Athabasca Falls, and the north end of the Icefields Parkway


There are fewer reasons to stop along the northern half of the Icefields Parkway, but that doesn’t mean there’s less to see.  The awesome landscape continues to be entertaining, even without as many designated hiking trails, lakes, or picnic areas.

On the way downhill from Sunwapta Pass and the Athabasca Glacier, I was stuck in the middle of a long string of traffic, being led by road workers. They were blasting away a hillside that hung over the road, posing a potential rock slide threat.  Because of the work zone and the frequent road shutdowns, this roadside parking area was off-limits.  So, I had to take this shot of Stutfield Glacier out the window, as I drove by.

At the bottom of the hill, the Icefields Parkway levels out, and runs alongside the Sunwapta River.  This shot looks back to the south, towards the massive Columbia Icefield.  Heading north, the road and the river go on for many kilometers, without many official stops — but the view from the seat of the car is still quite nice.

Endless Chain Ridge

For almost the entire Icefields Parkway, it’s the mountains on the west side of the road that will hold your attention.  But for a while, the Endless Chain Ridge on the highway’s east side steals the show.  Instead of a few dramatic, pointy peaks, the Endless Chain is uniform, impenetrable barrier, with a perfect slant and a knife-edge that stretches out for as far as you can see.

Just before the Sunwapta River mixes with the Athabasca River, it plunges over a small but impressive waterfall.  I bypassed Sunwapta Falls on the trip north, so it’s not included here.  But, you can jump ahead to my visit to Sunwapta Falls on Day 9.

After Sunwapta Falls, the highway follows the Athabasca River north.  This viewpoint provides a nice look at Mount Christie (in the middle, 3,102 meters) and Brussels Mountain (directly behind it, 3,160 meters).

Athabasca Falls

The Athabasca River takes a violent tumble over Athabasca Falls.  While the plunge isn’t especially high (23 meters or 75 feet), it packs a lot of power.  There are several, easily accessible places to view Athabasca Falls, including this spot, with Mount Kerkeslin (2,955 meters or 9,694 feet) as a towering backdrop.

The erosive force of all that surging water is especially apparent…

… when you walk down these stairs.  This channel used to carry the Athabasca River, before the falls formed, and the water’s path changed.  I was growing anxious to get on up the road to Jasper, so I didn’t go down the steps…

… but I did enjoy this shot of the canyon below the falls, carved out by the river.

From Athabasca Falls, you can follow Route 93 (the faster route) on the east side of Athabasca River, or Route 93A on the west side.  The roads come together again just south of Jasper.

If you take 93A, you’ll have the chance to take a side trip up to Mount Edith Cavell.  Ron, my river guide on Day 8, described the drive up to Cavell Lake as an extraordinary, must-not-miss area.  Then, he realized the road was already closed for the season — and told us, “never mind”!  

I stayed on 93 for a slightly faster drive.

Just a few minutes south of Jasper, the Icefields Parkway crosses the Athabasca River.  I decided the view was so nice from the bridge, I parked at a nearby turnout and hiked back to the highway, to take this picture.  Much to my surprise, I ended up back here again, the next morning — the area where I parked is a staging and launching area for white-water rafting trips.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse dash-cam video of the drive from Sunwapta Falls to the Town of Jasper, via the Icefields Parkway:

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