There are plenty of unique activities to try at Athabasca Glacier with children. Choose wisely, according to your abilities, time, and money you are ready to spend. Have warm clothes ready (jackets, hats, boots, mittens) – the closer you get to the glacier, the chillier it feels, even on a hot summer day.
Time to explore Athabasca Glacier: from an hour to a day-two.
Check out trail conditions before you go.
What are Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefield? A bit of history
Columbia Icefield is the biggest permanent ice sheet in North America, is located partly in Jasper and partly in Banff National Parks. It is not a leftover from the Ice Age like we told our kids, it’s much older – around 200,000 BC, the Great Glaciation period.
In the picture below: notice the cap of the ice sheet on top of Columbia Icefields, (upper right corner) it is nearly 10 stories high:
Athabasca Glacier is one of the 6 main “tongues” of the Columbia Icefields and the most accessible and visited glacier in North America. Not so long ago it could cross the Icefields Parkway, but now it receded by 5 meters each year. When you turn into the parking lot, you’ll see the signs where the glacier was in 1948, 1982, 2000: sad evidence of climate change.
How we explored Athabasca Glacier with children.
1. Hike to the toe of the glacier
Scenic, pretty easy hike with some elevation gain (the trail goes constantly uphill with couple steep areas), 2 km round trip, approximately 1-1.5 hours. If you are limited in time – this is the most convenient way to see the Athabasca Glacier. Don’t forget to display Canada National Parks Discovery Pass and make sure you have a baby carrier for small children.
If you are expecting to see the glacier up close, touch it or walk on it, it would be quite a disappointment! This is, probably, the main reason why so many people decide to make the dangerous walk straight to the glacier despite multiple “Do not cross the barriers!” signs.
The trail surface is gravel with some stones, could be slippery after rain, and very hard for the wheels (unless you have an “all-terrain stroller”).
End of the hike “To the toe of the Athabaska Glacier”:
More opportunities to explore
1. Snow-coach tour aka Brewster Glacier Adventure
90 min tour will give an opportunity to see the glacier up close and feel it without any effort: touch it, walk on it, and even drink from it! (don’t forget an empty bottle or a cup).
Narration is great and very informative; tours can be booked directly at the Discovery Center or online. Wheelchair accessible, easy for little kids – they don’t need to walk the trail, just hop on a bus and enjoy the glacier:
Snow-coach tour is pricy: around $100 CAD for adults, $50 CAD for kids. Time to spend directly on the glacier is limited – only 20 min. Space, where you are allowed to walk on the glacier, could be jammed during the busy summer months. Price also includes admission to the Glacier Skywalk.
2. Glacier Skywalk
Glacier Skywalk (in the picture below) is an impressive engineering project, but several kilometers from any glaciers and scenery is similar to those you can see on many hikes in Jasper or Banff National Parks. The walkway is glass-bottomed, if you are afraid of height, more likely you won’t enjoy it.
3. Athabasca Glacier with children: Guided interpretive hikes, “Icewalks”
Guided interpretive hikes on the Athabasca Glacier or Icewalks are an excellent way to explore the glacier. A must-do!
Small groups of 12 people, great guides, 3 or 6-hour hikes (5-10 km), reasonable price for such unique experience: from around $105 CAD + tax for adult, $60 CAD + tax for kids. The shorter hike is rated from easy to moderate, is not strenuous, just remember that you are starting at a 2km elevation gain.
You’ll go past crowds from the snow-coach tour and have the entire space just for your little hiking group. Millwells with deep blue colored ice, crevasses, icefalls, wild glaciers waves, and much more!
Not so many people know about this way to explore the Athabasca Glacier although the tour operator has been around for 35 years!
Not suitable for children under 7.
4. Athabasca Glacier with children: best trails to view the glaciers in the Canadian Rockies
Even if you are more walking than hiking type of person, like me, these trails are well worth the time and effort! Seeing the toes of the glaciers and discovering them from a decent height makes a huge difference.
Besides glaciers, you could see alpine meadows with wildflowers, wildlife (mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bears, etc.), and much more.
I made this post first of all for us: we didn’t make any of those hikes since two of our kids were very small (5 weeks and under 2 y.o.), but one day we’ll come back just for that:
Wilcox Pass hike
Wilcox Pass hike is one of the best in the Canadian Rockies, jaw-dropping and overlooking beautiful mount Athabaska, mount Andromeda, Athabaska, and Dome glaciers from a pretty close distance.
The trailhead is located within several minutes from the Discovery Center. Not an easy hike and the trail could be wet and muddy even in July.
Around 8km (2-3 hours) hike. A must-do!
Parker Ridge trail hike
Parker Ridge trailhead is located 8 min drive south of the Discovery Center and gives an opportunity to overlook the Saskatchewan Glacier (at the end of the trail), another prominent toe of the Columbia Icefields.
Spectacular, busy 5km+ (2.5 hours hike), could be snowy and muddy even at the end of June. Definitely a hard one for little kids.
Mount Edith Cavell hike
Mount Edith Cavell hike – is a true highlight in Jasper National Park. It gives an exclusive opportunity to see Angel Glacier, Cavell Glaciers at very close range, as well as Mount Edith Cavell (read a story about brave British nurse Edith Cavell from wiki).
Duration: from 3 hours, easy to moderate hike.
5. Columbia Icefield Discovery Center
Columbia Icefield Discovery Center is more like a rest stop and Athabasca Glacier tours booking spot than an education or discovery facility.
The outdoor terrace at the cafe has beautiful views overlooking the glacier:
If you plan to have lunch, this is a nice place to go. Could be crowded in summer.
Athabasca Glacier With Children. Essentials
- Make sure to check hours, conditions, fees, and restrictions before you go
- Weather is unpredictable in the Rockies: you can experience sun, wind, clouds, unmelted snow, and heat all on the same summer day!
- Sweater, sturdy boots, water-repellent jacket, hat, gloves, fleece leggings/warm pants, swimsuit, towel, and sunglasses are essential during a trip to the Rockies.
- Binoculars would be really helpful during the trip to the Rockies.
- Pack your water, snacks, and make sure you have enough gas: Saskatchewan Crossings is the only place with a gas station on the entire Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Lake Louise village.
All the mentioned places on My Map
Thanks for reading friends!
Peyto Lake: yes, I’m really that blue! 1 Million view observation platform.
Lake Louise: Canadian beauty with a Swiss charm, tea houses, bathing in the lake.
Bow Lake: an oasis of serenity or where to get some rest during a trip to Banff.