The Athabasca Glacier spills toward the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff. Photo © American Sport Touring.

Ride Canada Part 2 – Jasper to Waterton via Banff

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Welcome to part 2 of the Ride Canada Tour.  Part 1 covered the journey from Seattle Washington through Kamloops British Columbia and onto Jasper Alberta.  Part 2 travels from Jasper through Banff and onto Waterton in Canada’s Waterton Lake National Park.

If you haven’t read “Ride Canada Part 1 – Seattle to Jasper”, you might want to start there.  Part 1 sets the stage for the entire tour and includes information about what to expect, tips for riding in Canada, and other highlights

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Part 2 Highlights

This second leg of the tour goes to the heart of what it’s like to ride in Canada.  Every road is an overwhelming flood of stunning imagery.  The snowcapped Canadian Rockies fill the horizon.  Nearby hills are covered in deep green forests.  Run off from glacial icefields feed rivers and lakes along the way.  With so much to see, riding days are kept deliberately short. 

Elk on side of road
Slow traffic ahead is a good sign that wildlife was spotted foraging on the roadside. Photo © American Sport Touring.

Here are a few of highlights to watch for…

  • Make a stop along the Icefields Parkway at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center for a warm drink and to learn more about the largest icefields in the Rocky Mountains.
  • If poor weather prevented a visit on the first part of this tour, consider a stop at the Jasper Skytram on Whistlers Road less than two miles from Jasper.  A guide points out landmarks as the Skytram ascends to an elevation of over 8000 feet giving visitors a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains.
  • Visit Yoho National Park; the visitor center is just off Trans-Canada Highway 1 a short distance from the Icefields Parkway.  Several short hikes are just right to get a sense of the area.  For a riding challenge, try Yoho Valley Road.  It’s an adequately paved backroad with a string of exceptionally tight hairpin turns.  The mountain and territorial views are worth the undertaking.  Check the Yoho National Park website for other vista points and easy hikes (parks.canada.ca),
  • Stop at Lake Louise Village, the highest permanent settlement in all of Canada.  Then ride up another 630 feet to take in the splendor of Lake Louise itself.  Here are a few Things to know about Lake Louise.
  • Make the most of Banff, a picturesque town high in Canada’s Banff National Park tucked in among the Canadian Rocky Mountains.  There are enough shops and restaurants here to keep window shopping for hours.
  • And finally, catch a glimpse of the Alberta prairies that extend eastward from the Rocky Mountains before rolling into Waterton Lakes National Park and past the historic Prince of Wales Hotel.
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Ride Canada Part 2 – Jasper to Waterton via Banff

Ride to Banff – Day 1  

Riding miles for this first day of Ride Canada Part 2 are uncharacteristically short.  But quickly it becomes clear why.  The scenic stops are so extraordinary no one will complain about an unhurried day.

Route map
Map data ©2023 Google. Route from Jasper to Banff on the Icefields Parkway.

Leave Jasper on Highway 93A southward and connect with the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) south.  Mountain and glacier views on the Icefields Parkway are world class.  In fact, Conde Nast rates the Icefields Parkway one of the world’s most extraordinary drives.  Rocky Mountain Peaks jut out on the horizon, waterfalls and rivers flow from the glaciers covering their flanks, and tree-filled valleys fill the gaps in between. 

If poor weather prevented a visit to the Jasper Skytram described in Part 1 of this tour, consider doing so on the way out of Jasper.  Turn off the Icefields Parkway at Whistlers Road to reach the parking area.  The tram ride, complete with a guide explaining the sights below, takes only 10 minutes one way.

Athabasca River
The Athabasca River running alongside the Icefields Parkway. Photo © American Sport Touring.

Riders have a route choice to make shortly after connecting with the Icefields Parkway.  The first option is to stay on the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) all the way to Lake Louise, or alternatively veer off onto Old Highway 93, formally named Highway 93A.  Each choice offers a different riding experience.  The Icefields Parkway is a more modern highway with well-groomed shoulders making it easy to spot approaching wildlife.  It’s also the more congested route.  Highway 93A by contrast is a more rustic two-laner with decent pavement and virtually no shoulders and few pullouts.  Highway 93A is more like a Canadian backroad.   Eventually 93A rejoins the Icefields Parkway near Athabasca Falls.

Route map
Map data ©2023 Google. Choose Old Highway 93, named 93A, for a less congested and a more rustic ride.

There are plenty of interesting pullouts and vista points along the way.  The Columbia Icefield Discovery Center is a recommended stop.  The Discovery Center is located well above the highway, directly across from the Athabasca Glacier.  Glacier views from the outdoor decks will make an immediate impression.  Inside, visitor can learn more about the surrounding icefields and their history.  Dining facilities are available, as well as a gift shop.  

The Icefield Discovery Center is also the place to book tickets (and take the shuttle to and from) the Glacier Skywalk, a glass floor walkway suspended an unnerving 918 feet above the Sunwapta Valley with unique territorial views.

Continue to follow the Parkway south along the Athabasca River toward Banff.  This section of road between the Discovery Center and the junction with Trans-Canada Highway 1 has a good number of interesting vista points.  Three worth noting (in order of appearance) are Panther Falls adjacent to The Big Bend, the Weeping Wall, and Mt Patterson Glacier.  For that matter, The Crowfoot Glacier view point is spectacular too.  Frankly, there are so many sights one has to ride the parkway to truly appreciate it.

Lake Louise Alberta
Lake Louise is at its best on a clear day when sunlight turns the water turquoise green. Photo © American Sport Touring.

Eventually, the Icefields Parkway meets Trans-Canada Highway 1.  Turn onto the Trans-Canada highway toward Lake Louise to the east.  Follow the exits off the highway to make a stop at Lake Louise, one of the most photographed lakes in Canada.  And for good reason.  Victoria Glacier flows down from Mount Victoria at the west end of the lake while jagged mountains create a visual frame on both sides.  On a sunny day, the lake takes on a turquoise hue as sunlight reflects off rock flour glacial wash suspended in the water. 

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Rather than getting back on the Trans-Canada Highway 1 to Banff, try Alberta Highway 1A also known as the Bow Valley Parkway.  This scenic two-lane road is less travelled and offers outstanding views and more opportunities to see wildlife.  Simply follow Lake Louise Drive eastward and onto the Bow Valley Parkway. 

The Parkway rejoins Trans-Canada Highway 1 shortly before Banff.  From there follow the signs into town.  Similar to the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park, the town of Banff is part of Banff National Park.  The majority of Banff’s 8300 residents (as counted in the 2021 census) are employed by the park or a business operating in the park.  Everyone else is a visitor, and on a busy summer day that could be 50,000 people.   

Banff Avenue
Banff Avenue offers a variety of restaurants, bars, and shops sure to fill an afternoon. Photo © American Sport Touring.

Find a hotel among the many choices ranging from independents to a few national brands.   For walkability, anything close to Wolf Street on Banff Avenue is in easy proximity to a range of restaurant options and local attractions such as the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies and the Banff Visitor Center.

Ride to Waterton – Day 2  

The second day of Ride Canada Part 2 travels from Banff to Waterton Lakes National Park, and more specifically the town of Waterton.  The ride is estimated to take 6 hours excluding any stops for sightseeing, food, and gas.  An early start is highly encouraged for an unhurried ride through some of the best backroads in Alberta and British Columbia.

Route map
Map data ©2023 Google. Route from Banff to Waterton Alberta.

Leave Banff on Trans-Canada Highway 1 back-tracking west toward Lake Louise.  Continue on Highway 1 past the junction with Bow Valley Parkway and then take the exit to Alberta Highway 93 toward Radium Hot Springs.  The ride on Highway 93 crosses from Alberta into British Columbia almost immediately and continues in BC until crossing back at Crowsnest Alberta.

Every mile on 93 seems filled with majestic mountain scenery.  Not even the surrounding forest can hide the tall peaks.  Closer to the road, the Kootenay River pops in and out of view as it meanders west of the roadway.  The road itself is not particularly twisty, but has enough curves to keep the riding fun.  The section between the Cobb Lake Trailhead pullout and the town of Radium Springs is full of sweeping turns. 

Near the British Columbia and Alberta border, the highway crosses the Continental Divide in several places.  One crossing points is at Vermilion Crossing where Kootenay National Park begins.  Consider pulling into the Kootenay Park Lodge for more information about the park and surrounding area.

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Follow Highway 93, now BC-93, past the town of Radium Springs and on to Elko British Columbia.   From Elko, stay on Highway 3, the Crowsnest Highway, heading east.  The road winds through more Canadian forest passing lakes and paralleling rivers as it goes.  The ride can be as relaxing or thrilling as one’s mood suggests.

Exit Highway 3 at Pincher Station onto BC Highway 6 southbound and then onto BC-5 toward Waterton. The short ride on Highway 6 provides a glimpse into the lush plains that stretch east into Alberta from the Rocky Mountains.   

Arrive in the town of Waterton, once again nestled among the Canadian Rocky Mountains.  Waterton National Park in Alberta and Glacier National in Montana form what is essentially one continuous park, but with each managed by their respective national park services. 

Prince of Wales Hotel Alberta
The Prince of Wales Hotel is the most recognized landmark in Waterton. Photo © American Sport Touring.

Take a moment to walk through the small town of Waterton and make a stop in the Waterton Lakes National Park visitor center located there.  One of the most remarkable sights in Waterton is the historic Prince of Wales Hotel.  This seven story hotel stands prominently on a bluff overlooking the lakes.  Built in 1927, this grand building is the only railway hotel in Canada built by a US company.   

Two Days in the Rockies Canadian Style

Ride Canada Part 2 was all about making the most of Canada’s Rocky Mountain roads and all the sights along the way.  The scenic Icefields Parkway, Athabasca Glacier, Lake Louise, and the Prince of Wales Hotel all stand out against a backdrop of overwhelming unspoiled alpine scenery. 

Motorcycle riders
The next leg of the tour rides to Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park via historic Going to the Sun Road. Photo © American Sport Touring.

The next and final segment of this tour, Part 3, takes us back into the US through Glacier National Park to Lake McDonald and then on to Seattle along a choice of three distinctly different routes.  

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Resources – Ride Canada Tour Part 2

Tour Summary

Tour SegmentStart AtRide MilesRide TimeEnd At
Day 1 – Banff via the Icefields ParkwayJasper1793h 21mBanff AB
Day 2 – Through the Rockies to WatertonBanff 3336h 9mWaterton AB
Day 3 – Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park *partial routeWaterton862h 20mLake McDonald MT

Useful Links*

ResourceLink
Banff National Park Visitor informationhttps://parks.canada.ca/pn-np/ab/banff/visit
Waterton National Park Visitor informationhttps://parks.canada.ca/pn-np/ab/waterton/visit
About the Icefields Parkwayhttps://parks.canada.ca/pn-np/ab/jasper/activ/itineraires-itineraries/promenadedesglaciers-icefieldsparkway/DecouvrePG-DiscoverIP
Columbia Icefields Discovery Centerhttps://www.banffjaspercollection.com/attractions/columbia-icefield/
Columbia Icefields Skywalkhttps://www.banffjaspercollection.com/attractions/columbia-icefield/skywalk/
Town of Banff & Lake Louise visitor informationhttps://www.banfflakelouise.com/
Town of Waterton visitor informationhttps://mywaterton.ca/
About the Prince of Wales Hotelhttps://www.glacierparkcollection.com/lodging/prince-of-wales-hotel/

* Find more Useful Links in Ride Canada Part 1