On the way back, we stopped at the viewpoints for the upper half of the parkway. Our favorite stop was at Athabasca Falls. A paved path leads around a series of tiered falls that flow through a canyon. A great way to end our Icefield Parkway adventure.
Today we drove down the upper half of the Icefield Parkway, with the end goal being to take a tour of the Athabasca Glacier. A tour company runs tours of the glacier from the Icefield Center near the Columbia Icefield. From the Center, you board a shuttle (regular bus) that goes up a road on the glacier. At this point, we were driving through a lateral moraine – mound of rock covering the glacier. At the transfer point, we transferred from the shuttle to a snow coach – a specially designed coach for driving on ice (they cost a million dollars a piece to build). The snow coach takes you to an area of the Athabasca Glacier that does not have cravasses (deep cracks in the ice) where we could walk around and take photos. The ice is hundreds of feet thick, so no danger unless you wander off into areas with cravasses. You can hike the glacier and the icefield beyond, but have to get advance permission from the park service and it requires mountaineering skills. Those who do this are usually doing it to get to the mountains on the other side. Way beyond our skill and comfort levels!