Apart from Jasper and Banff national parks, Alberta is world famous for a highway that links these parks. Highway 93 North, also known as Columbia Icefields Parkway is one of the top drives in the world! The journey between the two parks is a mere 232 km that should take you 3 hours to complete but instead took us 11 hrs to finish.
What it is so special about this drive? It is far more than just a drive, it is grand journey that is full of jaw dropping sights and discoveries. If you ever plan on making a bucket list, add this drive. From wildlife encounters, towering waterfalls, massive glaciers to snow capped peaks around every bend, you will not be disappointed. We were stopping every 5 minutes for pictures. Every bend takes you to a new visual spectacle.
Bighorn Sheep were quite active during our visit and as most wildlife in the park, they are not timid and stand their ground. Take extreme care driving as you never know who will dart across the road. As soon as the sheep congregate on the roads, traffic is created by tourists snapping pics of them. The sheep usually pay no heed to cars but as they get bolder and start to lick the salt of cars, a male sheep (ram) will prove his dominance.
By charging and slamming his horns into the side of the car. We witnessed it on two occasions. The hapless tourists were busy taking pics on their cellphones to notice that the animals were getting agitated. The damage to the cars is not covered by insurance.
(Note to self, record it on video next time)
Depending on your luck, there are also black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes and elusive cougars.
Apart from wildlife, there is plenty of other activities to enjoy. Hiking in the summer and snow shoeing in the winter. Climbing and skiing are also available.
Helpful tips for planning your drive:
Gas: you can fill up in Lake Louise at the start of the drive. There is only one gas station between Lake Louise and Jasper, at Saskatchewan Crossing River resort (higher prices and huge lineups). So plan carefully.
No Service: There is no phone service anywhere on this drive. Download a map or use offline GPS. I don’t know why you would need phone service on this route anyway. It should be enforced as a crime to stare into your phone rather than taking in the sights.
Food: No restaurants or McDonalds will be encountered on your drive. You can stock up at Lake Louise and have a picnic outside.
Weather: Guess what? You are in the Rockies, so it can snow at any time of the year. Make sure you have proper clothing.
Another amazing phenomenon is the weather forecasts. Some people when finding out it is going to snow, stay at the hotel. No reason to do that as by the time you leave, it can snow, rain and shine all within one hour.
Apart from Iceland, nowhere else in the world we have come across such beauty that our planet has created. Emerald lakes and picture perfect vistas pop up around every bend of the road. At times, we felt guilty not stopping at every lake that appeared.
As you leave Lake Louise, take a small detour and head over to British Columbia, a mere hour’s drive. Take a left on highway 1 and head over to Takkakaw Falls at Yoho National Park. An hour drive is a small price to pay for a stunning view.
The little curb stops on the road are amazing way to take that stunning pic you have dreamed of. Pulling of the road also keeps the roads empty for other drivers.
Athabasca glacier is a must stop on your way. Halfway through the drive on Columbia Icefields Parkway, the glacier majestically stands out from the surrounding mountains. You can buy a tour to walk on the glacier, you can eat at the Discovery centre cafeteria, go to glacier skywalk amphitheater. Lots of options available. We chose to eat backpacker`s pantry meal in the car at the foot of the glacier in complete solitude. Way better than a three course meal at a five star restaurant!
Sunwapta falls, Bow falls, Peyto Lake, Maligne lake, Maligne canyon and hundred of other activities are available closer to Jasper. To visit them all in one week is nearly impossible but the best thing is knowing you can always come back and they will still be there, waiting to be discovered again!
If you plan on exploring Banff and Jasper parks and need help with itinerary, we can help!