Heading to Canada means outdoor activities. Fact. With so many beautiful landscapes, lakes and mountains to discover there really is very little reason to stick to a single location or indeed hole up in a city hotel for too long.
One of the best things to do that has become increasingly popular in recent years is to visit the Canadian Rockies which is lined with glacial valleys, crystal blue lakes and you guessed it, glaciers. One not to miss is the spectacular Athabasca Glacier in Alberta.
The Athabasca Glacier forms part of the Columbia Icefield and at 90-300 metres (300–980 ft) thick is quite a sight to behold. Notably it’s not the only glacier in the area as at 6 km (3.7 mi) in length the glacier forms just one of the six “toes” that comes out of the Icefield.
The Icefield Interpretive Centre
When you arrive at the Athabasca Glacier you will need to park in the huge car park located opposite the glacier right next to the road. This is where you will find the Icefield Interpretive Centre.
At the centre you will find a cafe, gift shop, lots of information about the glacier and ticket sales to walk on the glacier. The centre has enormous busses which run on a schedule driving right up onto the top of the glacier. It looks like an amazing trip but be warned, it does not come cheap!
Hiking to the Athabasca Glacier
If like us you’re not looking to break your bank balance and just want to see the glacier then you can go on a short hike to it from the Interpretive Centre which takes around 15 minutes. The terrain on this path is really easy under foot too so even the most novice of hikers can do this one!
Once you get to the top you’ll have a good idea of how far you have walked. What you should also appreciate here is that just a few centuries ago this entire area was concealed by the glacier.
When you get near the end of the trail you will see the toe of the Athabasca Glacier come into view.
We’ve been to a few glaciers over the years now and there’s two common factors that you need to be aware of. Firstly when you stand at the foot of these glaciers it is really windy. The wind blowing over the mountains tends to get channelled into the valley and acts like a funnel accelerating the air towards you. Secondly that wind is seriously cold! As the air flows across the ice it cools rapidly so make sure you are prepared and don’t turn up in shorts and t-shirt – you’ll regret it! Trousers and jumper minimum, and jacket, hat and scarf in Winter!
The glacier is receding at an incredibly fast rate of 5 metres per year so if you want to head here to take a look, make sure you don’t leave it too late in your lifetime – though at 6km long the reality is that you have around 1200 years before it disappears!
We absolutely loved our visit to the glacier and have no doubt you will too. Don’t miss adding this as a stop to your Canada itinerary.
Are you planning a trip to Canada this year and considering heading here? Or have you already been and have some tips? Let us know in the comments!