The Icefields Parkway is highly regarded as one of the most scenic highways in Alberta and all of Canada. 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 of the must-stop destinations for an epic winter road trip.
The Icefields Parkway is one of my favourite winter drives in the country and something you don’t want to miss while visiting Banff National Park. It is jam-packed with frozen waterfalls, massive glaciers, picturesque lakes, monumental mountains, and unlimited potential for adventure.
While it can be done in one day, I would highly recommend budgeting at least two to explore the area. Feel free to distribute the stops however you would like throughout the drive in each direction.
It is possible to begin this road trip from either Lake Louise or Jasper. If you have time, plan to spend 2-3 days in each of these towns to make the most of your time in the Rockies.
Throughout the winter months, it is a legal requirement to have snow tires while driving along the Icefields Parkway. This is no joke and is in place to ensure the safety of everyone on the road. The driving conditions can vary greatly and change quickly, so be sure to check the weather and road reports before you venture out.
For the majority of the drive, there is no cell phone service. Because of this, I would recommend using an offline map and/or planning out your route beforehand. You will also want to stock up on food, water, and gas before departing. There is one convenience store/gas station along the way but it is closed in the winter.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get into the good stuff! Here are the can’t-miss stops on a road trip from Lake Louise to Jasper this winter.
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 here. Lake Louise is easily one of the most visited places in the Canadian Rockies.
The typical tourist attractions include skating in front of the famous Fairmont Chateau Hotel and hiking around the lake. While those are both great options, our favourite winter activity in the area is cross-country skiing! Lake Louise is home to some of the most scenic cross-country ski trails in the country.
The Great Divide Trail offers over 20 kilometres of groomed tracks for all skill levels with jaw-dropping views around every turn. If you are looking for something a little more advanced, the road up to Moraine Lake is another beautiful choice.
Camping at Lake Louise
Lake Louise has a great campground open year-round with spacious sites, showers, and flush toilets. We often stay overnight in our campervan so that we can get an early start along the Parkway the following day.
Bow Lake is actually one of the largest lakes in the Canadian Rockies and is located just off the highway on the Icefields Parkway. There are a few hiking and snowshoe trails in the area that offer panoramic viewpoints of the frozen lake and surrounding mountains.
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, which is open year-round, is an easy 15-minute walk from the parking lot.
The viewing platform has recently been updated offering more space to spread out and enjoy this iconic Canadian lake. Depending on the temperature and time of year, you may be lucky enough to see the turquoise-blue water surrounded by snow. If not, don’t worry! It is just as stunning when the lake is frozen and snow-covered.
Mistaya Canyon is the only canyon along the Icefields Parkway and a very unique place to stop. The main bridge overlooking the canyon is about 500 meters from the parking lot. There are trails along both sides where you can get a closer look at the clear, blue river.
Free Camping Near Saskatchewan River Crossing
Saskatchewan River Crossing is a small pull-off housing the only gas station along the Icefields Parkway. Unfortunately, it is closed during the winter months. 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.
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!
Abraham Lake is famous in Canada for being the “mountain lake with all of the bubbles”. Although it is a 30-minute detour from the Icefields Parkway, it is a winter stop that you don’t want to miss! To get here, turn right onto Highway 11 at Saskatchewan River Crossing and follow that road for approximately 50 kilometres.
There are several parking lots along this massive lake. Make sure to bring your skates, some blankets, and a thermos full of hot cocoa to fully enjoy your time here.
The Weeping Wall, Cirrus Mountain
Famous for ice climbing throughout the winter, the weeping wall is an impressive place to stop whether you plan to conquer it or not. This pull-off is unmarked. 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. From here, you can admire the talented ice climbers as they make their way up this monumental frozen waterfall.
Panther Falls is our favourite “bang for your buck” winter hike in all of Banff National Park. The short and easy walk can be done in 15 minutes or less and I guarantee that your mind will be blown upon arrival.
Crampons are a must as you will have the opportunity to walk beside and underneath the frozen waterfall. When we visited, we had the entire place to ourselves for over an hour!
TIP: If you are facing the trail from the parking lot, take the far right path 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.
If you don’t want to take a tour, it is still well worth a visit. You can hike around the glacier, learn about the area, and even explore hidden ice caves if the conditions allow.
Wilcox Pass Snowshoe
Wilcox Pass is a unique, must-experience trail on the Icefields Parkway this winter because of the incredible glacier views! The first few kilometres are a bit of a climb but it’s all smooth sailing after that. In total, you can expect 11.3 kilometres and 635m of elevation gain.
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. You can actually see it from the road! Crampons or micro spikes are necessary to complete this short hike as you are on solid ice for the majority of it.
The parking lot is on the west side of the road and the falls are on the east. This means that you have to cross Highway 93 to get up close and personal, so be careful as you do so.
Sunwapta Falls is another stop you don’t want to miss. 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 at the end of a short 1.5-kilometre trail. It is usually pretty packed down but crampons are a good idea here, as well.
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 flowing from the Athabasca River. The falls are stunning and there are several bridges you can walk across, each offering a different perspective.
Don’t miss the 8-kilometre round-trip cross-country ski trail that leaves from the parking lot and goes to Leech Lake. It really lets you explore the beauty of the area, get some exercise, and ditch the crowds!
Nestled in the snow-covered Canadian Rockies, Jasper is a small alpine town that packs a big punch. Less touristy than Banff or Lake Louise, this is the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts looking to escape the crowds and immerse themselves in the great outdoors.
Jasper is chock full of exciting winter activities and we would recommend spending at least a few days here if you have the time.