The opportunities to explore the Columbia Icefield on your own are limited, but with a guided tour—or even a helicopter trip—you can see more of the vast fields of ice, which stretch for miles. Day tours from Jasper, Banff, or Lake Louise generally include a stop at the Icefields Discovery Centre, a ride on a specially equipped Ice Explorer out onto the glacier, and a walk on the Glacier Skywalk. The Skywalk gives brave visitors the chance to venture out 918 feet (280 meters) above the Sunwapta Valley on a glass-bottom walkway.
Things to Know Before You Go
The Columbia Icefield is a must for nature enthusiasts and first-time visitors to Banff or Jasper.
Bring closed-toe shoes with a solid grip for walking on the ice.
Tote a jacket or sweater, as it can be chilly, even in the summer.
The Icefields Discovery Centre and the Skywalk are fully accessible. Book a wheelchair-accessible shuttle in advance.
How to Get There
The Columbia Icefield is on Alberta’s Icefields Parkway, 82 miles (132 kilometers) north of Lake Louise and 66 miles (106 kilometers) south of Jasper. The parkway can be treacherous in winter and may close due to snowstorms. Taking a tour that includes transportation enables you to enjoy the stunning scenery without the worry of driving.
When to Get There
The attractions at the Columbia Icefield are open from June until October. During the summer, afternoons are the busiest periods, particularly on weekends. Quieter times are in the morning and after 3pm. Check opening hours, as they vary throughout the season.
Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier
Columbia is the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies and comprises eight major glaciers, the most accessible (and most visited) of which is the Athabasca Glacier. It is the tongue of the Athabasca Glacier that you can see from the Discovery Centre. The Columbia Icefield sits on the Continental Divide and is called the “mother of rivers,” as the meltwaters from the Athabasca and Saskatchewan glaciers flow north, west, and east into major Canadian rivers.