We walked this 10,000-year-old sheet of ice in the Rockies and it was a bucket-list experience

Sep 7 2023, 6:20 pm

The Rocky Mountains boast no shortage of breathtaking and awe-inspiring views, but if you’re looking for an especially unique experience, look no further than the Columbia Icefield!

About two hours from the Banff townsite and an hour and a half from the Jasper townsite, you will find the Columbia Icefield Adventure.

Once you arrive at the Discovery Centre, you’ll hop on a coach bus that will take you part way up the mountain, where you will transfer vehicles to an all-terrain Ice Explorer that is suited to the tundra-like conditions. The buses have massive windows along the sides and tops of the vehicles so you can take in the views for the rest of the ride to the 10,000-year-old sheet of ice.

 

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During this second leg of the trip, you’ll descend the steepest unpaved commercial-use road in North America — and let me tell you, it’s steep. Our lovely tour guide, Percy, informed us that the hill has a 32% gradient. If steep hills aren’t your cup of tea (like me), I recommend picking seats nearer to the back of the bus.

The bus stops on the glacier, where you can get out and take some time to walk on the glacier, enjoy the scenery, snap some pics for the ‘gram, and appreciate this natural wonder while it still exists. Fifty years ago, the glacier touched the Discovery Centre and has receded significantly over the years due to climate change, losing between 25 and 30 metres in length and five and 10 metres in depth each year. It’s expected the glacier will be gone in 30 to 40 years as a result.

Athabasca glacier

Columbia Icefield, Jasper National Park, Alberta. (Kayla Butler/Daily Hive)

It can get a little chilly on the glacier, so wear good footwear and bring a jacket. We also recommend bringing a water bottle to fill up and sip on glacier water.

Once your tour of the glacier is finished and you’re back on the coach bus, you’ll be whisked away to the Columbia Icefield Skywalk, which is truly a thrill. You’ll walk along a glass bridge suspended 280 metres (918 feet) above the stunning canyon below. When we went, it was rainy, and the skywalk seemed like it was suspended in the middle of a cloud, which made the experience moody and mystical.

 

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After your stroll on the skywalk, you’re taken back to the Discovery Centre, which also houses a gift shop, a cafe, Altitude restaurant, and the Glacier View Lodge.

Because getting to this adventure can be a bit of a hike, we recommend spending the night at the lodge. The sleep is so peaceful, and there’s just nothing like waking up to those stunning views. It can serve as a romantic getaway or a fun family experience!

The Columbia Icefield tour closes in the fall and reopens in the spring, depending on the weather, so if you want to squeeze in a trip before the end of the season, book your tickets here.

The author of this story was hosted by Pursuit.

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