Family Travel: Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure

 

Our family trip to the Canadian Rocky Mountains started with a scenic drive to the Jasper area. Our destination: take a tour on the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure. The last time I had gone to the Columbia Icefields was 13 years ago, and the rest of my family have never been. We knew it would be ‘pretty’ considering the location, yet we never imagined just how educational and awe-inspiring it would be.

Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure family travel myorganizedchaos

Situated on the boundary of Banff and Jasper National Parks, tours depart every 15-30 minutes from the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre on the Icefields Parkway. You take the Ice Explorer across the highway and make your way to the icefield. Along the way, there was the best tour guide that explained the history of the area, right down to the Ice Explorer itself.

Columbia Icefield Glacier jasper myorganizedchaos

These HUGE vehicles {called Ice Explorers} travel at 18km/hr, and were specially made in Calgary. Of the 23 of them made, 22 are used at the icefields. The other is used in Antarctica by scientists. Comfortable seating and huge windows allows for you to see everything around you during the short drive. 

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One part which had me biting my nails, was driving down a steep incline to get the the icefields. The Ice Explorer tackles the nerve-wracking 32% grade down {and up on the way back} like a boss considering it’s the 2nd steepest unpaved grade incline in all of North America. Of course my kids thought this part of the drive was ‘so cool’, hubby and I shot each other a few nervous glances. Yet, I have to admit to saying ‘again, again!’ after it was over. 

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The Ice Explorer is made to inflict the least damage possible on the icefields, even driving through glacier water to clean the tires, so that dirt and foreign material doesn’t make it’s way to the site.

ice explorers Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure family travel myorganizedchaos

Once the Ice Explorer reaches its destination, you are in the middle of the glacier, one of the largest accumulations of ice and snow south of the Arctic Circle. What you see is actually 3 glaciers: Athabasca, Dome, and Stutfield. A global marvel in itself, this is the site of the only glaciers in the world that feed into the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans. It’s all exceptionally beautiful! 

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One of the glaciers, the Athabasca Glacier, was formed during the ice age. This glacier is 5km long, 1km wide and a whopping 500 meters deep. The ice at the surface is 1,000-2,000 years old! While you don’t know it of course, the ice actually shifts 1cm while you at there, standing on it.

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Tip: bring a water bottle with you! If you choose the exit the Ice Explorer and explore the glacier, there’s a river of pure glacier water which you are free to drink. You can tell glacier water by the pure brilliant blue colour. 

glacier water columbia icefields jasper banff

The water is freezing cold and refreshing, the best water I have ever drank. We just cupped some in our hands, yet many had their own bottles to fill. That was our only regret on this trip, I could have sipped this water all day long. 

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The day we took the  Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure tour, it was a 30+ Summer day. Our tour guide said that it was most likely the warmest day he’s ever seen in in the area. It was completely odd to be standing in snow and ice on such a hot day. I really do wish I had the option of driving down the hill in the Winter to escape Canadian snow!  

The Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure tours run through April-Oct only, since snowfall is heavy during the Winter months. The area averages about 10 meters of snow annually, so the site is completely closed during the Winter. Also to note for families, kids 5 and under are free to take this tour! 

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If you want to walk on glaciers that date back to the ice age and see this beauty in person, make those plans now. Due to global warming, it’s sad to report that these glaciers might not be here in 80 years time. If you can, take this adventure tour and bask in the beauty sooner rather than later. 

** For pricing and more information on the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure, please visit the Explore Rockies website. It’s THE site for all the great attractions and activities for this tour and for other family-friendly things to do in the Banff and Jasper area. 

My family received complimentary tour passes to facilitate this travel article. All opinions are 100% our own.

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Comments

  1. what an amazing trip–the pictures are just breath-taking! WOW!! those are also so pretty BIG tires!! LOL you kids are beautiful! thanks for sharing

  2. Wow, I want to drink glacier water!

  3. I was at that exact same spot in 2005! It was our first trip to a glacier. I was amazed at how cold it was despite it being in the middle of summer.

  4. Beautiful pictures! I have never been a winter sport/outing type of person but this really makes me want to go!

  5. What a gorgeous place! Definitely a great teachable adventure.

  6. love the amazing photos..it looks so beautiful there! cold but beautiful :)

    • Tammi says:

      I was expecting chilly but it was very warm. odd to feel the cold come up your legs yet meet the heat of a 30 degree day. It was awesome!

  7. It looks beautiful there. I can’t wait until my boys are a little older and we can take vacations like this.

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