Saskatchewan Crossing to Sunwapta Pass


If you haven’t grabbed a cold drink or visited a bathroom in a while, Saskatchewan River Crossing provides a much-needed opportunity to do both.  There’s a store here, as well as a gas pump and a motel.  Of course, you will pay for the privilege of spending the night: $90 to $180 (CAD).

There are very few roads that turn off of the Icefields Parkway, but you’ll find one of them at the Crossing: Alberta Highway 11 heads east to Rocky Mountain House, a historical base for fur traders and explorers.

After the Crossing, the Icefields Parkway runs alongside the Saskatchewan River.  The wide valley and glacial water provides an endless number of photo opportunities.

At first, this looks like a nice view of Mount Saskatchewan (3,342 meters, or 10,965 feet) and the North Saskatchewan River.  But when you look closer…

… you’ll notice something unusual on the horizon.  It’s called Cleopatra’s Needle, or the Lighthouse Tower — a column of rock that’s made from Dolomite, and has resisted erosion.

Cleopatra’s Needle is named after the trio of obelisks that were originally constructed around 1450 b.c. in Egypt, then toppled and buried in sand, and later reconstructed in New York City, Paris, and London. 

There are many more great views of the North Saskatchewan River along the side of the road, before the highway begins its climb up to Sunwapta Pass.  This scene is one of my favorites, with two of the peaks near the Columbia Icefield looming above the valley.

After traveling along the floor of the Saskatchewan River Valley for a while, the Icefields Parkway suddenly starts to climb up towards the pass, taking a left, then a sweeping u-turn curve to the right.  Moments later, there’s a turnout, directly above the road below, with a great view of the valley to the south, and Cirrus Mountain (3,270 meters, or 10,728 feet).

The parking area offers a great panorama from east to west.

Once you’re near the top of the pass, the road levels out somewhat, and you’re treated to a view of Mount Athabasca (3,493 meters, or 11,453 feet).  I took this picture at the parking area for the trial to Parkers Ridge.  The hill you see in the foreground is part of that ridge — and you can imagine the great views from the top of it.  Wait, you don’t have to imagine, because on my trip south on Day 9, I hiked Parkers Ridge.

Sunwapta Pass, and the famed Athabasca Glacier, are just beyond those mountain peaks.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse dash-cam video of the drive from Saskatchewan River Crossing, across Sunwapta Pass, to Sunwapta Falls:

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