Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Canadian Rockies: Icefields Parkway

Icefields Parkway is a two-lane, paved highway paralleling the Continental Divide for 140 miles from Jasper (in the north) to Highway 1 (in the south, on which you can either drive west to Yoho National Park or east to Lake Louise and Banff National Park.  A Canadian National Parks permit is required for the drive.  Most places have a speed limit of 90 km/hour --  rarely a problem due to the abundance of landscape and wildlife views.


The parkway is aptly named for the glaciers and and icefields above.  The Columbia Icefield, which is 125 square miles in area and up to 1200 feet deep (according to Wikipedia), feeds eight major glaciers and includes some of the highest mountains in the Canadian Rockies, many towering
near 12,000 feet.

In July and August, the busiest months, up to 100,000 vehicles per month compete for these views, highway, and parking space.  Since most of these vehicles are busses, holding dozens of tourists, the actual number of summer visitors is astounding, and the parking lots can be buzzing.  Luckily, relatively few of these tourists actually venture beyond the parking lots, simply stepping off of their bus to snap a photo and check a sight off of their lists.  We were able to escape the crowds and explore the area at several sites, going beyond the parking lots.

Unlike the tour buses, we did not complete even a one-way trip in a day.  In fact, we didn't finish in even two days.  Our first campground in the Icefields Parkway was Wilcox.  The campground was full but for one campsite -- the one designated as a wheelchair campsite.  There was a small written
notice requesting that only campers with wheelchairs occupy this site.  Only in Canada would that request have been honored!  But it was!  So, we took the site, and we swatted bugs as we quickly set up our tent.  Despite the fact that I needed to use my all-terrain wheelchair in order to wade through the loose gravel surrounding the nearby "disabled" outhouse, the existence and availability of these things was an unexpected convenience.

The next night, our camping luck finally ran out, and we joined the many similarly luckless and
siteless campers in the parking lot of Mosquito Creek . We celebrated Ted's birthday with pecan tartlets, eating dinner in the dirt parking lot between the car and the tent.  The next day we finished our jaunt down the Icefields Parkway.

The following is a list of most highlights -- from north to south -- on the Icefields Parkway, along with descriptions, photos, and notes about accessibility

We didn’t stop for this hike.  A ranger said she'd heard of someone in a wheelchair getting up to the second lake, but no farther.

Athabasca Falls --
accessible till it's not!

Athabasca Falls
* Athabasca Falls
Water tumbling through carved rock pathways. A small, paved hill leads from the car parking lot to the paths, so wheelchairs either need strength or an assist getting up.  You could also park in the lower, bus parking area.  The first lookout is accessible via a paved path, but the second lookout is not, due to steps.

Lookout into mountains, glaciers, river. Maybe goats.  Short paved path from car to view. Short hill.

Missed it.  Read you could take wheelchair to lower, but not upper, falls.

Roadside pull out with views of mountains, glacier.

Stutfield Glacier

Hike. Didn't go, but ranger said it might be good.

Roadside pull out with views of mountain and glacier.

Angled viewpoint at Tangle Falls

*Tangle falls
Wide water falls on the east side of the  highway. Parking lots are on the west side of the  highway, with a disabled spot near the out houses on a dirt, upper lot.

Center with a restaurant, hotel, a view of Athabasca Glacier from the porch, wifi for all, bathrooms, a trailhead to hike to the glacier, a tour on big trucks that drive onto glacier, a tour that you can walk to overhang with glass bottom a thousand feet above ground, and tons of people.  Didn’t go on any tours, but read that the glacier trucks are wheelchair accessible. Bathrooms are kind of accessible. (One large designated family and accessible stall is separate, but has no grab bars. In large women's room, there is one large stall,  but grab bars either run into toilet paper holders or else are out of reach on wall very far away from toilet.)

Icefields Centre with view of Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier

Overlook at highway pull out 

*Canyon with Waterfall and gushing waterfall

We tried, without success to find the name of this unmarked pull-out on the west side of the highway.  A gushing waterfall jumps out of the rocks of the cliff is above you to the south. In the distance, across a field of rocks, is a canyon carved by a stream.  If you can get across the rockfield, there are beautiful views of the canyon edge, but you must climb a steep and narrow cliff to reach the view of the small waterfall beyond.  

Short hike to overlook with view of valley far below, with bright blue lake and mountains with glaciers.  The hike goes on a short but steep paved trail from the upper parking lot with buses and handicapped parking (you can reach it from the lower car parking lot as well, but that requires more hills). 

At the same parking lot and trail, past the turn-off to the Peyto Lake Overlook is short interpretive trail, paved but with roots and very steep.  After a little way, you meet up with an old fire road and eventually a dirt trail (both of which are very steep for a wheelchair), carrying you past snowfields, marmots, and wildflowers galore, up into mosquitoes and flies, views of mountains and glaciers, Bow Summit, and Bow Lake.

Next stop Banff and a hotel with a bed and a shower!

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