The Banff to Jasper drive – an Icefields Parkway itinerary
One of the most beautiful and scenic drives in the world is the Banff to Jasper drive, which is also known as the Icefields Parkway. Be prepared for a journey among stunning turquoise lakes, amazing glaciers, canyons, beautiful waterfalls and, of course, breathtaking mountains. There’s also a great chance to see wildlife such as bears, moose, elk, wolves and even cougars (we saw one!) Here’s my Icefields Parkway itinerary with things you really should check out while doing the Banff to Jasper drive.
Having some days to spend in Banff before you head for Jasper? Check out these suggestions of things to do in Banff!
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Stops to make along the stunning Banff to Jasper drive on the Icefields Parkway
I know, you’re not literally on the Icefields Parkway yet, but you should really check out Johnston Canyon if you haven’t already! It’s a beautiful hike among the canyon with both waterfalls and a cool cave. To get here, you need to go on Highway 1A, the Bow Valley Parkway, instead of Trans Canada Highway. Read more about our visit to Johnston Canyon before you go to get the most out of your experience!
Lake Louise and Moraine Lake
When you’re done hiking in Johnston Canyon, you only need to drive for 30 minutes to reach your next stops – Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. You can reach them by continuing on Highway 1A or by taking the Trans Canada Highway.
These two beautiful lakes are literally minutes away from the Icefields Parkway and can be seen as the start of it. The lakes have three things in common: they’re turquoise, surrounded by mountains and really gorgeous. At Lake Louise, you’ll find the Fairmont Hotel, while Moraine Lake is a little bit more secluded.
Here we go, now you’re on the Icefields Parkway! Your first stop should definitely be Bow Lake, which is located 30 minutes from Lake Louise. This lake is also surrounded by beautiful mountains, and if you’re lucky you’ll get a perfect reflection in the water just like we did! Otherwise, it’s still a great place to stop and stretch your legs while admiring the beautiful view.
Peyto Lake (my favourite stop on the Banff to Jasper drive!)
Peyto Lake is your next stop, and one of my favourite stops on the Icefields Parkway. This lake has the most turquoise water I’ve ever seen. Peyto Lake is also different from the other lakes you’ve been visiting during your trip so far since you’ll get to see it from above and not from ground level.
Now it’s time for something different than lakes! Mistaya Canyon is a short and rather easy hike down to a beautiful waterfall. It took us about 30 minutes to do the whole hike and we were as good as alone on the trail!
This is a beautiful set of cliffs to your right (coming from Banff), usually covered with waterfalls – making it a “weeping wall”! It’s definitely worth a stop, but be careful if you’re going out to take a photo since it’s right next to the road.
Big Hill and Big Bend
After the Weeping Wall, you’ll come to the Big Hill and Big Bend. You don’t really need any help to find it, you’ll know when you see it! But just to be clear: It’s a beautiful viewpoint right after a big bend in the road (you can easily see it on a map to the right of Parker Ridge.) At the top, you can stop and take photos of the beautiful mountains and the valley!
You can see this glacier from a distance or hike all the way to the toe of it, just like we did. The roundtrip is around 2 kilometres and the hike is not that hard but has some rocky and steep sections – it can be slippery if it’s wet. Remember to bring some warmer clothes since it gets rather cold when you get closer to the glacier!
The next stop is 45 minutes away from the trailhead of the Athabasca glacier. Sunwapta Falls is a beautiful waterfall that’s easy to get to! From the parking lot, you only need to walk down to the viewing bridge to get a nice view of the main waterfall.
After Sunwapta Falls, it’s time to continue driving to another waterfall. This is definitely a must-see, not only because of the waterfall but also for the “secret canyon” right behind it that almost no other persons found when we were there! So, when you’ve checked out the waterfall, don’t forget to look around you to find a trail down another way. You’ll find some stairs and can walk down among a beautiful canyon.
Valley of the Five Lakes
Now you’re getting really close to Jasper – this is the last stop! Valley of the Five Lakes is only 10 minutes away from Jasper and offers amazing views of, you guessed it, five lakes! The lakes all have a beautiful colour and you can choose if you want to do a hike to all of them or just to some of them. The hike we did was about 6 kilometres and went around three of the lakes and to the shore of the other two.
The Banff to Jasper drive – how long does it take?
Driving Banff to Jasper without the stops
Without all the beautiful stops, it would probably take you less than 4 hours to go from Banff to Jasper. Be sure to check the road conditions before you go if you’re going during the colder months.
Driving Banff to Jasper with the stops
You can explore this amazing area for days! We did the whole Banff to Jasper drive in about 12 hours and made a whole day trip of it. However, we had already seen Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake so that saved us some time. There’s a lot to see and it will take time, so if you want to split your journey into more than just one day, consider making a stop at Saskatchewan Crossing. We have never stayed here overnight but it’s in a good location since it’s pretty much halfway between Banff and Jasper and has a resort and a hostel. If you go during winter, you should definitely also make sure to check out the magical ice bubble lake!
3 fun things to do in Jasper after the Icefields Parkway itinerary
Woohoo, you made it to Jasper! There’s a lot of fun things to do here. Here are some of my favourites:
Old Fort Point Trail
An almost 4-kilometre long fun and moderate hike with great views over Jasper. If you’re lucky, you might even see some bighorn sheep at the top – we did!
This is such a beautiful canyon. It’s also the deepest one in Jasper National Park. It doesn’t really matter if you’re only looking for an easy walk or a longer hike – at Maligne Canyon, you can choose different trails and loops, all with beautiful views!
Okay, I actually never made it here, but it’s known as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world – so it’s probably something you’d like to check out!
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