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July 26, 2005
From journal 25th anniversary -- Second Honeymoon
May 29, 2005
The Columbia Icefield is one of the largest accumulations of ice and snow south of the Artic Circle. Lying in the middle of this 125-square-mile ice field is the Athabasca Glacier, which can be seen from the Icefields Parkway, and is easily accessible either by snocoach or walking.
When planning our trip, the snocoach tour caught my eye as something fun to do. We arrived at the Icefields Visitor Center and went inside to locate the restrooms and have a look around. We found the Snocoach Tours, a Parks Canada information desk, a gift shop, and the hotel’s front desk on the main floor. The second floor had a full dining room, an overpriced cafeteria, and a café with snacks/drinks. The third floor housed the 32 hotel rooms.
We went to purchase tickets, and after looking at the lines, stepped back to reevaluate. People were everywhere in an area that resembled an airport departure lounge, waiting for their assigned departure time. As we stared out the window and contemplated what to do, I suddenly suggested that we climb the glacier! Our friend Chris and my husband stared at me while I explained that we could get some exercise, save over $90, and have an unforgettable experience!
We drove across the road, passing year markers that showed where the glacier once had been. (It once was up to the visitor center’s steps). We grabbed our cameras, coats, and gloves and set out on a dirt and gravel path that snaked its way uphill to the glacier’s toe. As we climbed, the temperature became much colder, and suddenly, we were in ankle-deep snow. We had reached the glacier’s toe! An area marked by cones had been deemed safe for climbers, so up we went, stopping along the way to catch our breath, take photos, and enjoy the moment. Climbing straight uphill on the glacier was not easy, but coming downhill was even harder. Once we finished, we were tired but exhilarated! Many comments have been made since about me "being cheap," but what the heck, we climbed a Canadian Rockies glacier!
The snocoach tickets are C$32 (ages 16+), C$16 for children (ages 6 to 15), and free for those under 6 years old when sharing an adult’s seat. The snocoach travels a road that runs parallel to the Athabasca Glacier and then travels a short distance out onto the glacier. The Icefields Visitor Center is open mid-April to mid-October, with tours leaving every 15 to 30 minutes during the hours of 9am to 5pm April–September and 10am to 5pm in October. Reservations aren’t required, but this is tour bus heaven, so it is always busy/crowded. Allow at least 1.5 hours for the snocoach excursion.
Columbia Icefields is 80 miles north of Lake Louise and 60 miles south of Jasper on the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93 North). Provided you don’t stop to take advantage of the beautiful scenery around you, drive time is approximately 2 hours from Banff, 1 hours from Jasper, and 3.5 hours from Calgary.
From journal Oh Canada! How we loved the Rockies!
Vancouver, British Columbia
August 14, 2003
From journal Alpine April--A wonderful week in Banff
by Gerry May
July 10, 2003
Plan ahead if you want to take some of the more extensive hikes. Consider quick scenic stops along the route Bow Lake, with the unusual Num-ti-jah Lodge, and Bow Summit for the origin of the Bow River. After crossing Route 11, the only real highway that intersects the parkway, you might be ready for a pit stop. The Crossings is the only truly commercial stop on the parkway and includes a motel, a cafeteria, a gift shop, and gas. The next food is 45km farther along. After awhile the road will make a big, looping turn to the left before turning right and starting to climb. In the middle of the climb, a pullout on the right side of the road is worth a stop. This stop allows a nice view back down the North Saskatchewan Valley and a view of Panther Falls on the nearby mountainside.
Shortly you will go over the mountain pass and enter Jasper National Park. The park pass that you have for Banff works here as well. The Icefields Center is next. This is where the Athabasca Glacier extends down fairly close to the road. Now you have a choice. You can take a ride in a modified bus called a SnoCoach (about C$26 for adults), which will take you well up onto the glacier. The tour leaders are very informative, and you will get a chance to walk around in a limited section of the glacier. The alternate way to get to the glacier is to park across the road by the glacial lake and hike up onto the end of the glacier. The SnoCoach takes you much farther up the glacier, but the hike is cheaper. We took the SnoCoach and found it informative and enjoyable. The many tour busses start arriving around 10am, so an early start will get you on the glacier before the thousands of others.
Leaving the Icefields Center, you will pass more interesting scenery. The next "must-see" stop is Athabasca Falls on the left. Unlike the long, skinny Panther Falls, Athabasca is a high-volume falls that has worn its way through the solid rock. A short paved walk with some stairs leads to several overlooks.
Shortly after the falls you will come to the town of Jasper. We made only a quick lunch stop here but found the town pleasant and less commercial than Banff.
From journal A Week in the Canadian Rockies
October 21, 2000
From journal Wonderful Canda--Banff, Jasper