A drive you simply cannot miss when in Canada built for leisurely sightseeing.
Alberta is home to Jasper National Park, Banff National Park and Canada's largest ski area, Lake Louise.
The Icefields Parkway links Lake Louise near Banff to Jasper, travelling north through 233 kms of totally breathtaking Rocky Mountains scenery. The majestic wilderness is a habitat for elk, bighorn sheep, moose, mountain goats, grizzly and black bears and has ever-changing views of waterfalls, emerald lakes, alpine meadows and snowcapped peaks.
It wasn't all that long ago that only packtrains could get through, and a quick trip between Lake Louise and Jasper took two weeks. The Parkway lets everyone visit, and is built for leisurely sightseeing rather than high speed travel.
The Columbia Icefield, on the boundary of the parks, is one of the largest accumulations of ice and snow south of the Arctic Circle, containing around 30 glaciers. It feeds eight major glaciers including the Athabasca, Dome and Stutfield, all visible from the Parkway. It is a true continental divide, and its meltwater feeds streams and rivers which rush to the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Lake Louise is deep, deep green thanks to a mix of minerals spilling into it, and is surrounded by snowcapped mountains, thick with tall growth. A man-made attraction amongst all the beauty is Chateau Lake Louise. Straight from a storybook, the castle is perched 1600 metres high in the Rockies and is the core of recreation, dining, shopping and entertainment for the area.
After Lake Louise you continue along the raging Bow River. Its source, Bow Lake, shimmers under the enormous Crowfoot Glacier. Num-Ti-Jah Lodge was built in 1898 by a pioneer who thought he had found heaven. The lodge has been expanded, and it's a good place to stop for refreshments.
The road drops into the North Saskatchewan River draining and the steep but short climb to Peyto Lake Viewpoint is worth taking.
The Parkway now begins to seriously climb towards the Sunwapta Pass and before long you see the icy tendrils of the Columbia Icefield in the shadows of the 3500 metre Mount Athabasca.
Here is a good and popular place to break your journey and enjoy a stay at the Columbia Icefield Chalet. It is a perfect example of environmentally sensitive planning and lives in harmony with its surroundings.
The stone chalet has 32 beautifully appointed rooms on the top floor, most with at least two queen-size beds and a loft area.
The second floor has a full dining area and cafeteria and the main floor has the check-in area, gift shop, National Park information and Snocoach Tour Terminal.
The Chalet is jointly owned by Parks Canada and Brewster, a company which has been treating visitors to the joys of the Canadian west for more than 100 years. They employ more than 450 people and enjoy a reputation for outstanding customer service. Guides are totally in tune with the mountains, parks, lakes and plains so you leave with plenty of indelible memories.
Brewster also operates a fleet of Snocoaches. The all-terrain bus is locally designed and manufactured and can carry up to 56 passengers. The buses have been called lumbering and lovable and the large windows give everyone a good look at the scenery. The balloon tyres allow the vehicle to go out onto the face of glaciers.
As you enter Jasper National Park, Canada's largest, you will notice the people it attracts are more outdoorsy. They are more likely to hike, bike, climb, ski, ride and raft, but there are still plenty of good places for shopping and dining.
Jasper Town site has a community oriented, lived-in feel compared to the ritzier Banff, and that suits the locals just fine.