Distance: 2.7 km to viewpoint, half-day trip, allow about 1 hour one way and more for exploring!
Access: Follow the Icefields Parkway to the Parker Ridge parking lot, located on the west side of the highway about 4 km south of the Banff-Jasper Park boundary (also just past Wilcox Pass).
Tip: This short hike is steep and switchbacks for most of the way so bring water as there isn’t any source along the way. Bring your camera, you’re going to want it for the spectacular rewards at the end. Please stay on the designated trail and don’t cut the switchbacks.
Parker Ridge was one of the most unexpected hikes I took on last summer. The original plan for the day had been to go to Nigel Pass but the weather was terrible and no one felt like hiking 14km through pouring rain and muddy trail. We turned back after about 1 km and decided to hit up Parker Ridge to make the drive from Jasper worth something.
Beginning at the parking lot we came across a very peculiar sign which I haven’t seen in the national park. DANGER: Explosive on the mountain. I looked at my hiking partner and we had to laugh but it was a nervous laugh. “If you find a Warhead or Projectile do the following…” I guess I’ll keep my eyes open. For the record we didn’t actually find anything, so many people travel this trail every summer I doubted I would find anything anyway. Continuing on with imaginations running wild, the trail takes off through the forest and immediately begins to climb up the northern slopes of the ridge. To the right you’ll see Hilda Peak and Mt. Athabasca.
After about 1 km the trail opens into the alpine slopes. The switchbacks continue but you’re instantly rewarded with views of the Parkway heading north and the slopes and peaks surrounding the valley. The trail continues and the final ascent is made to the 2250 m crest of the ridge. From this summit it veers left and makes a slight (and relieving) descent towards the first of two viewpoints of the 9 km Saskatchewan Glacier. The view is absolutely stunning. There are lots of chances to explore around, but be mindful of wildlife and the fragile alpine vegetation that grows on the floor. If it’s a nice day and not too windy (which is common) have a picnic overlooking the glacier.
When looking down into the North Saskatchewan River valley and glacier you might notice a path traveling from the forested area furthest from the end of the glacier traveling to about half-way through the valley. This is the Saskatchewan Glacier trail which can be accessed by driving further down the Icefields Parkway and turning onto an old concrete bridge just beyond Big Bend. This trail will have its own post later on as it is also the coolest trail available on the Parkway but not well known because it is not marked anymore. You can actually walk to the very tip of the glacier from there and many experienced ice travelers use this path to get onto the glacier itself.From Parker Ridge you can watch people on the trail with a telescope or zoom camera (although because it’s not as well known, you might not actually get to see anyone down there).
Parker Ridge itself can be quite a busy trail so be respectful of other hikers and consider planning your trip earlier or later in the day for less foot traffic.The weekends are particularly busy up there.