Ah, the Canadian Rockies.
For those travelers who would enjoy an awesome view of a glacier, snow-capped mountains and the chance to see mountain goats on an easy afternoon hike along an alpine ridge surrounded by the Canadian Rockies, the Parker Ridge Trail in Banff National Park is worthy of consideration.
Parker Ridge Trail is located on the Jasper National Park and Banff National Park border with the trailhead starting on the Banff side. The trail is just south of Jasper’s Icefield Centre complex and the Athabasca Glacier, making the hike a good afternoon activity after a morning spent doing the Brewster Snocoach ride on the Athabasca Glacier.
The hike is a little more challenging than the popular Maligne Canyon hike in Jasper, but the rewards seem worth the effort. The length of the Parker Ridge Trail is 5.2 km (3.2 miles) round-trip. The hike takes about 2 or 3 hours. The elevation gain is about 275 meters (902 feet). As a reward for the ascent, the trail provides a view of the Saskatchewan Glacier you’ll remember for a long time.
Looking for a memorable Canadian Rockies hiking experience? This could it – though the choices for hiking in Jasper and Banff are many.
Getting to Parker Ridge Trail in Banff
The trailhead starts on Highway 93, 8.8 km (5.5 miles) south of the Icefield Centre complex. The trailhead will have a hiker sign and a large parking lot.
Parks Canada describes the hike as follows:
“This well-defined trail switchbacks 275 m up a moderate grade to the top of a tundra-clad ridge above the treeline. Keep going over the top and slightly down the other side for a remarkable eagle’s-eye view of the Saskatchewan Glacier. In good weather the source of the glacier is visible off to the right: the southern part of the Columbia Icefield and Castleguard Mountain (3077m). Across the glacier the highest summit is Mt. Saskatchewan (3342 m). From mid-July to mid-August you’ll see blue alpine forget-me-nots and cushions of pink moss campion on Parker Ridge. Mountain goats use the area. This trail is very popular, so it’s important to follow the established pathway. Short-cutting damages the delicate alpine vegetation and leads to erosion of the thin soil cover, especially in spring, when the trail may be closed.” (Source: Parks Canada)
One of a visitor’s first stops to the parks (either Jasper or Banff) should be the information centers to get acquainted and to learn the status of the trails. Erosion, bears and other situations can temporarily close a trail. Check in at the Banff Information Center, Lake Louise visitor center or Jasper Information Center to ask about the current status of the trail and to learn about alternatives if the trail is temporarily closed.
Parker Ridge Trail Hiking Reports
The scenes along the trail are spectacular. To virtually interact, try this cool glacier panoramic scene on Don Bain’s Virtual Guidebooks. Click to visit the interactive panorama providing a 360 degree view from on the trail and overlooking Saskatchewan Glacier. Now imagine the wind blowing cool, clean Canadian Rockies air and the smell of nature. You’re there.
Parker Ridge Trail gets a lot of favorable reviews from hikers. For instance, this was said on Jen and Mark’s Jasper or Bust 2008 blog:
“Parker’s Ridge seemed to encapsulate the best of Jasper National Park…”
Jen and Mark’s blog provides a Parker’s Ridge hike report with nice photos here. Have a look.
Another hiker writes about enjoyable 1994 and 1999 hiking experiences here. Lesson learned: dress for the weather and wear hiking shoes or boots that can get muddy.
You can hike this trail! These people did!
Anyone can do this hike and smile at the awesome views.
Notice that all of these smiling people are dressed to stay warm. That’s the secret to hiking in the Canadian Rockies. Always wear layers when hiking in Jasper and Banff. It can be short-sleeve shirt weather at the bottom of the mountain and jacket weather at the top of the mountain.
Bring water. Bring snacks. Hike Parker Ridge Trail and enjoy the Canadian Rockies.