Distance - 5 km return, Elevation Gain - 250m (820').
Parker Ridge in northern Banff National Park is a must do for all hikers in the Columbia Icefield area. Then again the same can be said for all the trails around the Columbia Icefields, the whole area is just, well... somewhat beyond belief. Giant peaks (by Canadian Rockies standards), dominate the area and the glaciers that flow from them are plentiful. It's truly remarkable that you we can drive through such an area, let alone take such short yet rewarding hikes.
This trail is very busy at the peak of summer, to avoid crowds it is best to hike early or late in the day. Hiking at these times will also provides the best light for photography and more comfortable summer hiking temperatures. The trail itself is very straightforward and needs little in the way of explanation. There is 250m of elevation so most people will be a huffin' and puffin' as they follow the broad super trail to the top of the ridge. Over the years Parks Canada has been battling erosion from hikers taking 'shortcuts', with the installation of rails and steps. They have also installed signs in the hopes of deterring the practice of shortcutting but it continues to this day. Due to this abuse and the alpine tundra's fragility, Parks Canada has been closing the trail from late spring to early summer, when the trail is dry and ready for hiking. Please respect this beautiful area and keep to the trail.
Well graded switchbacks carry hikers above treeline in no time and fit hikers can be on top in thirty minutes, but to rush up such a trail would be a bit of a waste. Take your time, and enjoy the nature around you. The mixed forest of subalpine fir and engleman spruce can have an intoxicating fragrance, and the array of flowers that grow amongst them are beyond beautiful. Bird life includes the townsend solitaire, grey crowned rosy finch, pipits, horned larks and ptarmigan. Bighorn sheep and mountain goat are sometimes seen on the ridge and the occasional grizzly bear passes through. There are even fossils imbedded in the rocks along the trail. There is so much more than scenery to a place like Parker Ridge. But what a view it is.
The trail crosses the crest of the ridge at 2km but it's another half kilometer before you have a good view of the Saskatchewan Glacier. Seen stretching up the valley it carved out over many thousands of years, it is the longest of the glaciers feeding off the Columbia Icefield. At 288 sq km the Columbia Icefield is the largest icefield south of the arctic circle. Combined with the Clemenceau and Chaba Icefields; a glaciologists dream spans nearly 40km to the west.
This may seem like a lot of ice but consider this: in 1927 the Columbia Icefield was 365 sq km, that's a 20% loss. I'm not going to rant on, but I would encourage you to learn more about the issue and develop your own opinion. Here are a couple of links to start with. (http://www.globalwarming.org/) & (http://www.wonderofwater.ca/).
Both Jasper and Banff National Parks produce a free day hiking guide of this and many other trails in the parks, they are available from the Jasper, Banff, Lake Louise and Columbia Icefields Information Centres. For maps there are Gemtrek's 'Columbia Icefield' at 1:75,000 or the government topo 83 C/3 Columbia Icefield at 1:50,000, available from the The Friends of Jasper.
In winter please check the local avalanche bulletins and conditions.
Submitted by 'mtncat'.
While Parker Ridge is located in northern Banff National Park, the closest town is actually Jasper. Drive south of Jasper on Hwy 93 for 114km to the parking lot on the right side of the road. There is a garbage can and panabode privy in the parking lot. Or, go north 180km from Banff, 120km from Lake Louise on Hwys #1 the Trans-Canada & 93 the Icefields Parkway. Coming from either direction the drive is one of the most scenic in the world and worth the trip all by itself.
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Posted By: hugh
- Fri Aug 06 15:38:43 EDT 2010
UpsideMy wife, 16 year old son and I did this hike twice on our recent trip (July 1 - 12, 2010) to the Canadian Rockies. The first time occured on July 5 when it was cold and misty. We were in full rain gear with fleeces underneath and gloves. By the time we made it to the top it was snowing, not hard, just flurries. Quite an experience for a family from the southern part of the USA. Obviously, with the snow, clouds and fog, the views weren't too spectacular. That being said, three days later, we expereinced Parker Ridge at her finest. We had a crystal blue sky, little wind and the temperature was about 70 degrees fahrenheit (about 21 - 22 celsius). The views of the Saskatchewan Glacier and river were amazing. We were able to find a secluded spot and enjoy our lunch while taking in these views. We also saw a 1000 foot ribbon waterfall opposite of us feeding in to the river. Quite a sight.<BR><BR>Prior to coming to Canada, I did as much research as I could concerning the most beautiful day hikes. This one made many top ten lists. I concur totally.
Posted By: Big Wheel
- Mon Nov 02 16:08:36 EST 2009
UpsideMost people stop when they get to what they think is the summit, where the 3 rock shelters are. That's only 1/2 way. The rest of the trail is phenominal and not crowed. You simply have to look for a fadded boot path.
DownsideWe made it 90% of the way but we stopped as we were not prepared for the wind near the top. It's the only time We've ever had to quit - but I know when I'm over my head. With the right head hear to protect your face and ears from the wind, this trail is easily doable. Do some research before you tackle it so you know where to go once you get to what appears to be the end.
CommentIt's a 10/10 five star trail once you get past the 3 rock shelters.
Posted By: Sarabiner
- Sat Oct 18 21:12:48 EDT 2008
UpsideSnowboarding during freak snowfalls in September. Quick access.
CommentHike up. board (or ski) down.
Posted By: marvin
- Wed Oct 15 04:21:20 EDT 2008
CommentVery impressive hike and scene! But really to many people for a late September day! Some just running up the hill with flip-flops take a 3 seconds view and a photo from the first viewpiont and running back to the car. Not looking left or right to the still blooming flowers or the birds. Can not understand that people! If you go along the ridge there are less people and a lot of better views down to the saskatoon. One of our new top ten hikes! Will try to do it once more in spring or summer.
Posted By: AlbertaALex
- Thu Aug 02 22:21:43 EDT 2007
UpsideGreat views, very easy access.
DownsideParker ridge can be crowded, Hilda Creek, to the north can also be crowded, with skiers.
CommentFor two Canada days in a row I've scrambled/hiked the ridge north of Parker Ridge via access from Hilda Creek. This year (2007) there were at least 50 skiers taking in the summer corn on the eastern slope. (maybe thats what causes premature melting eh?) Worth the trek up though I give it an 8/10
Posted By: pmjwright
- Fri Mar 03 17:43:27 EST 2006
UpsideYeah, incredible scenery!!
DownsideNone really, just wish the hike was longer!
CommentTons of ancient coral fossils in the rocks on the way up. Definitely should do the ridgewalk NW of the trail's end--ever improving views, and you can find some solitude.
This is absolutely a must-do hike.
Posted By: Kmarshall
- Fri Jan 27 18:16:49 EST 2006
UpsideGo for it. Yes there crowds but when you get to the top 2 1/2hours later back and forth you are zig zagging to the top of the ridge and then it is an open meadow with a 360 degree view of the most amazing glaciers you will ever lay your eyes on. This is a great hike for all ages. It asks so little of you and gives so much to view apun. The Mountains demand all of your undivded attention. You will be basking in there glory. The Mountains are like Roman ruins in disguise. You can not take your eyes off of them no matter what. pack a lunch you will need water. You can walk along the path to the north for a few kms and there are hanging cliffs along the way that are great to hunker down and have a picnic or take a few amazing pics. Whatever you do it will be an amazing adventure. Don't forget to pack your trekking poles. Everyone can do this hike. If you are looking for the Main act here it is. Center stage and waiting for your attention please.
DownsideNo downside. We went in July 2005 and we went on the long weekend. I have no idea where everybody was but we didn't have any concerns. It was perfect. Maybe because it is toooo tooo easy !!!
CommentThis is a trip of a life time. I am so glad that we did this hike. You will not be disappointed only if you don't do it while your there you will miss mother nature at her finest hour.The Mountians stand on Guard protecting those that fly near and hike far to see them in all there glory. Get the book By Kathy and Craig Copland and you will have the hike of your lifetime.