Visiting Banff or Jasper National Park? Don’t miss the Columbia Icefield Adventure, where you walk on Athabasca Glacier.
Soon after I dipped my bottle into the stream to collect the melting glacial water, I started to lose sensation in my fingers. It was so cold, but I had to get a taste. If you’ve never tried water straight from a glacier, you must try it. It was some of the most delicious water we’ve ever tasted!
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Last Updated: June 5, 2023
About Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure
The Athabasca Glacier is one of the six primary glacier toes that feed the Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains. It is located in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada, and is currently receding at a rate of about 5 meters (16 feet) per year and has lost over half of its volume since the late 1800s.
It’s the most visited glacier in North America since it’s so easy to access. The Columbia Icefield Adventure is a guided experience on the Athabasca Glacier and the Glacier Skywalk. You ride on an Ice Explorer, a specially-designed vehicle that travels over the glacier, which is how most people walk on the glacier. Otherwise, you can hike with a guide.
On the Glacier Skywalk, you get stunning views of the mountains while learning about the history and geology of the area.
The experience starts at the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre. After check-in, you can grab food at one of the restaurants, pick up some gifts, or read the interpretive displays to learn more about the area’s geology, nature, and wildlife.
We first checked into the hotel to drop our bags off. Then we picked up lunch at the Chalet, a cafeteria-style restaurant. Jacob usually goes with the safe bet, while I like experimenting with my food choices. Why not have fun with it? Because 90% of the time, it backfires. If you’re ordering something here, Jacob’s chicken tenders with fries were the best choice, especially since the fries were exactly how we liked them.
After finishing our food, we lined up for the bus.
Local Tip: No restrooms are available during the experience, so be sure to go before you leave!
The bus ride is a short one from Discovery Centre. It takes you across the street to the glacier’s base, where you transfer to an Ice Explorer. These huge transport vehicles look like something out of a space movie and take you safely onto the glacier. There are only 23 in the world, one in Antarctica and the rest at the Columbia Icefields.
Photo Tip: There are plenty of windows along the side and the roof so you can enjoy the views as you go, and if you’re hoping to shoot photos and video, get a row where the window can open so you can shoot without a glare.
After arriving at the glacier, your driver gives you the time to meet back on the Ice Explorer, and you’re free to roam. We had about 25 minutes on the glacier, which was plenty.
There is an area roped off where you can roam freely. The ropes might be annoying for photos, but safety comes first. Bring a water bottle so you can taste the glacier water.
Local Tip: It’s usually around 27° F (15° C) degrees cooler on the glacier than at the Discovery Centre, and it’s often windy, so pack accordingly! Jacob and Rob were definitely much warmer than I was in their sleeping bag onesies.
The Columbia Icefield Skywalk
When our time was up, the Ice Explorer took us back to the bus then we rode about 10 minutes north to the Skywalk. The glass-floor Skywalk takes you over the edge of a cliff 918 feet above the valley floor, where you can take in the views of the Canadian Rockies.
There are multiple interpretive signs along the short walk, and if you’re interested in learning more about the history and geology, they have guided tours too! We didn’t do the guided tour but stopped by to check out the bones of a Big Horn Sheep and Mountain Goats..
Unlike other Skywalks we’ve been to, we didn’t have to wear any shoe coverings. They ask that you wipe them off on the mats before walking on the glass. We also could shoot our own photos and walk at our own pace.
When we were done, we headed back towards the parking lot, where they have buses a few times an hour to pick up anyone finished and take them back to the Discovery Centre. You can stay as long or as short as you want!
Local Tip: This season, a family of mountain goats lives under the bridge. We spotted one sleeping on the cliffside.
Tickets & Pricing for Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefield Skywalk
Columbia Icefield Adventure tickets start at CA $97 for adults and CA $63.05 for children. You can search for the available dates you’re interested in visiting here. All tickets include a visit to the Athabasca Glacier and the Skywalk.
The prices will increase based on demand, so booking earlier is best. There are also deals for families, off-peak savings, and more.
If you don’t have time for the glacier experience, you can visit the Skywalk alone. Tickets start at CA $37 for adults and CA $24.05 for children. Search dates and tickets here.
Local Tip: They offer discounts if you book multiple attractions, so if you’re interested in checking out the Banff Gondola, Lake Cruises, or Golden Skybridge, check out the packages here.
Location & Hours
Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre Address
AB-93, Jasper, AB T0E 1E0, Canada (map)
The Columbia Icefield Adventure starts and ends at the Discovery Centre. It is located 1 hour south of Jasper and 2.5 hours north of Banff. There is plenty of parking available. If you don’t have a vehicle, some Brewster Sightseeing tours include the Columbia Icefield Adventure with pickups from Calgary & Banff.
Columbia Icefield Adventure Hours
May 20 to September 30: 10 AM – 5 PM
October 1-9: 11 AM – 4 PM
May 20 to September 30: 10 AM – 6 PM
October 1-9: 11 AM – 5 PM
Hours may change based on the weather.
What to Eat at the Columbia Icefield Adventure
Since there is nothing else in the area, you are limited to the restaurants at the Discovery Centre or pack yourself a lunch.
Starbucks is available if you’re looking to grab a beverage.
Chalet Grab and Go is a casual, cafeteria-style spot that’s great if you’re limited on time. The food could be better, but it’s convenient. They serve soups, snacks, burgers, pizzas, and more. Louise and I tried the Lasagna and Curry, which I wouldn’t get again. The curry was more like a veggie soup. Jacob had the Chicken Fingers and Fries, which was the better choice. The fries were delicious.
Altitude Restaurant has the best food options. It is a sit-down restaurant open for breakfast and dinner. Of the starters, the bread and Tuna Carpaccio were our faves. They keep main courses simple with five choices: Lamb, Beef, Fish, Hen, or Pasta. We opted for Pasta and Fish, and both were delicious. We also sampled all of the desserts and Jacob’s favorite was the Mousse, while I preferred the Orange Polenta Cake.
Where to Stay near Athabasca Glacier
The highlight of our visit was staying at the Glacier View Lodge, located on the Discovery Center’s top floor. The rooms were spacious and comfortable, but the highlight of the lodge was the lobby with massive windows overlooking the glacier. Each evening, they have a charcuterie and cocktail hour for the guests, with plenty of games and seating to hang out. Also, you must try their hot chocolate! They have a machine in the lobby to get coffee and drinks, but the hot chocolate was so yummy I kept going back for more.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I bring my camera on the Columbia Icefield Adventure?
Yes, cameras and phones are encouraged so you can capture memories from your experience. We also had a light tripod for our phone, which wasn’t an issue.
How often do the Columbia Icefield Adventure tours depart?
Tours depart every 15 to 30 minutes throughout the day. Schedules may change based on weather and time of year.
How Long Does the Columbia Icefield Adventure Tour Last?
Tours last roughly 2.5-3 hours long round trip, although you can take any bus home from the skywalk so you can shorten or lengthen it as you see fit.
How many people do the Ice Explorers and shuttle buses hold?
The Ice Explorers can transport up to 56 passengers.
Are Pets Allowed at the Columbia Icefield?
No, pets are not allowed on the Columbia Icefield Adventure or Skywalk.
What should I wear or bring on the Columbia Icefield Adventure?
Will I get to walk on a glacier during the Columbia Icefield Adventure?
Yes! Your first stop will be the Athabasca Glacier, where you can walk in a designated area on the glacier.
How much colder will it be on the Columbia Icefield?
Weather changes quickly at the glacier and is often windy. Expect the temperatures to be about 27° F (15° C) cooler on the glacier than at the Discovery Centre.
Will the Columbia Icefield Adventure still be open in bad weather?
If the staff feels the weather will put guests at risk, they will close the Columbia Icefield Adventure.
How long can I stay on the Athabasca Glacier?
Guests will have roughly 20 minutes to explore the designated area on the Athabasca Glacier.
How long is the Skywalk interpretive trail?
The trail is 0.5 miles (800 meters) out and back.
How high is the Columbia Icefield Skywalk?
The glass floor of the Columbia Icefield Skywalk is roughly 918 feet (280 meters) above the valley floor. It extends 115 feet (35 meters) out from the cliff.
How long can I stay at the Columbia Icefield Skywalk?
Most people spend 45-60 minutes at the Skywalk, but you can spend as much time there. Regularly timed buses will be available to take you back to the Discovery Centre. Just be sure you know what time the last bus is leaving.
What if I’m afraid of heights?
If the glass-floored platform is too scary, check out the other viewpoints along the Skywalk trail.
Are there bathrooms at the Columbia Icefield?
There are no bathrooms at the Athabasca Glacier, Skywalk, or the buses. Use the restrooms at the Discovery Centre before leaving.
Are there any Columbia Icefield Adventure Discounts available?
There are packaged deals available.
Is there a fee to enter Banff and Jasper National Parks?
Do I have to do both experiences together?
IIf you want to visit the Athabasca Glacier, then the Skywalk is always included. If you are short on time, you can see just the Skywalk. Tickets start at CA$ 37.
Is the tour available in other languages?
The audio tour is available in nine different languages. Find details here.
- Wear your seatbelts.
- Check the weather and dress accordingly. Remember that the glacier will be 27° F (15° C) cooler than the Discovery Centre, and it’s typically windy there. Weather can be unpredictable, so it’s always a good idea to have a raincoat on you. Here are some of our favorite travel jackets.
- Book early to get the best pricing possible.
- Save money by purchasing a package if you plan on checking out other attractions in the area.
- No bathrooms are available during the excursion, so be sure to go before you go.
- Bring a water bottle to the glacier to try the glacial water! They have some available at the shop if you forget.
- Wear waterproof shoes with good traction since the ice is slippery. We had our Vessis on and would have brought our Danners if we were going to do more hiking.
- Bring a backpack or daypack to store away your extra layers and items.
- Wear sunblock. The sun will be reflecting off the ice.
Is Athabasca Glacier on your travel bucket list? Have you walked on a glacier?
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Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.