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Scenic drives in Banff National Park: from Lake Louise to Jasper

Banff, Alberta

By Ray Lumfardo
Staff Writer

Start your scenic drive at the amazing Lake Louise and you won't be disappointed.
Start your scenic drive at the amazing Lake Louise and you won't be disappointed.

Just about anywhere you go in Banff National Park, you’re going to be surrounded by some of the best views the Canadian Rockies have to offer. But a drive Banff’s Lake Louise to Jasper really offers some of the best of this park.
No matter where you are on this drive, there’s something to see.
You’ll start your excursion from the town of Lake Louise, where you can stock up, and rest up, before your scenic drive.

Day one: Lake Louise and Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake sports one of the most well known views in the Canadian Rockies.
Moraine Lake sports one of the most well known views in the Canadian Rockies.

On day one, you’ll travel only 4 km (2.5 mi) before reaching Lake Louise, the town’s namesake lake.
One of the first things you’ll notice about this lake is its emerald color. Don’t worry, it’s as natural as it is beautiful, the result of light bouncing off minerals released into the lake by ancient glaciers.
You’ll also see the amazing Chateau Lake Louise, a hotel built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 20th century that, sitting at the foot of the lake and surrounding by the amazing Canadian Rockies, looks like it dropped out of a fairy tale.
From Lake Louise, you may want to go the short distance to Moraine Lake.
From Moraine Lake, it’s possible to continue on toward Jasper, although you may want to return to Lake Louise your first night. If you spot a grizzly with her cubs, or find the perfect place to stop and enjoy the scenery, you won’t want to be in hurry.

Day two: Icefields, glaciers and Jasper

From the Lake Louise area, you’ll start the 237 km (148 mi) trip to Jasper National Park on Icefields Parkway. This scenic drive is lined with one beautiful mountain lake after another, with more than 100 glaciers providing a dramatic backdrop.

Peyto lake is not to be missed on your Lake Louise to Jasper scenic drive.
Peyto lake is not to be missed on your Lake Louise to Jasper scenic drive.

One of the first must-see stops along the parkway is Hector Lake, the largest lake in Banff National Park, with views of Mt. Balfour and Crowfoot Mountain.
From there, I’d recommend stopping at Bow Summit, which, at 2,068 m (6,785 ft) above sea level, is the highest point on the drive. Bow Summit is best viewed from the Peyto Lake viewpoint, where you can see the lake far below, and get great, sweeping photos of the valley.
From Peyto, you’ll cross over the Saskatchewan River (an excellent place to spot wild life) and head on toward the Weeping Wall.
Here, water from snow melting high on Cirrus Mountain seeps through cracks in the sheer cliff face and plunges down as a series wispy, yes weeping, waterfalls.
Next on the agenda is perhaps the highlight of the journey, the Columbia Icefield.

Your vacation, on ice

A field of ice might sound boring if you’ve never seen one, but there’s a reason they named this scenic roadway after the icefield. Enormity is part of what makes the Columbia Icefield amazing – it’s 100 to 365 m (328 to 1,197 ft) thick, and covers an area of  3 2 5   square km (202 square mi). Columbia icefield gives you a sense of the powerful forces that sculpted the Canadian Rockies, and are still at work here today.
“It’s the most ice you can see in any one place, short of going to Alaska,” Nadine says. “It’s not to be missed; it’s an experience you can’t have anywhere else.”
Fletcher recommends starting at the new Columbia Icefield Centre.
“The exhibits are well done and explain the icefield well,” she says.

View along Icefields Parkway.
View along Icefields Parkway.

From there, you’ll hit the icefield itself. Depending what stage of retreat the icefield is in, it may be possible to walk right up and touch the ice. There are also tours available that allow you to trek or even ride on the ice in an all-terrain bus You can obtain information on the tours from the Welcome Centre.
A short drive from the icefields you’ll find picturesque Athabasca Glacier and Mt. Athabasca. Tours are also available of this easily accessible glacier.
A bit further down the road is the Athabasca River, which carries more water than any river in the Rocky Mountains. You’ll know this instinctively when you watch it plunge over the Athabasca falls and thunder into the gorge below.
From the falls, it’s a short distance to the end of your journey in Jasper, a mountain retreat with all the comforts of home, but still surrounded by breathtaking scenery and an abundance of wildlife.

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