Columbia Icefield#8 in Best Things To Do in Banff
Covering 130 square miles on the southern edge of Banff National Park, the Columbia Icefield is the largest body of ice in the Canadian Rockies. It's a bit of a drive from Banff Town (about 2 ½ hours), but you'll quickly find the views are well worth the trip. Seasonal tour buses are available from Banff Town (such as this one offered by Discover Banff Tours and Brewster Sightseeing), but consider driving the Icefields Parkway (Route 93) north from Banff to enjoy the stunning trip, which is considered among the most scenic drives in the world. Along the way, you'll spot turquoise lakes, rushing waterfalls and impressive glaciers.
Whether you come on a tour or drive yourself, once you arrive, you'll hop on an Ice Explorer – a specialized bus that's equipped to handle the icy terrain – which will transport you out onto the glacier (an 80-minute journey), where you'll be allowed 20 minutes to explore. Departing Ice Explorers leave the Athabasca Glacier every 15 to 30 minutes. If you're short on time, you can purchase tickets for the Glacier Skywalk, a glass-floored observation platform that sits 918 feet over the Sunwapta Valley.
Recent visitors said this is a can't-miss sight in the Rocky Mountains, calling the glacier "breathtaking" and the guides informative and entertaining. If it's an experience you know you want to do, reviewers suggested booking tickets in advance as the tours – operated by Brewster Travel Canada – can get crowded and you may have to wait a few hours before departing on your tour if you neglect to reserve a spot. The crowds, along with the steep ticket prices, were a common gripe among visitors.
Tours are available daily from mid-April to mid-October; hours vary by month, but generally tours operate from 9 or 10 a.m. to 4, 5 or 6 p.m. It's recommended that you set aside three hours for the excursion, and wear layers and appropriate shoes (sneakers or hiking boots are best). Tickets for the combined Glacier Skywalk and Ice Explorer Glacier Tour cost CA$99 (about $77) for adults 16 and older; the experience costs CA$50 (approximately $38) for children between the ages of 6 and 15. You can save 10 percent when you book in advance online. If you decide to drive, you'll find ample parking is available at the Glacier Discovery Centre, where the Ice Explorers depart. For information, visit the Brewster Travel Canada website.
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