Imagine driving the 230km stretch between Lake Louise and Jasper with snowcapped mountains, frozen lakes, wildlife and limited tourists. Sound incredible? That is driving the Icefields Parkway in the wintertime. The Icefields Parkway boasts one of the worlds most scenic drives and its easy to see why. Often featured as a bucket list road trip it is a must do drive while in Banff National Park. The Icefields Parkway is considered to be a mountain highway and thus is not as well maintained as the Trans-Canada to the south. Parks Canada does an incredible job ensuring the road is open as much as possible during the winter months. Ensure you check the forecast before heading out on your drive and making sure you have a proper four wheel drive car. One thing to note is there is no cell service for almost the entire drive so be prepared in case you happen to break down or get stuck in bad weather. As well, there is no gas or amenities available on the Icefields Parkway in the winter so make sure you have a full tank before beginning your drive.
Just before Bow Lake keep your eyes peel for a glacier on the flanks of Crowfoot Mountain that is in the shape of a crows foot. Named over a century ago after a three-toed crows foot, this glacier has one toe that has melted away and the middle toe is slowly disappearing, but it is still easy to see where the shape of the glacier used to be. There is a large pull off with parking spaces to pull over, get out and take in the view.
Pull off the parkway at one of the most scenic lakes along your drive. Bow Lake is the headwaters of the Bow River that runs all the way through Banff and down to Calgary. You can hike along the north side of the lake that if you choose to hike the 4.35km one-way trip you will get to Bow Glacier Falls. Bow Lake is a great spot to get out for a picnic, snap a few photos or stretch your legs.
One of the most iconic and famous views in Banff National Park is Peyto Lake. This turquoise lake in the shape of a wolfs head is one of the most stunning alpine bodies of water you will ever see. The upper parking lot is closed during the winter so you have to park in the lower lot and walk about 10-15 minutes up the snow-covered road to the viewing platform where you will be greeted by views you will not soon forget. ** Peyto Lake is closed until Summer 2021 for improvements**
The Columbia Icefields is a marvel you get the opportunity to see as you drive along the Icefields Parkway. The Athabasca Glacier is one of the six glaciers that make up the Columbia Glacier and is the most visited glacier in North America due to how easily accessible it is. The entirety of the Columbia Icefield’s glaciers straddles the Banff and Jasper National Park boundaries and are the largest south of the Arctic Circle. There are no tours of the Icefields in the winter, but you can walk the main road to reach the Athabasca Glacier to see the viewing area for free if you want to go for a walk.
Sunwapta Falls is a pair of waterfalls that are fed by the Athabasca Glacier. The upper falls are easily accessed from the viewpoint parking lot and have a large drop of 18m. If you want to go on a further hike of 1.3km you will have the opportunity to see the lower falls.
The most powerful of all the waterfalls in the Canadian Rockies although not the largest Athabasca Falls is a sight to see. IN the winter the beautiful turquoise waters are rushing through the frozen ice being fed by the Athabasca River that funnels through the three-meter canyon. There are trails that take you all around the falls to give you the best viewpoints of this unique waterfall.
There are no available campgrounds on the Icefields Parkway in the winter until you get just outside Jasper. Your two options are either staying in the Lake Louise Campground just south of the parkway or Wapiti Campground on the north end of the parkway.
No reservations are possible in the winter and Wapiti Campground works on a first come first serve basis. There are 40 power spots for those who would prefer it but take note these are just parking spots in front of the bathrooms. If you would prefer a bit more of a private site Loop K and L are open and available for camping. These sites do not have power but have a great view of the stars, very private and come with a picnic table and firepit. The bathroom and showers are open year-round.
At the end of the Icefields Parkway you will come into the incredible mountain town of Jasper. Jasper is truly a winter wonderland for outdoor enthusiasts. Everything from snowboarding and skiing at Marmot Basin, ice skating on a frozen lake, dog sledding through the mountains, cross-country skiing, wildlife viewing or going on a magical ice canyon walk at Maligne Canyon.