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September 12, 2013 / mws

2013 Columbia Icefields Parkway

September 11 – 12

Designed for leisurely sightseeing, the Icefields Parkway parallels the main ranges of the Canadian Rockies within Banff and Jasper National Parks.  The Parkway is ranked as one of the top scenic drives in the world by National Geographic.

Athabasca Falls

Athabasca Falls

From Jasper heading south, the first major stop was Athabasca Falls.  The Athabasca Falls are among the most powerful and breathtaking in the Rocky Mountains.  The Athabasca River thunders through a narrow gorge to create the magnificent falls.  Parking and restroom facilities, a paved trail and picnic sites are available.

Goat area, but no goats

Goat area, but no goats

At a  viewpoint at kilometer 38 along the Icefields Parkway, the Kerkeslin Goat Lick offers an excellent view across the Athabasca River to Mt. Christie, Mt. Brussles and Mt. Fryatt. The lick itself is an exposed salty mineral deposit, which attracts mountain goats down from their lofty perches for an irresistible treat.  We had an amazing goat experience here 15 years ago, and stopped to see if there was any possibility of repeating it. (We actually arranged our schedule to stop here twice and try our luck at seeing the goats).    😆

Lower SunwaptaFalls

Lower SunwaptaFalls

Sunwapta is a Stoney Indian word for turbulent river. At the Sunwapta Falls, the Sunwapta River abruptly changes course from northwest to southwest and plunges in a cloud of spray into a deep canyon.  The main viewpoint was crowded and the upper Sunwapta Falls were not that photogenic.  We took the 4km trail to see the lower falls and were more impressed with these lovely falls and the nice trail through the forest. After viewing the falls, we travelled just north to the Sunwampta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge, where we stayed for the night.  The Lodge has a nice restaurant, a deli and wifi!

Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier

The Columbia Icefields at km 103 is the largest reservoir of ice and snow in the Rocky Mountains. Straddling the Great Divide, and extending into Alberta and British Columbia, the icefield was formed 10,000 years ago. Winter after winter, more snow piles up than can possibly melt during the short summer season. Over many years, the snow compacts into ice, until it’s thick enough to creep downhill under its own weight. It’s not an icefield, or a glacier, until it moves.

You can walk up to the Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefields and this makes it the most famous glacier in North America.  Visitors can take a glacier ice explorer all terrain vehicle to the edge of the glacier for a close up view.

Weeping Wall

Weeping Wall

The Weeping wall at km 125  is a famous waterfall resembling a mountain crying a river of tears. Located on Cirrus Mountain, the Weeping Wall tumbles more than 330 feet in a series of waterfalls whose main fall is called Teardrop Falls.

Mistaya Canyon at km 159 is formed by the Mistaya River. It is known for its distinctive curvy canyon walls and because it is easy to access, being just off the Icefields Parkway. The 0.5 km trail to the canyon is located at a large parking area on the west side of the Parkway, part way up the long hill south of the North Saskatchewan River.

We made many other stops along the Icefields Parkway to get the ubiquitous scenic views.  Again, it was a warm, clear September day and we took full advantage of the daylight hours to get every photo possible.

Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake

Our last stop on the Icefields Parkway was at Peyto Lake at km 190. Peyto Lake is breathtaking and one of the highlights of the Canadian Rockies. The lake was named for an early outfitter, “Wild Bill” Peyto. Located just over the Bow Summit at a high point along the Icefields Parkway, the beautiful wolf shaped lake is set far below in a deep glacial valley. This view is easy to reach along a paved trail.

For more photos of our trip to the Icefields Parkway, click here

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There it lay, for the time being all ours, those miles of peaks rising above us, one after the other, each more beautiful than the last.  – Mary Schaffer, early traveler to the Athabasca Valley, 1908

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