Columbia Icefields – Alberta, Canada
By John Crawford
Senior Writer/Jasper National Park
ALBERTA, CANADA – Few of the world’s travel destinations can compare with the Columbia Icefields, where you can step onto ice formed millennia ago. For safety reasons, you do not want to venture onto a glacier alone, which is why a variety of tour choices await you at these magnificent icefields. Creep over the snow of the Athabasca Glacier in an Ice Explorer, or arrange a helicopter tour and take in the full vastness and splendor of the many glaciers that make up the Columbia Icefields.
Columbia Icefield Center
Open from mid-April to mid-October, this is the best place to begin your exploration of the area. Distinguished by its green peaked roof, the centre houses an exhibit hall called the Glacier Gallery, which features a giant glacier model, interactive exhibits and audio visual programs.
The most accessible glacier in North America, it comes within walking distance of the parkway, and visitors can tour the glacier on giant 6-wheeled Ice Explorers carrying 56 people at a time. Although the Athabasca Glacier is retreating at a rate of 5 metres (16 feet) per year, it is still massive at 6 kilomtres long and 1 kilometre wide.
Columbia Icefield Glacier
Experience For an unforgettable experience, sign up for the 90-minute Ice Age Adventure. Journey back in time aboard a 6-wheeled Ice Explorer, a giant all-terrain vehicle capable of carrying 56 passengers over the icefield. Specially designed for glacier travel, the coaches run from mid-April to mid-October, leaving every 15-30 minutes in the busy summer months. No reservations required.
Wilcox Creek Campground
Located just 3 kilomteres (2 miles) south of the Icefield Centre, this campground acts as the trailhead to Wilcox Pass. A trail once used by northbound outfitters 100 years ago, it climbs from the campground through a stunted forest to a ridge with panoramic views over the valley, the icefield and surrounding peaks. It’s a moderate hike with almost unbeatable views of the Columbia Icefield, making the campground a popular stopover. Open June 10 through September 20, there are 46 sites.