For these hikes, travel 30 to 120 km south from Jasper along Highway 93, the Icefields Parkway. There are no gas stations between Jasper and Saskatchewan Crossing (154 km south of Jasper), so be sure you have enough fuel.
Highlights along the way: Athabasca Falls (31 km from Jasper), Sunwapta Falls (54 km), and Tangle Falls (99 km).
Rugged mountain terrain and alpine vegetation make the area around the Columbia Icefield exceptionally beautiful, but temperatures are cool and winds are often strong. Showers of cold rain are frequent, and wet snow is always a possibility, even in midsummer. Be sure to pack an extra sweater, gloves, and a jacket with a hood.
Day use area
Trailhead: 31 km (20 min) south of Jasper, Junction of
Hwy 93 and 93A
Feel the spray of the Athabasca River as it thunders into the canyon below. Stay on designated trails and behind railings. The rock beyond is slippery and dangerous.
Lower Sunwapta Falls
Trail 125 (moderate); 2.6 km return;
elevation gain/loss: 87 m; 1 hour
Trailhead: 54 km (30 min) south of Jasper on Hwy 93
Lower Sunwapta Falls is composed of three major waterfalls. The combination of solitude and open views to the surrounding mountains make this short hike very rewarding.
Trail 53 (moderate); 3.6 km return; minimal elevation gain; 1 hour
Trailhead: Directly across from the Icefield Centre.
The trail crosses the forefield of the glacier: the barren area exposed by glacial melt since the mid-1840s. It's a strange landscape of bare rock, boulders and moraines. Conditions are extreme here, but hardy alpine plants have gained a foothold. Please help to protect them by staying on the trail. Wear sturdy shoes and bring a jacket for crossing this rocky, breezy terrain. Be prepared to turn back: meltwater streams flow across the trail, and on warmer days they can get large enough to cause problems.
Toe of the Athabasca Glacier
Trail 52 (moderate); 1.8 km return; 60 m elevation gain/loss; 1 hour
Trailhead: Across from the Icefield Centre, at end of Toes of the Glacier Road.
Bring a jacket, gloves and a warm cap to ward off the cold glacial wind. Once across the bridge over a meltwater stream from the glacier, you're walking at times on glacially smoothed limestone surfaces that were under the ice in the 1950s. Scratches and gouges in the rock are aligned with the ice flow. The trail steepens and reaches the top of a rock bench, where you can see the edge of the glacier just ahead.
Walking on the Athabasca Glacier is not safe. The ice at the toe of the glacier is hollow and is collapsing. The underlying water is extremely cold and fast moving.
Over the years several people have died from falling into crevasses. These ice cold cracks in the ice are hidden below a thin covering of snow that may collapse under a person’s weight.
Trail 50 (moderate); 2.4 km return to the first viewpoint, 1 hour; 8 km return to the pass, elevation gain/loss 390 m, 2-3 hours
Trailhead: The parking area on the left-hand side of the Wilcox Creek Campground entrance road, 3.1 km south of the Icefield Centre.
To avoid an impassable canyon on the Sunwapta River north of the Athabasca Glacier, aboriginal families and later travellers on horseback used this bypass route, now named for early Rockies climber Walter Wilcox.
The first kilometre of the trail is fairly steep, but it gets easier as you cross the treeline and reach the wide-open pass area. Watch for bighorn rams in the flowery meadows. There are grand views all along this stretch of trail. Note: the pass area can be snowy until late July.
Trail 51 (moderate); 5.4 km return; 250 m elevation gain/loss; 3 hour round trip
Trailhead: 9 km south of the Icefield Centre on Highway 93, past Hilda Creek Hostel.
This well-defined trail switchbacks 275 m up a moderate grade to the top of a tundra-clad ridge above the treeline. Keep going over the top and slightly down the other side for a remarkable eagle's-eye view of the Saskatchewan Glacier. In good weather the source of the glacier is visible off to the right: the southern part of the Columbia Icefield and Castleguard Mountain (3077m). Across the glacier the highest summit is Mt. Saskatchewan (3342 m). From mid-July to mid-August you'll see blue alpine forget-me-nots and cushions of pink moss campion on Parker Ridge. Mountain goats use the area.
This trail is very popular, so it's important to follow the established pathway. Short-cutting damages the delicate alpine vegetation and leads to erosion of the thin soil cover, especially in spring, when the trail may be closed.
Trail 130 (moderate); 14.4 km return; 365 m elevation gain/loss; 5 hour round trip
Trailhead: 13 km south of the Icefield Centre, park at the start of a gated road on the left (east) side of Highway 93. Please do not block the gate.
After a short walk downhill along the road, the trail branches to the right and crosses Nigel Creek. From there you pass through subalpine forest, cross several shrubby avalanche tracksno danger in summerand reach meadows that offer views of Mt. Athabasca, Parker Ridge, Nigel Peak and Mt. Saskatchewan. The final kilometre to the pass is fairly steep; total elevation gain for the day is 320 m. If you walk a half-kilometre beyond the pass, you are rewarded with a fine view eastward into the Brazeau River back-country.