Icefields Center – Athabasca Glacier

Parking lot with a view

From Banff to Jasper there are not a lot of places to stay, whether you are camping, RVing, or hoteling it. The whole stretch is about 185 miles and if you are trying to chop it up into bikeable chunks, you will likely need to consider doing an overnight in a parking lot at the glacier. This is what we did back in 2003, except we stayed in a room above the restaurant. It is super touristy and really odd, but also kinda cool. Literally.

Launching the bikie

Richard shaved off a few miles on the day by having done the bit from Silverhorn to Mistaya Canyon already. I dropped him off at a pull out and I headed up to the glacier. We did a little bit of leap frog, but eventually, I left him on his own so that I could get a first come first serve site. That was totally unnecessary, but we did not know that.

The views go on and on

There were beautiful views along the way, plus a big switch back climb up to Parker Ridge. I pulled into the viewpoint parking area and did not see the broken glass that later sent Richard into a panic. I arrived at the Icefield Center around noon and found the RV overnight “campground.” There were lots of open parking slots, so of course I chose one next to an Alto. I chatted with the owners, who are French speaking members of the Les Altoistes facebook group. They were heading up to get a shuttle tour and I made myself comfortable in the parking lot to catch up on blogging and internet things.

That was a big climb!

(P.S. just for the record – I got my butt up that climb on a bike too, once upon a time)

It took Richard another hour and a half or so to bike into service range. As soon as he did, he sent a frantic text asking if everything was ok. Poor guy saw the broken glass across the parking area at Parker Ridge and noticed a piece that looked like part of an Alto door frame. His mind went crazy and he just raced as fast as he could from that point on. Once he knew Dory and I were fine, he could relax, but he had spent the last few miles of the ride worried and hungry. It would be really great to have communicators that work without service.

Never underestimate the authority of cones.

He unwound and we discussed whether to stay there the night or move on to Jasper. It’s a weird place, but you have to admit the view is unique. We opted to stay and set up in the parking slot. The only thing that worried me was how fast the bus RVs were driving through and how close they were coming to other campers as they pulled in. I utilized the power of cones to set up a barrier in front of Dory’s butt, and that made me feel better. We paid up and left to go look at the glacier.

Free walk to glacier… shuttle started to seem worth it after a while…

We both objected to paying $100 per person to ride a bus so that we could be driven to a point where we could stand on the dirty ice. And neither of us wanted to go walk on the glass bottomed viewpoint bridge. So we just hoofed it on a trail. That trail turned out to be a rocky and unnecessarily climby way to get out there. It was also really cold walking into the wind coming off the glacier. By the time we made it up to where we were close, I was annoyed with the glacier.

This is the Skywalk where you can pay $35 per person to be terrified.

Nowadays, they won’t let you just walk on it unless you have a guide. I remember from before that you could definitely walk on it, but there were signs everywhere telling you how fast you would die if you fell into an ice crevice. Now they won’t even let you take your chances with that. Maybe too many people died. Or maybe hiring ice crevice guides is another way to make money.

Well that’s depressing.

There are markers placed up the mountain telling you where the glacier used to be, so that you can see how quickly it is melting. It seemed smaller than I remember and there are markers that confirmed that impression. Not needing to hire somebody to take us out to touch the retreating ice, we walked back along the road to Dory. Richard made a quick stop at the Icefield Center restaurant to snag some butter packets so that we could have French Toast for dinner.

Uh oh.

We found Dory next to a huge 5th wheel. The other Alto had left. We both immediately thought, “Uh oh. Maybe we should move,” and acted quickly on that instinct. We figured if we backed into a slot on the edge, only smaller campers could come in next to us. Dory’s butt stuck out past the pavement, but her wheels were technically in the slot, so we set up again. There were no other close encounters the rest of the stay.

Weird place to stay, but not bad for a morning coffee view.

We enjoyed French Toast and eggs for dinner, with a view of the glacier until the sun set. By the way, up in the Rockies in the summer, the sun does not set until after 10pm, and it stays light until 11. It makes it hard to keep reasonable hours sometimes.

Canadian National Park #4!

Richard has one more leg to complete in his quest to ride EFI (Every …Funfilled?… Inch) of the Banff-Jasper Tour de Rockies. It will be a big day to get to Jasper, and he will almost certainly get rained on. But he is stubborn and also lucky to have someone SAGing him.

Total miles from Silverhorn: 47.2, 17.4 mpg, 3 hours 1 min with stopping. Parking lot. Pay $16.75 with self-registration envelope. No amenities, no dump. Excellent cell service.

2 thoughts on “Icefields Center – Athabasca Glacier

  1. Beautiful country. Again, thanks for sharing your adventure. I do have to wonder out loud why an RV would pull in next to you when it appeared from the photos that there were other, roomier parking spaces to occupy. But maybe not when they pulled in, maybe parking next to you was the only option.

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