UPDATED MAY 2023:
I’m ready for another epic summer adventure and will hit the open road to explore the provinces of British Columbia (my home province) and Alberta! There’s so much to see and do, and I can hardly wait to jump in my car and get going. One unforgettable experience at the top of my “must-do again” list for this summer is walking on the Columbia Icefield and tasting the pure glacier water. For a full understanding of the area’s history, make sure to stop by the Icefield Interpretive Centre and spend some time learning about its fascinating history. It is only open from mid-May to mid-October, so don’t miss your chance to stop and explore this area! To guarantee your spot, book your tour in advance as this popular attraction fills up quickly. I recommend the Columbia Icefield Guided Experience as the best way to experience as much as possible. I’ll talk about this more below!
What is the Columbia Icefield?
The Columbia Icefield is a true natural wonder nestled among the Canadian Rocky Mountains within Jasper National Park. It’s a massive glacier that covers an area of about 215 square kilometres and spans across the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. The glacier is a stunning sight and is one of the most-visited spots in the Canadian Rockies. It’s home to six “toes” or glaciers, including the popular Athabasca Glacier. You can actually step onto the glacier by taking a guided tour on an Ice Explorer, walking on the ice, or admiring its magnificence from the comfort of the Icefield Interpretive Centre at the Glacier View Lodge. The Centre offers an immersive educational experience that dives into the glacier’s history, geology, and environmental significance.
Where is the Columbia Icefield?
The Columbia Icefield is in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in Jasper National Park. It is located between Banff National Park and and Jasper National Park along the Icefield Parkway and is a must-stop for at least one or two nights during your road trip and there is loads of parking for all vehicle sizes. If you are interested in visiting and don’t have access to a vehicle, consider using the Brewster Express — they provide daily transfers between Jasper, Banff and Calgary, with stops at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, Lake Louise and more. Pick-up and drop-off service avaliable at most of the major hotels in downtown Calgary and Banff.
Where do we stay when visiting the Columbia Icefield?
The best place to stay for the full experience, is at the Glacier View Lodge, across the road from Athabasca Glacier. I prefer to immerse myself in the whole experience instead of staying downtown Jasper and driving over an hour to reach the glacier. Then again, if you’re already booked for a week or so in Jasper, then the long-ish drive is okay. I know, I know, 1.25 hours doesn’t seem all that long (depending on where you live), but you will want to stop along the way to admire Athabasca Falls and spend some time walking the trails near the Falls, as well as spending time on the icefield and Skywalk. This would be a full day’s adventure from Jasper.
The Glacier View Lodge also includes the Glacier Discovery Centre and some dining options. I recommend booking a Glacier View Room over a Mountain View Room, it is wonderful to wake up to a view of the Glacier from your room while enjoying your Nespresso coffee. On my last stay, I had a quiet and restful sleep, I think the mountain air really helped! Years ago I stayed at this Lodge, before it was updated, and there was no cell service or wifi in the area. I’m so happy to say that now there are both!
What is there to do near the Columbia Icefield?
Ice Explorer Adventure
Walking on the Athabasca Glacier is one adventure you cannot miss! Make sure to book a tour — it is worth the experience! From the moment I climbed into a giant snow coach with tires almost taller than me, I was excited about this adventure. The ice explorer isn’t very fast, it slowly climbs up the road to the best place to access the glacier. Dress warmly, of course, as you are venturing out onto a glacier. While you’re on the Glacier, you can get out and walk around, but don’t go too far…stay near your guide as there are hidden crevasses and is quite dangerous. Make sure to bring a water bottle so you can taste the pure glacier water!
Columbia Icefield Skywalk
Another adventure you must do is the Columbia Icefield Skywalk! Leaving from the Glacier View Lodge by shuttle, it’s a short drive to the Skywalk from the hotel. I won’t spoil the experience for you, but as you walk along the interpretive storytelling path from the shuttle parking to the glass walkway, your guide will help explain each story and the history behind the area. Once you are on the glass walkway, it is 280 m (918 ft) to the bottom of the Sunwapta Valley below. You will see waterfalls and the river running beneath your feet, far below.
When you’re driving from Banff to Jasper along the Icefield Parkway, you’ll drive right past Athabasca Falls and miss it if you don’t stop. When driving from Jasper, it is about a 20-minute drive to the turn-off. I have done it many times! On the last visit, though, we decided to stop and explore. From the highway to the parking lot it’s only about 400 metres. Yep, that’s all! I recommend spending at least an hour walking along the paved interpretive trail along the canyon. You will cross the gorge on a concrete bridge and can climb down the stairs for a great view of the gorge. I haven’t visited in the winter but have heard it is spectacular when the spray freezes in beautiful formations.
Dining at the Glacier View Lodge
You don’t have to go far to enjoy delicious meals! The Glacier View Lodge provides all you need for all meals, with a stunning view of the Glacier. I recommend reserving your dining time at Altitude as it tends to be quite busy. For lunch, it’s warm enough to dine outside with an unobstructed glacier view, as well, and purchase your meals at Chalet, for more casual dining. Take a look at these amazing meals from Altitude and Chalet…just to intice you!
Columbia Icefield Guided Experience
By far the best value is to book the Columbia Icefield Guided Experience then you don’t have to think about the details and timing… everything is already done for you! We booked this experience the last time we visited and it was so perfect! I also recommend making reservations for your meals to ensure you will be finished in a timely manner — you don’t want to miss your shuttle to the Glacier after breakfast!
- Welcome reception in their Guest Lounge with expansive views of the Glacier, including complementary cocktail and hors d’oeuvres.
- Evening guided tour on the Columbia Icefield Skywalk.
- Morning guided tour on the Athabasca Glacier.
- Cozy and comfortable guest rooms look out to the vast glacier and mountains, making for a fantastic night sleep.
This is one trip I’m looking forward to doing again this year!
The VIP Adventure was sponsored by Pursuit Collection, opinions are my own.