Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Jasper Has an Ice Cave - For Real!

I love following local photographers, hikers, and bloggers on Instagram because I get new ideas for places I should check out close to home.  This winter, one of those places was the Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefield Centre.  As I looked at photograph after photograph of the new ice cave at the toe of the glacier, I knew I had to see it for myself - and take my son to see it of course.

Disclaimer: This ice cave at the toe of the Athabasca Glacier collapsed years ago. You won't find any ice caves on this glacier right now. The recent photos you've likely seen on Instagram are from different ice caves and I'm afraid I can't help you with directions to find them.

The Ice Cave at the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier, Jasper National Park

I don't know that we would have taken the long 3.5 hour drive from Calgary to see the ice cave in a day trip but we were staying at the nearby Hilda Wilderness Hostel for Easter and the Icefield Centre was a short 5 minute drive from where we were staying!  Hello glacier hike!!

In summer you'd drive this road to get closer to the Athabasca  Glacier
Hiking across Glacier Moraines towards the toe of the Athabasca Glacier

What and Where is the Columbia Icefield Centre? This is a big tourist hub from where you can take the big snow coach bus tours onto the Athabasca Glacier in summer.  It's located roughly half way between Lake Louise and Jasper. More information can be found on the Brewster Travel Canada website. 

Approaching the Athabasca Glacier

Family-Friendly Glacier Hike

From either the winter or summer parking lot, it's a short hike to the toe of the glacier or to the moraines overlooking it.  It's perfectly safe for families because you don't step ON the glacier.  You stay safely in front of it on the rock and you don't cross fences that tell you to stay back.  If you want to actually go on the glacier itself, you need to take a Glacier Adventure Tour with Brewster Travel Canada (who did not sponsor this story but deserve a shout out for their great tours.)

This is the start of the hiking trail in summer

The hiking trail is only 1.8km long to the toe of the glacier (add half a kilometre in winter) and is feasible by most families.  For more information, follow this link to the Parks Canada website where you'll find a detailed description of the hike for the "Toe of the Athabasca Glacier."

You can also find a map of the Icefields on the Icefields Parkway Travel Guide

Hiking across the glacier Moraines to the Ice Cave

Finding the Ice Cave

To find the ice cave, hike towards the toe of the glacier and then hike off to your right across the rocks and moraines.  You should see it in the distance.  In the photos you can see us hiking towards it.

Getting closer to the cave
Found the Ice Cave
We found the ice cave - and that's as far as my son got to go

Is it Safe? No.  Not really anyway.  I went inside but I would not let my son go inside.  And I don't know anybody else who has let their kids go inside this winter either.  In theory, it could crash down at any second.  So, if you're going under for a photo, do it quick and get out.

Standing in the Ice Cave
View from within the Ice Cave

From the cave, we meandered our way back down to the parking lot and it felt like Noah was learning basic glacier travel as he descended the snowy moraines kicking steps and sliding on his bum when safe.  It was a lot of fun and a great outing.

Descending our way back to the parking lot

If you want to visit the ice cave, I recommend going now because I don't think it's always there.  I've never seen it before anyway, and have only started hearing about it this winter.  Glaciers change every year so who knows what you might find next year.

Further Recommended Reading:

Easter at the BEST Wilderness Hostel in the Canadian Rockies (Hilda Creek near the Columbia Icefield Centre)

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park (Summer adventures on the Icefields Parkway)

Moving on to Big Adventures - and the Kids get to Come Along (Fall adventures at Hilda Creek)

Tots on Ice (Athabasca Glacier Snow Coach Tour)

Spring Adventures on Alberta's Icefields Parkway

Spring on the Icefields Parkway from the Hilda Creek Hostel


  1. wow this is so cool! do you know if it is still there this year?

    1. as far as I know it is still there.

    2. I visited Athabasca Glacier on 14 June 2016 and I can confirm it was still there, even in summer. I asked a number of Ice Explorer guides about it though and was surprised to find that they had very little interest in the cave - most didn't know if it had ever been explored or was being photographed etc.

      I really wanted to go closer for a better look but I have the distinct impression that somebody would have raised an alarm etc. if I'd tried to step out underneath the rope sectioning off the main area. It may be different in winter when everything is covered in snow and there are fewer tourists.

    3. Thanks so much for confirming that it's there in summer too. And yes, if you have to step underneath the rope area, it would be harder to access. In winter it is not roped off and easy to get to. And it's not on the actual glacier so in winter it's perfectly safe to walk to.

    4. @MrPepperberry - thanks for the update. what is the condition of the trail in summer? is it dry or on snow? Is it straight forward to get to? Do you need any crampons. Would love to see any photos based on recent trip if you have. I'm heading out there in about 3 weeks.

  2. So glad I found your post, so informative! Want to visit here next weekend while in Jasper considering we seem to have had a milder winter this year, is it free to access? Would you recommend renting snow boots / cleats to do this hike?

    1. Yes it's free to access the ice cave and I'd suggest snow boots and cleats at the most. Maybe not even cleats. Definitely no snowshoes.

    2. Thanks! Do you remember roughly what the temperature was like when you guys went last year?

    3. Probably just below zero. It wasn't super cold but we were definitely bundled.

  3. Thank you for the informative post. From your past experience, would you recommend going in the cave if the temperature has been relatively warmer around -5 degrees lately?



    1. It's never entirely "safe" to go inside the cave. In theory, it could collapse at any time. I didn't let my son go in, nor do I know anybody who has let their kids go in. If you go in, take your photo quickly, and get out. Best advice.

  4. This is amazing! Do you know how long it would take from the Columbia glacier center to the ice cave by walk? And is it colder than other place in jasper?

    1. The ice cave is located right at the glacier center. The parking area is opposite from the glacier centre on the other side of the highway. From the parking area, it's a short 10 minute walk maybe.
      Note that the glacier centre is closed in winter. Everything there is closed. Just a winter parking lot to hike up and see the glacier.

      And yes, it's usually a bit colder, snowier, and more "arctic" feeling.

  5. I believe this cave collapsed :( but I am hoping I am wrong.

    1. I heard that too but things change every year so you never know what could happen next winter. Ice is always moving.
      Tanya, Rockies Family Adventures