If you drive the Icefields Parkway you pass the Parker Ridge trailhead. This coming summer you’re finally going to stop. Why? Because it’s an easy to moderate and truly gorgeous two to three hour family friendly hike. People who want more can climb the ridgecrest. And when you’re finished you’re just 10 minutes away from the Columbia Icefield.
This is a hike where you get big in your face glacier views – the Saskatchewan Glacier to be exact. Although you’ll only see a fraction of it’s 13 kilometre length, I’m betting you’ll be blown away.
The trail starts from the parking lot and heads through open forest. Literally within five minutes you get the first of many superb views looking north.
As you switchback up the moderate to steep slope through patches of stunted trees you’ll pass swaths of pink heather. If you’re here in mid-summer you may get a real wildflower display with fleabane and Indian paintbrush the predominant flowers.
The saddle is reached at the two kilometre mark. It will take you between 30 minutes and an hour to reach this point. Think of it as a test of your conditioning program. Continue. The hiking above treeline just gets more glorious.
You’re going to want a camera to capture the expansive mountain and glacier views once you reach the saddle. The Saskatchewan Glacier is the prominent landmark and can be seen below from many vantage points. The water from the glacier feeds the North Saskatchewan River.
There are a couple of options once you reach the saddle. Do nothing but sit and admire the views. Or continue on a trail that parallels the North Saskatchewan River until it peters out in about 20 minutes time. On the return to the saddle the glacier remains front and centre in your line of vision.
There is also the option to climb the ridgecrest. That will add a couple of hours hiking time to your day. You can find a boot beaten path to the crest – if you look carefully. Providing you’re not in fog, there’s little chance of getting lost. Along the way there is a wind shelter – testament to what happens without the protection of trees up here.
If you elect to climb the ridgecrest (I only went partway because of poor weather) you will ascend a total of 1,800 feet – not bad for the reward of so many mountain peaks.
Where you’ll find the trailhead for Parker Ridge
Drive north from Saskatchewan River Crossing along the Icefields Parkway for 41 kilometres. Alternatively drive south from the Banff – Jasper National Park’s boundary for 4.2 kilometres. The trailhead is on the south side of the highway beside a large parking lot. It’s hard to miss. There are washrooms here as well.
Do you have a favourite hike along the Icefields Parkway?