Columbia Icefield & Lake Louise

This is the third guest post by Adam’s dad as Adam, Anna, Cyndi and I toured the Canadian Rockies and Glacier National Park. There are previous introductory and Jasper National Park posts as well as additional posts on our stops at Banff National Park and Waterton International Peace Park in Canada, Glacier National Park in Montana, and Custer State Park in South Dakota. 

Leaving Jasper NP to Head South

During our 2.5 days in Jasper National Park, we heard about a forest fire along Route 11, which was the main route south toward Banff.  We were advised by the park rangers to leave early the next day since the road would only be open from 10:00am to 2:00pm when safety would not be impeded. We packed up camp and left by 8:00am for our trip into the Athabasca Valley.

Athabasca Falls

IMG_4511A must-stop about 19 miles along the way is the Athabasca Falls, where the sheer volume of milky-white water through a gorge produces some amazing views. It’s about a 30-minute commitment to see the falls and their powerful water and misty sprays, but it is well-worth the time

During the summer, the milky river runs with meltwater heavy with the fine silt, the product of grinding down mountains over thousands of years. Take the nice walk across a safe bridge over and along the river. Though Adam has been to both Niagara Falls and Iguazu Falls, he still felt that the Athabasca falls were impressive. Though smaller than Niagara or Iguazu, I personally think Athabasca is unique due to the color and flow of the water from the canyon it rushes through.

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Columbia Icefields

After the Athabasca Falls, we continued south for an hour to the Columbia Icefield. A few miles past the Glacier Skywalk is the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre, where you purchase tickets to the various attractions. We opted not to purchase tickets for the Skywalk or the Banff Gondola due to our timeline for the day, but did get tickets for the Ice Explorer that actually takes you onto the Athabasca Glacier.

We started the Ice Explorer experience with a bus ride across the highway and partway up the mountain. Then, we transferred to this large ATV-like Ice Explorer vehicle that took us further up a very dusty road to the glacier. The driver-guide shared a wealth of fascinating information about glaciers, icefields and their impact on our environment during this hour & twenty minute journey.

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Once on the Athabasca glacier, we stepped out onto the ice and took in views of the glacial vistas. We were forewarned not to venture outside the designated areas as walking on glaciers can be quite dangerous due to unseen crevasses. In fact, as soon as we stepped off the Explorer, a man went knee-deep into the glacier water that they said is cold enough to cause hypothermia in less than 15 minutes. Seeing this, we gingerly trudged up to the glacier wall, took pictures and felt the glacial stream run down the edges of the safe area. We had about 15 minutes to walk around and experience a glacier before having to return to the bus with the same number of people they brought up.

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We had such a beautiful, sunny day that you could sense the glacier melting as our time ticked away. Bring your warm jackets though since the temperature on the glacier is much colder and it can very windy if you get anything less than the ideal day we enjoyed.

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Camping at Lake Louise


Our final stop that day was Lake Louise National Park. We knew this place
would be interesting since there was an electric fence around our campground, or what I called the “bear-ier” to keep the wildlife out of the campgrounds.

While Cyndi & I prepared a dutch-oven slow roast safely behind the electric fence, Adam & Anna drove to Lake Louise and took the Lake Agnes Trail 4.5 miles and 1300 feet upwards towards the Lake Agnes Tea House. They said it was a splendid, little hike and worth the climb through the forest.

Since we were in bear country (and I’m not talking about the Chicago football team), we also attended a program later that night which educated us on the differences between grizzly and black bears. This helped us later identify both types when we spotted them… from afar, of course!

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Grizzly Bear – Hump on its back, pointed ears, round face, claw-like paws (example photo from Internet, photographer unknown).

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Black Bear – Can be black or brown, rounded ears, larger & straighter snout. (example photo from Internet, photographer unknown)









We also were reminded to remove all garbage and food around our campsite (although Adam & I already knew that from our trip to Philmont several years ago).  It was a peaceful night’s sleep knowing that we had properly packed away our “smellables” (toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, non-canned food) in the SUV since we have a soft-sided, pop-up camper; not a hard-side RV.



Hiking at Lake Louise

After a hearty breakfast the next morning, we hiked 3 km along Lake Louise to the opposite side of the famous Lake Louise Fairmont Chateau Hotel.  This was a fairly easy hike and offered great views of the lake. There were rock climbers along the way and horse-back riders for part of the hike too.




Enjoying Emerald Lake

After lunch, we headed to Yoho National Park with its aptly-named Emerald Lake. We rented a couple of canoes ($35 1st hour) and paddled our way all the way across the lake, taking in the beauty of the glaciers and its cold, crystal clear, emerald green water. An hour was plenty to get across & back while also allowing for some extra float time.


After canoeing, Anna convinced me to join her for a 5 km run on the loop around the lake as Cyndi and Adam hung back to read and relax. As the rain tried to creep over the mountain and our “woop-woops” got louder (to scare off the bears), Emerald Lake turned out to be a great way to finish the day before driving the last 1.5 hours to Banff National Park for the night.


5 Replies to “Columbia Icefield & Lake Louise”

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