Roughly midway along the Icefields Parkway, the Columbia Icefield and Sunwapta Pass mark the boundary between Jasper and Banff National Parks, and the dividing line between the Arctic and Hudson Bay watersheds. South of the pass, the first worthwhile stop is the Weeping Wall, a 330-foot cliff of gray limestone down which a series of waterfalls tumble. Frozen in winter, it’s a prime spot for ice-climbing thrill-seekers.
Though it may well sound like empty hyperbole, the list of candidates for the most beautiful sight in Banff National Park—and perhaps the entire Canadian Rockies—has to include jewel-like Peyto Lake, an iridescently glowing blue-green glacial lake that reflects the surrounding snowcapped peaks. The often mirror-smooth waters of this small oblong lake change color from a deep blue to jade green as the proportion of glacial silt in the water increases with the snowmelt from summer to fall. The short trail to the usually crowded Peyto Lake overlook starts from the parking area along the Icefields Parkway at 6,791-foot Bow Summit.
Bow Summit is one of the highest points reachable by road in Canada; south of here, the Icefields Parkway drops down into the Bow Valley, which is dominated by the sparkling waters of Bow Lake and the views across it to Crowfoot Glacier. At the north edge of the lake, historic Simpson’s Num-Ti-Jah Lodge (403/522-2167, C$245 and up) is a giant octagonal log cabin, with well-priced rooms and a rustic restaurant; it marks the start of a popular trail to Bow Glacier Falls. It’s a fairly level, 2.5-mile (four-kilometer) one-way hike.
From the lodge, the Icefields Parkway winds along the east shore of Bow Lake, then along the banks of the Bow River, which flows south through Lake Louise, Banff, and on through Calgary, eventually ending up in Hudson Bay.
The Brewster Boys
Few guides in the Canadian Rockies were as well known as Jim and Bill Brewster. In 1892, at the ages of 10 and 12, respectively, they were hired by the Banff Springs Hotel to take guests on a tour of local landmarks. As their reputations grew, so did their business, which expanded to include a livery and outfitting company, a pair of hotels, and a ski lodge. Today, their legacy lives on in Brewster, where their tour and transportation company has become an integral part of the Canadian Rockies experience for many visitors. The Brewster company operates a fleet of tour buses, a Banff hotel, and the famous Ice Explorers tours, which take tourists out onto the Columbia Icefield.