If you’re headed to Northern Alberta this summer, you have to check out the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Ice Fields. Located north of Lake Louise but south of Jasper, this 6km long, 1km wide glacier stuns international travellers every year with its sheer beauty. The whole ice field extends nearly 215 square kilometres and some areas are more than 300 metres deep. Impressive masses of ice for an area that far south of the Arctic Circle.
The best way to see the glacier is to book a tour with the Glacier Adventure package. Your family can hop aboard the Ice Explorer (huge buses with gargantuan winter-terrain tires) for an hour or so and venture further up the fields than otherwise possible. The view is amazing, the walk on the fields immerses you in ancient nature and almost makes you feel as if you were touching the world more than 12,000 years ago.
There is a Glacier Exhibit Centre (though closed for massive renovations until Fall 2014) that houses a theatre, interactive displays, activities, as well as up-to-date geological and historical information. The friendly staff there offer up the best campground advice, issue park passes, back county passes, and is also a checkpoint for climbers.
If you want to stay in the area for a day or two, there is the quaint but stunning Glacier View Inn. With 32 rooms designed with Rocky Mountain lofts in mind, the stay is a comfortable and luxurious one. It’s restaurant has garnered some excellent feedback in the recent years and its location is quite useful as a setting off point if you hope to head both north and south over the next few days (these drives can eat much of the day if not planned carefully).
This tourist locale is particularly interesting for international travellers, as few places in the world can even conceptualize how vast these areas of permanent ice actually are and how long they’ve lasted. Remember to prepare for the weather; it will be slightly cool even in July.