In an area known for its incredible hikes there’s one trail which you can’t miss on your trip between Banff and Jasper. For a short hike we were staggered by the absolutely incredible views you get from the top. Panoramic mountains, a glacier and a spectacularly beautiful glacial lake, the Parker Ridge trail has it all. We’ve rarely found an effort vs reward ratio like it.
If you only have time for one hike on the Icefields Parkway make it this one.
Read next: Bucket List things to do in Lake Louise
The Parker Ridge Trail
The trail stats
Distance: 3.9km each way (to lake three)
Elevation: 359 metres
Type of trail: Out and back trail
Time taken: 2.5 hours total (both ways)
The start of the hike
You’ll start on a nice flat section of path before you quickly make your way into the forest and the uphill climb begins. The path is in great condition and, despite the fact we were hiking in the pouring rain, it happily wasn’t slippery.
In the height of summer there would be some lovely wildflowers along the trail but we were a little late in the season.
On the up
The trail continues through the forest on a series of switchbacks. It’s almost continuously uphill but not overly steep. There are a few rocky sections, but the trail is generally easy.
The forest soon becomes far less dense and you will quickly start getting some fantastic views back along the Parkway - although not a patch on what you are in for at the top!
The uphill section of track will probably take most people around 35-45 minutes but the views are great so if you aren’t used to uphill climbs you can take your time and stop regularly - trust us it will be worth it!
Once you reach the top the whole area flattens out and you can catch your breath before you lose it again when you get your first look at the Saskatchewan Glacier.
We actually didn’t know what the views from the top were going to be like and we couldn’t believe how truly awe-inspiring it was, and the fact we had it all to ourselves!
The bad weather was probably in our favour on that account.
We had bumped into someone at the trail head who had got lost up on top as there is another trail branching off to a different area.
The Parker Ridge trail is directly ahead of you and once you reach the edge you can follow the trail along the ridge for around 15 minutes to get a different perspective and to reach the official end of the trail.
The path narrows here and it is a very steep drop off, parts were slippery in the rain and one bit in particular felt sketchy. In dry weather it would probably be fine but take care on this final section of trail.
It’s worth it though for the continued views which truly are spectacular. We could have spent hours up here but the weather started to deteriorate and we knew we should head down.
Even in really torrential rain it wasn’t a difficult descent but if you are in bad weather keep an eye on the trail markers as it becomes easier to make a wrong turn.
You’ll probably notice almost straight away you’ve gone wrong but it’s something to be aware of. In good conditions it’s an easy hike down, not too steep or long that it is hard on the knees and for the most part you are walking towards some more fabulous views.
Essential info about the Parker Ridge Trail
How difficult is the Parker Ridge Trail?
Compared to the majority of hikes in the Rockies, the Parker Ridge Trail is an easy to moderate hike. It is pretty short, but it does have a series of switchbacks and a fairly continuous uphill hike. Once at the saddle there is no more uphill hiking, but the path further on from the viewpoint can make for some slightly slippery hiking!
Parker Ridge vs Wilcox Pass Lookout
In our opinion the Parker Ridge trail is a better hike than Wilcox Pass. As you hike away from the road and then go to a neighbouring valley, the trail feels a lot more natural and away from civilisation.
The Wilcox Pass lookout is a good choice for anyone who doesn’t have much time and it’s still a stunning walk. You can get to the viewpoint for the Columbia Icefield quicker, but you will be looking over the road as well as the mountains!
How to get to the Parker Ridge trail
The trailhead for the Parker Ridge Trail is almost halfway along the Icefields Parkway and is 115 km from Jasper and 118km from Lake Louise. It is very close to the Columbia Icefield centre and the Wilcox Pass.
Weather on the Parker Ridge trail
Be very mindful of the weather on the Parker Ridge Trail as it can dramatically change on the Icefields Parkway. The ridge is completely exposed and feels the full force of wind and rain, so pack a rain coat and warm clothes, even if it looks ok. If it looks gloomy overhead, only do this hike if you are confident - we met a few people who said they got to the ridge and had to hide behind a bush because the winds were so ferocious!
Bear safety on the Parker Ridge trail
This is bear country and it’s possible to see grizzly and black bears on the Parker Ridge trail. The trail is nice and open so you’re unlikely to surprise a bear which is usually what causes any trouble between bears and hikers. We always carry bear spray as a precaution. The trail is quite well trafficked so seeing a bear is probably fairly unlikely but it’s always good to be bear aware.
Best time to hike the Parker Ridge trail
The trail is most commonly hiked between June and October. In June and possibly into early July as well as in mid September and October there may well be fairly heavy snow on the trail and traction devices might be required.
Here’s a detailed guide on what to expect when travelling on the Icefields Parkway in winter.
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Are you planning a trip on the Icefields Parkway? Would you hike up to Parker Ridge? Let us know in the comments below!