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Powerfully rugged mountain scenery, glaciers, waterfalls and icefalls, and wildlife: the Icefields Parkway reveals all of these and more as it snakes its way between Lake Louise and Jasper.
There aren't any gas stations along the route, so be sure to check the gas gauge before setting out. Although, you could drive this winding road in three to four hours, it's more likely to be a full-day trip when you add in stops. The road rises to near the tree line at several points, and the weather can be chilly and unsettled at these high elevations, even in midsummer, so it's a good idea to bring warm clothing along.
Elk, moose, deer, and bighorn sheep are fairly common along this route, and occasionally you can see bears and mountain goats. In summer, alpine wildflowers carpet Bow Pass and Sunwapta Pass.
The most dramatic scenery is in the north end of Banff National Park and the south end of Jasper National Park, where ice fields and glaciers become common on the high mountains flanking the route (ice fields are massive reservoirs of ice; glaciers are the slow-moving rivers of ice that flow from the ice fields). Scenic overlooks and signposted hiking trails abound along the route.
At 6,787 feet, Bow Summit (40 km [25 mi] north of Lake Louise, 190 km south of Jasper) is the highest drivable pass in the national parks of the Canadian Rockies. It is famous for its postcard viewpoint of Peyto Lake. To reach the summit viewpoint, park in the lot on the west side of the highway and take the trail from there that leads 1½ km (1 mi) through alpine forest to a scenic point above the timberline. On the south side of the pass is Bow Lake, source of the Bow River, which flows through Banff. You may wish to stop for lunch or supper at Simpson's Num-Ti-Jah Lodge (40 km [25 mi] north of Lake Louise on Hwy. 93. 403/522-2167. www.num-ti-jah.com) at Bow Lake. This rustic lodge with simple guest rooms specializes in excellent regional Canadian cuisine. Outside, walking paths circle the lake. Above Bow Lake hangs the Crowfoot Glacier, so named because of its resemblance to a three-toed crow's foot. At least that's how it looked when it was named at the beginning of the 20th century. In the Canadian Rockies, glaciers, including Crowfoot, have been receding. The lowest toe completely melted away 50 years ago, and now only the upper two toes remain. On the north side of Bow Pass is Peyto Lake; its startlingly intense aqua-blue color comes from the minerals in glacial runoff. Wildflowers blossom along the pass in summer, but note that it can be covered with snow as late as May and as early as September.
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