As one of the most scenic drives the world over, the Icefields Parkway is a winter wonderland you never knew really exists in real life until you’re experiencing it, fresh mountain air and all. Whether you’re travelling North or South from Banff to Jasper or vice versa, there’s plenty to stop and see along the way so be sure to allow a full day of explorations. Here are our top 12 picks for pit stops along the way or a short journey off course (but trust us, they’re worth it!)
If wildlife are as important to you as they are to us, then be sure not to skip Medicine Lake as you venture out of Jasper in the early hours of the morning. The area around Medicine and Maligne lake is some of the best wildlife viewing to experience local wildlife in the winter, so be sure to make this your first point of call.
Within Jasper national park there is plenty to see and do, but if there’s one thing you absolutely cannot miss it is Maligne Lake. Sunrise is the perfect opportunity to experience the lake if you’re an early riser and will also be one of the best opportunities to watch the sun rise.
One of the biggest challenges about visiting Alberta in winter is knowing what you can and cannot experience in the colder months, but the good news is winter tourism is alive and thriving! Experiencing Maligne Canyon is made possible by a unique ice walk experience, which you can choose to do on your own (just be sure to wear ice cleats) or with an organised tour.
With a postcard perfect bridge to an island in the middle of the frozen lake, it doesn’t get much more perfect than Pyramid Lake. This location is just a short drive out of the town of Jasper, making it one of our last top locations before venturing South toward Banff on the Icefields Parkway.
Early on into the drive (if you’re driving North to South from Jasper to Banff), you will come across Athabasca Falls, one of the most iconic and photographed pit stops along the way. There’s something even more magical about experiencing this location in winter: covered in a thick layer of snow and the illumination of the blue lake below as the sun begins to settle in for the day.
Columbia Icefield Glacier
Approximately one hour onwards in to your journey you will arrive at Columbia Icefield, the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains and although I’m sure it goes without saying, an incredible sight for the eyes! The Columbia Icefield straddles the border between Alberta and British Columbia.
Although a little off route, there is absolutely no way you cannot come to Alberta in winter and not experience the unique frozen bubbles at Abraham Lake! The winter phenomenon is becoming one of the most popular attractions in the area and occurs as a product of methane bubbles becoming stuck in the process of the lake freezing. When you arrive at the lake be sure to visit different parts of the lake (it’s huge!) as not the entire lake will have the bubbles visible but the hunt to find them makes it all the more exciting!
As you journey closer to Banff, one of the last few stops is Bow Lake for this impossibly beautiful view over the frozen and snow covered lake.
This large glacier-fed lake is one of the most visited lakes in Alberta and is conveniently located just a short way from the Icefield Parkway. This is a great sunset spot as the days are so short in winter and conveniently, you’re only a short drive from the town of Banff!
Bow Valley Parkway
This narrow and winding parkway is one of the last few stops on your journey and considered one of the most scenic drives in the entire country. The secondary highway is no longer used as a primary route (thanks to the Trans-Canada Highway), so it makes for the perfect opportunity to feel as if you have the whole place to yourself (often for as far as the eye can see!)
If you’ve had enough for one day but still wish to see it all, then be sure to circle back and visit Johnston Canyon while exploring Banff National Park. This is another great ice walk experience and will leave you in awe of the power of nature, especially in the winter time!
The Fairmont at Lake Louise
If you’ve seen the iconic photo of this grand lobby overlooking Lake Louise then look no further, this is a location not to be missed! Lake Louise transforms into a winter wonderland in the colder months, with the lake turning in to an ice rink complete with an ice castle and even an ice bar! Inside the Fairmont you can enjoy an (expensive but very worth while) hot chocolate overlooking the lake.
Fairmont Banff Springs
Often referred to as the “Castle in the Rockies”, the Fairmont Banff Springs is one of North America’s most recognised hotels. The property is located just a five minute drive outside of the town of Banff and at the end of your journey, making for the perfect excuse to spoil yourself and enjoy a night or two while you continue to explore Banff National Park.