Saskatchewan Glacier from the Parker Ridge Trail. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking

Canada’s Icefields Parkway Eclipses Our Beloved Yosemite; Gobsmacked at Parker Ridge

Part 5 in a series: For nearly 30 years, Yosemite National Park defined mountain majesty in our world view. And then we traveled slack-jawed through Canada’s Icefields Parkway. OMG. We need to get out more.

Imagine if the Yosemite Valley were 140 miles of soaring mountain peaks. Conjure up hundreds of ribbon waterfalls pouring meltwater from scores of glaciers into dozens of meandering milky blue streams and turquoise lakes. Now add hundreds of thousands of acres of alpine forest and slash the tourist per square mile ratio. Then we might have a competition.

We don’t make this distinction lightly. We love the Yosemite Valley. Still do. It’s beautiful and magical. We have friends, some of whom are reading this, who may consider this post heresy. (Don’t be haters!) But El Capitan and Half Dome, two of the Yosemite’s most distinguished landmarks, probably wouldn’t even warrant names if situated along the Parkway, which runs through both Banff and Jasper national parks. If the Parkway were Dr. Evil, then Yosemite would be Mini Me.

And the drive was merely the opening act. Fortified by Tim Horton’s breakfast sandwiches and black coffee, we hit the Parkway at the decidedly non-slacker hour of 7 a.m. with two moderate hikes in Banff on the schedule – Parker Ridge and Bow Glacier Falls. (Check out our Bow Glacier Falls hike here.) Three hours and many gawk stops later, we arrived at the Parker Ridge trail head before the crowd.

Gobsmacked by the majesty of the Parkway, the view from the Ridge snuck up on us. A sign at the parking lot cautioned against handling stray avalanche ordnance, so there certainly was potential for explosive excitement. But mostly the trail was a 1.5 mile slog up a series of switchbacks that bought us 820 feet of elevation. Tree cover was limited. The wildflowers were nice. We crested the hill.

Parker Ridge is a plateau that spreads from the crest of the hill. The rim is still a good 1,000 feet off from the crest. At first glimpse, the mountaintops on the opposite side of the Saskatchewan Valley are visible but hardly showstopping, particularly after our drive up the Parkway. The view unfolds like an Oscar-winning piece of cinematography as you walk forward.

First the Saskatchewan Glacier emerges on the right. Hundreds of feet thick and covering roughly 11 square miles, it is a beast. Somehow, a group of chatty birders focused on calls and plumage hadn’t even noticed till M-Man nodded in the general direction of the Columbia Icefield’s largest outflow glacier.

Saskatchewan Glacier from the Parker Ridge Trail. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking
First view of Saskatchewan Glacier from the Parker Ridge Trail. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking


Next emerges the Saskatchewan River headwaters flowing from the Glacier. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking
Next emerges the Saskatchewan River headwaters flowing from the Glacier. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking


Saskatchewan Glacier. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking
Finally, a full view of the Saskatchewan Glacier. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking

As you walk closer to the rim, the view of the glacier expands and the mountains on the opposite side of the Saskatchewan Valley seem to rise up then suddenly back away. Fed by the glacier and ribbon waterfalls, the headwaters of the Saskatchewan River meander furiously below. The breeze holds the distant din of rushing water. Gobsmacked again!

(Question: Why does Saskatchewan gets all the glory here when the namesake glacier, valley and river headwaters are all in the province of Alberta. Thoughts? Anyone?)

But we digress. As the view emerged, the Geek moved her Canon into place with practiced ease and sprang into action, pacing the rim for the best angles and ever more spectacular views. MontaraManDan stood quietly, letting the sights and sounds wash over him. At peace.

The Geek communing with Canada on the Parker Ridge trail. Dan Page / CoastsideSlackingThat is until he spotted the Geek perched on a boulder attached precariously beyond the lip of the Ridge – well, probably it was firmly attached, but it sure looked precarious to M-Man. Can you say “willies”? Good grief.

But the zen of Parker Ridge is powerful. After catching his breath, M-Man smiled, shook his head and returned to his stroll. And the Geek returned her photographic dance along at the edge of the world.

Gobsmacked indeed.


This post is the fifth in a series on the wonders of the Canadian Rockies, pegged to the 150th year of the Canadian Confederation. Here are links to other posts in the series:

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