Parker Ridge Trail — Most reward for least effort

Among many hiking trails along the Icefields Parkway (Alberta Hwy 93) between Banff and Jasper National Parks, Parker Ridge Trail probably provides the most rewarding views for the least effort. The only drawback is that it isn’t very close to either the town of Banff or Jasper.

The trailhead of Parker Ridge Trail is 176 km from Banff (about 2h 20m drive), 119 km from Lake Louise (about 1h 45m drive), and 112 km from Jasper (about 1h 30m). Despite being inside the boundary of Banff National Park, it’s actually much closer to Jasper than to Banff. Therefore, we did this hike while staying at Whistlers Campground near the town of Jasper.

We were in Jasper National Park for 10 days in late June. The trail condition report for Parker Ridge when we arrived in Jasper wasn’t promising. We waited until the last possible chance before leaving Jasper to do this hike hoping for improvement on the trail condition. Fortunately, the last few days the trail condition was improved to “fair/poor” with snow on the trail and some muddy sections, good enough for us.

Parker Ridge Trail zigzags its way up above the tree line, overlooking the Icefields Parkway and surrounding snow-capped peaks. Once on the top, you walked along the ridge on a relatively flat terrain to the Saskatchewan Glacier Overlook. Saskatchewan Glacier is as impressive as the better-known Athabasca Glacier, if not more. But unlike Athabasca Glacier, Saskatchewan Glacier isn’t visible from the Icefields Parkway. Since you have to hike some distance to see it, you won’t be competing with the crowds from tour buses. Yay!

Snow lingered in late June. The trail was quite muddy, especially at the lower section below the tree line.
We had this view within 15 minutes from the trailhead. You can see the parking lot on the right side of this picture. The view got better from here.
Mount Athabasca (center) and Hilda Peak (right) were prominent in the landscape throughout the hike.
Trail continue along the ridge toward the Saskatchewan Glacier Overlook.
First look at Saskatchewan Glacier flowing down from the Columbia Icefield
Saskatchewan Glacier with its brilliant blue Lake at its toe
The trail continued along the ridge. The view was better as we walked further away from the glacier.
After a leisurely-paced hike from the parking lot, we got this breathtaking view from Parker Ridge within 50 minutes or so.
Blooming moss campion were scattered along the ridge.

Once the Saskatchewan Glacier is in full view, you basically walk as far as you desire. We found a good spot for lunch, the returned to the trailhead.

Hikers exploring the hill west of the ridge
Taking in the spectacular view of the mountain landscape on the way back

Because the Parker Ridge hike itself takes less time to complete than a round-trip drive to the trailhead from either Jasper or Banff, it’s the hike that could be combined with other stops on the Icefields Parkway. We had to navigate snow and muddy trail, spent almost 40 minutes for lunch and still completed it in less than 3 hours. A highly recommended hike!

  • Date hiked: June 24, 2017
  • Hiking time: 2h 48m
  • Distance: Approx. 3.25 mi round-trip (out and back)
  • Elevation change: Approx. 836 ft gain
  • Note: Although this is a relatively easy hike, please note that the trailhead is at about 6,600 ft elevation. Some individuals may need time to acclimate to the altitude before considering this hike.

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