Visitors to Banff National Park often wonder if the 181-mile drive to Jasper National Park is worth it? Not only is the 3 hour Banff to Jasper drive worth your time, but it has also been named time and time again as Canada’s most spectacular road.
Visitors who road trip on the Icefields Parkway are treated to incredible views, close-up animal sightings, and a stop at the renowned Athabasca glacier. Wondering what you should see and do on the way? Our Canadian Rockies road trip takes you on the unique and unforgettable Banff to Jasper drive – with plenty of adventure on the way.
Banff to Jasper Drive Day 1: Begin in Banff National Park
Most Canadian Rockies vacations begin in the town of Banff. With under 10,000 permanent residents, Banff welcomes over four million visitors a year. It is not hard to see why. This small welcoming town is home to a variety of local restaurants, quaint hotels, and iconic Canadian stores.
Start exploring at one of Banff’s most loved trails, Johnston Canyon. A fairly easy hike that is open year-round and accessible to most fitness levels. Hike to the lower falls to experience being in the canyon itself and continue to the upper falls to see a stunning 40-meter waterfall.
Families that are feeling adventurous can continue on to the Ink Pots. At the end of the trail, you’ll find several blue and green natural pools with mineral springs that bubble up to the surface.
Other amazing activities in Banff include seeing Banff by horseback with Banff Trail Riders, visiting the Cave and Basin, Canada’s first national park site, and seeing Banff from above by riding the Banff Gondola.
Explore more of Banff. Here are 10 Fun Things to do in Banff.
Where to Stay in Banff National Park
Fairmont Banff Springs – Built in 1887, the Fairmont Banff Springs is known as the “Castle in the Rockies”. Families willing to splurge are treated to the best views in Banff while staying in complete luxury.
Moose Hotel and Suites – One of Banff’s newest hotels, the Moose is perfect for families. Situated only a 1-minute walk from Banff Avenue’s shops and restaurants. Families love relaxing at night in the rooftop pool and hot tubs.
Banff to Jasper Drive Stop 2: Lake Louise
Only a 40-minute drive from Banff lies Lake Louise. The small community named after the lake that made it famous is definitely worth visiting. Lake Louise itself is a turquoise-colored lake that sits at 5,740 feet above sea level.
In the background of this iconic scene, the Victoria Glacier can be seen year-round. Lake Louise is home to adventure year-round. In summer, rent a canoe to explore the lake or hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House.
Families with experience hiking may want to continue on to Little Beehive, a trail with incredible views. In winter, hit the hills at the Lake Louise Ski Resort.
The village of Lake Louise is also home to Moraine Lake. This incredible lake is situated in the Valley of Ten Peaks. One of the most dramatic backdrops in all of Banff National Park. The road to Moraine Lake opens seasonally from June to late September.
Where to Stay in Lake Louise
Fairmont Château Lake Louise – Another iconic hotel, the Château Lake Louise is situated on the bank of the lake itself. Enjoy stellar views from the hotel which features various restaurants and a spa. Once the crowds disperse for the day, head outside to enjoy a quiet moment in this picturesque spot.
Moraine Lake Lodge – Enjoy unfettered access to Moraine Lake by staying at the only hotel located on the lake, the Moraine Lake Lodge. Hotel bookings include hiking guides and free canoe rentals. The lodge features on-site dining and individual cabins perfect for families.
Banff to Jasper Drive Stop 3: The Icefields Parkway to Saskatchewan River Crossing
The excitement begins as you pull onto the Icefields Parkway just minutes after departing Lake Louise. The gentle climb leads to incredible views quickly.
Be sure to watch for animals as bears, goats, wolves, coyotes, elk, and deer are often seen along the Banff to Jasper drive. On this portion of the highway, you’ll want to have a camera ready as each turn leads to another incredible mountain view.
Along the Icefields Parkway, there are numerous signs marking hikes and viewpoints. Keep an eye out for the sign to Bow Summit Lookout.
This stop is best known for its view of Peyto Lake. In summer, Peyto Lake is a unique bright turquoise color. Some visitors also remark that the lake is shaped like a dog. Peyto is one of Canada’s most photographed lakes due to its sheer beauty.
Note: Due to trail refurbishments, Bow Summit and Peyto Lake are closed until Summer 2021.
Once you continue on the Banff to Jasper drive, keep an eye out for Parker Ridge. This 2.7 Km hike (5.4km roundtrip) leads you to a viewpoint of the Saskatchewan Glacier. This hike is easy for families.
Once you arrive at Saskatchewan River Crossing, turn onto Highway 11 to access some lesser-known hikes. Families particularly love hiking to Siffleur Falls. Here, families can explore an easy and wide trail that features a suspension bridge and a boardwalk leading to an incredible gorge and three waterfalls.
Where to Stay in Saskatchewan River Crossing
The Crossing– The Crossing is a unique place to stay that feels like a throwback to a simpler time. Rooms feature family-friendly amenities and the Crossing Pub is well known for its homemade grub.
Banff to Jasper Drive Stop 4: Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier
The Columbia Icefield is one of the largest non-polar ice fields in the world. The Icefield feeds six major glaciers, one of which, the Athabasca Glacier is accessible from the Icefields Parkway.
The Columbia Icefield lies atop of a triple Continental Divide meaning its waters flow to the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the Hudson Bay. As you approach the Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier, the scenery along the Banff to Jasper drive turns from stunning to out of this world.
While the drives between stops on the Icefields Parkway are short, they can take much longer than expected as mountain goats wander on the highway and visitors stop numerous times to take in the views. When planning to visit the Athabasca Glacier, you will want to schedule at least 3-4 hours.
The easiest and safest way to experience the glacier is by embarking on the Columbia Icefields Adventure. The tour offered by Pursuit allows guests to board an Ice Explorer that takes you across a sheet of ice.
Guests are allowed to disembark to explore the glacier and fill water bottles with glacier water. After the tour, guests are whisked to the Skywalk, a glass walkway that stands 918 feet above the Sunwapta Valley. Advance bookings are required for both these experiences.
Where to Stay Near The Athabasca Glacier
Glacier View Lodge – In previous years, the Athabasca Glacier was a day trip from Banff and Jasper. Now with the opening of the Glacier View Lodge, guests can sleep in a Dark Sky Preserve with a view of the glacier. Splurge for the all-inclusive experience to enjoy private tours of the glacier and Skywalk, a three-course dinner, and more.
Banff to Jasper Drive Stop 5: Athabasca Glacier to Sunwapta Falls
The drive from Athabasca Glacier to Sunwapta Falls is a shorter portion of the Banff to Jasper drive but worth taking slowly. The Sunwapta Falls are a series of three waterfalls.
The upper falls are visible from the road. Families will love exploring the short trail through the forest to the lower falls. These falls are formed by a change of flow in the Sunwapta River that has carved a beautiful gorge. The roar of falls can be heard throughout the hike.
Where to Stay Near Sunwapta Falls
Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge – Families looking for kid-friendly accommodation on the Banff to Jasper drive will love the Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge. Stay in your own cabin with a wood fireplace as even in summer Alberta nights are cold. Access the Sunwapta Falls trail from the hotel parking lot and explore at your own leisure. Guests who hit the trail early often have it to themselves.
Banff to Jasper Drive Final Stop: Jasper National Park
Once you have completed the Banff to Jasper drive on the iconic Icefields Parkway, you will not want to stop exploring. Jasper is one of Canada’s best national parks and adventure abounds.
In summer, kids love riding the Jasper Skytram to the top of Whistlers Mountain. Look for marmots on the top of the mountain whose whistling gave Whistlers Mountain its name.
Kids wanting to visit their first mountain summit will find the Whistlers Summit Trail easy and fun. From the tram to the top it is only 2.3 miles.
On a hot summer day, join the locals at Lake Annette and Edith Lake. Bring floats and a picnic and take time to enjoy the stunning backdrops and hikes the depart from trailheads near the lakes.
When visiting Jasper, a trip to Maligne Lake is always recommended. Board a boat with Maligne Lake Tours to see the iconic Spirit Island. Other not to be missed sites include visiting the Miette Hot Springs, Maligne Canyon, and Athabasca Falls.
Where to Stay in Jasper
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge – Located on the shores of Beauvert Lake, few hotels compare to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Stay in the lodge or book a private cabin. All accommodations have quick access to the lake and outdoor pool. Lake Annette and Lake Edith can both be accessed quickly from the Lodge. There is a shuttle to the town of Jasper as well as both lakes.
Sawridge Inn and Conference Center – A solid choice for families with large rooms and an indoor pool. A quick walk to Jasper’s main street.
Pine Bungalows – A quick walk to Jasper but a world away. Escape the busy streets and relax in individual cabins while local wildlife strolls through the property.