. There's no bad time to visit since the water level rarely gets low, but try and get here early in the morning, before tour buses show up, to explore the bridges and overlooks when it isn't too crowded.

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Jasper Tramway

You don't have to be a mountain hiker extraordinaire to take in the views from atop the Canadian Rockies... there's always the Jasper Tramway! A seven-minute ride in a gondola takes you up above the clouds to the peak of a mountain, where you can hike, enjoy the fresh air, and take in some seriously crazy 360-degree views of the landscape. The ride up and down is surprisingly quick and it really is more fun than scary... and it offers a truly unique view of the mountains and valleys.

Jasper National Park is also worth taking a few days to explore. It's the largest of the National Parks in the Rockies, and it's got a certain vastness that makes it feel a little wild, like it's untouched by time. Boat down Maligne Canyon, picnic at the edge of a lake, feel the mist at Tangle Creek Falls or Sunwapta Falls, see the Athabasca glacier, climb a mountain, ski at Marmot Basin... the possibilities are endless. If you have the chance, though, put a visit to Spirit Island at the top of your list. It's such a peaceful place, hidden in the massive landscape of Jasper.

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The Icefields Parkway can easily be done in a matter of hours, but allow yourself a few days to explore all of the features of the three parks along the way. Keep in mind that there's only one gas station along the parkway and that it's pretty pricey, so come with a full tank if you can. You can actually take an RV on the route, since it's a pretty easy road, despite considering that it winds through the Rockies. And remember to grab a National Parks Pass before you hit the road! You can buy it in any of the parks along the way.