The Columbia Ice Fields are a great day trip from Lake Louise. You can make the round trip in 6-7 hours (driving time to the glacier is roughly 1.5 hours). This is one of the few places in the world that you can safely journey to the middle of a glacier and walk around. You begin the tour at the visitor center. It is wise to check the snocoach schedules before you leave or when you first arrive, that way you can tour the visitor center at the correct pace. It is enjoyable and educational, providing a context for the history, nature and geography of the Canadian glaciers. When your scheduled snocoach trip is ready, you report to the parking lot for boarding. These are not your average buses. Each bus rides on six huge wheels. The vehicle is specially designed not only to travel on glacial ice but also to travel up and down extremely steep slopes. The driver explained that the bus will actually stop on the steepest slope (up or down) if pressure is released from the accelerator pedal. This was a feature created to prevent run-away buses from careening down the ice roads. You will appreciate this design when you descend from the entry road to the glacier itself.
After a narrated transit from the visitor center to the ice fields, the bus stops and allows the passengers to get out and walk on the glacier. If it were not for the diligent safety inspections, this would be extremely dangerous because the ice is constantly changing with new fractures (i.e., crevasses) opening and closing from day to day. Your first impression of the amount of change that is occuring comes when the driver explains how large the glacier was just 80 years ago. You look up from the road and visualize the huge area encased in ice. The ice expands in the winter, but it shrinks by a greater volume each summer; thus, it is gradually melting away. The second impression that we experience was watching avalanches on the mountains around us, including snow and ice on glaciers above the ice field in the surrounding mountains. It is amazing to ponder the fact that you are standing on a sheet of ice hundreds or more feet deep with water trapped from time immemorial.