Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Day Trip to the Columbia Icefields Centre to Walk on a Glacier

Back in my more adventurous days I used to wake up at ungodly hours to trudge up glaciers for what's known in the mountaineering world as an "alpine start." Fast forward several years, and an alpine start becomes a more respectable 6am for a family glacier day.

Day Trip to the Columbia Icefields Centre to Walk on a Glacier


Day Trip to the Columbia Icefields Centre


We took an overnight trip to the Columbia Icefields Centre back in April but got snowed out for our glacier adventure tour (and as it turns out, visibility is highly desirable for glacier walks.)

We still wanted to do the tour and to get out on the Athabasca Glacier this year, so we decided to make a "power trip" up to Jasper, leaving at 6am the morning of our tour, and returning later that afternoon (after stopping a few times to explore on the way home.)

Power Day Trip to walk on the Athabasca Glacier, Jasper National Park 

Is it Really Possible to Visit the Icefields Centre as a Day Trip from Calgary?? 


From Calgary, it is roughly a 3.5 hour drive to the Columbia Icefields Centre on the border of Banff and Jasper National Parks. We had a glacier adventure tour booked for 10:00 am, so for us, that meant leaving Calgary around 6:00 am so that we'd have time to check in and get ready for our tour.

So, yes, it's doable to make it to the Icefields Centre from Calgary as a day trip, but I would recommend booking a later tour time so you don't have to speed! (and so you have time to enjoy the drive along the Icefields Parkway without stressing out over slow drivers in front of you, that you can never seem to pass.)

With views like this, you want to take your time on the drive (photo: Glacier Skywalk Viewpoint)

Our Glacier Adventure Tour


We'd booked our tour ahead of time and already had our tour time selected for us. This made it very easy to show up 10-15 minutes early, walk straight up to the loading area, and wait for the staff to call our tour time. (You do not have to go anywhere near the crowded tour desk.)

We then loaded a tour bus which drove us to the staging area for the Athabasca Glacier. From the staging area, we stepped onto a giant snow coach ice explorer which would drive us up the glacier to a safe cleared area, free of crevasses, and relatively flat for walking around on.

Walking on the Athabasca Glacier, Jasper National Park 

We had half an hour on the glacier (which is plenty of time) to take photos, walk around, check out the interpretive displays, and examine the giant ice explorers (You've got to try fitting inside one of the bus tires just for fun.)

Our Glacier Transportation on a giant Ice Explorer

After our glacier adventure, we drove back down to the staging area, boarded the tour bus again, and then headed for the Skywalk Adventure, next up on our itinerary.

Read more about the Glacier Adventure here on the Pursuit Banff Jasper Collection website. 

A very BIG Ice Explorer to travel on the glacier 

Our Glacier Skywalk Tour 


Our tour bus drove us a short ways up the highway to a viewpoint where we could walk out on a glass sidewalk over the edge of a cliff. The views from here are amazing and the experience has a high education component for those who want to borrow a set of headphones and listen to the interpretive tour as they walk the sidewalk up to the viewpoint.

Hanging out on the glass sidewalk of the Glacier Skywalk 

With high energy boys, we didn't really stop to read any of the interpretive signs (and didn't use the headphones,) but we still had a lot of fun on the glass sidewalk.

And as with all visitors, the boys had to sit and lie down on the sidewalk, staring at the ground far below.

Views from the Glacier Skywalk 

5 Reasons we LOVE the Columbia Icefields Glacier Adventure 


The easiest way for a family to walk on a glacier
  1. When was the last time you walked on a glacier? This is the easiest chance you'll get in the Canadian Rockies unless you want to sign up for a mountaineering expedition to go climb something.

  2. You could wake up at 4am and spend hours trudging your way up a glacier, or you can show up at a time that suits your schedule and let a giant bus climb the glacier for you! This is a family-win in my books.

  3. The scenery at the Columbia Icefields Centre is some of the most beautiful in all of Banff and Jasper National Parks. I highly recommend taking family and friends here if they're visiting you this summer.

  4. There are interpretive signs on the glacier explaining different parts of a glacier and hazards for those who dare to venture out across them. The staff are very knowledgeable and they point out all the surrounding mountains, talk about the different kinds of moraines around the glacier, and explain why the landscape looks the way it does. Honestly, it's all very fascinating.

  5. We love stopping here as a rest stop en route to Jasper if we're heading up there for a long weekend. By booking your tour online ahead of time, you can be in and out in less than 2 hours.
Glacier Adventure with my Boo 


Other Fun Hikes, Attractions, and Activities to Enjoy on the Icefields Parkway 


Panther Falls, Banff National Park 
  • Hike the Wilcox Pass Trail, right up above the Icefields Centre (2.4 km return to the first viewpoint)

  • Hike the Parker Ridge Trail, 5.4 km return

  • Stop in for a short hike down to Panther Falls, 1.6 km return from the uppermost parking lot on the big bend

  • Hike Mistaya Canyon, 1.5 km return

  • Hike the Bow Summit Lookout Trail from the Peyto Lake Viewpoint, 5.8 km return

  • Hike around Bow Lake to Bow Glacier Falls, 9.2 km return

  • Stop in for some swimming at Herbert Lake 

Herbert Lake, Banff National Park 

Recommended Reading 






Wilcox Pass Hike, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park 




Bow Summit Lookout Hike, Banff National Park 

Tips for Visiting the Columbia Icefields Centre 


- Always book a tour time ahead of your visit. Otherwise, you risk showing up to find a 3 hour wait ahead of you (or all tour times sold out for the day.)

- Dress for snow and ice! Pack a light pair of gloves, a warm hat, a sweater, and maybe even an insulated jacket. We lucked out and it was warm the day of our visit. This is not always the case.

- Expect wind. It is always windy at the Icefields Centre

- Pack a cooler with food, snacks, and lunch. The cafeteria gets very overcrowded. I also recommend bringing drinks and a large thermos with coffee so you don't have to wait in line for that either.

- Make a day of it! Plan a hike after your tour, stop at a viewpoint or two, or even bring the swimsuits and stop in at Herbert Lake on your way home (everybody's favourite swimming lake on the Icefields Parkway.)

Peyto Lake, Icefields Parkway 

Disclaimer: Our tour was provided for us by Pursuit Tours. As always, all words and opinions are my own. 



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