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Seven Jaw-Dropping Alberta Glaciers You Need To See For Yourself This Summer

Posted on May 20, 2024 by Britanny Burr

Okay, Alberta! It’s time to get outside and appreciate the beauty of this province of ours. As warmer weather melts the snowpack, it allows easier access for locals and visitors alike to get out in the wild and experience everything Alberta has to offer. Today, we’re highlighting some of the most impressive glaciers in the world, and they’re right here in our own backyard.

Before we dive in, here’s a little background in case you’re not familiar. chunks of ice that form from snow piling up over many years. As more snow falls, it gets compressed into ice, creating huge bodies of dense ice that are constantly moving under their own weight. They're like icy time capsules, holding clues about the Earth's history and climate. Plus, they play a big role in shaping landscapes, carving out valleys and leaving behind some breathtaking scenery.

Athabasca Glacier

The Athabasca Glacier is fed by the Columbia Icefield and is the most visited glacier in North America; and for good reason. This is mostly because it’s easy to access from the Icefields Parkway. The Icefields Parkway is known for it’s unforgettably scenic highway, making it the perfect route for your glacier-exploring adventure.

The glacier is an awe-inspiring sight and offers visitors a unique opportunity for an up-close and personal experience. It’s a 10,000-year-old glacier that covers approximately 6 km of ice and is estimated to be between 90 and 300 meters thick. The glacier is receding at a rapid rate of 5 metres per year and has lost over half its volume over the past two centuries alone.

Visitors join guided tours in large, Ice Explorer all-terrain vehicles where they get to learn about the glacier as they view it. These tours provide valuable insight into nature’s past and present, and visitors will learn about the fascinating history of this ever-evolving landscape.

Visitors can also venture onto the glacier without a tour and hike up to the toe of the glacier on foot. For your safety, do not cross any barriers and follow all the guidelines listed by the Glacier Discovery Centre.

The Columbia Icefield Skywalk is located close by and offers panoramic views of the glacier and surrounding valley from a glass-floored platform perched high above the Sunwapta Valley. Always check the weather before you travel, as conditions can change quickly. Be prepared for anything Mother Nature throws your way and dress in layers.

Saskatchewan Glacier

Saskatchewan Glacier is the largest outflow glacier in the Columbia Icefield, which you’ll find along the Continental Divide. The glacier is a primary water source for the North Saskatchewan River, which flows from the Canadian Rockies across Alberta and Saskatchewan, and eventually into the Hudson Bay.

The Saskatchewan Glacier is a stunning highlight in the Rockies and spans approximately 13 km long and covers an area of 30 square km. Visiting the glacier is accessible via Parker Ridge Trail, and provides panoramic views after a moderately challenging hike. Here, breathtaking vistas show the natural beauty of the glacier combined with the ruggedness of the surrounding landscape. Saskatchewan Glacier is less trafficked than its Athabasca neighbour, offering a challenging, but more intimate experience for nature lovers.

Peyto Glacier

Here we’ve got a smaller glacier, but don’t be fooled, it’s an absolute must-visit. Peyto Glacier is an outflow glacier from the Wapta Icefield on the Continental Divide, located along the Icefields Parkway on Highway 93 North. Peyto Glacier is renowned for beauty and the stark contrast with the vibrant, beautiful teal waters of Peyto Lake. Peyto Glacier was named after Bill Peyto, an early pioneer, mountain guide, and trapper in the Banff area. According to CBC, Peyto Glacier has been studied extensively over decades due to its dramatically receding glacial melt.

The most popular and easily accessible viewpoint is from Bow Summit, the highest point on the Icefields Parkway, which offers enchanting views of the glacier and Peyto Lake. After extensive improvements to the viewpoint, it’s now re-opened to the public for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful glaciers in North America, it’s a must-visit for anyone travelling through the Canadian Rockies. Be sure to arrive early, it’s a popular destination; and for good reason. Come see for yourself.

Angel Glacier

Angel Glacier can be found on the north face of Mount Edith Cavell, one of Jasper’s most prominent mountain peaks. Famous for its special shape and namesake, Angel Glacier looks like angel wings and is considered one of the most striking features in the Rockies. The glacier flows down from Mount Edith Cavell, spreading its “wings” across the slope of the mountain. It’s a hanging glacier, which means it doesn’t reach the ground, ending abruptly at the edge of a cliff, dropping ice and snow down towards the lake below.

Access to Angel Glacier is short and relatively easy via the Path of the Glacier Trail; a rewarding out-and-back trail that offers visitors a chance to witness its sheer beauty.

Hector Glacier

Surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery, Hector Glacier is nestled between Mount Hector and Little Hector. The glacier feeds into Hector Lake, a beautiful turquoise-coloured lake. All are named after James Hector, a prominent naturalist, geologist, surgeon, and early explorer of the Canadian Rockies.

Mount Hector stands high and proud just north of Lake Louise, close to the border with Jasper National Park. It lies adjacent to the Icefields Parkway and is easily accessible from Highway 93 North. Hector Glacier is a valley glacier that forms in the high alpine and flows out between the mountains like a river of ice.

While you can’t hike directly on the glacier, Hector Lake Trail is a short and easy trail that takes visitors along the shores of the lake to enjoy a beautiful view of the glacier. There are numerous surrounding hiking trails, varying in difficulty that provide the more experienced hiker and mountaineer an opportunity to further explore the tricky-yet-beautiful terrain.

Crowfoot Glacier

Here we have another beauty that you can find along the Icefields Parkway, about 35 km north of Lake Louise. Crowfoot Glacier overlooks Bow Lake and is backed by several stunning peaks. Early explorers named the glacier Crowfoot because its three sections of ice looked like a crow’s foot on the mountain. Although less apparent today, due to receding glacial melt, the glacier still provides magnificent views and can be seen from a lookout point along the Parkway, making it easily accessible for visitors of all ages and abilities.

The glacier itself is located high on Crowfoot Mountain and is not accessible by foot. Hiking via Helen Lake Trail offers outdoor enthusiasts panoramic views of the glacier, gradual inclines, and beautiful alpine meadows. Crowfoot Glacier is a must on your summer itinerary.

Robson Glacier

Robson Glacier is a remarkable glacier in Mount Robson Park, along the Alberta-British Columbia border. It’s set against the backdrop of Mount Robson, the highest and most prominent mountain in the Canadian Rockies, with deep Canadian roots. The glacial run-off is a crucial water source that feeds into the Robson River and eventually contributes to the Fraser River systems.

The closest major towns are Valemont, BC and Jasper, Alberta. This glacier offers some of the most dramatic and breathtaking scenery around. Numerous hiking Trails and backcountry campgrounds not only offer stunning views of the glacier, but challenge its visitors to experience high-altitude adventures of the Rockies. Mount Robson Glacier is a bucket list for those seeking profound beauty.

Photo – Glacier 7 – UBCO

Britanny Burr is a freelance writer and a contributor to Great West Media. This story was written for the Great West Media & Southern Alberta Newspapers Hot Summer Guide advertising feature. The Hot Summer Guide is a special feature about summer activities, bucket list adventures, staycation options, road trips, attractions, events, and road trip-worthy food & beverage destinations across Alberta. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff.

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