Athabasca Falls/Glacier, Banff National Park
The most famous glacier of the Canadian Rockies. Very touristy but nevertheless great.
The Athabasca Glacier lies just by the roadside along the Icefield Parkway, in the north of Banff NP, close to the border with Jasper NP.
Here you can take a bus tour with so-called snowcoaches onto the glacier. They will drive you to the centre of the glacier, where you have about 15 minutes to walk on the glacier in a designated safe area. Every few years someone dies after a fall in one of the crevasses that are covered by snow. So be careful and don't go wandering around.
In the back of the picture just out of sight lies the enormous Columbia Icefield, which is the source of this and most other glaciers in the park. However, as a mainstream tourist you won't get to see the Columbia Icefield itself.
Apart from a small area at the toe of the Athabasca Glacier, the only way as a tourist to get on the glacier is by booking a ticket for a snocoach tour. These are specialy designed buses, that are able to drive on the glacial surface of the glacier.
These snocoaches are very weird things actually. Look a the enormous size of the wheels. They are about manhigh, although the picture doesn't show this really clearly.
u can take the bus ride from the visitor center to the athabasca glacier (which is a small part of the icefield parkway)
the ticket is 30 cnd (sep 2004) and its a short ride there and over there u have something like 20-30 minutes to walk around - look around u its beautifull - mountains and snow snow snow - just great
try to be there early in the morning couse the later it gets the more ull have to wait
Technically, The Columbia Icefield is in Jasper National Park. It consists of about 30 glaciers, Athabasca Glacier being the one visible from the highway. There is an interpretive centre here, with various displays describing geological aspects. There is a hotel and a couple of restaurants as well, but you'd be better off staying and eating somewhere else as you could get better quality for the same amount of money elsewhere.
You can actually drive to the foot of the glacier and observe the glacier meltwater. DO NOT climb onto the glacier, as this can be dangerous, due to slippery ice and snow, and I have witnessed people falling and hurting themselves. Even worse, you could fall into a crevasse, and well, basically it's game over. If you wish to get a better look at the glacier, you can book tours on special vehicles from the interpretive centre site. They range from a 90-minute trip to a 5-hour tour. Prices are about $25 - $35 CDN.
If you are going on a tour, make sure to bring sunglasses (there can be a lot of glare from the ice and snow) , warm clothing, and sturdy walking shoes - boots being the best, as during the summer, there may be pools of water on the ice. Even if you are not going on a tour, bring a warm jacket, as even on a warm summer day, the breezes in the area can be suprisingly cool.
When you arrive at the Athabasca Glacier you have a couple options how you want to explore it. The lodge on the other side of the road offers a trip on a specially designed ice vechile, kinda resembling a tank. The cost is $35 per person. Alternatively you can park you car in the small parking lot beside the glacier and hike up on your own. It is about 10 min from the parking lot and is a pretty unique experience.
How often do you get a chance to walk on a glacier? The Athabasca glacier is actually located in Jasper, but it is just north of the Banff park boundary. This glacier is a part of the Columbia Icefield, which is only one of the two icefields in the world where the melt water drains into three different water basins. The Athabasca Glacier drains into the Arctic Ocean via the Athabasca River. Other glaciers on the icefield drain into the Pacific and Atlantic.
You can learn all this in the new Interpretive Centre just off the Parkway. From there you can also board the big special buses that drive right up into the icefield - something i have yet to do. I have only hiked up the little bit of the glacier that is sectioned off for pedestrian access.
If you intend to walk on the icefield be careful. The icefield is 100-350 m deep and is surrounded by many peaks that are over 3000m. Tours on the ice explorer operate in the summer time from 9 am to late afternoon for around $50 for a 90 minute trip.
The Athabasca falls thunder down through a narrow gorge. A walkway has been built for you to observe them from different vantage points which all provide great views of the rushing water. paved pathways can be found on both side so you can walk downstream and see the water crash and swirl around the many obstacles through the narrow canyon. Located directly off the icefield parkway, this is a definate stop!
its actually closer to jasper np (like a 20 minutes drive i think) and its a nice falls -not far to walk from the parking .