Athabasca Glacier is one toe of the massive Columbia Icefield.
Sunwapta Pass along the Icefields Parkway, defines the border between Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. The massive Icefield hosts some of the tallest mountains in the Canadian Rockies. The drive south on the Icefields Parkway, following the hike into Stanley Falls along Beauty Creek, will present the opportunity to experience the short, easy hike into the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. The stop at a large parking area north of Icefield Centre soaks up the incredible scenery which is perhaps similar to visiting another planet.
The Dome Glacier hangs from the 3,451 m (11,322 ft) Snow Dome. The Snow Dome is a hydrographic apex where melt waters drain to three different oceans; the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Arctic Oceans. Ravaged rock, scoured smooth over thousands of years by the advance and retreat of massive ice flow, leaves lateral and terminal moraines which are reluctant to foster new growth. The breeze from the ice above is both chilling and refreshing in combination with the sun. A formidable river of cascading water, rendered a milky turquoise by suspended rock flour, establishes an impressive foreground.
Dome Glacier hangs from the Snow Dome where prominent lateral moraines remain as evidence of its original size in modern times at Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Views are complemented by the feel of a cool breeze from the Icefield and the sound of fast, white and turquoise water.
A long lense view of Dome Glacier and the rock debris left by advancing and retreating ice flow at the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. The size and fathom are difficult to grasp.
From the cool and calm environment at the viewpoint, a short drive south arrives at the massive and frantic parking area fort Icefield Centre. As well as providing accommodation and a variety of dining options, the Icefield Centre is central command for the Parks Canada Visitor Information Centre, the Glacier Gallery and tickets for a variety of fascinating local excursions including Glacier Adventure interpretive tours on the surface of massive Athabasca Glacier via huge coaches specially designed for travel on the surface of a glacier. There are unique experiences available here.
One of the most recent is transportation to and from the Glacier Skywalk with glass-floored views of the deep and rugged valley beneath. The outdoor patio overlooking the Athabasca Glacier is an excellent place to enjoy packed lunches previously prepared by David Thompson Resort.
The hustle and bustle of the Icefield Centre is followed by the drive across the Icefields Parkway to the busy parking area near the trail-head for a closer view of the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. Near the parking area there is a busy Parks Canada booth and the opportunity to engage in an Icewalk Tour for a fee. Across the bridge wide trail makes the moderate ascent past year markers which gauge the pace of the Athabasca Glacier's retreat. The short trail, 1.0 KM (⅝ mile) return, is crowded.
The hill crests at the 1992 trail marker to begin a gentle descent towards the toe of the Athabasca Glacier on a well-defined path with rope barriers for definition.
As the loop trail turns north at the toe of the Athabasca Glacier, barren terrain hosts the melt water carving into rock, debris-laden ice beneath lateral moraines.
The return hike passes interesting rock feature with a sweeping view of massive mountains to the north and east. Throngs of visitors, bundled up for warmth, provide scale on the hike back to the trail-head.
Closing in on the trail-head, there is an excellent and expanding view of the Icefield Centre beneath the ridge which hosts the trail to Wilcox Pass and Wilcox Lake where the top of that ridge provided outstanding elevated views of the Columbia Icefield.
Photographs for this short but spectacular hike at the Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefield in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada, along the Icefield Parkway were captured on August 19, 2014.