Can You Hike to the Columbia Icefield?
Yes, you can hike to the Columbia Icefield. Two trails lead to the Athabasca Glacier, an accessible arm of the main icefield, but travel onto the glacier itself is only permitted on a tour as the icefield can be dangerous for unprepared visitors (see Can You Walk onto the Columbia Icefield? below).
Beginning opposite the Icefield Centre, the FOREFIELD TRAIL (1.2 km/07 miles) leads through the forefield of the Athabasca Glacier, the barren area exposed by glacial melt since the 1840s. It ends where the TOE OF THE ATHABASCA GLACIER TRAIL (2.1 km/1.3 miles) begins. This easy loop offers the opportunity to get very close to a glacier with minimal effort. Do wear sturdy shoes and appropriate clothing as the wind off the glacier can be chilly. See also Columbia Icefield Hiking for more details,
Can You Walk Onto the Columbia Icefield?
Yes, there are two options if you want to walk onto the Columbia Icefield. You can join a guided hike or take an Ice Explorer bus.
Athabasca Glacier Icewalks
The locally owned and operated ICEWALKS (800/565-7547) company provides a marvelous and safe way for the reasonably fit to experience the Athabasca Glacier accompanied by a licensed mountain guide. You are outfitted with instep crampons and your guide takes you hiking right on the Athabasca Glacier. The pace is fairly leisurely and the grade is moderate as you peer down into deep millwells and 30-metre-deep (100-ft) crevasses. Hiking boots, gloves and a hat are supplied, but do dress warmly and bring rain gear and a lunch. No previous experience on glaciers is necessary. Tours last between three and six hours and operate late may to early October, weather permitting.
ICE EXPLORERS are specially developed vehicles with balloon tires that can travel over the crevassed surface. These Ice Explorers are operated by Pursuit. The 90-minute tour of Athabasca Glacier includes time spent walking on the surface of the glacier. The tour, which begins with a bus ride from the Icefield Centre, operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from mid-April to mid-October (try to plan your tour for before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m., after the tour buses have departed for the day). The ticketing office is on the main floor of the Icefield Centre, with the surrounding area resembling an airport departure lounge. Early in the season the glacier is still covered in a layer of snow and is therefore not as spectacular as during the summer.
Columbia Icefield Map
To make your time at the Columbia Icefield more enjoyable, we recommend purchasing Gem Trek’s 1:75,000 Columbia Icefield Map, which is a handy reference for identifying landmarks in the region, includes descriptions of the geology and human history, and lays out all Columbia Icefield hiking trails. It is available directly from the publisher through this link: Columbia Icefield Map, or at the Icefield Centre and at retail outlets throughout the Canadian Rockies.