If you’re not from the Rockies, driving probably sounds like a chore, but taking a scenic drive in Banff National Park and the Canadian Rockies is anything but. It’s a terrific way to do some sightseeing, wildlife viewing, to relax, and, in the end, get from point A to point B. The drive from Banff’s Lake Louise to Jasper National Park ranks as one of the most spectacular.
To get the most out of this Banff scenic drive, you’ll want to get up early. That way you’ll beat the crowds, see more wildlife, and have more time appreciate the views, short hikes and tours available.
You’ll start your excursion from the town of Lake Louise, where you can stock up, and rest up, before your scenic drive.
Lake Louise and Moraine Lake
Day one is a breeze, because you’ll only drive 4 km (2.5 mi) before reaching Lake Louise, the town’s namesake lake.
You won’t believe the powerful green color of this lake. It’s like nothing else in the world, the result of light reflecting off minerals that ancient glaciers have released into the lake over the years. Right on the lake, you’ll find picture-perfect Chateau Lake Louise, a hotel constructed in the early 20th century by the railroad.
From Lake Louise, it’s just a short distance to Moraine Lake, another Banff National Park highlight.
You could keep going on this first day from Moraine Lake to Jasper, but we recommend heading back to Lake Louise and taking it easy. You’re on vacation, afterall. Take your time, enjoy the view, and maybe even see some wildlife if you’re patient.
The Columbia Icefields and Jasper
From Lake Louise area, you’ll get on Icefields Parkway heading toward Jasper National Park. The trip is about 237 km (148 mi) of amazing scenic highway, with each peak and lake more amazing than the last, and more than 100 glacier giving the highway its name.
You should plan on making several stops along this drive, one of which is Hector Lake. It’s Banff National Park’s biggest lake and has great views of Crowfoot Mountain and Mt. Balfour.
After Hector Lake, continue on to Bow Summit. This is the drive’s highest elevation point, at 2,068 m (6,785 ft) above sea level, is the highest point on the drive. You’ll get Bow Summit’s is best views at the Peyto Lake viewpoint, where you’ll see yet another breath-taking lake, with a stunning turquoise blue-green color.
From Peyto Lake, you’ll be driving over the Saskatchewan River then onward to the Weeping Wall. Take your time between these two points, as it’s often a good place to watch wildlife from.
When you do get to the weeping wall, you’ll see exactly what the name suggest, snow melting high up on Cirrus Mountain creates little rivulets that seep through the cliffs and “weeps” off the mountains.
Now you’re nearing what to many is the highlight of this drive, the Columbia Icefield. This icefield is huge, measuring 100 to 365 m (328 to 1,197 ft) thick, with an area of 202 square mi (325 square km). The icefield is a good way to get a sense for how nature made these mountains so beautiful through a long geologic process.
Here you can pick up tours that include a ride on the ice in an all-terrain bus or trekking. Get tour information from the Welcome Centre. At some times of the year, you can walk up, reach out and touch this ancient block of ice.
Take your time experiencing the icefields, before heading off to the wonders of the Athabasca Glacier and Mt. Athabasca. Keep on driving, and you see the Athabasca River, which carries the largest volume of any river in the area, which you can watch as it tumbles over the Athabasca Falls.
From Athabasca Falls, you’re just a short drive away from Jasper, where you’ll find great hotels to rest at, restaurants to fill your belly, and a friendly atmosphere.