About Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Icefield, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada
Columbia Icefield, a remnant of the last ice age, is an extensive valley of interconnected glaciers located in the border of Banff & Jasper National Park, across the continental divide. Athabasca glacier (6 km long, 90-300 m thick, 6 km2 in area) is one of the six glaciers fed by Columbia Icefield, which can accessed easily by visitors traveling on Icefields Parkway. Athabasca glacier has receded approximately a mile in over a century and is still receding by about 2-3 m per year. Dome Glacier, Stutfield Glacier and Saskatchewan glacier which are part of the Columbia Icefield can also be seen from Icefields Parkway.
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What to do at Athabasca Glacier Columbia Icefield?
Things to do at Athabasca Glacier Columbia Icefield
See the celebrated Columbia Icefield of Canadian Rockies, nestled amongst the towering mountain peaks.
Athabasca Glacier Columbia Icefield Hike
There are two trails to the toe of the glacier. One which starts immediately from side the Icefields Parkway (across the Icefield Discovery Centre) called the Forefield trail (1.8 km) and the other from the parking lot (near the Sunwapta lake) at the end of Athabasca glacier toe Road. The forefield trail end at the start of the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier trail (0.9 km).
– If starting from the parkway, hike the 1.8 km unpaved rubble strewn path (sediments left behind by the retreating glacier)learning how much the glacier has receded due to climate change with each passing year. After the fore field trail ends, the elevation climbs by about 60 m for about 700m. After the climb, and a short walk will take you to the roped – restricted area at the toe of the glacier.
Do not venture beyond the roped/restricted area as the the glacier surface is ridden with deep crevasses. Since you are at high altitude, and the air is thin, take your time hiking to the glacier. Take care not to over exert yourself. If parking near at the toe trail, then the hike is lot easier.
Join Brewster tours for Glacier Adventure tour : Travel on the ice explorer / snocoach,( a specially designed bus with tracks to enable driving on the glacier). Walk on the Athabasca Glacier and experience the glacier: taste the glacier water, appreciate the icy blue colour of the glacier, feel the cool mountain air. Read this blog for a good description of the explorer tour.
Best way to see Athabasca glacier – Columbia Icefield : Do both (hike to the toe & Glacier tour) if you have the budget and time, if not, hike to the glacier toe. Have warm clothes handy as it is cooler near the glacier.
Columbia Icefield in Winter
No tours. The glacier toe road is closed in winter. See the glacier from the Icefields parkway or snow shoe.
Check road conditions.
Columbia Icefield Weather – here
How to get to Columbia Icefield?
Athabasca Glacier Columbia Icefield Location & Directions
Located in Jasper National Park on the Icefields Parkway, 4 km from Sunwapta Pass , the Columbia Icefield is ~ 104 km from Jasper town, ~128 km from Lake Louise and 49 km from Saskatchewan river crossing. The Columbia Icefield is located on the opposite side of the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre.The Glacier adventure tours leave from the Discovery centre. The tickets are available at the from the ticketing office on the main floor of Columbia Icefield centre.
See sidebar for Columbia Icefield /Athabasca Glacier map and directions.
How much to see Columbia Icefield?
Columbia Icefield/ Athabasca Glacier admission/fees
Included in the National Park admission fee if only hiking to the toe of the glacier.
Glacier Adventure / Snocoach tour – Adult (16+): $56.95 Child (6-15): $28.45 +GST
When to see Athabasca Glacier Columbia Icefield?
View of the Icefield – Year round (other than weather related closures of Icefield Parkway).
To the Toe of the glacier – Weather dependent. April to Mid November (not official, but if the path is not covered in snow, one can hike till the restricted/roped area. Other wise, snow shoe. Please obey all Parks Canada instructions posted at the site for your own safety.
Glacier adventure – See Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre Hours, tours leave every 15 – 30 minutes.
How long to spend in Athabasca Glacier Columbia Icefield?
~ 2 hours if walking to the glacier toe.
Glacier adventure – 1.5 hours ( allow more time in peak tourist season for waiting in line)
Athabasca Glacier Columbia Icefield amenities, access and parking?
Ample parking available near the Icefields parkway and near the Sunwapta Lake. . Picnic tables. Deli & Restaurant, hotel in Columbia Ice field centre. Campgrounds.
See the article about Icefieds parkway for all amenities on Icefields parkway.
Glacier Adventure – Wheel chair accessible.
Take warm clothes as it is cooler near/on the glacier.
Hiking path – Not accessible. A stroller can be taken till the path climbs up steeply.
columbia icefield area and the athabasca glacier