Almost halfway in-route Banff and Jasper on the Icefield Parkway is the Columbia Icefield. The icefield feeds 8 major glaciers..Athabasca Glacier being the one that you see as you drive down the road. No detour required to get to the Icefield. You drive up and can park at the ‘Columbia Icefield Visitors’ Centre which is build facing the Athabasca Glacier.
Once at the visitor center, you have a few options.. – Sit in various places inside the Visitor Center which has floor to ceiling glass windows and enjoy the view.. – Hike up the glacier.. – Take the bus which takes you from the visitor center and drives on to the glacier, lets you walk on the glacier, take pictures, enjoy the view for a scheduled 10 minute halt before heading back (if you click on the image below and squint your eyes you can make out 2 buses making their way on the glacier)
The first time we went to the Icefield we were newlyweds. D had no idea if I could hike and if so for how long. Plus being new to this part of the world, I did not have the proper gear to hike up the glacier, so the bus it was. The bus is worth a mention because the wheels alone are almost as tall as a human in diameter. It was some experience being on the bus, getting down on the glacier and looking down at pristine blue ice as you look down various crevasses.
Cut to this time. We decided to hike up the glacier. So on came the hiking shoes, a warm jacket (since it was peak summer we did not need any special equipment) and off we were. The view when on foot is so different from when you are inside the bus or may be, one has more time to look around and actually enjoy the mountains around.
Since we were on no set schedule, we took our time walking up, stopped when we felt like and captured pictures of things that caught our fancy.
On one such stop we captured the buses lined up to make their way on the glacier, with people on the bus waving at us (the two lone idiots on foot)
Again since we had no set destination, when we thought the hike was enough and as we moved closer to the crowd where the buses make their halt, we turned back to head down.
Having done both, the by bus and by foot options, I would definitely recommend the foot option. You get a better feel of the glacier, a better feel of the surrounding area and you see the various markers which tell you where the glacier was in a certain year. Such a somber reminder of the receding glaciers and that they might not be here in time to come. That is a reminder to enjoy these sites, appreciate their beauty and do our part to preserve them the best we can.