I reached out to a collection of Canadian Travel Bloggers, challenging them all to post their own answer to this question, Why Visit Canada? My response, 3 Western Canadian Adventures, included the Icefield Parkway Cycle Tour, so I felt it was only fitting to write a quick travel guide to help get people started.
The Icefield Parkway Cycle Tour is a stunning 230-km ride between Jasper and Banff National Parks between the Rocky Mountain towns of Jasper and Lake Louise. National Geographic famously placed the route in their Drives of a Lifetime guide; however, it’s seems far more spectacular to cycle tour the route rather than drive.
I consider myself wildly lucky to live in Jasper National Park. Whether it’s to capture a Daily Square or on a lengthy road ride, I venture down the Icefield Parkway nearly every day, yet pedaling the entire length of the Icefield Parkway is still a rare opportunity that requires a weekend or more.
Icefield Parkway Cycle Tour
The Icefield Parkway is only 230 km, but it’s possible to extend the ride to nearly 300 km by continuing from Lake Louise to Banff on the Bow Valley Parkway. Either way, cyclists riding a loaded touring bike will require 2-3 days, minimum, to cycle the Icefield Parkway.
The route follows the Canadian Rockies south through two National Parks, which are both part of the larger Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site. The scenery is stunning; Athabasca and Sunwapta Falls plunge through limestone gorges, the Athabasca Glaciers leads to the Columbia Icefield, and Peyto Lake is blue, really blue.
Small convenience stores and restaurants are located at Sunwapta Falls Resort, Columbia Icefield Centre, and Saskatchewan River Crossing, so cyclists are not required to carry 3 days worth of food. Hotel accommodation is also available at these locations, but between the HI-managed Wilderness Hostels and Parks Canada Campgrounds, the hotels seem overpriced.
Icefield Parkway Cycle Tour Options
3-Day Hostel Tour – Hosteling International operates wilderness hostels along the Icefield Parkway and they’re perfectly spaced out for a 3-day cycle tour between Jasper and Lake Louise.
- Day 1 – Jasper to Beauty Creek Hostel (85 km), Route Highlights: Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls, and Jonas Creek Landslide
- Day 2 – Beauty Creek Hostel to Rampart Creek Hostel (57 km) Route Highlights: Tangle Falls, Athabasca Glacier, and Big Bend descent.
- Day 3 – Rampart Creek Hostel to Lake Louise (88 km) Route Highlights: Mistaya Canyon, Bow Summit, and Bow Lake
2-Day Camping Ride – Parks Canada has several campgrounds along the Icefield Parkway, which would enable a cyclist to spend a slow week exploring the entire route; however, Wilcox Creek Campground divides the route in half and lets campers overnight near the Columbia Icefield.
1-Day Mission – Some hardcore locals complete the entire route in a single day. It doesn’t leave much time for sightseeing, but it’s an excellent fitness challenge.
How to Visit:
- When: The best time to complete the Icefield Parkway Cycle Tour is in the height of summer, between July 1 and September 15. The road is high in the mountains, so freak storms can blanket the route in snow at a moments notice, but the summer months are generally warm and dry.
- Where: The Icefield Parkway runs between Jasper and Lake Louise. Jasper is located 365 km west of Edmonton on the Yellowhead Highway. Sundog Tours operates a daily shuttle between the Edmonton Airport and Jasper. Lake Louise is located 170 km west of Calgary and Brewster operates daily shuttles from Calgary and Banff and they continue north to Jasper.
- How: The easiest way to cycle the Icefield Parkway is to fly to Calgary and board a Brewster Shuttle to Jasper, and then returning via bike to either Lake Louise and/or onward to Banff.
- More Tips: If traveling on a tight budget, post an ad on the Jasper Buy, Sell, and Trade of Facebook to find a gas share ride to Banff or Calgary.
- Map: Parks Canada produced a beautiful map of the Icefield Parkway, which includes a mileage chart between all major sights, campgrounds, hostels, and services.