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“Take the hike, not the bus” 5 of 5 stars
Review of Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier
127 km (79 mi) north of Lake Louise | 103 km (64 mi) south of Jasper, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada
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Visit Athabasca Glacier like an insider
Top Rated
$169*
and up
Rocky Mountains Tour: Calgary to Jasper
Certificate of Excellence 2014
Activities: Hiking, Walking, Group tours/bus tour
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Attraction details
Owner description: The snow never melts on this glacier, a major tourist attraction.
Salisbury, North Carolina
Senior Contributor
40 reviews 40 reviews
13 attraction reviews
Reviews in 21 cities Reviews in 21 cities
19 helpful votes 19 helpful votes
“Take the hike, not the bus”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed September 29, 2012

The hike to the toe of the glacier was long, uphill, stone-covered, tiring and worth it! Take a coat, hat and gloves - you'll need them. You get withing 25' of the glacier itself, not on it, but close. We had planned to visit Mount Edith Cavell and get closer to a glacier, but it was closed due to a glacier slide in August 2012. This was as close as we got. There are signs indicating where the glacier ended in 1948, 1982, 2000 and others. Another sign indicated that the glacier woudl be gone in 100 years. You reach the head of the hiking trail from what is known as the lower parking lot. It is across the highway from the Icefield Centre. A not-to-be-missed experience.

Visited September 2012
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Dover, United Kingdom
Senior Contributor
22 reviews 22 reviews
19 attraction reviews
Reviews in 9 cities Reviews in 9 cities
1 helpful vote 1 helpful vote
“Awsome experience”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed September 29, 2012

My husband and I visited the Glacier in early September this year [2012] and it was an amazing experience. We were doing the Brewsters Bus trip from Banff to Jasper and called in here as one of 'must do' stops. It was raining when we arrived at the Visitors center down on the main road and when it came time to get on the bus to go up to the glacier it was still raining. Half way up to the Glacier base station the weather changed and we werent quite sure what was going on and then we realised it had started to snow. it began lightly and when it came time to get on the Glacier bus it started to snow heavier. This happened all the way to the glacier itself and when we got out onto the glacier it kept snowing. this was the first time hubby and I had been in snow falling like this. It was wonderful to experience this. Walking on the glacier was a little scary but we just had to be careful and walk slowly. This is truly and amazing place and well worth the visit, even if it isnt snowing. As we left the glacier it stopped snowing and the sun came out and we had blue sky. We will never forget this amazing day.

Anyone who has the chance to do this trip, do it and be part of the awsome experience walking on the glacier. We would do it again if we visit that area again.

Visited September 2012
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Auckland Region, New Zealand
Top Contributor
69 reviews 69 reviews
38 attraction reviews
Reviews in 42 cities Reviews in 42 cities
32 helpful votes 32 helpful votes
“Wonderful!”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed September 17, 2012

This was the most amazing experience on the Columbia Icefield. We went on the snowmobile up onto the glacier. And we had a perfect day with clear blue sky. Apparently they only get half a dozen like that in a season and we were lucky enough to have one of them.

Visited October 2011
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Los Angeles, California
Senior Contributor
46 reviews 46 reviews
24 attraction reviews
Reviews in 22 cities Reviews in 22 cities
141 helpful votes 141 helpful votes
“Walk on the glacier safely - without special equipment!”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed September 17, 2012

My visit to Athabasca Glacier took place in July 2012, as part of a lengthy road trip that had me drive from my Southern California home all the way to Jasper. Athabasca was definitely a worthy stop, due to it being on Icefields Parkway connecting Banff and Jasper, and also being the only easily accessible glacier from my driving route.

- Location -

There are many glaciers in the Canadian Rockies, and the Columbia Icefields, which straddles British Columbia and Alberta, is the largest ice shelf in North America south of Alaska. Many glaciers flow down from Columbia Icefields on their way to feeding rivers and flowing to the Pacific, the Atlantic, AND the Arctic; Athabasca, which is only 2% of Columbia Icefields, feeds the Athabasca River which eventually joins Mackenzie River and flows into the Arctic in Yukon Territory.

Athabasca Glacier is the only glacier that can easily be reached without extensive hiking; in fact, when first discovered in the 1840s, the glacier extended all the way to today's visitor parking area. The glacier has retreated considerably since then, and also lost much of its volume and depth, thanks to global warming over the decades, both natural and man-made; at the current pace of warming, the glacier will cease to exist in about 600 years.

- Experience -

It is possible to hike to the base of the glacier, and walk onto the glacier itself, though due to the danger of hidden crevasses, such a walk would be outright suicidal for an untrained solo traveler like me.

I instead went to the visitor center across the highway from the glacier, and paid $50 to take a bus tour operated by the Brewster Company. This tour, offered only during summer months, uses a standard motorcoach to take visitors up halfway the glacier, then transfer to specialized TerraBus ice buses to actually get on the middle portion of the glacier. The tour is an hour in total, and 20 minutes of that is actually spent walking on the glacier; the visitor-safe area is hardened daily to eliminate the possibility of crevasse falls.

Both the motorcoach driver and the ice bus driver narrate various points of interest around the glacier, as well as interesting facts about the ice bus, the glacier itself, and so forth. These Brewster seasonal employees come from across Canada and overseas, and have interesting perspectives; my ice bus driver, a retired Japanese accountant named Masami Okada (he said his coworkers simply call him "Sami"), was definitely very memorable thanks to his accent and Japanese sense of dry humor.

- Visiting tips -

Even though it was midsummer, I found it quite chilly (reason why there IS a glacier in the first place!). I could only expect temperatures around 15 degrees Celsius (60 Fahrenheit) on the glacier itself. Bundling up, and wearing shoes that have good snow traction, are a must. (I had a pair of Ugg boots in my car just for this purpose.)

The visitor area in the midst of the glacier is hardened for safety. It is surrounded by cones - the bus drivers remind visitors to never go beyond the cones. The visitor area also has several flagpoles with Canadian flags, for visitors to use as photo props.

Of course, take lots of photographs. And don't forget sunscreen - the bright ice reflects sunlight very well. Most importantly, don't forget to drink some of that fresh glacial water as it melts and flows around the visitor area.

- Afterthought -

A one-of-a-kind experience! Despite the rather short duration and the high cost of the bus tour, I still thought it was worth it, just to check off of my "to-do" list. And it is always an amazing feeling when I leave my driveway in balmy Southern California and drive north far enough, that I can actually walk on a glacier, and drink some fresh snowmelt that would otherwise have gone all the way to the Arctic Ocean.

The rather high cost and touristy feel is the only reason I am giving a 4 rating, rather than a perfect 5. Nevertheless a must-see.

Visited July 2012
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Fountain Valley, California
Reviewer
3 reviews 3 reviews
Reviews in 2 cities Reviews in 2 cities
2 helpful votes 2 helpful votes
“Very impressed glacier walk”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed September 13, 2012

The current bus is great for viewing glacier which is much better than twenty years ago. At that time, the bus was much smaller and could only get to the foot of the glacier. Now the bus can get much closer to the glacier. It's fun; highly recommended.

Visited September 2012
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