This immense expanse of ice is home to six major glaciers, as well as some of the Canadian Rockies’ highest peak, including the mighty Athabasca Glacier.
Go for a drive over massive glaciers that have been active for thousands of years. Stare in awe at endless snowfields or hike past icy crevasses and muddy moraines. Drive the scenic Icefields Parkway to arrive in this vast winter landscape, which is one of the few that is easily accessible by road. Special explorer buses can take you into the park and even onto the glaciers.
With 130 square miles (365 square kilometers), Columbia Icefield is the largest of its kind in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and it feeds into six main glaciers. Located at about 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) altitude, the Columbia Icefield has year-round snowfall.
Stop at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center, open April through October, for information. Learn how the Icefield is one of the major sources of fresh water for farmland and cities in North America. To see it all up close, book a tour with a vehicle that can take you onto the glaciers.
Most people visit at least the steadily receding Athabasca Glacier. Sign up for the Columbia Icefield Scenic Walk; a two-hour trek along the side of the glacier with a naturalist. Listen to the story of its formation and find out by how much it retracts every year. Take care if you decide to tour the glacier without a guide: Hidden crevasses in particular can prove treacherous and you should never set out on the hike alone. If you’re not feeling active, go for the Glacier Adventure aboard a snow coach bus. The trip lasts 1.5 hours and departs frequently.
Longer journeys lasting up to nine hours take in other sights of the Columbia Icefield and require you to book ahead. Tours often include Lake Louise, Peyto Lake, Big Hill, Victoria Glacier, and Athabasca Falls.
The Columbia Icefield is located on the boundary of Banff National Park. To get there from Jasper, travel 63 miles (108 kilometers) south on the scenic Icefields Parkway (Highway 93). Stop at the Athabasca Falls for a beautiful view.