CANADA: Bicycle Jasper to Banff on Icefields Parkway

In one of our most memorable trips, we bicycled from Jasper to Banff in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, camping with support vehicles (September 9-14, 2003). Complete planning details are shared below.

See Mount Athabasca (left, 3491 meters or 11,453 feet) from Icefields Parkway near Sunwapta Pass in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. This is part of the big Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO in 1984. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Our four riders ages 45 to 66 were supported by Mom and Dad (in their 70s) driving two Volkswagon Eurovan Campers as sag wagons. Spreading the 187-mile bike tour over 5 days plus a rest day let us appreciate the great scenery with moderate effort. Our first day of biking finished in style with a relaxing soak in Miette Hot Springs, a favorite swimming pool with mountain views. In comparison, Banff Hot Springs has a great view but is more crowded and disappointingly lukewarm.

Self-organizing the bicycle tour saved money and allowed flexibility to ride on rain-free days. Rainy forecast for the first 2 days in Banff motivated a rainy car shuttle drive north to sunnier Jasper. We rode bikes two days, rested on a rainy day, then rode three more days, averaging 38 miles per riding day. Rain showers dampened half of one riding day.

Total elevation gain over 5 days from Jasper to Banff was 6800 feet, with 5600 feet downhill. The order of two trip legs were switched, bypassing snow falling at Sunwapta Pass (Leg 3) in favor of no precipitation at Bow Pass (Leg 4). This leg swap let us ride glorious Sunwapta Pass (Leg 3) on a beautiful sunny day speeding 2200 feet downhill over 43 miles (plus 1300 feet up). Good training made the hardest day (Leg 2) seem normal, climbing 2400 feet over 35 miles.

Columbia Icefield Visitor Center, Jasper National Park, Alberta, CANADA.

Dress warmly in moisture-wicking layers with waterproof breathable rain jacket. Use rain-proof booties, or cheap plastic bags between socks and shoes, in case of wind chill or rainy days. Cell phones may have no coverage in the middle 100 miles of the ride. Use walkie-talkies (with at least 5+ mile range) for communication between spread-out cyclists and support vehicles. The radios improved morale and prevented logistics problems, such as when a car key was misplaced, then replaced, with the help of radio communication.

Photo gallery of Jasper, Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks, in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

Above are Canadian Rockies images automatically played in a show. (PAUSE || or START SLIDESHOW as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices just display a fixed image, so click center to enlarge as a set of images with full captions in GALLERIES mode (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

Planning details for bicycling from Jasper to Banff

We bicycled 187 miles from Jasper to Banff, from campsite to campsite, September 9-14, 2003.

Five bicycling days/legs from Jasper to Banff (north to south)

  • Leg 1: 32 miles (1300 feet up, 300 down)
    • From: Whistlers Campground (hot showers, Dump Station, open through 10/13/03, 3500 feet elev) (2 miles from town of Jasper).
    • To: Honeymoon Lake Campground (no showers; open until 10/13/03; 4300 feet elev).
  • Leg 2: 35 miles (2400 feet up, 200 down) Sunwapta Pass (6676 ft elev)
    • To: Columbia Icefield Campground (or adjacent Wilcox Creek Campground, DS, no showers; open through 9/22/03; 6600 feet elevation).
    • We added a rest/rain day after the first two days of riding.
  • Leg 3: 43 miles (1600 feet up, 2200 feet down)
    • To: Waterfowl Lakes Campground (no showers, open through 9/28/03). My favorite day, a speedy descent on a sunny day through gorgeous river and mountain scenery.
  • Leg 4: 39 miles (1100 feet up, 2000 feet down)
    • Bow Pass, 6785 feet, is the highest elevation on the Icefields Parkway. The steepest ascent on Bow Pass climbs 800 feet in 3.5 miles, not too bad. A side trip to Peyto Lake viewpoint is highly recommended.
    • To: Lake Louise Campground (5100 ft, hot showers, DS) Carol’s favorite day, a moderate climb followed by a fun, long 2000-foot descent to Lake Louise.
  • Leg 5: 38 miles (400 feet up, 900 feet down)
    • To: Banff: Tunnel Mountain Village I Campground (4700 feet elev, open year around)
    • We completed our bicycle ride just in time (September 14, 2003), because snow fell that night and days after!

Bicyclists commonly ride the Icefields Parkway in either direction. The southward road climbs 6800 feet total, with 5600 feet downhill. Although the net uphill is 1200 feet, you avoid climbing the long, narrow-shouldered, steep hill northwards up to Sunwapta Pass.

If you reverse the above five-day route, pedaling from Banff to Jasper makes nice moderate rides between the same campgrounds and climbs less, with only 5600 feet total gain and 6800 feet total down. Optionally shorten the trip to four days by combining Legs 1 and 2 into one day of 67 miles climbing 500 feet and descending an exhilarating 3700 feet.

Campgrounds

Break up the long drive from Seattle to the Canadian Rockies with an overnight stay near Salmon Arm or Revelstoke, BC:

  • www.cedarsrvpark.com: Campground with hot tub and pool, 1-877-836-3988, Sicamous, BC is 400 miles from Seattle.

Campsites are mostly first come first served in Banff and Jasper National Parks. Checkout time is 11:00am. Check latest info at:

Reservations are accepted for the following campgrounds at http://www.pccamping.ca/, or phone 1-877-737-3783:

  • Jasper NP: Whistlers, Wapiti, and Pocahontas (near Miette Hot Springs)
  • Banff NP: Lake Louise Tent Campground and separate Trailer Campground, and Banff Tunnel Mountain #1 and #2.
  • Robson Meadows Campground, Mt Robson Provincial Park

Each morning, our support vehicles drove ahead to secure our next campsite without reservations and had no problem getting a site between 9:00am and noon in September 2003.

Hot Showers

  • Banff NP: Banff Tunnel Mountain Village (plus Banff Upper Hot Springs nearby), Two Jack Lakeside, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise.
  • Jasper NP: The Whistlers Campground (closes mid October), Wapiti Campground (closes in early September), and Miette Hot Springs (day use).
  • The campgrounds from Waterfowl Lakes through Honeymoon Lake have no hot showers. Alternatives: sponge baths, or drive to showers or hot springs.

RV Dump Stations (DS): In Banff NP: Tunnel Mountain, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, & Waterfowl Lakes campgrounds. In Jasper NP: Wilcox Creek, Whistlers, Wapiti Campground.

Food: buy groceries in Banff, Castle Junction, Lake Louise (more expensive), Saskatchewan Crossing (small grocery & restaurant), or Jasper. Our bikers carried their snacks, water and lunch each day. Restaurants are available at Vermilion Crossing and Sunwapta Falls.

A glacier bus dwarfs a bicyle at Columbia Icefield Visitor Center in Jasper National Park, CANADA.

Easy hikes and good side trips to supplement a bicycle trip:

  • Jasper National Park:
    • Miette Hot Springs: Soak in the hottest springs in the Rockies, a clean swimming pool with a good view of Ashlar Ridge. Drive 1 hour from Jasper. 8:30 am – 10:30 pm summer hours.
    • The Whistlers Tramway whisks you up to high views of the Victoria Cross and Colin Ranges rising across the broad Athabaska River Valley.
    • Lower Maligne Canyon: Walk above a scenic slot canyon and gorge.
    • Mount Edith Cavell: Hike 2-5 miles to see spectacular Angel Glacier and Cavell Pond.
    • Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls: Easy stroll.
    • Columbia Icefield Visitors Centre: SnoCoach ride ~$30 on Columbia Icefield.
      • Wilcox Pass: 5 miles round trip, 1082 feet gain (7,790 feet max elevation). Start at Wilcox Creek Campround, 1.2 miles east of Icefield Centre.
      • Parker’s Ridge (7200ft elev; marked trailhead in Banff NP, 5 miles south of Icefield Centre): Walk 3 miles round trip, 910 ft gain, great view of Saskatchewan Glacier.
      • Nigel Pass hike.
  • Banff National Park:
    • Lake Louise area
      • Join the crowds at Fairmont Chateau admiring Lake Louise, Mount Victoria, and Mount Temple.
      • Moraine Lake is a hilly side trip on a narrow road with high traffic. Park early to avoid crowds and filled lot. Cross the outlet stream and ascend the little hill trail for a stunning view across the turquoise lake reflecting the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
    • Johnston Canyon: Start early in the morning (or off season) to get ahead of busloads of hikers on this deservedly popular trail. Easily walk 1 to 7 miles, 300-800 feet gain, through an attractive gorge with waterfalls. Only walk further to the Ink Pots if you want more exercise.
    • Herbert Lake and Bow Lake reflect peaks spectacularly on a windless day.
    • Peyto Lake overlook: Walk a short distance to see a spectacular turquoise lake and Bow Pass.

Read the longer article: CANADA: Canadian Rockies & Columbia Mountains parks, which covers hiking in more detail.

See also CANADA: Coast Range: Whistler Resort, Garibaldi & Joffre Lakes Provincial Parks

A bicyclist zooms down Icefields Parkway south of Sunwapta Pass in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

Recommended Jasper/Banff books and maps

Search for latest “Canada Rockies travel books” at Amazon.com.

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4 thoughts on “CANADA: Bicycle Jasper to Banff on Icefields Parkway

  1. Wow Tom, this is so very helpful, I wish I knew about your guide before embarking in what was one of the most memorable bike rides of my life, the Icefields Parkway tour. The view was beyond words and everyone I met was helpful and friendly. The Miette hot springs are wonderful in the winter; your nose is freezing but when you soak in the water in sub zero temps you feel completely relaxed.

  2. Great info. Thank you for sharing your story. I am planning to ride Lake Louise to Jasper (return) over five days. Two South to North, one rest day and then another two return to Lake Louise.

  3. Great photos! Looks like a great trip. My fiancee and I are planning on doing something similar to this around August. Looking at Jasper to Banff to Fernie then westwards bound to Vancouver!
    Some of the links that you have provided are perfect research ground, so thank you! Any tips appreciated!
    All the best, James

    • I’ve just returned from a hiking trip through this same area and used it to plan a near-future cycling trip up or down the Parkway.

      Tip 1: Hostels International are a superb option for accommodation. Most charge $25 per person per night and provide all your linens. they tend to have limited amenities but are a great option in view of economy and light loads. They’re also a great place to encounter fascinating people from sll over the world. Check in starts at 5pm unless you book in advance (online).

      Tip 2: I don’t have much detail on this but one cyclist mentioned prevailing winds as a factor in choosing your direction.

      Tip 3: Lake Louise is Canada’s highest town, so overall it’s a descent to Jasper. That said, the longest hill on the trip is from Saskatchewan Crossing to the Columbia Icefield Centre. That’s approximately 50km.

      Anyone who has cycled that stretch care to comment?

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