Looking to drive one of the most iconic and beautiful highways in Canada during the winter months? The Icefields Parkway winds through the stunning Rocky Mountains and no matter the season will leave you breathless the entire drive. This 230km stretch between Lake Louise and Jasper boasts one of the worlds most scenic drives. It is often featured as a bucket list road trip but always shows photos of the highway during the summer. The Icefields Parkway is considered to be a mountain highway and is thus not as well maintained as the TransCanada to the south. Parks Canada does a great job ensuring the road is open as much as possible during the winter months it still presents challenges from the weather. Driving the Icefields Parkway in the winter can be one of the most enjoyable and breathtaking experiences of your life as long as you prepare for driving in the winter and use this guide as your
Driving the highway that links Lake Louise to Jasper through the winter could be tricky depending on the weather. In fact, a lot of people will avoid Highway 93 better known as the Icefields Parkway in the winter and opt to take the long way around rather than driving the unplowed snow covered road. Do not let that scare you though as the driving the Icefields Parkway in Winter can be an absolutely beautiful drive just ensure you are prepared and know what is head before taking on the highway! We have compiled a list of tips to help you prepare for driving the beautiful snow covered Icefields Parkway.
Get a Four Wheel Drive Vehicle to Drive the Icefields Parkway in Winter
Driving the Icefields Parkway is much more easily tackled if you have an SUV or truck that has four wheel drive. The larger vechiles since they have more weight to them can handle snowy roads better than a small two wheel drive sedan. That being said we did see it done by many cars that were only in two wheel drive and they successfully made they drive – they just had to be more careful and drive according to the conditions. Winter Tires are also a must before driving through the Rocky Mountains in general in the winter you will be in much better shape. A lot of rental cars offer winter tires on their rental you just have to be sure to book well ahead to get a car with winter tires guaranteed. Some rental companies will try and offer you a vehicle with All Wheel Drive to make up for not having winter tires. Unfortunatly, it is not a legal subsitute for winter tires and you can still get ticketed under the National Parks Highway Traffic Regulations state that it is mandatory to have winter tires when driving on the highways between November 1st and March 31st.
Check the Icefields Parkway Road Report
The parkway does not get salted and is not cleared down to the pavement like the other highways in Alberta so the snow stays compact on top of the road. There is limited maintenance on the road and there is no maintenance done at all from 3:30pm to 7am from November to April. If there is a snowstorm the highway will close down for a few hours up to a few days depending on the severity of the storm. You do not want to get stuck on the highway in the middle of a snow storm as there is no cell reception to call for help and the traffic is limited on the highway during the winter months. Additionally all accommodation, restaurants and the only fuel station on the road are closed in the winter.
Make sure to check both the weather forecast (www.weatheroffice.gc.ca or www.theweathernetwork.com) as well as the road conditions before leaving to head on the Icefields Parkway. You can check the conditions here: www.ama.ab.ca orwww.511.alberta.ca. Be sure to check the latest avalance conditions at pc.gc.ca/avalanche if you plan on doing any back country hikes. You can also call Banff 403-762-1450 • Jasper 780-852-3311. Lastly, you can visit any information centre in Banff, Lake Louise or Jasper to check on the road conditions.
Make Sure You Fuel Up Before Driving the Icefields Parkway in Winter
Before you depart from Banff, Lake Louise or Jasper make sure you fuel your car up to ensure you have a full tank of gas. During the winter months the only gas station along the Icefields Parkway is closed and you do not want to run out of gas on the highway. Plus, who wants to worry about running out of gas when you could be enjoying the spectacular views!
Another thing to make sure you have plenty of before leaving the gas station is windshield washer fluid as that can come in handy when it is snowing!
Expect The Unexpected When Driving the Icefields Parkway in Winter
Whenever we go out on a road trip we plan for the worst weather and road conditions so we are never caught off guard. We carry additional food and water in case we were to get stuck for an additional period of time as well as warm clothes. Bringing an emergency kit along with you including a first aid kit, portable shovel, swiss army knit and flares. If you don’t want to bring this with you on a plane a lot fo the care rental companies will rent this to you for a small fee. Most people say sure its only 230km what is the worst that can happen but if you get stuck on the other side of an avalanche and cannot pass then you will be saying differently! We drove through a pretty bad snowstorm on the way to Jasper where the conditions were white out the majority of the time so always just play things on the safe side!
You Will Not Have Cell Reception while Driving the Icefields Parkway
Although we have already mentioned you will not have cell reception we feel it warrents its own section. You lose reception depending on your provider about 5km north of Lake Louise (around Herbert Lake) and you will not get it again until you are 30km south of Jasper at Athabasca Falls. We travel with a Garmin Satellite Phone that has proven handy during our many trips into remote areas that allows you to both emergency text to your contacts and make an emergency call to 911. Additionally, we download all the maps of where will be going before we head into an area that we have has no or limited cell reception. There are a series of payphones along the Icefields Parkway including at the following locations (from south to north):
- Saskatchewan River Crossing Warden Station
- Beauty Creek Hostel
- Sunwapta Falls Warden Station
- Athabasca Falls Hostel
- Athabasca Falls (accepts credit cards)
Allow for Extra Travel Time While Driving the Icefields Parkway in Winter
The biggest thing we can say while driving the Icefields Parkway in winter is make sure you take your time! If you take your time you can really ensure your safety. The 230km stretch of road takes on average three hours on way in the summer so plan for it to take you at minimum four hours in the winter. Make sure you start your drive early and plan to complete your drive while in daylight especially since snow cleaning and maitenance only happens between 7am and 3:30pm. You will also want to allot for time to pull off at roadside stops along the way to take in the beautiful sights of the mountains, glaciers and everything else this incredible drive has to offer.
Watch Out For Wildlife
Just because it is winter doesn’t mean all the animals have gone into hibernation. There are still lots of animals that like to come out especially at dusk and dawn so make sure you keep your eyes out for them so you can slow down in time and not hit them! The main animals to keep your eyes out for is mountain goats, deer, bighorn sheep, caribou and coyotes.
Don’t let the guide scare you these tips are here for us to help you and make sure you have a safe and enjoyable journey! Driving the Icefields Parkway in Winter can be absolutely breathtaking and a very enjoyable experience as long as you are prepared. Just drive with common sense and this guide in mind and enjoy driving one of the most scenic roads that is the Icefields Parkway!