The drive between Jasper and Banff, Alberta along the Icefields Parkway (with one detour I recommend) is one of North America’s great drives.
Paralleling the Continental Divide in the Canadian Rockies, it offers charging rivers, turquoise lakes, soaring mountains, and, of course, the famous Athabasca Glacier.
It can be a busy highway, especially in the summer, however, when I was there in August it was better than I expected. As you can see in the photos below there were no traffic jams. The only place that was congested was the Athabasca Falls and the Athabasca Glacier Visitor Center.
Icefields Parkway Detour
Always looking for ways off the beaten path, I deviated from the Parkway to 93A, the old highway, when possible. From north to south you’ll pass the Marmot Basin Ski Area, a trailhead to Tonquin Valley, the Wabasso Campground, and, my favorite, the junction of the Athabasca and Whirlpool rivers, known as the “Meeting of the Waters.” There’s a picnic table there, but only one. If it’s in use there is also a picnic area at Leach Lake about a kilometer further along the road. Highway 93A meets Highway 93, the Icefields Parkway, at the Athabasca Falls.
Basic History of the Icefields Parkway
For the history buffs, the Parkway was preceded by the Glacier Trail which opened in 1885 after the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed, bringing tourists to Banff. A single track road along the trail was commissioned by the Federal government in 1931 as part of a relief project of the Great Depression. In 1961 the paved highway was completed.
The Icefields Parkway in Photos
You need a National Parks pass to drive the Parkway.
Grab your pass and let’s start from the north.
Entering the Icefields Parkway
Detouring Onto the Old Highway
Not far past Jasper you turn off for the old highway known as Alberta 93A.
Back Onto the Icefields Parkway
For more on Western Canada, see our Solo Travel Guide to Western Canada: British Columbia and Alberta.