Hike it Before it’s Gone: The Columbia Icefield

Have you ever gone hiking on a glacier? It’s a unique experience that would make a great addition to your bucket list. And you don’t have to be one of those rugged mountain-climbing, marathon-running athletic types to enjoy it (though if you are one of those types, you’ll enjoy it too).

As you’ve likely heard by now, glaciers won’t be around forever, thanks to climate change. One example of this is Glacier National Park. You can clearly see where the glaciers once were, and the wildlife that has overtaken the once snow-covered expanses. So it’s probably a good idea to move “glacier adventure” up near the top of your list.

Our suggestion on where to go? The Columbia Icefield, which is the most visited glacier in North America, for good reason. Lying at the border between Banff and Jasper National Parks on the borders of British Columbia and Alberta, this spectacular glacier It’s made up of six ice sheets, the largest being the Athabasca Glacier. The entire icefield is 125.5 square miles, the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains.

How to Get There

Visiting the icefield is rather easy thanks to the Icefields Parkway connecting the cities of Calgary and Edmonton. The icefield is about an hour away from Calgary and four hours away from Edmonton.

If you have some time for diversions, opt of one of the many activities to do along this road. The area is well-developed for adventure travel: Gondola rides, hot springs excursions, hiking, climbing, and lake activities are all available to enjoy.

The most popular time of year to travel to the Columbia Icefield is from August to October. You’ll find many tour packages available as well.

Go Take a Walk

The Columbia Icefield itself, unsurprisingly, lures roughly 800,000 tourists each year. Plenty of good roads make access to this remote area easy.

Looking for something to do when you get there? Glacier icewalks on Columbia Icefield is a hugely popular adventure, but not for the inexperienced to tackle on their own. Play it safe and go with a guide—and don’t miss the Athabasca Glacier, a fan favorite.

Tip: Get an early start! Not only will you avoid some of the crowds, you’ll also get to see the glaciers in better light—perfect for avid photographers or even selfie takers. You might also want to read more about what to wear on on a nice long expedition.

Hit the Museum

Before your walk, be sure to explore the nearby Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, where you can learn more about the glacier through the center museum’s interpretive displays and presentations. Admission is free with your national park admission fee.

At the museum, you’ll also learn more about why some experts believe that the Columbia Icefield may be gone within a generation if current warming trends continue. While the glacier site may have lots of interesting geology to study after the glaciers recede, once they’re gone … well, they’re gone. If you’re wavering, grab the opportunity to visit this amazing ice field while you can.

If you’re looking for more travel adventures in the area, check out this list of options in “The Glacier Guide.”

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