The 75 year old Icefields Parkway is without doubt one of the most spectacular mountain driving roads in the world as it traverses the rugged Canadian Rockies. A trip along Highway 93 in winter (very quiet) or summer (much busier) is an assault on the senses which will leave you breathless and in awe of truly how amazing Mother Nature can be!
The sub-alpine road is filled with so many easily accessible highlights, places to stop and memorable moments that a 3 hour drive can turn into days of adventure. The golden rule on this road is to triple the time you think you need and then add a few more hours just to be safe!
Most travellers will access the Parkway from Highway 1 just outside the village of Lake Louise. The 232 km journey through the pristine mountain environment starts in Banff National Park, and ends in Jasper National Park so make sure you purchase a Parks Canada Parks pass before you hit the tarmac – there are checks!
In the winter months, the road is a frozen wonderland so it is good to ensure you have decent winter tires. The road has no cell phone signal so make sure you pack everything you need, and let someone know where you are venturing to!
The first major highlight of the road trip greets you in a few minutes of your journey. Heading north look left to view Crowfoot Glacier. There is a rest spot at which your camera will make its’ first of many appearances!
Twenty minutes up the road you are in for a real treat. Avoid the temptation to stop on the road pull out and continue on to the left hand turn road which leads to a set of washrooms and the historic Num-Ti-Jah Lodge.
From here you will be able to appreciate the true wonder of this location. The Bow Glacier which is part of the Wapta Icefield is easily visible from the shore of Bow Lake. This glacier forms the source of the Bow River which flows via Calgary to Hudson Bay! There are also plenty of hiking trails including Bow Glacier Falls.
If you thought Bow Lake was an eye opener, wait until you see Peyto Lake! If heading there in winter you will probably need snowshoes to make the 20 minute walk up the snow covered access road to the viewing platform. You might also be lucky enough to capture the Northern Lights, and even a little snow art!
If arriving in the summer months, it’s a pleasant 15 minute stroll up the hill to view one of the undisputed jewels of the Rocky Mountains. Significant amounts of glacial rock flour flow into the lake, and these suspended rock particles give the lake its unique bright, turquoise colour.
Best to go early or late to avoid the tour buses that stop by to wonder at this true beauty of nature in the summer months. Indeed, the lake is best seen from Bow Summit, the highest point on the Icefields Parkway so don’t forget your hiking boots!
The river crossing is also home to the only services on the highway between Lake Louise and Jasper. If you need gas, be prepared to pay a higher price given the isolation of this location.
For those more interested in the huge Saskatchewan River, there is a view point and picnic area just across the road.
At the highest point on the road lies a confluence of 5 glaciers fed by the largest ice sheet outside of the Arctic Circle, the Columbia Icefield, which is about 325 square kilometers (125 sq mi) and up to 325m thick.
What is unique about this location is that you are able to walk upon the Athabasca Glacier via travel one of Brewster’s monster wheeled ice explorers. Be prepared for an 18% degree road (the 2nd steepest in North America) that drops you onto the glacier! Once on the glacier you are able to sample fresh drinking water and take as many photos as your memory card and the allotted 20 minutes will allow.
A recent addition to the Brewster family of Rockies attractions is the Glacier Skywalk. This cliff hugging pathway extends via a glass path over the valley to leave those with a fear of heights clinging to the railings. The walk offers unrestricted views of the valley and the Columbia Icefield above, and is a nice add on to the “must do” glacier tour if time allows.
You might be also lucky enough to encounter some of the locals. Give them some space and they might give you a smile!
There are many more highlights on the Icefields Parkway which we will leave up to you to discover such as Helen Lake, Parker Ridge and Mistaya Canyon – we don’t want to ruin all the Parkway’s surprises!
Our advice is take your time, bring a tent or even ride your bike if you don’t mind uphill climbs. Whatever happens don’t rush the Icefields Parkway – it’s a magic place to evoke your sense of wonder!
As the leaves turn and our first Whistler summer comes to a close, it’s time for a blog post that summarizes the three months of awesomeness that is summer in the sea to sky corridor. This post isn’t about those spots that involve a helicopter flight followed by a three day bike ride followed by an ambitious feat of mountaineering to find (although many locals live for summer adventures like this.) It’s about those more mellow experiences that might be considered ‘touristy’, are easily accessible to all, but come summer time are on the don’t-miss list of every Whistlerite.
1. Floating, on a lake
You know those fluro-orange and yellow boats that you can pick up at your local Walmart for $20? Little did we know that our inflatable boat would become our most trusty companion this summer. The Explorer 200 is pretty much a Whistler summer icon in its own right.
It’s simple really – escape work, pack your Explorer, a pump (essential), snacks (recommended), a good book or a fascinating floating companion and beers cunningly disguised in water bottles, and you have all the ingredients for a perfect evening in Whistler. Whether you choose Lost Lake, Alta Lake, Nita Lake or Alpha Lake, there’s plenty of options that all offer calm waters on which to float and gorgeous mountain views to admire.
2. Floating, on a river
Looking for some wilder Explorer action? You’re ready to brave the River of Golden Dreams. The nemesis of the Explorer 200, for every inflatable boat that survives this epic journey, another five are torn to pieces by rogue logs or an unexpected beaver dam. Starting from the launch spot at the bottom of Lorimer Road and ending at Meadow Park, this 5 km float takes around three hours to complete, and features stunning views around every corner, fun times, new friends, dubious rowing techniques, some stretches of floating relaxation and much drama as you attempt to avoid getting tangled up in bushes or caught on rocks. Whether your Explorer survives it or not, it’s a Whistler must-do.
A few River of Golden Dreams tips. Leave your Go Pro at home or it is likely to be lost to the Whistler waters forever. Pack your pump and a puncture repair kit for emergencies. Pick your time in the summer wisely – go too early and the spring melt rapids might be more than the Explorer can handle. Go too late and you’ll spend half the journey wading through the shallow waters. And finally – if your Explorer does become a victim of the river, take it home and dispose of it safely. The number of abandoned Explorers on the side of the river this year made us a little sad.
3. Scandinave Spa
I know, I know, we’re more than a little biased (as our regular readers know, one of us works for the Scandinave Spa) but, continuing on the water theme, the Scandinave Spa really is a summer essential. Refreshing cold plunges in which to cool off on a scorching afternoon, hammocks to sway-the-day-away in, terraces with spectacular views where you can sit and contemplate life – the Scandinave Spa is the antidote to action packed summer burn out. Tip – visit on a weekday at the start of the day or in the evening and it can feel like your own private spa.
Given the high population of Aussies here in Whistler, it’s no surprise that come summer time BBQs are a way of life. Indeed visit Alpine Meadows on a sunny July evening and you’ll probably find no end of locals willing to throw a shrimp on the barbie for you. But if you’re looking to treat yourself to something a little higher end, there’s two stand-out options.
Firstly, there’s Whistler Blackcomb’s Mountain Top BBQ – the ultimate summertime dinner with a view. Time it right and you can ride up the Blackcomb chairlift for some bear-spotting, experience the incredible feat of engineering that is the Peak2Peak gondola, have a stroll and enjoy some photo opps on the Whistler mountain trails– and then enjoy a feast. Whether it’s Whole Hog Fridays, Prime Rib Saturdays or Pacific Seafood Sundays, the buffet format has something for everyone. Then it’s just up to you to grab a chilled glass of wine from the bar, pick a patio table and enjoy the 360 degree views. Just one tip – dress warm – a baking hot day in the village does not equal a balmy evening at 6000 ft.
Secondly, (our personal favourite), is the Thursday night BBQ at the Four Seasons hotel. Similarly priced to the Mountain Top BBQ, what it lacks in views, it makes up for in outstanding food quality and selection, with grilled salmon, Korean ribs, roasted suckling pig and a whole host of salads and sides. And yes, you are allowed seconds (and thirds…). Add music from local duo the Hairfarmers and the legendary Four Seasons service standards, and you have the perfect Thursday night.
5. Embrace Events
Wanderlust (yoga). Ironman (crazy dudes and dudettes swimming, cycling and running some intense distances). Crankworx (even crazier dude and dudettes dropping epic moves in the bike park). Whistler Half Marathon (fun and awesome runners). Go Fest (outdoor activities on snow, land and water). Whistler Presents Concert series (great music). Gran Fondo (cyclists in tight lycra). If you live in Whistler, it feels like there is a world class event every weekend.
To be a true Whistler local you must do the following. Complain to anyone who will listen about the traffic and how busy the village is. Then throw yourself into the event, cheering athletes on, dancing to music, having your mind blown at the local and international talent, attending parties and enjoying the energy and buzz that these productions bring to our town. Top tip – buy some cow bells to show you’re a serious supporter!
6. And finally….hit the trails
Biking trails or hiking trails, there’s a plethora of them to choose from in the sea to sky corridor including Joffre Lakes, Garibaldi Lake and the Stawamus Chief. They are free to use, fantastic exercise and for us, what a Whistler summer is really about – so look out for some separate posts on what to do on two feet or two wheels in our hood. And let’s not forget the Valley Trail. A perfectly formed network of easy paved trails that provide the best commute in the world, the Valley Trail is the only way to get around Whistler in summer – for people and sometimes a bear.
So that’s our list of Whistler summer mellow must dos. Whistler locals and weekend warriors, what’s on your list?