Parkers Ridge Trail, Banff National Park

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One of the best decisions I made during my drive down the Icefields Parkway was to get out of the car, and make the trek up to Parkers Ridge.  This is an immensely rewarding trail, that provides views of a huge glacier, as well as countless mountain peaks.

Parkers Ridge is a small hill that separates the valley formed by the Saskatchewan Glacier from the Icefields Parkway’s valley.  As you can see on the sign above, the trail is 2.4 kilometers (about 1.5 miles) one way, but you’ll probably end up walking further, since the trail splits at the top of the hill, and there are good views to enjoy in either direction.

While the trail is a comfortable length for most hikers, it is steep.  The trail switches back and forth as it climbs to the top of the ridge, and it’s an unrelenting climb with very few areas of shade.  Thankfully, the scenery provides a great distraction from all the huffing and puffing you’ll do.

Less than halfway up the hill, you’ll enjoy this great view looking northwest towards Sunwapta Pass, and all of the mountain peaks that surround the glaciers of the Columbia Icefield.

 

In the other direction, the Icefields Parkway continues through this valley to the east, before turning south and dropping down into the Saskatchewan River Valley.

When you reach the top of the ridge, you can either turn right, and head up to an even higher viewpoint, or turn left…

… and follow the trail to the edge of the ridge…

… for an absolutely incredible view of Saskatchewan Glacier.  Of course, the glacier has retreated quite a long way up the valley, but it’s still impressively large.

Between 1893 and 1953, Saskatchewan Glacier retreated 1,364 meters (4,474 feet).  During the final five years of that time period, it averaged a retreat of 55 meters per year.   Of course, it has continued to shrink since then.

You can continue walking along the ledge for quite a ways.  The further you go, the better the view of the glacier.  After walking away from the crowds of hikers who stopped at the first available viewpoint, I found a nice spot to relax for a few minutes, and admire this natural wonder.

Then, I headed back to the fork in the trail…

… and started up this path.  As you’re coming up the hill, this is the trail that splits off to the right.  It’s another slog across the treeless tundra, with no shade or resting spots.  But when you reach the top…

… there’s a great view looking towards Sunwapta Pass.  I was too tired to continue hiking any further, but if I had gone just a short distance further, I probably would have enjoyed an even better viewpoint.

You can’t see Saskatchewan Glacier from here, but the view of Mt. Athabasca is fantastic.  Some visitors have started to build several round structures out of rocks here, so feel free to add a few stones to the pile.

To access Parkers Ridge Trail, watch for a crowded parking lot at the side of the road.  If you’re southbound, it’s just a short distance beyond Sunwapta Pass.  If you’re northbound, it’s at the top of the hill, after you’ve gone around the big curve, and climbed up from the Saskatchewan River Valley.

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