Great road trips of the world: Banff to Jasper

Posted on: 09 March 2010 by Mark O'haire

Traveling between two of the most beautiful towns of the Canadian Rockies is one of the best journeys you will ever make.

Starting off at the town of Banff in Alberta, this drive takes in the Canadian Rockies and its associated wildlife. It includes the ‘Icefields Parkway’ drive, which has breathtaking mountain views, huge walls of ice, beautiful lakes, and spectacular waterfalls.

Banff is located in Canada’s first national Park, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town which is nestled in-between spectacular mountains is only a short 90 minute drive from Calgary. Banff is a year round destination and offers a plethora of activities, snow or sunshine. The town owes its existence to three railway workers, who in 1883 discovered a small collection of hot water springs on the slopes of Sulphur Mountain. The springs and the 673 kilometres around them were named, by the government, as a national park. The Canadian Pacific Railway promoted and imported tourists to the area and the town quickly grew. Now the town has a great mix of hotels, award winning restaurants and spas, adventure activities and great wildlife watching opportunities.

Highlights

Bow Summit / Peyto Lake Viewpoint – 40 km north of Lake Louise is the highest point on the Parkway at 2088 metres. Follow the access road to the Peyto Lake viewpoint where you will find hiking trails overlooking blue-green Peyto lake. In July and August there are an astonishing array of wildflowers.

Saskatchewan River Crossing – 77 km north of Lake Louise is the junction of the Icefields Parkway and the David Thompson Highway (#11). Explorer David Thompson used this pass to gain access to the Rockies from Rocky Mountain House, 180 km east of Saskatchewan River Crossing. There are no services here in the winter.

Weeping Wall – 105 km north of Lake Louise, situated beside the North Saskatchewan River. The Weeping Wall provides climbers with an accessible winter and spring venue for climbing waterfall ice. The wall is 600 metres high, part of a limestone-and-shale layer cake named Cirrus Mountain (3215 metres).

Columbia Icefields - 127 km north of Lake Louise. The largest icefield south of Alaska, shimmering glacial ice and snow cover some 389 sq. km. From May to October an exciting 55 minute Snocoach Tour will take you out onto the Athabasca Glacier, a tongue of the Columbia Icefield, for an awe-inspiring glimpse of icy crevasses and ice-fed streamlets.

Stutfield Glacier - 135 km north of Lake Louise. A tongue of the massive Columbia Icefield, the Stutfield Glacier pours over 900 vertical metres of cliff face, forming a picturesque set of double icefalls visible below.

Sunwapta Falls - 175 km north of Lake Louise.  Sunwapta is a Stoney Indian word for "turbulent river". At the falls, the Sunwapta River abruptly changes course from northwest to southwest and plunges in a cloud of spray into a deep canyon.

Goat Lookout - 192 km north of Lake Louise. A panoramic view of the Athabasca Valley and the sheer mountain peeks surrounding it. This is a good place to spot mountain goats, bighorn sheep and other animals searching for mineral licks. Please remember it is illegal to touch or feed wildlife in a national park.

Athabasca Falls - 199 km north of Lake Louise. Among the most powerful and breathtaking falls in the Rocky Mountains, the Athabasca River thunders through a narrow gorge where the walls have been smoothed and potholed by the sheer force of the water.

Jasper - Surrounded by scenic wilderness, Jasper National Park is Canada's largest Rocky Mountain Park and one of North America's largest natural areas - spanning 10,878 sq. km (4,200 sq. mi.) of awe-inspiring, scenic splendour.

Shimmering glaciers, abundant wildlife, crystal clear lakes, thundering waterfalls, deep canyons and evergreen forest surrounded by towering, rugged mountain peaks are what your eyes have been waiting to see.

Jasper is an internationally recognized, four-season destination with so much to see and do to suit everyone's tastes. Whatever spectacular time of year you choose to visit - just be sure you plan to stay awhile. You'll want to have enough time to enjoy Jasper's many exceptional offerings!

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