I've yet to go on the Snowmobile experience... you can still get a lot of enjoyment just driving to the Icefields and walking about.
One thing to pay attention to is the signs warning you about altitude - don't try walking further than you think you can walk back from - the height can bother people with respiratory or heart issues. I didn't walk up as far as my friend - he said I was wise - there were younger people with breathing problems.
I rode on the snocoach in October 2000 where I was able to stand on the Athabasca Glacier. There are regular departures from April to October from the Icefield Centre. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos from the excursion as Boots, a UK chain store, accidently threw away my film whilst my photos from the trip were developed. It was disappointing but it is more the reason to return and do the excursion again!
Please see Explore Rockies for further information on the excursion including prices.
The Columbia Icefield Glacier Experience was something we had decided to do before leaving home. For us, it would be a "once in a lifetime" experience, it sure was!
We drove along the Icefields Parkway until we came across the Icefield centre.
The centre is on the opposite side of the road to the Athabasca Glacier which is 6 kms long and one km wide. You get an excellent view from here.
We booked our tour here, not long to wait, as the tours departed every 15 - 30 minutes. In the waiting time, we browsed around the centre.
From the car park, we departed on our journey to the Glacier on a Snow Coach. It was quite an experience travelling in the Snow Coach, it could go up and down any steep slope!
Once on our journey, a 5km round trip, our driver/guide, filled us in with information about the glacier and the icefields. We learnt that we would be standing on ice formed from snow falling as long as 400 years ago.
We stepped out of the Coach and onto the Glacier, walked around and found some little crystal clear, pristine water streams heading down the glacier.
It wasn't as cold as I thought it would be!
PRICES IN 2010 are.......
Adult (16+): $49.00
Child (6-15): $24.00
The operating hours vary throughout the year so it would be best to check the website.
Tours begin either at 9am or 10am weather permitting.
The day we were there, the Glacier had been in fog for most of the day, and had just lifted, so we were lucky. It still was hanging low over the Mountains, but we could see the glacier, and enjoy the experience.
TO REACH HERE.......................
FROM...Banff, 180 km 3 hours .....Jasper, 108 km 1.5 hours ....Lake Louise, 120 km 2 hours
I would say do it, if you can!
Visiting Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefields provides a spectacular glimpse of what much of North America looked like as the surface of this continent was being shaped, tens of thousands of years ago. The Columbia Ice Fields straddle the area between Banff and Jasper. It's a good halfway stop on the drive between these two parks. While we were on this trip I tried to plan one actvity each day, so we had plenty of time to enjoy our visit and tour. The place where the tour starts is well marked and easily accessed with plenty of parking. We walked in, checked on the times and prices and bought our tour, which was just about ready to leave.
Our guide told us we had one of the better days for sight-seeing during that week. The sun was shining when we went to the Athabasca Glacier and we also had a snow shower while we were walking around. The Athabasca Glacier is gradually flowing downhill from the Columbia Icefield, so slowly that it can be seen moving. The glacier transports rock and debris down the valley and deposits it along its sides as moraines. The meltwater from the Athabasca Glacier feeds three oceans; the Pacific, Atlantic, and the Arctic.
This is a world heritage site.
The Athabasca Glacier is one of the six principal toes of the Columbia Icefield.Due to the warming climate, the glacier has receded more than 1.5 km in the past 125 years and lost over half of its volume. It currently recedes at a rate of 2-3 metres per year. The glacier moves down from the Icefield at a rate of several centimetres per day..I had been there a few times and was quite disappointed that we were not able to step onto the glacier like prior years. However, global warning has done its damage and has melted the glacier so that a little river formed at the foot of it, making it unsafe for people to step on. Hence one has to use the Snow Coaches, something we will have to do next time..
The climb from the parking lot is quite strenuous and people with respiratory and heart problems are advised not to take this climb.Also a nice warm coat is important to have as it is rather cold and breezy up there..
The Columbia Icefield is technically in Jasper National Park, but it is almost halfway between the towns of Banff and Jasper (180km from Banff, 108km from Jasper). Take a thrilling 2-hour drive, most of it along the breathtaking Icefield parkway, to get there. This is one of the most gorgeous drives I have ever been on. The scenery is just stunning, and we saw 2 bears on the way back.
Once you get to the Icefields, there is an information centre with displays about the glaciers, a gift shop and a café. This is, of course, where you buy your tickets. Tours of the Athabasca glacier depart every 15-30 minutes. You board a coach which drives you about 8 minutes over to the Ice Explorers, funny looking buses that drive you onto the glacier, at one point down a 38 degree incline. The driver gives some very interesting info about the glaciers and other things. When you arrive on the Athabasca Glacier, you're able to get out of the bus and explore the glacier on your own for about 20 minutes. This was extra interesting when we went, in the middle of August when it was 30 C, as it was only about 5 C on the glacier and extremely windy!
One thing I found very interesting is that these glaciers are on a continental divide, meaning that the water from these glaciers goes to either the Pacific or Arctic and Atlantic.
You really can't go wrong with a trip to the Icefields. There is a beautiful, leisurely drive to get there (the Parkway has less traffic than the Trans Canada and has a lower speed limit) and a fun, informative tour when you get there! I would suggest going earlier in the day, as it gets very busy in the afternoon. The tour itself takes about 1.5 hours. Don't miss it!
Adults - $38
Children - $19
Tour the Rocky Mountains! Our original plan was to drive straight up from Calgary to Edmonton but, once we passed Red Deer, the weather was so beautiful that we could no longer resist the snow-capped Rockies off in the distance. We made a course correction and headed due west through Rocky Mountain House then up through Jasper National Park before swinging east again toward Edmonton. Although we put 950 Km on the clock, it was totally enjoyable. The absence of tourists in April meant we had the roads to ourselves and the views of the mountains and lakes were spectacular. There was only a slight snow flurry as we drove through the Park but the view of the Columbia Ice Field was well worth the diversion. Photo looking back on the highway as we drove through Jasper.
If you do have time to stop, you should try to get out for a tour of the glacier in a Canadian-built Foremost Terra Bus, an all-wheel drive, three-axle, 56-passenger, off-road bus as shown in the 2nd photo. I spotted one in Banff National Park a few years after this trip!
Beginning from the Icefield Visitor Centre, this ride is perhaps a highlight of southern Jasper National Park. Buy tickets at the centre for this ride. You start out on a bus that takes you from the visitor center onto a road leading beside the glacier to the Snocoach station. There, everyone unboards the bus and gets on the Snocoach, which then takes you onto the Athabasca Glacier. It may seem like a huge tourist trap (and it sort of is) but it takes you to a place with beautiful views, so it's worth it. You can walk around the glacier while there. Looking west, you'll see the Columbia Icefield and the icefall that begins the Athabasca glacier.
The Andromeda glacier is off to the side of the Columbia Ice field and the Athabasca Glacier. At one point, many moons ago, the Andromeda Glacier actually met the Athabasca Glacier .... but through years of melt, Andromeda now sits high above Athabasca .....
I just thought it was pretty, and I liked the name. I also feel this demonstrates how the changing world climate is changing the glaciers at the top of the world ....
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.