The Icefields Parkway is highly regarded as one of the most scenic highways in all of the canadian rockies. Also known as Highway 93, this stretch of road spans 233 km from the town of Lake Louise, all the way up to Jasper. In this post we will outline all the MUST-STOP places along the way including our favourite camping spots! if possible, budget a few days to explore this incredible area and all it has to offer.
Highway 93 branches off of the TransCanada Highway just after the charming town of Lake Louise. If you have the time, we would highly recommend starting your trip there. Lake Louise is easily one of the most visited lakes in The Canadian Rockies. The typical tourist activities include renting a canoe, admiring the Famous Fairmont Chateau Hotel, and snapping selfies. There are several excellent hikes from around the lake leading up to spectacular viewpoints and even a tea house.
My recommendation would be Big Beehive Trail. The relatively easy first part of this hike brings you from Lake Louise, through an old-growth forest, and past a beautiful waterfall to the Lake Agnes Teahouse. Inside the teahouse, you can stop for a cup of tea and a fresh slice of pie. From there, you’ll continue around the far end of the lake and up several steep switchbacks to the top of the Big Beehive Lookout. Once you arrive, you will have a panoramic view of Lake Louise and the entire valley. This hike is 7.2km with 647m of elevation gain and is rated as moderate.
TIP: To beat the crowds and ensure you get a parking spot, show up no later than 8am.
Camping at Lake Louise
Lake Louise has a great campground with beautiful sites, showers, and flush toilets. If the campground is full, you can also stay overnight in a trailer or campervan at the Lake Louise overflow parking for Moraine Lake.
Moraine Lake is one of the most photographed lakes in Canada, and for good reason! The turquoise water and stunning mountain backdrop make this a perfect place to hang out for the day. Relax with a book, take a swim, or set out on one of the several hikes in the area. There’s a canoe dock that offers rentals for anyone who’d like to paddle out and explore the lake. This is an awesome way to get some peace and quiet, but I’ll warn you now, they are not cheap!
This small lake is the first stop after turning onto the Icefields Parkway. If the weather is right, it’s the perfect place to launch the canoe or paddleboard, take a dip, or just hang out for a bit and enjoy the scenery. There’s even a diving board at one end of the lake!
Mosquito Creek Campground
One of our favourite campgrounds in the area, Mosquito Creek offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains, the creek, and if you’re lucky, the wildflowers might even be in bloom! Mosquito Creek Campground is first come first serve, and despite its name, has no more mosquitos than anywhere else in Banff. If you show up and the campground is full, you can pay for an overflow spot and stay in the parking area.
Bow Lake is actually one of the largest lakes in The Canadian Rockies and is located just north of Herbert Lake on the Icefields Parkway. On a calm day, Bow Summit is perfectly reflected in the clear glacier water making it a great place for a picnic or a short walk along the shore. There are a few hiking trails in the area that offer excellent views from above. If you’re into waterfalls, follow the trail around the lake and hike up to Bow Falls!
This unique mountain lake is known for its colour and the fact that it is shaped like a wolf’s head. The trail to the viewpoint is an easy 15-minute walk from the parking lot. Although very convenient; this also means that heavy traffic will frequent the area each day.
LOCAL SECRET: Want to ditch the crowds? We’ve got you! Once you’ve seen Peyto from the viewpoint, jump in your car and drive north for 2-3 minutes. You will soon see a small unmarked parking lot on your left, pull in there. Following the trail for about 2km will take you right to the shore of the lake! We hiked in on a Saturday with a SUP and had the entire place to ourselves.
Waterfowl Lakes are less well known than some of their neighbours on this drive. In our opinion, they are completely underrated, but that’s actually a bonus for you because they will be less busy to visit. There is a short trail that will lead you along the shore of both lakes and a great area for swimming not far from the parking lot. The reflection of the mountain backdrop is hard to beat!
Mistaya Canyon is the only canyon along the Icefields Parkway and a very unique place to stop. The main bridge overlooking the canyon is only about 500 meters from the parking lot. There are also trails along both sides where you can enjoy the views and even peek over the sides if you’re brave enough!
Free Camping Near Saskatchewan River Crossing
Saskatchewan River Crossing is a small pull-off housing the only gas station along the Icefields Parkway. If you turn right onto Highway 11, it will take you out of the National Park and into an area where wild camping is permitted in any roadside pull-off or recreational area. One of our favourites is the first right-hand turn after leaving the park. It is a dirt road that leads you to several little wild campsites in the trees.
NOTE: Please be responsible and respectful of these areas so that we can all enjoy them for years to come. Leave no trace, put out your fires, and pick up your trash (this includes toilet paper!).
Glacier Lake Backcountry Campground
If you are into backcountry camping, this is a phenomenal place to visit for the night! The hike is actually fairly easy and the campground is located directly on the lakeshore with views of the glacier on the other side. The best part? You can leave your vehicle, get to this spot, and set up your hammock in less than 2 hours! The trailhead is located on the Icefields Parkway near the Saskatchewan River Crossing. Make sure to reserve a spot as early as possible, this campground tends to book up months in advance.
The Weeping Wall, Cirrus Mountain
If you are driving along the Icefields Parkway in the spring or early summer, the Weeping Wall is a great place to stretch your legs! By late summer the water flow has decreased and it isn’t quite as impressive. This stop is unmarked so keep an eye on the east side of the road because you will be able to see the wall clearly from your vehicle. There is a small parking lot just across the highway.
This is probably our favourite “bang for your buck” hike in all of Banff National Park. The short and easy walk to the falls can be done in only 10-15 minutes and I guarantee that you will walk around that final corner of the trail in awe. We find Panther Falls to be incredibly serene because it feels like it’s facing its own untouched valley, hidden from the highway. I couldn’t help but include a photo from our winter visit because it’s an awesome time of year for this particular stop!
TIP: Take the path farthest right from the parking lot for the safest route down to the falls.
The Athabasca Glacier
The Athabasca Glacier is the only glacier along the Icefields Parkway that you are able to take a tour of. Even though the tour is expensive; the information, views, and history are well worth it! Click here for the hourly rates & fees. There are also bundles that combine other adventures like the Banff Gondola or the Lake Minnewanka Cruise.
Wilcox Pass Hike
Wilcox Pass is a unique, must-experience hike on the Icefields Parkway because of the incredible glacier views! The first few kilometres are a bit of a climb but it’s all smooth sailing after that. From the pass, you will have the option to proceed up to Wilcox Lookout which is a great addition if you’re feeling up for it.
Columbia Icefields Skywalk
The Skywalk is an awesome place to stop if you’re looking for a quick thrill and some fun photos. Located on Highway 93, you will step off the cliff’s edge and onto a glass platform perched above a 918-foot drop. From there, you get a unique look at the Sunwapta Valley including waterfalls, wildlife, and even fossils.
TIP: Book your tickets in advance online and go early on a weekday to avoid the crowds.
Tangle Creek Falls
Tangle Creek Falls is extremely easy to get to and well worth the visit. You don’t need to budget a whole lot of time for this adventure, it’s such a short walk that you can actually see the falls right from the road!
NOTE: You do have to cross Highway 93 to get up close and personal, so be careful as you do so.
Sunwapta Falls are another set of falls that you definitely want to check out. The Upper Falls is located right next to the parking area and barely requires a walk. These are the more impressive of the two if you’re short on time. The Lower Falls is a short 1.5km walk and a nice way to stretch your legs along the drive.
TIP: These falls get very busy in the summer months. Go early on a weekday to avoid the crowds!
Athabasca Falls is located on the Icefields Parkway just before arriving in Jasper. It is one of the most powerful waterfalls in the Canadian Rockies due to the sheer volume of water flowing from the Athabasca River. The falls are stunning and there are several bridges you can walk across, each offering a different perspective.
TIP: If you’re looking to ditch the crowds and find a little extra adventure, head up the fire road from the parking lot and have a picnic lunch at Leech Lake!
Valley of the Five Lakes
The Valley of the 5 Lakes is an easy and scenic hike located just south of the town of Jasper on Highway 93. Beginning in the forest, you will make your way past 5 beautiful lakes, all connected by this 5-kilometer loop. Each lake varies in colour from different shades of blue to green and the red Adirondack chairs between the third and fourth lake are the perfect place for a picnic. This is a great option for any fitness level and is suitable for children.