Is the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure Tour Worth It?

The Columbia Icefield Adventure Tour (also called the Athabasca Glacier Tour) on the Icefields Parkway is one of the most popular attractions along the famed route. Huge icefield explorer vehicles transport guests to the base of Athabasca Glacier, allowing them to get up close and personal with the glacier. For many, it’s the experience of a lifetime that leaves lasting memories.

It’s not a cheap experience, as adult tickets are over 100 dollars, and the tour can take several hours. As it’s a significant cost, we get a lot of questions about our opinion of the tour. Let’s break down the experience along with the pros and cons.

What is the Full Tour?

Natasha Stands On Athabasca Glacier In Front Of Ice Explorer Vehicles

The Athabasca Glacier tour can be a bit confusing to understand; a lot is happening at this little meeting point between Banff and Jasper. When talking about the Athabasca Glacier/Columbia Icefield Adventure Tour, we’re referring to a tour run by Pursuit. The Adventure Tour is comprised of two experiences. It’s essentially a combo tour that includes the Ice Explorer Tour on the Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefield Skywalk overlooking the Sunwapta Valley. The tour departs from the Glacier Discover Centre.

Do I Have to Do It as a Combo?

Cameron on the Columbia Icefield Adventure Tour

It’s not possible to purchase tickets for the Ice Explorer Vehicles separately. All Ice Explorer tours automatically include admission to the Skywalk. However, purchasing just a Columbia Icefield Skywalk ticket is possible if you want to enjoy the Skywalk and not the Ice Explorer.

Ice Explorer Truck Experience

The Ice Explorer Vehicles Parked On The Athabasca Glacier

The Ice Explorer is the most popular tour and experience on the Athabasca Glacier. The tour takes visitors high up the Glacier and drops them off on the Glacier to experience it firsthand. This is done with massive trucks that drive up and down the steep moraines of the Glacier before driving to a designated area where passengers can get out and touch and drink from the glacier.

The designated area is a roped-off area free of crevasses that is safe to explore. Granted, it’s certainly not a vast space. However, as they only allow visitors to stop here for 20 minutes, it keeps people moving through, so there’s always plenty of space to accommodate everyone.

Icefield Explorer Tour on the Athabasca Glacier

When you are on the Glacier, you can drink straight from it and take as many photos as you want. It’s certainly an incredible experience. Guides are on site to answer any questions. At nearly $100, it’s one of the more expensive experiences you can have, but this also includes tickets to the Skywalk.

The Columbia Icefield Skywalk Experience

A View Of The Icefields Skywalk

After stepping foot on the Athabasca Glacier, you’ll be transported to the Skywalk. This is a glass-bottomed bridge just north of the Athabasca Icefield. Depending on your ticketed time, you’ll board a bus at the Glacier Discovery Centre that will drive you to the Skywalk. There is nowhere to park at the Skywalk, so you cannot drive there yourself. You must get on the buses to the Skywalk, which may prolong your time at this stop.

The actual Skywalk is about 6 km from the Glacier Discovery Centre and doesn’t quite offer views of Mount Athabasca or the Glacier; instead, it offers fantastic views of the Sunwapta Valley.

Natasha Looks Over Edge A Cloudy Day On Icefields Skywalk
Stuck in the clouds on the Skywalk

The whole Skywalk is a kilometer-long walk. The first bits of the walk move through informative displays where you can learn about the Rockies and even the building of the Skywalk—quite an engineering feat! Guests are given audio guides in multiple languages, which you can listen to and follow.

Eventually, you’ll reach the glass-bottom bridge, which is a thrilling walk, especially if you fear heights. Don’t worry, though. There is no need to worry about safety, as these glass panels are literally bulletproof and then some. However, that doesn’t mean looking down at the valley floor 300 meters below isn’t heart-stopping.

Is the Adventure Tour Worth The Cost?

Early Morning On The Icefields Parkway, Mount Athabasca & Andromeda
View out to Athabasca Glacier from the Discovery Centre

At $109, it’s not a cheap experience and it’s one of the most expensive experiences you can have in the Rockies – and the most costly Pursuit offering. The only main paid attraction it’s cheaper than is canoeing on Lake Louise or canoeing on Moraine Lake. Pursuit’s website offers numerous deals, including one for families, one for Albertans, and one for off-peak savings.

We have enjoyed every experience around Mount Athabasca, including the Ice Explorer and Skywalk. We’ve booked an Icewalk Experience, hiked near the Glacier, camped near the Glacier at the Columbia Icefield Campground, and even summited Mount Athabasca.

Perhaps we are the wrong people to ask, but we would give the Athabasca Glacier Icefield Adventure Tour a skip. It’s not a bad experience, and plenty of people absolutely love it, but to us, it’s a very commercialized experience in the Canadian Rockies. We’ll break down our pros and cons below.

Our Cons:

It’s expensive. Not much in the Canadian Rockies is cheap, but a family of four would spend nearly $400 on this experience. Yikes!

The whole tour takes a while. Between parking at the Discovery Centre, checking in, getting transported onto the Ice Explorer Vehicles, 20 minutes on the Glacier, being transferred to the Skywalk, 45 minutes on the Skywalk, and returning to the Discovery Centre, the whole experience can easily take 4 hours. Driving the Icefields Parkway is already a full-day experience, so we think this is quite a long time to spend between the two activities.

It’s not environmentally friendly. When you get to Athabasca Glacier, you’ll undoubtedly be in awe of its beauty, but that Glacier has retreated a bit in the past 100 years, and there are photos to prove it. It seems pretty ironic to show these photos while also running large trucks burning fossil fuels right next to the ice, but I’m no scientist.

A Historic Photo Of Athabasca Glacier In 1930
Athabasca Glacier in the 1930s. Courtesy of Glenbow Library and Archives Collection

It’s not much glacier time: While visitors can spend as long as they want on the Skywalk, they are only given 20 minutes to walk on the glacier. The designated area is quite small, so 20 minutes is enough time. Though we feel that $109 is quite a bit to spend for this time.

It’s very commercial: The buses can hold up to 56 passengers and run all day. That is a lot of people in the area, especially during the peak summer season. For a national park that is all about conservation, recreation, and reconnection to our wild spaces, experiences like this feel like the opposite.


You get to experience a glacier! Learning about glaciers is exceptionally important, and for many, the best way to learn about them and the role climate change has on them is to see them up close and experience them. The huge amount the glacier has receded is terrifying and seems to worsen every season, which is important to learn about.

It’s a safe and controlled experience: Unlike some activities in the Rockies, like skiing, scrambling, or hiking, the whole Athabasca Adventure Tour is a safe and controlled glacier experience.

The vehicle tech is impressive: The Ice Explorer travels on extreme off-road terrain, including a steep moraine slope, before venturing onto the glacier. On our last tour, our driver told us it was the steepest non-paved descent in Canada. These vehicles hold 56 passengers and have absolutely massive low-pressure tires for on-road and off-road adventures. They have huge windows that are great for viewing out the window. It’s a vehicle I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world.

The engineering is amazing: There’s no question about it. The Columbia Icefield Skywalk is an impressive structural engineering work featuring a 30m curved glass walkway extending 35m from the cliff face and 280m above the Sunwapta Valley. RJC Engineers, the team behind the Skywalk, had their work cut out for them and certainly delivered.

A Kid Walks Along The Icefield Skywalk
Kids on the Skywalk

Kids love it: If you have kids, both experiences will surely WOW them. We consider the Adventure Tour one of the best things to do with kids in the Canadian Rockies. It’s a bonus that it gets them to learn about glaciers early.

It’s Accessible: One-quarter of the Explorer fleet’s vehicles are extra-long and have a special wheelchair lift. Each vehicle can accommodate up to two wheelchairs at a time. The Skywalk is also intentionally designed to be entirely flat and accessible to people using wheelchairs, pushchairs, and walkers, ensuring that all visitors to the park can have an enjoyable experience! This is a huge plus for us, as our wild spaces are for everyone.

Tour Alternatives

Book an Icewalk Experience

Guests Of Rockaboo Glacier Tour Stand Next To A Crevase On Athabasca Glacier
Guests Of Rockaboo Glacier Icewalk Tour Stand Next To A Crevase On Athabasca Glacier

You don’t have to take the massive Ice Explorer vehicles to walk on the Glacier. Instead, you can book an Ice walk tour if you are fit and able. An Ice Walk tour is a much more personal experience, with a certified guide that will safely take you on the glacier and provide insights and explanations of what you are looking at. We highly recommend booking an Ice Walk tour and not trying to walk on the glacier yourself, which can be very unsafe. If you want to actually repel into a crevasse on your glacier experience, Rockaboo is the only guiding company certified to do that.

Hike to the Toe of the Glacier

The Road That Leads To The Toe Of The Athabasca Glacier

The best free option is to hike to the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier, which can be reached easily from the parking area. This short hike is less than a 2km round trip and has less than 100 meters of elevation gain from the parking area.

Hike Wilcox Pass

A Photo Of Mount Athabasca From Wilcox Pass

Wilcox Pass is a moderate half-day hike that offers mesmerizing glacial views over the Columbia Icefields. The hike gains a pass across from Mount Athabasca and Andromeda, two of the tallest mountains in the Canadian Rockies.

Hike Parker Ridge

Cameron Sits On A Rock And Looks Out To Glacier From Parker Ridge
The view from Parker Ridge

Parker Ridge is my favorite hike along the Parkway, and I recommend that most people try it if they have a few hours to spare and are prepared for a hike. Located near the Columbia Icefields Center, hikers can reach the ridge after a gradual 2.5 km climb. The trail is easy and well-marked, with no technical or scrambling involved.

This makes it an excellent walk for people of all ages and skill levels, from young couples to families with children and dogs. Once at the ridge, you’ll get the most impressive views of the Saskatchewan Glacier and a beautiful blue glacier lake.

Book Your Tickets

TheBanffBlog on the Columbia Icefield Adventure Tour-3

We hope this has helped you decide what to do with your time on the Icefields Parkway and whether to book the Adventure Tour.

If you decide to go for the tour, we are sure you will have a great time! Tickets for the experiences operate on time slots, so purchasing your tickets in advance is best to avoid a long wait or the tickets being sold out entirely. You can book tickets online, but I wouldn’t recommend booking too far in advance as, similar to Banff Gondola and Jasper Skytram, your experience can vary significantly with the weather due to poor visibility.

Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies

  • Tours (New in 2024): The Banff Blog is partnering with one of the leading tour companies in Western Canada so readers can experience the magic of the Rockies with other travelers – without having to think about a thing. See all our 2024 tour offerings here!
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  • Hop On, Hop Off: This tour is taking Banff by storm. It’s exactly what it sounds like, hop on and off a bus bound for all the best attractions at your own pace!
About Natasha

Natasha calls Canmore, Alberta home. After traveling across seven continents and 90 countries with Cameron, she settled down in the stunning Canadian Rockies. She loves to help others travel and make their planning easier. She is a winter enthusiast and loves to snowboard, ice skate, and snowshoe and enjoy all the fantastic summer opportunities in Banff like hiking, scrambling, and biking. You can find her in the mountains or enjoying a coffee by the river. Learn more on the about us page!

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