I usually avoid anything that includes a fee and is full of tourists ... but I so wanted to tramp about the glacier a little bit .... so I decided this was the one tour I had to take!
First you go to the Icefields interpretive center (AKA: museum and gift shop) to buy your ticket .... for 31$CDN you get to ride a coach up to the staging area, then you are changed to a special Glacier bus with wheels about 6ft tall ....... you continue on up and down otherworldly rockfilled landscape along the edges of the Columbia Icefield, and end up on the ice ...... the tour only allows you to access a small portion of the glacier, and environmentally, I felt guilty for the little bit I was already walking upon :)
The Icefield – the largest sub-polar body of ice in North America – is one of the reasons why the United Nations declared Canada's four Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Sites. The Icefield covers 325 square kilometres with solid ice up to 365 metres (1200 feet) deep. The guide will give you plenty of information about the field, and icecap above, and the geology of the glacier and the water flow that comes from it ...... the particular ice cap for this glacier feeds 8 separate glaciers and the water that flows from it goes into the Pacific, Atlantic and the Arctic Oceans ...... the only such feature in North America :)
Sorry to be negative about such a popular attraction, but we came away from our ice coach tour feeling it simply wasn't worth the steep price. Yes, the ride is interesting and the guide(s) are knowledgeable and fun. But for $32 apiece, you ultimately end up with a scant 20 minutes to spend walking around a large ice parking lot. There's really not much to see close up, and the more distant views are pretty much what you'd see from the Icefields Center telescope. This would be a very worthwhile tour for about $20, but at this price I'd recommend driving to the foot of the glacier and exploring on your own from there.
The Columbia Icefield is the largest icefield south of Alaska and a surviving remnant of the thick ice mass that once mantled most of Western Canada's mountains. It is the most-visited glacier in North America.
You can take a 55 min snowcoach tour that will take you out onto the Athabasca Glacier. The tour is a bit pricey, but it's the best way to see the icefield from up-close. You can also join a guided walk or visit the interpretive center.
This is possibly the most exciting activity for any first-time visitors to the park. Thanks to technology, now it is possbile to explore this amazing glacier in the comfort of a vechile - the giant Snocoach, operated by Brewster. Each Snocoach weights 19,700 kg and is able to climb a 32 degree slope.
You don't need to pay $29.95 to ride the Snocoach to experience the glacier. There is a short trail (1 km return), which gets you to the toe of the glacier. You can even walk on the glacier for a short distance. Remember to dress warmly because the wind is cold and strong once you get on the glacier surface. Also try to wear "good" boots because the trail beyond the toe is steep and slippery. Warning: you have to stay inside the boundary of the path because it is very dangerous to step outside, even it's only a few steps away.
First a lesson on glaciers. A glacier is a constantly moving river of ice. The Athabasca Glacier moves a few centimetres every day and for the past 125 yrs, it has been retreating, losing 1.5kms in that time. The glacier forms when accumulated snow turns into ice and the ice flows outward between gaps in the surrounding mountains.
The Athabasca is the largest glacier in the Canadian Rockies and the most accessible. You can take a Snocoach tour onto the glacier everyday in summer. There is also an informative Visitor Centre located here.
These are monster coaches with monster wheels designed to carry tourists through steep, slippery ice onto the glacier. Although they are expensive and touristy (I paid $29.95, Canadian dollor, as of June 2003), it's worth it because they take you to places you can't get to otherwise. You can purchase the ticket in the Icefield Centre on the opposite side of highway.
Still, if you choose to hike up the glacier, the Park offers guided walks as well (very limited schedule, I think once a day). But you have to stay on the trail and within the safety barriers. You can't really go far this way, and people have fallen into crevasses and died.
The Columbia Icefield is home to the largest glaciers south of the Artic circle, and it does not disappoint. The aptly named Icefield Parkway pass near the Athabasca Glacier. Unguided hikes on the glacier is not allowed. Tourists (primarily those from warmer climes :) can hop on a "Snocoach" for a tour of the glacier.
Take your time - relax the mountains & rivers aren't going anywhere.
The little critters appear - then disappear = grab the opportunity when you can
(my picture) Tour the Ice Fields. The year this picture was taken it was so mild that the ice had nearly all melted in this area. There was still a lot up in the canyon.
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