The Perfect Icefields Parkway Itinerary In One Day

Looking to plan the perfect one-day Icefields Parkway itinerary?  You’ve come to the right place!  This highway stretches for over 142 miles from Lake Louise to Jasper National Park and is packed with glaciers, wildlife, and great hikes.

Our drive along the Icefields Parkway was part of our last-minute two-day Banff Itinerary. We dedicated one full day to exploring Lake Louise and driving along this beautiful highway. 

In this article, we’ll share our top picks along the parkway, perfect for those of you who, like us, are short on time. Plus, we’ll cover the basic logistical stuff, like where to buy gas and where to park.

Where Does the Icefields Parkway Start and End?

The Icefields Parkway starts at Lake Louise Village and winds its way up to Jasper Townsite, covering over 142.9 miles. You’ll pass by some great hiking spots and viewpoints like Peyto Lake, Parker Ridge, and Athabasca Falls. 

Best Time To Visit the Icefields Parkway

We think that late summer is the best time to visit the Icefields Parkway and Banff National Park in general. The weather is warm, and many of the higher-up hikes are finally clear of snow. The parkway itself is open year-round, but if you’re interested in taking tours at the Icefields Centre, you’ll need to plan your trip between mid-May and mid-October, when these tours are available.

glacier along the Icefields Parkway in Canada
Parts of the Icefields Parkway (like the glaciers) have snow year-round. Late summer is the best time for hiking with the least snow pack.

Winter visits are also possible. The roads are kept clear, so you can still drive the parkway, but it’d be a good idea to pack extra emergency gear in your vehicle. The Parks Canada website also encourages visitors to be extra careful of wildlife on the roads during the winter months.  

Kendall and I have only visited in the summer, but we’ve heard that winter can be a great time to visit the park, with far fewer crowds and incredible snow-covered scenery. 

Things to Know When Visiting the Icefields Parkway

Here’s a quick list of the must-knows before heading out on the Icefields Parkway: 

  • There is no cell service along the Parkway.
  • The only gas stations are at Lake Louise, the Saskatchewan River Crossing Resort, and Jasper Town. 
  • The only facilities with running water are the Columbia Icefields Centre and the Saskatchewan River Crossing Resort. 
  • A valid national parks pass is required to drive the Icefields Parkway
  • The Parkway is not open to transport trucks or large commercial vehicles

Icefields Parkway Itinerary in One Day

Stop #1: Sunrise at Lake Louise

We recommend stopping at Lake Louise first thing in the morning before continuing up the parkway; it’s a 40-minute drive from Banff and about 50 minutes from Canmore, where Kendall and I stayed on our first night. This lake is famous for its stunning turquoise-blue color, which comes from light reflecting off the rock flour in the water. It really is as incredible as the photos. 

Because Lake Louise is one of the most popular things to see in Banff, it can get pretty busy. And logistics like parking can be a bit tricky.  We’ve actually written an entire post dedicated to visiting Lake Louise, where we go over all the transportation and parking options, so be sure to check that out.

tourist in a kayak watching the sunrise at Lake Louise in Canada.
Sunrise at Lake Louise

Basically, if you’re up for a very early start, driving your own car can be an option, but be aware that the parking lot often fills up by 5:00 a.m. We recommend using the Parks Canada Shuttle (you’ll need to reserve a shuttle ticket ahead of time) and picking up your car afterward at the Lake Louise Park and Ride. 

We recommend spending a few hours at the lake to watch the sunrise and walk around the lake on some of the trails. Then, you can continue your adventure up the Icefields Parkway, knowing you’ve already ticked off one of the most beautiful spots in Banff National Park. 

Stop #2: Jasper National Park Icefield Information Centre 

After your early-morning stop at Lake Louise, you’ll drive straight to the Icefields Centre. This way, you’ll have plenty of time to do a Skywalk and/or Ice Odyssey tour before things get too busy. Kendall and I booked our Skywalk tour tickets in advance and then picked them up at the Icefields Centre just to be sure they weren’t sold out when we got there.  

There are a few displays at the Icefield Centre where you can learn about glaciers, how they form, the impact of climate change, and more. It’s also fun to look at the snow vehicles outside in the parking lot. 

Tourist in front of an ice explorer vehicles outside of the Icefields Centre
The ice explorer vehicle outside of the Icefields Centre.

Skywalk Tour

When Kendall and I visited the Columbia Icefields, we decided to do only the Skywalk tour and skip the Ice Odyssey tour to save a bit of money.  But we’ll go over both tours.

The Skywalk tour runs from mid-May through mid-October. You can buy tickets at the counter at the Icefields Centre, but we recommend booking in advance online on a website like GetYourGuide. This way, you can reserve a spot and avoid getting to the Centre only to realize that all the tickets are sold out for the day. 

The Skywalk is only five minutes from the Icefield Centre, and you’ll take a short shuttle bus ride to get there.

Basically, the Skywalk is a one-kilometer glass walkway that juts out from the side of the mountain. It’s got awesome glacier views, and you can look through the glass floor to the ground, over 900 feet below you. Fun fact: each square inch of the walkway can hold over 1,000 pounds.

Walking over the clear glass and looking down at the gorge below was super cool—and a tiny bit unnerving, and Kendall and I loved it.  We only spent an hour here, giving us plenty of time for the rest of our day.  

tourists on the Skywalk walkway leading to the glass bridge, part of an Icefields Parkway itinerary.
We walked along this 1-km walkway to get to the glass bridge.

Ice Odyssey Tour

If you’re looking for a unique experience, the Ice Odyssey Tour is the other tour choice that starts from the Icefields Centre. This 2-hour tour is limited to smaller groups of 14 people or less if having a small group is important to you. You’ll ride in a SHERP vehicle, a special ATV designed for extra rough terrain, to reach the Athabasca Glacier.

Once you’re there, you’ll get to walk on the glacier and learn about its formation and history, like the fact that it’s been a testing ground for NASA. Kendall and I opted not to do the glacier tour on this trip, but it’s on our list for next time!

If you’re interested in doing both the Skywalk and the Ice Odyssey Tour, you can purchase the Columbia Icefield Adventure, which combines both tours.

Stop #3: Hike to Peyto Lake 

Your third and final stop for the day will be a short hike to the overlook over Peyto Lake. If you’re heading to Peyto Lake from the Icefield Centre, it’s about a one-hour drive.

We recommend planning your visit to Peyto Lake on your return trip from the Icefield Centre. This way, you can get to the Icefields Centre to do the Skywalk and/or the Ice Odyssey tour before the majority of the crowds. We got to Peyto Lake around 3 PM, and plenty of parking spaces were still available.

The hike to Peyto Lake is fairly easy. It’s 0.8 miles to the first viewpoint, and if you want to go further, it’s 1.5 miles to the panoramic viewpoint, and the elevation gain is less than 300 feet. 

Just like Lake Louise, Peyto Lake’s bright blue color comes from rock flour that runs into the lake and then refracts light. Kendall and I spent around an hour there, including photo-taking time.

The Peyto Lake Viewpoint.
The Peyto Lake Viewpoint.

If You’ve Got More Time

We decided to only spend one day on the Icefields Parkway so that we had time to explore the town of Banff and hike Johnston Canyon.  But, depending on your itinerary, there is enough to do on the Icefields Parkway that you could spend many days, even weeks, with all the hiking and camping options.  If you’ve got more time, here are a few of the other most popular stops along the parkway: 

  • Bow Lake: one of the larger lakes, also a beautiful blue color, located 24 miles from Lake Louise.
  • Weeping Wall: located 66 miles from Lake Louise, has multiple waterfalls that make the wall look like it’s crying.
  • Big Hill and Big Bend: great views of the valley and the river below, located 71 miles from Lake Louise. 
  • Parker Ridge Hike: 2-hour hike with fantastic views. 

Icefields Parkway Itinerary Map

Here’s a portion of the Icefields Parkway map from Parks Canada that we used when planning this trip.

Icefields Parkway Map from Parks Canada
Image Credit: Parks Canada

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