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Columbian Icefields Tour – 6 Great Glacier Walks

Scout the Columbian Icefields with a remarkable Icefields Tour. This place is full of surprises. And it is one of the largest icefields in Canadian Rockies.

The Columbian Icefields is a great tourist spot because of its multi-dimensional quality in terms of a vacation spot. It is filled with exciting experiences like Icefields tour Glacier Skywalks, Glacier walks, sightseeing tours, ice explorer tours, and many more such experiences. In addition, these icefields are located near the Banff national parks, making them even more likable to young school-going people.  

Columbian Icefields are among the most spectacular frozen landscapes on the planet. They are a huge landscape of glaciers formed after years of shifting and melting ice. The Columbian Icefields is one of the largest icefields all over the world. The icefields are located in the Canadian Rockies, astride the Continental Divide, on the border of British Columbia and Alberta, Canada.

icefields tour
Photo by Ryan Stones on Unsplash

It is located partially in Banff National Park and partially in Jasper National Park. It covers 325 square kilometers (125 square miles), has a depth of 100 meters (330 feet) to 365 meters (1,198 feet), and receives up to 7 meters (280 inches) of snow per year. It wasn’t famous until March 1932, when three men embarked on a remarkable 500-kilometer skiing expedition from Jasper to Banff (310 mi).

When Cliff White, Joe Weiss, and Russell Bennet arrived in the Columbia Icefield, they climbed to the summit of Snow Dome before embarking on a 50-kilometer (31-mile) downhill run, which was the longest continuous ski run in Canadian history at the time. Their achievement was significant in increasing international interest in the Canadian Rockies. 

Mountaineers and skiers worldwide visit the Columbian Icefields today to explore some of the famous routes pioneered by these early mountaineers.    

Here’s Everything You Need to Know About The Icefields Tour 

There are six significant glaciers in the Columbian icefields, But the Athabasca glacier is one of the most famous visitor spots. Generally, you will need a helicopter, ice axes, crampons, and appropriate mountaineering experience to get onto the glacier surface. However, not on the Athabasca Glacier. In the Canadian Rockies, where are ice explorer vehicles that take you on a Columbia Icefields tour, allow anyone to walk on the glacier’s surface. It is the most-visited glacier in North America due to its accessibility. The glacier’s leading-edge is within easy walking distance; nevertheless, unless adequately equipped, travel onto the glacier is not recommended. 

Athabasca glacier
Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

One can explore Columbia Icefield on an icefield guided tour, independently or in a mix of the two. It is one of Canada’s most popular destinations, and a range of multi-day organized excursions take you to the Canadian Rockies on an unparallel journey. 

The iconic Rocky Mountaineer Train can even be taken through the region, stopped in Banff, and explored the icefield.

Although less lodging is available from this smaller destination than the larger hubs, most travelers will visit Columbia Icefield from Banff, Jasper, or perhaps Lake Louise. 

You can travel with your transportation, either organized or by car, during the day trip. For example, the road between Jasper and Banff, which is often considered one of the most epic roads in Canada, is known as Icefields Parkway. The journey would take only about 3 hours if you were traveling non-stop. one can also admire the glaciers while driving through the road, but to get closer to the glaciers, you must take organized tours that take you onto the ice fields safely.     

The icefields tour is a combination of a skywalk and glacier walk. The icefields tour begins at the Columbian Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre, located directly opposite the glacier. The center is also alongside the icefield parkway that connects Banff and Jasper. The icefields tour leaves every 15-20 mins, but it gets busy during late mornings.

A Guide will take you to the base of the glacier and the transfer point, where you will exchange your bus for an ice explorer, which sounds far more interesting. Only 23 of these specifically developed vehicles exist in the world, some of which are also used in Antarctic research outposts. Each one stands four meters tall, weighs 25 tonnes, and can transport up to 56 people. They can grip steep climbs and slippery slopes because of their massive wheels and low-pressure tires.

Each ice explorer costs more than 1.3 million (Canadian dollar), but they’re not fast, so you’ll have plenty of time to take in the sights. Then the vehicle will drive you downhill on a rocky road cut into the glacier moraine to the steepest straight road in North America, with the entire vehicle tilted at a 45-degree inclination. 

From afar, the glacier appears to be an almost uniform off-white color, but as you come closer, you can see that it is formed of various hues, ranging from pristine white to muddy brown. Cryoconite, a build-up of dirt, dust, and rock, is responsible for discoloration. Because dirty glaciers melt faster, the ice explorer traveled through a stream before reaching the glacier’s surface to clear the tires, preventing them from adding extra grit and contributing to glacial melt.  

The first part of the icefields tour is the glacier walk. It is one of the most popular activities along the Icefields Parkway so that you won’t have it all to yourself, especially during the summer months. However, there’s still plenty of room to walk on the ice, throw a snowball, or pose with the line of flags from other countries. Streams of meltwater trickle down through crevices in the glacial surface, and you may fill your water bottle with pure, cold water right from the glacier if you bring one.

You can even notice more colors, with patches of blue between the white, which come from snow and giant ice crystals, when the whole air squeezes out. It was incredible to think how old some of the ice was in the glacier, how long it was there, and how it changed the landscape around it, cut down into steep v-formed valleys through the Rockies, and scour the ground below into smooth surfaces.  

The second part of the icefields tour is the glacier skywalk. The Glacier Skywalk is a kilometer walk through the rim of a cliff overhanging the Sunwapta Valley and features traces of the area’s geology, flora, and fauna.

The views are spectacular throughout, but the main attraction is the glass floors which jut from the cliff. A sheet of glass (hopefully well enhanced) is all that separates you from a 280m drop and also a feeling of floating just above the canyon with glass side panels. This adventure activity is not for you if you have acrophobia.

Glacier Skywalk
Photo By Andy Holmes on Unsplash

Other activities you can try on the icefields tour are hiking and skiing. During the Summer you can hike through the rocky mountain and ice walk as well. Hiking routes are only open during summers. You’ll need an appropriate hiking experience, and during the Winters, you can enjoy skiing in the Rocky Mountains

Places to Stay 

There are many options available for accommodations near the icefield parkway. But since it is a busy place, you must book in advance, especially during busy seasons.

Near the Discovery Center, right in front of the Glacier View Inn, you will find the Glacier View Inn, which is a good place to stay.

Include the Louise hamlet, which is located a few kilometers from the beautiful alpine lake of the same name when you are looking for a quieter place to stay. In summer, you can also camp in the Banff and Jasper National Park.

A valid permit is required for camping and you can only camp in the permitted areas around the national parks. 


Best Time to Visit The Columbian Icefields

There’s no perfect time and season to visit this beautiful place. Columbia Icefield is the best time to enjoy its experience before 11 am or 3 pm. You increase your chance of sightings of wildlife and enhance experiences such as a guided Skywalk morning tour.

Your experiences will differ from season to season. Summers are the best and the most popular season to visit and explore the icefields. 

It’s the safest time to visit the Columbian icefields to enjoy hiking and glacier walks. The Banff and Jasper are generally busy during school holidays. Most of the time, the weather is quite uncertain due to high altitude. It is even more unstable during winters, and the Icefields Parkway may be temporarily closed after heavy snowfall or avalanches. 

Winter is as busy as Summer, at least in the cities, as the two popular ski resorts of Banff and Jasper.

Hiking may have stopped, but there will be plenty of ski areas. From December to May, the ski season is open. The shoulder seasons, spring and autumn, are good times for lower prices and smaller crowds.  

Unfortunately, these icefields are disappearing due to climate change and global warming. The terminus of glaciers has retreated over 200 meters since 1992. The glacier has lost 2km of its length since 1884.  According to some reports, if climate change won’t stop, it would be gone in a generation.  Global warming is having a dramatic effect on these icefields and glaciers. So, before they disappear into nowhere, you must visit them at least once. It’s better to visit them now than to regret looking at them through pictures.

The icefield tours are once in a lifetime experience, and one should explore such places as much as possible.

Last Updated on by alishbarehman


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