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Icefields Parkway: the road of the glaciers and waterfalls

The Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) runs paralleal to the so-called Continental Divide, the dividing line between the streams flowing into the Pacific Ocean and those flowing into the Atlantic Ocean. This is a scenic route through the rugged landscape of the Canadian Rockies. It connects Banff National Park to Jasper National Park, linking the towns of Lake Louise and Jasper. The scenic Icefields Parkway is 230 km long.

Here are the most interesting points along this scenic route of the Canadian Rockies starting from Jasper and arriving at Lake Louise.

MOUNT EDITH CAVELL

To reach the area of Mount Edith Cavell, take the Highway 93A 7 km south of Jasper. Along this road you travel 5.4 km and then turn right onto Cavell Road, a winding road that climbs up to a 12 km picnic area under the spectacular north face of the mountain, from here begins the path “Path of the Angel Glacier “, which allows you to see three types of ice formations, icebergs, snow and glacier tongues, as well as ice caves, waterfalls and emerald green lakes.

The area of Mount Edith Cavell is studded with a fragrant subalpine forests, alpine meadows full of flowers and a spectacular view of Mount Edith Cavell and the Angel Glacier. Mount Edith Cavell is a peak 3,363 meters high, the mountain is named in honor of an English nurse who was executed for helping prisoners of war to escape from German-occupied Belgium during the First World War.

It is an easy path in one of the most scenic areas of Jasper. The trail is 1.6 miles and takes 1-2 hours. This short trail leads through a rocky landscape recently released from glacial ice. Along the path there were signs explaining how the area is now being re-colonized by plants and animals. The trail, which is initially paved, climbs on the rise for half a mile to a fork near the end of the paved section. Go straight to Cavell Pond, which borders the ice of the glacier. You can see icebergs that have fallen into the water. Across the valley the Angel glacier spreads its wings in the cirque between Mount Edith Cavell (left) and Sorrow Peak ( right).

ATHABASCA FALLS

The Athabasca River, which rises from the glaciers of the Columbia Glacier (Columbia Icefield), is the largest river system in the area of Jasper. To reach Athabasca Falls take Highway 93 (Icefields Parkway) South of Jasper approximately 30 kilometers, the falls are at the junction with Highway 93A.

The Athabasca Falls formed from the river are among the most powerful and breathtaking waterfalls of the Canadian Rockies, the Athabasca River flows with great rushing through a narrow gorge. The falls are not very high, the jump is only 23 meters, but the size of the river and its water flow make it one of the most impressive waterfalls of the national parks of the Canadian Rockies.

The best places to admire the falls are located on the opposite side of the parking area with the Mount Kerkeslin towering in the background. There are a lot of short paths to explore both sides of the falls.

KERKESLIN GOAT LICK

Located 38 km from Jasper along Icefields Parkway road. Kerkeslin Goat Lick is a place where you can see the Mountain Goats gathering here to lick the silt for its calcium and sulphate content, ingesting so much that their excrement turn white instead of the usual black color. This is a fantastic place to easily see these animals right next to the road. The view towards the Athabasca river valley is truly wonderful.

SUNWAPTA FALLS

Sunwapta Falls are located halfway between Columbia Icefield and the town of Jasper (56 km south of the city of Jasper) on the Icefields Parkway. The word Sunwapta means “turbulent water”. The view of the upper Sunwapta falls is just off the road. To see the lower falls, which are just as impressive as the upper falls, you have to take a short hike. It is an easy well-marked path lasting between 30 and 45 minutes, this route will also provide a panoramic view of the distant Athabasca River Valley.

ATHABASCA GLACIER

Columbia Icefield, Athabasca Glacier and the Icefield Center are located along the Icefields Parkway 103 km from Jasper. The Athabasca Glacier is a 7 km long tongue of ice that flows from the immense Columbia Icefield glacier.

Due to climate warming, the Athabasca glacier has been in retreat for the past 125 years and its size has shrunk dramatically. The glacier has lost half its volume and more than 1.5 km in length. A century ago, the ice flowed over the current position of the road, the retreat of the glacier is clearly shown by the signs depicting the gradual retreat of the ice from year to year.

Several other glaciers are visible from here, but all of them come from the Columbia Icefield. Columbia Icefield is the surviving remnant of the ice mass that once covered most of Canada’s Rocky Mountains. Columbia Icefield is the largest ice field south of Alaska. This glittering ice of ice and snow covers a total area of 389 sq km.

Beyond the Athabasca Glacier ends the Jasper National Park from here we enter the Banff National Park.

MISTAYA CANYON

Mistaya Canyon is located 72 km (50 minutes by car) from Lake Louise, south of the Saskatchewan River Crossing on Highway 93. This rock-cut canyon can be reached with a short hike off the main road. The path starts at the parking lot of the Mistaya Canyon, its length is 1.5 km, that is about 30-40 minutes (round trip). The Mistaya river that dug the canyon originates on a high glacier above Peyto Lake.

PEYTO LAKE

Peyto Lake is located on the scenic Icefields Parkway road approximately 40 kilometers (30 minutes by car) north of the city of Lake Louise. The lake is fed by the outflow from the Peyto glacier (this glacier is part of the Wapta Icefield) which is located about 5 km south of the lake.

The feeding of the lake by waters coming from the glacier make the waters of the lake – in the summer months – a magnificent blue color due to the high mineral content. This is one of the most striking places in the rocky mountains.

At the Bow Pass pass (2,088 m.), along the Icefields Parkway is the beginning of the path to the Peyto Lake overlook. From the parking lot you walk for about 400 m. in a steep but easy paved path up to a panoramic platform that offers a splendid view of the lake. If you take the Icefields Parkway, you should not miss this panoramic point.

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