The drive from Canmore to Jasper is 312 km (193 miles). Google Maps says it a 3 hour 52 minute drive, but you should plan on it taking the whole day. The Columbia Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic highways I’ve been on and you will want to stop to take in the views.
From Canmore to Lake Louise you have the option of taking Highway 1 – the faster route, or Highway 1A – the more scenic route. On Highway 1 you probably won’t see much wildlife. The Canadians have put fencing on both sides of the highway to keep wildlife from wandering onto the highway. Instead they have built wildlife overpasses and underpasses along the highway specifically to allow wildlife to get from one side of the highway to the other safely. This has reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions by more than 80%. If you want to see wildlife, you are more likely to see it on Highway 1A.
Shortly after you pass Lake Louise, you will turn onto the Columbia Icefields Parkway. About 27 miles from Lake Louise you will come to the turnoff for Bow Summit which will take you to an overview of Peyto Lake. It is just a short walk from the parking lot to the overlook but it is well worth the visit.
Between Bow Summit and Columbia Icefield Visitors Center, there are numerous pullouts to view the gorgeous scenery. This was my third trip on the Columbia Icefields Parkway and I always want to stop and take in the views.
At the Visitor’s Center (about 140 miles from Lake Louise) you can visit its natural history museum or take a ride on a snowcoach and actually travel onto the glacier. A new experience is the Glacier Sky Walk which takes you onto a glass-floored observation platform that extends out over the Sunwapta Valley. Having a fear of heights, I declined.
A little further up the road is Sunwapta Falls. You can take a short walk from the parking area to view the falls and if you want to walk further, the path goes along the river. The falls are impressive – it has a drop of about 60 feet. There is fencing around the viewing area to prevent slipping on the wet rocks.
About 14 miles from Sunwapta Falls and shortly before arriving in Jasper, you will come to Athabasca Falls. It is one of the most beautiful falls I’ve seen. There are several viewing platforms and walking trails where it is safe to view the falls.
There is a good chance you will see wildlife along the Parkway. First and foremost, be respectful of the wildlife. Observe from your vehicle. Wildlife are unpredictable and fast. Some of the wildlife you may encounter on the Parkway are grizzly bears, black bears, moose, elk, mountain sheep and deer.