When you think about some of the iconic drives around the world, the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies is surely near the top of most lists. It’s one thing listening to reviews of the experience or admiring gorgeous pictures of scenery along this route, but to actually enjoy the awe-inspiring drive from Jasper to Banff National Park is something words or pictures can never do enough justice.
Having the opportunity to drive this once is something you should all strive for but we felt privileged to have the chance to enjoy this twice, as we headed to Jasper from Calgary before taking this same drive back to spend a few days in Banff. Any route that has breathtaking scenery is going to be a popular attraction but when you construct a road between two of Canada’s iconic national parks, it’s taking the concept of amazing road trips to the next level.
If you are planning on exploring Banff and Jasper in the next few weeks or months, we hope that some of our recommended spots on the drive from Jasper to Banff (or vice-versa) will be added to your itinerary. For those of you that wish to experience this spectacular drive over several days, we will give you a few suggestions on hotel recommendations along this route.
For those of you that wish to experience this spectacular drive over several days, we will give you a few suggestions on hotel recommendations along this route.
The beauty of the Icefields Parkway, which technically starts in Lake Louise, is there really isn’t an alternative route to take between the two parks so you are pretty much stuck with a plethora of natural beauty…not a bad problem to have right?
The Columbia Icefields Parkway is one of the world’s most scenic mountain drives that stretches 232km’s (144miles) between Lake Louise and Jasper.
Having spent five hours driving from Banff to Jasper en route to spending 48 hours in Jasper National Park, we caught a glimpse of the incredible beauty surrounding us. If you opt to follow our schedule, you will feel our pain because simply driving the Icefields Parkway without having the opportunity to stop is torture.
We highly recommend NOT following this approach and instead, enjoy all of the incredible spots on the way to Jasper and on your way back!
Drive from Jasper to Banff National Park
Ok, so you are committed to taking the epic drive from Jasper to Banff…our first advice, be prepared to have several hours to fully enjoy this experience. The route itself is approximately 287 km (178 miles) which may take anywhere from 3 to 4 hours depending on traffic and wildlife.
That’s right, wildlife encounters along this drive can have a detrimental impact on the length of time it takes. Realistically, you may need up to DOUBLE this amount of time to fully appreciate the amazing spots that we are going to share.
For the avid road trippers out there, you will know the benefit of taking your time because there will be countless impromptu stops that you will want to enjoy in addition to any scheduled stops. On our return trip from Jasper to Banff, we had scheduled about 8 stops but by the time we reached our hotel in Dead Man’s Flats, we probably stopped about 15 times (maybe more!)
If you have been living in a shell for the past few weeks and haven’t seen any of our recent blog posts on the best things to do in Jasper National Park or our social media pictures, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. How on earth can a drive be that spectacular? Let’s find out with just a few of our favorite places to enjoy along this route.
If you are considering staying overnight in Jasper, here are a couple of our favorite hotels that we love to recommend. Please be aware that hotels throughout the Jasper and Banff areas fill up quickly, so be prepared to book well in advance of your trip.
- Pyramid Lake Resort – If you are looking for the perfect accommodation option with gorgeous scenery, Pyramid Lake Resort is definitely a great option. Check out the latest prices and availability here.
- Best Western Jasper Inn & Suites – For those of you that prefer to stay in “brand” name hotels, the Best Western Inn & Suites may be a perfect choice. Check out the latest prices and availability here.
Distance from Jasper – 20 miles
Distance from Banff – 160 miles
If you have taken some of the world’s most scenic drives, you frequently have to drive a while before you hit the breathtaking scenery. That is certainly NOT the case on the drive from Jasper to Banff as you immediately stumble across incredible landscapes and attractions after leaving the downtown area.
Despite admiring the gorgeous scenery, we opted to make our first stop at Athabasca Falls. This is a must-see landmark for everyone and if you have a fond love of waterfalls as I do, you will be blown away by the beauty of this one. Renowned as the most powerful waterfall in Canada, as you approach the edge from the viewing platform, you will quickly feel the power that this natural landmark generates.
One of the amazing features of Athabasca Falls is the gorgeous backdrop of the mountains. From various viewing points, you are treated to the sight of the waterfall (if you are lucky you will see a rainbow through the falls!) with the towering peaks providing the perfect background. It’s undoubtedly one of those picture perfect locations that you have to visit.
Distance from Jasper – 35 miles
Distance from Banff – 145 miles
Amazed by the sight of Athabasca Falls? You won’t be on the road for much longer before you have the opportunity to experience another gorgeous set of waterfalls.
Sunwapta Falls is a pair of waterfalls comprising of the “upper” and “lower” though, for most visitors, the obvious choice is exploring the upper falls. For the adventurous folks that enjoy a hike, head down the valley to the less crowded lower falls for yet more spectacular views.
Sunwapta Falls can be defined as “turbulent water” and although this waterfall is only around 75 feet in height, along with yet another gorgeous mountainous backdrop, this is another incredible place that you should add to your itinerary when making the drive from Jasper to Banff.
If the Sunwapta Falls area of the Jasper National Park is the ideal place to stay, check out the Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge. Check out the latest prices and availability here.
Distance from Jasper – 58 miles
Distance from Banff – 121 miles
One of the best viewpoints to admire the gorgeous panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies is at Tangle Ridge. As you approach the parking area, you will quickly realize why this is a spot you will want to experience. Interpretative signs are available to give you an idea of the peaks you see in front of you.
Both Tangle Ridge and Mushroom Peak are incredible mountains and perhaps the really adventurous folks will start plotting their routes to hike to the summit…we opted to save this for a return trip to Jasper!
The towering Mount Columbia is the second highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies and can be viewed from this location but regardless of where your eyes wander, you will likely be drooling over the plethora of amazing scenery.
Distance from Jasper – 60 miles
Distance from Banff – 119 miles
Are you already missing the sight of gorgeous waterfalls? Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait much longer after admiring the views across Tangle Ridge. Located on the side of the Icefields Parkway, Tangle Falls is a multi-tiered cascade which will not only impress the waterfall lovers out there but also offer the opportunity to see wildlife wandering around the edge.
We saw a number of Bighorn sheep on the Icefields Parkway before capturing a glimpse of one that had clambered up the side of Tangle Falls. I’m not sure if he knew that he was posing for a picture but it certainly provided a pretty cool shot.
Tangle Falls is a very “seasonal” style waterfall so depending on when you visit will determine whether you can enjoy a powerful flow or perhaps just a trickle. The view from the edge of the road is gorgeous but if you choose to capture a closer look, be careful when hiking up the side of the falls. It’s definitely a risk/reward journey!
Distance from Jasper – 60 miles
Distance from Banff – 118 miles
Everything included in this itinerary involved a natural attraction, with one exception – the Glacier Skywalk. Controversially constructed at a cost of $21 million (CAD), this structure offers visitors to the area an opportunity to “live on the edge” as they walk out on a glass platform to admire the breathtaking views of the Columbia Icefield.
Given that I referenced this was a controversial topic, you may be wondering why I would include this. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and obviously, the construction of this had an impact on the wildlife and overall appearance along this stretch of the Icefields Parkway. However, I personally think this is a spot you have to check out for yourselves and determine whether this is something you are in favor of.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Glacier Skywalk and although we are not the most adventurous folks (in other words, we are not extreme skydivers or bungee jump seekers!), this was an experience we would love to do again.
The interpretative walk prior to walking out on the glass platform was thoroughly informative but nothing could quite prepare you for the panoramic bliss that you see once you step out on the platform. Any fears you may have will quickly disappear as your mind drifts away to admire the beauty in front of you!
Distance from Jasper – 65 miles
Distance from Banff – 116 miles
The Columbia Icefield is one of the iconic parts of Jasper National Park that you will likely want to spend some time exploring. If you are ready to enjoy the experience of a lifetime, head to the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center and sign-up for an excursion to walk on the Athabasca Glacier courtesy of Brewster Travel Canada.
It’s not every day that you get to explore a glacier and participating in this tour is a must-do while visiting Jasper National Park. The Columbia Icefield actually comprises of six glaciers with the Dome, Stutfield, and Athabasca the only ones visible from the Icefields Parkway. The incredible sight of the Ice Explorer heading out on the glacier may just be enough to convince you that this is something you cannot afford to miss.
Renowned as one of the easiest glaciers in the world to access by car, the Athabasca Glacier unsurprisingly attracts visitors from all corners of the globe. It’s possibly the highlight attraction along this scenic drive but regardless of whether you choose to book this excursion, the views from the road as you pass by the Athabasca Glacier are some of the most memorable.
If the heart of the Columbia Icefield appeals, why not consider staying at the Glacier View Inn? This hotel isn’t short of gorgeous scenery and is perhaps an ideal location if you want to enjoy the first half of the scenic drive on one day and the rest following a restful sleep. Check out the latest prices and availability here.
Distance from Jasper – 77 miles
Distance from Banff – 102 miles
Are you ready to leave Jasper National Park? After all of the amazing scenery you have just experienced, you could be forgiven for wanting to turn around and stay amidst the natural beauty! Don’t worry though, there is plenty more where that came from as you cross over from Jasper to Banff National Park.
The first landmark that offers a breathtaking scene is the Weeping Walls, a series of cliffs along the Icefields Parkway that frequently have cascading waterfalls flowing over the edge.
In the heart of summer, you can enjoy the sight and sound of these falls while in the winter months, avid ice climbers seek out these frozen falls to test their skills in the Canadian Rockies.
Distance from Jasper – 117 miles
Distance from Banff – 62 miles
Lake Louise may be renowned as the iconic lake in the heart of Banff National Park but we would argue that there are many others that are equally fascinating. Let’s start with Peyto Lake.
Named after Bill Peyto, an early trail guide and trapper in the Banff area, this glacial lake is easily accessed from the Icefields Parkway and offers stunning scenes that you cannot help but fall in love with.
You may be wondering how this glacial lake (along with many others throughout Banff and Jasper) has this gorgeous bright, turquoise color. During the summer months following the thawing of the lake (we visited during the “thawing” phase!), rock flour flows into the lake and these suspended particles are what creates the vibrant color.
It’s no surprise that Peyto Lake is one of the most photographed attractions, particularly the iconic view from Bow Summit, the highest point along the Icefields Parkway as you peer down and appreciate the natural beauty.
Distance from Jasper – 131 miles
Distance from Banff – 48 miles
The beauty of exploring both Jasper and Banff National Parks in the heart of summer is that you have plenty of daylight. It’s fair to say we maximized our time in the Canadian Rockies and as we ventured back towards Banff at around 10:00 PM in the evening, we had the opportunity to capture the stunning sight of Hector Lake with the sun setting in the background.
The reflection of mountains on a lake is a highly sought after shot and frequently you miss out on this experience because the water isn’t calm enough or the light isn’t at the right angle. However, we felt privileged to capture this shot with the sunset hitting the very peak of the mountain range in the background.
Hector Lake is a relatively small glacial lake in comparison to many of its fellow counterparts throughout Banff but that should take nothing away from the inherent beauty it possesses. Surrounded by the Waputik Mountain Range to the west, Hector Lake was one of our final stops on the drive from Jasper to Banff and I hope you will agree it was a pretty awesome way to finish the experience.
Bow Valley Parkway
Distance from Jasper – 144 miles
Distance from Banff – 35 miles
As you approach Lake Louise, you have a decision to make. Do you want to spend time exploring this iconic lake along with the gorgeous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel or do you want to leave this for a day trip while staying in Banff? We have the perfect alternative should you opt to stay away from Lake Louise on this drive – the Bow Valley Parkway.
Running parallel to the main highway, the Bow Valley Parkway is a scenic route that offers wildlife encounters, spectacular overlooks and a number of gorgeous hiking trails such as Johnston Canyon.
Spanning 51km between Lake Louise and Banff, this route is one that is either a great way to start your journey between the two national parks or a great way to end. Either way, I am convinced that you will likely want a return trip to the Bow Valley Parkway to spend more time exploring…I know we did!
We have enjoyed some amazing road trips around the world such as experiencing an awesome Great Ocean Road day trip in Australia and also a scenic drive from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone National Park. However, I think it’s fair to say that we may have now stumbled across our new favorite. The drive from Jasper to Banff is beyond incredible, in fact, it left us breathless…and that’s not because of the altitude in the Canadian Rockies!
After following our proposed itinerary and stumbling across your own favorite landmarks (please share them below because we know we missed a bunch of awesome spots!), I am sure that you will be raring to head back along the Icefields Parkway because of the lasting impression it leaves.
We all of our favorite spots and given that I love waterfalls so much, I have to admit that Athabasca Falls is pretty incredible. However, regardless of your taste, be sure to give yourselves ample time to enjoy this awe-inspiring journey!