Check out our 9 tips for visiting the Columbia Icefield Athabasca Glacier. This is a Canadian Rockies MUST DO! We loved out quick stop at the Athabasca glaicer and it’s definitely worth the money to ride the Ice Explorer out to the glacier so you can actually WALK on the glacier.
Riding the Ice Explorer itself was an adventure too! The scenery is obviously absolutely GORGEOUS and the entire activity was an exciting adventure for ALL ages. If you are doing any multi-generational travel, visiting as kids and Grandparents can all easily experience this activity.
What it’s Like to Ride the Ice Explorer
As you travel on this absolutely MASSIVE Ice Explorer. It’s AWESOME and moves very slowly. You’ll be climbing and descending some GIANT steep hills. The views are really cool and you will definitely feel like almost vertical going up or down the steepest inclines.
When you disembark on the glacier, be sure to grab a photo of the kids or you posing next to the GIANT Ice Explorer.
As you ride the Explorer, you’ll witness all the changing geography caused by the glacier. The terrain looks like you are on the Moon as you get closer to the glacier.
The shrinking glacier has left a moonscape of rocky moraines in its wake. These piles of rocks aka, rocky moraines are essentially giant piles of rocks and debris that the glacier has left behind it’s path. The Athabasca is receding sadly a few centimeters every day and supposedly almost 16 feet per year! WOW!
Walking on the Athabasca Glacier
The tour gives you about 15-20 mins to hang out on the glacier. Take photos, touch the snow, and if you’re feeling brave drink the glacial water. (We skipped drinking the glacial water because I was concerned about germs!)
Take some photo opps with the Canadian flag! We were all over the photo opps with the flag as you can tell by my pictures.
Depending on the weather during your visit, you might have all kinds of frigid temps, snowfall, and ice or a lot of major melting if it’s a warm sunny day in August! We had that warm sunny day in August and had to be VERY careful not to fall into giant holes that deceptively looked like slush puddles.
How slippery is the glacier?
It is a bit slippery but just walk slowly and you’ll be fine. Just wear safe shoes like sneakers or boots. My 72 year old Mother did it and was nervous about slipping, but if you are slow and cautious it’s fine.
You can see Nana holding on to Kenzie and Poppy in this image. What an adventure!
Visiting the Athabasca Glacier was one of the highlights of our Tauck Bridges Wonder of the Canadian Rockies family adventure. We loved every second of this vacation and found this excursion to be fun, exciting, beautiful and simply a quick adventure that didn’t take much time out of our busy itinerary! Definitely a Canadian Rockies MUST DO!
9 Tips for Visiting the Columbia Icefield Athabasca Glacier
We’ve got lots of advice and 9 tips for visiting the Columbia Icefield Athabasca Glacier.
- Dress Warm with extra layers plus hats & gloves
- Wear sturdy comfy shoes like sneakers or boots – you will be walking on ICE & SNOW!
- Bring a camera!
- Be careful on the Ice. It is slippery! Also, if its’ a warm day, certain areas might be melting and you could find yourself literally KNEE deep in the slushy ice in a matter of seconds
- Safety first! Don’t go out of the approved areas. Glaciers can be dangerous and full of scary crevasses. If you are a real adventure seeking, there are private tour guides you can also book to take you onto the glacier beyond just the Ice Explorer trip.
- After your tour, enjoy the views looking back towards the Athabasca Glacier from the Discovery Center.
- Reserve your ticket for the Ice Explorer tour in advance if possible. You don’t want to arrive and not be able to go out onto the Glacier! However, I admit on our visit in late August, it seemed like excursions left constantly all day long! So depending on the time of year this advance reservation may or may not be required. However, I would NOT want to drive several hours to the glacier from Banff or Lake Louise to find out all tours were sold out!
- Plan this as an excursion and rest stop either TO or FROM Jasper. It will break up the long car ride along the beautiful Columbia Ice Field territory in the Canadian Rockies.
- Great adventure for Multi-Generational Travelers. My parents, aged 76 and 72 were able to enjoy walking on the glacier with their grandchildren! Just enough of a thrill but easy enough for all ages to participate.
Athabasca Glacier Facts
The Athabasca Glacier is one of the most accessible “fingers” coming down from the giant Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains. The Columbia Icefield sits astride the continental divide and is 125 square miles full of fields of ice or almost the size of Seattle or Philadelphia!
The ice at the bottom of the glacier where we were walking is about 400 years old!
Due to the warming climate, much of the Columbia Icefields are slowly melting. In the last 125 years the Athabasca Glacier has shrunk 1.5 km and shrinks about 5 meters or 16 feet every year.
Columbia Icefield Tour Pricing
It’s basically about $99 for adults, $44 for Kids 6-15 and kids under 6 are free. Prices seem to change a bit depending on if you reserve in advance or not. You can read all about the pricing and tour options here.
Should you book in advance to reserve a spot?
I say YES book in advance. We booked in advance as it was an included excursion for my Tauck Bridges tour group. We had a set 10:30 Ice Explorer departure to visit the glacier after departing Jasper on our way to Banff. This worked perfectly and was a exciting and beautiful “pit stop” during the long ride.
I mean look at these views just stopping at the Visitor Center and looking across at the Glacier?
The Columbia Icefield Adventure tour company recommends guests book in advance. I certainly would not want to arrive and have all tours sold out either….. especially since driving to the Athabasca Glacier is a hike from either Banff or Jasper.
I would likely book in advance if we ever visit again. Regardless of weather, I would want to visit in basically ANY weather condition as the natural environment would be fascinating in any weather option – rain, snow, or fog!! That being said, if you are driving to Jasper from Banff or Lake Louise you’d have the option to do it on your way to or from Jasper so could wait for clear weather for better views of the mountains.
The Ice Explorers do travel in crazy snow conditions and they can handle all kinds of weather. My Tauck Tour Guide Sara said she has been there in blizzard like conditions. We happened to have unseasonably warm August weather along with sunshine. I prepared to be freezing but we were actually relatively warm!
Hopefully, our 9 tips for visiting the Columbia Icefield Athabasca Glacier are helpful as you and your own family plan a vacation to the stunning Canadian Rockies.
Read our National Park Family Vacation Tips
If you love outdoor adventures, read about our adventures in National Parks! As a family we love traveling in the great outdoors!
Where do you like to travel as a family? What do you think about our 9 Tips for Visiting the Columbia Icefield Athabasca Glacier?