Overview of the Hike to the Toe to Athabasca Glacier
The Athabasca Glacier is one of six major outlet glaciers on the Columbia Icefield. The Columbia Icefield at 325 sq km (126 sq miles) is the largest icefield in the interior of all of North America and the Athabasca Glacier is certainly the most easily viewed and "touched" by human feet! Most other glaciers require long hikes or climbs beyond the average hiker and certainly beyond the typical tourist. This glacier makes up only 2% of the total mass of the Columbia Icefield.
This short trail offers an opportunity for the average person in good health to hike right up to the toe of a glacier and see crevasses from a distance, glacial pools, streams and moraines.
This short hike is found along the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, approximately 129 km (80.3 mi) north of Lake Louise, or 103 km (64 mi) south of Jasper. The trailhead is directly across from the Icefields Centre which cannot be missed on the Icefields Parkway which does require a park permit to enter and to travel on.
Directions: About 0.1 km (330 ft) after turning southwest off Highway 93 (Icefields Pkwy), where the road forks, keep to the far right on the signed "Road to Glacier" and continue 1.0 km (2.6 mi) to the large parking lot.
The trail grade is a gentle but steady uphill with short, steeper sections. If you are in reasonable shape (most SP readers easily qualify) walking up this trail is no problem. Descending can be a bit harder for some and would definitely be a bit slippery in wet weather with rocks sliding under your feet.
Simply park in the large lot by Sunwapta Lake and follow the footbridge across the stream to the toe of the glacier. Take time to read all the trail plaques and signs and enjoy walking the entire loop.
The trail rating is sometimes listed as "Moderate" in guidebooks but I would rate it "Easy" or a stroll unless you have your 85 year old grandparents with you.
Trail Distance: 2 km (1.2 mi) Roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 50 m (165 ft)
Allow 90 minutes roundtrip.
Remember that you are starting at 2000 metres (6500 ft) elevation.
Wear sturdy shoes as it is rocky and bring a sweater or jacket since the breezes off the glacier can be chilly even on the warmest day. Sunglasses and a hat are useful also.