11 Amazing Hikes Along the Icefields Parkway

The Icefields Parkway, or Highway 93 North, is on most visitors’ bucket lists when visiting the Canadian Rockies. It’s been dubbed the most beautiful drive in the world, and after driving this road countless times, we have to agree.

Many visitors take the whole day to drive the Parkway, stopping at roadside pull-offs and lakes. One of the best things to do on the Icefields Parkway is to stretch your legs and go for a hike. Whether you’re looking for an easy, mellow hike or a tougher climb, the Parkway will deliver. We try to venture out on the Icefields Parkway for a hike multiple times a summer. Here are our favorite hikes to break up a drive between Banff and Jasper.

These hikes go in order along the Icefields Parkway as if you were to start your drive from Lake Louise and travel north to Jasper.

Hector Lake

Hector Lake
  • Length: 4.5 km
  • Duration: 2 – 3 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 115 km
  • Difficulty: Easy

Once you get on the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise, one of the first easy hikes you’ll encounter is the short hike to Hector Lake. This beautiful glacial-fed lake doesn’t see many visitors, mainly because you have to hike 2.2 km (one way) to reach it, which many people don’t know about or don’t want to do! Their loss is your gain!

Also, if you don’t know the trail to Hector Lake is there, it’s extremely easy to miss on the left-hand side of the road. Since this article is about the best Icefields Parkway hikes, we’ll assume you want to hike to it, but if you don’t want to, there’s a pullover viewpoint with partially obstructed views.

Once you get on the trail, you’ll notice it’s pretty rooty and often very muddy. We recommend hiking this one with waterproof shoes, and potentially even having a change of shoes ready to go in the car.

Bow Glacier Falls

Bow Glacier Falls
  • Length: 9.2 km
  • Duration: 2 – 3 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 155 meters
  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

One of the top stops on the Icefields Parkway is Bow Lake. Most visitors stop here to enjoy the views, but did you know there are a few epic hikes around the lake? If you’ve ever wondered about the water source of Bow Lake in Banff, the answer is just a short hike away. The water originates from the Bow Glacier and Wapta Icefield. It tumbles down Bow Glacier Falls before emptying into Bow Lake and continuing down the Bow River, through Banff and Canmore, and onto Calgary – wow, that is a lot of “Bows” in one paragraph!

No matter what you’ve read elsewhere, you won’t really get a great view of Bow Glacier Falls from Bow Lake. To get a closer look, take the relatively easy hike past The Lodge on the right side of Bow Lake. You’ll follow the trail around the lake, ascend the stairs, and pass through a meadow, gradually gaining just over 250 meters.

This is one of the easiest hikes on the Parkway, and it comes with a very nice reward at the end. Plan for this hike to take around 2-4 hours and cover a distance of 9 km, round trip.

The Onion

Natasha hiking on The Onion
  • Length: 20 km
  • Duration: 5 – 9 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 850 meters
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate Scrambling

This is the hardest hike listed in this article, and not so much that it’s particularly hard, but it is long and gains quite a bit of elevation. The Onion is a full-day outing best reserved for those staying at The Lodge or in Lake Louise. It also starts at Bow Lake and brings you past streams, glaciers, and even past Bow Hut. It’s not a well-worn track, and chances are, if you’re on it, you may be one of the only hikers on the trail for the day.

It’s long and will take all day, but it’s well worth it when you see Bow Falls and Iceberg Lake from above. Plus, you get incredibly close to the Wapta Icefield and stand under St. Nicholas Peak!

Helen Lake (+ Cirque Peak Scramble Option)

Natasha overlooking Helen Lake
  • Length: 12 km
  • Duration: 4 – 6 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 455 meters
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Helen Lake is a beautiful lake along the Icefields Parkway that many people don’t get to see as it’s a bit of a hike to get there. Starting across Highway 93 from Bow Lake, to get to Helen Lake you must hike on a moderate trail for 6.5km (one way). The trail is well-maintained and absolutely stunning nearly the whole way, with views of mountains and blooming wildflowers in the summer! Many even consider it one of the best wildflower hikes in the Rockies! Bring a lunch so you can eat it at the lakeshore (remember to leave no trace).

Cameron looking across at Bow Lake from the summit of Cirque Peak
Cameron looking across at Bow Lake from the summit of Cirque Peak

From Helen Lake, you can head up to the Dolomite Pass, which provides views of Lake Katherine. If you’re interested in adding more, the climb to the summit of Cirque Peak is great for a first-time scramble in the Rockies and gives you incredible views out to Bow Lake. If you plan to hike all the way to Cirque Peak, we recommend planning a full-day outing.

Peyto Lake

Natasha overlooking Peyto Lake
  • Length: 1.2 km
  • Duration: 25 meters
  • Elevation Gain:
  • Difficulty: Easy

Peyto Lake is likely the third most famous lake in Banff, after Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, mainly due to its distinctive shape of a fox, strikingly blue water, and the easily accessible scenic overlook near the parking area.

This is one of the easiest hikes on this list, and many would not consider it quite a hike, as just a 10-minute walk uphill will lead you to the viewpoint. Once at the viewpoint, there is an elevated deck with plenty of space for everyone. That being said, Peyto Lake is also the busiest stop on this list, and to avoid the crowds we recommend getting here before 9am or after 6pm.

We recommend visitors carve out 30-45 minutes of their day to see Peyto Lake. If you want a longer hike, look into Bow Summit Viewpoint, a continuation of the Peyto Lake trail.

Chephren Lake

  • Length: 7 km
  • Duration: 1-3 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 80 meters
  • Difficulty: Easy

Many people stop at Waterfowl Lakes, which are stunning lakes right off the Parkway. However, if you want a little more bang for your buck, consider the short hike to Chephren Lake. Located at the base of Mount Chephren, Chephren Lake requires just a short and easy hike to reach.

Chephren Lake is a straightforward couple-hour adventure starting at the Waterfowl Lakes Campground. It is a 7 km (return) hike with a gradual elevation gain of 80 meters. Once you reach the lake, you’ll be in for a surprise. Here, you’ll find a bright blue lake without the crowds at Lake Louise. We recommend allowing at least 2-3 hours to enjoy this hike and take in the beauty of Chephren Lake once you reach the lakeshore.

Mistaya Canyon

natasha at Mistaya Canyon
Can you spot me in the yellow?
  • Length: 1 km
  • Duration: 1 hr
  • Elevation Gain: 25 m
  • Difficulty: Easy

Mistaya Canyon is a very popular stop because it’s easily accessible off the Icefields Parkway. The pullout area for parking here is on the west side of the parkway; there’s limited parking, so it may be busy during peak summer.

To reach the Canyon, take a short .5 km trail that descends to a well-maintained fenced bridge. Here, you can see the roaring canyon all around you. Watch intensely as the powerful water churns through the rock beneath your feet. It’s possible to get closer, but you must watch your step, as a slip could be fatal.

Parker Ridge Hike

Cameron hiking parker ridge
  • Length: 5.8 km
  • Duration: 2-4 hrs
  • Elevation Gain: 269 meters
  • Difficulty: Easy

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. Located near the Columbia Icefields Center right at the border of Banff and Jasper, 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.

Wilcox Pass

Wilcox Pass
  • Length: 8 km
  • Duration: 3-4 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 335 meters
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Another great hike near the Columbia Icefield, Wilcox Pass offers mesmerizing glacial views over the Columbia Icefields. If you happen to be staying at the Glacier View Lodge, this is a great half day hike to tackle. The hike gains a pass across from Mount Athabasca and Andromeda, two of the tallest mountains in the Canadian Rockies, and provides amazing views.

Since it sits on the border between Banff and Jasper National Park, it is best to stay near the Columbia Icefield or drive between Jasper and Banff, as it’s quite a drive from either town.

Hikers can also expect a smattering of wildflowers in July and August, the chance to spot mountain goats and bighorn sheep, and utterly mind-blowing views of the Athabasca Glacier and some of the park’s largest peaks.

Toe of the Athabasca Glacier

  • Length: 1.4 km
  • Duration: 1-2 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 61 m
  • Difficulty: Easy

There are multiple ways to see the Athabasca Glacier. Most visitors opt for the Icefield Explorer experience, which involves riding monster Tonka trunks to a small section of the glacier where you can walk on it and drink from it. This is a time commitment and also has a large environmental footprint, as these massive buses travel to and from the glacier all day.

Another way to see the Athabasca Glacier is to book a guided tour with a certified guide who can navigate the glacier safely. (Please do not walk on the glacier without glacial travel experience as there are crevasses you need to be aware of). However, the best free option is to hike to the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier, which can be reached easily from the parking area.

Valley of the Five Lakes

Valley Of The Five Lakes Pier Jasper
  • Length: 3-9 km
  • Duration: 1-3 hours
  • Elevation Gain: Around 100 meters
  • Difficulty: Easy

Located just before reaching Downtown Jasper along Highway 93, the Valley of Five Lakes is one of Jasper’s most popular and classic hikes. The well-developed and relatively flat trail brings hikers to you guessed it – five stunning lakes – with varying shades of blue and green. All the lakes are beautiful, but a few of them are the true highlights.

If you want to hike to all of the lakes, expect the hike to take you three hours and 9 km. However, many people choose to just hike to one lake, which makes the hike much shorter.

About Hiking on the Parkway

  • You Need a Parks Pass: You need a National Park Pass to stop anywhere along the Icefields Parkway. You can purchase one before you arrive online, or at any park gate in Banff and Jasper.
  • You Need Bear Spray: Bear spray is non-negotiable when doing any extensive hiking on the Icefields Parkway. That being said, there are a few trails and short that are so busy it’s unlikely you’ll come across one. From this list, those are Peyto Lake, Mistaya Canyon, and the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier.
  • If You Want to Hike A Lot: We recommend staying along the Icefields Parkway. While you can easily complete Peyto Lake, Mistaya Canyon, the Toe of Athabasca Glacier, and even Parker Ridge in one day, many of these hikes are at least a half-day outing.

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!
  • Get to Banff or Canmore Without a Car: The Banff Airporter provides fantastic service connecting you from the Calgary International Airport (YYC) to Banff or Canmore.
  • Get Around: We suggest renting a car to get around. You can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip. We like to compare prices on Motorhome Republic and Outdoorsy.
  • Cheaper Airfare: We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals!
  • 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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