Columbia Icefield Adventure Review: Is It Worth It?

Ice Explorer vehicle during Columbia Icefield Adventure

To walk on the Athabasca Glacier or to not walk on the Athabasca Glacier? That’s the question! But seriously…I know you here wondering, “Is Columbia Icefield Adventure worth it?” And you might also be wondering if it’s worth it even with little kids. 

Well, of COURSE, I’m here to answer those questions! July into August, we went on a bucket list trip to Banff with our 2, 4, and 6-year-old boys. Leading up to the trip, I debated doing the Columbia Icefield Adventure SO much. 

I mean, it looked pretty cool…but I also didn’t want to contribute to glacial melting…but this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I’ve heard they’re basically sacrificing one glacier in hopes of educating people…but would the boys be able to hang that long, especially without bathroom facilities on the tour?

Ok, enough of my internal debate. Obviously, we decided, “Yes! Let’s do it!” Here’s my full Columbia Icefield Adventure review.

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Columbia Icefield Adventure Information

What is the Columbia Icefield Adventure?

The Columbia Icefield Adventure is a tour that allows you to ride on a giant Ice Explorer and have time walking on (and even drinking water from!) the Athabasca Glacier. The tour ends with a trip over to the Columbia Skywalk to walk along a glass bottom bridge 918 feet in the air for views of the Canadian Rockies.

Family standing on glacier with Canadian flag during Columbia Icefields Adventure

Where is the Columbia Icefield Adventure located?

The Columbia Icefield Adventure starts and ends at the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre, which is located along the Icefields Parkway in Canada.

You can find the Columbia Icefield Adventure address here

How do you get to the Columbia Icefield Adventure?

To get to the Columbia Icefield Adventure, you’ll drive along the Icefields Parkway from Banff National Park (which takes about 2.5 hours with no stops) or Jasper National Park (which takes about 1 hour with no stops).

On our trip, we drove to the Icefield Discovery Centre from Lake Louise. Here’s our full Icefields Parkway itinerary

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What are the hours of operation?

The Columbia Icefield Adventure operates daily from early May to mid-October.

It’s good to note that this tour does NOT operate in the winter months. So, if you’re traveling to Banff during that time, your decision on whether or not to do this tour was just made!

Pricing and Purchasing Tickets for the Columbia Icefield Adventure:

The Columbia Icefield Adventure price varies based on date and age. You’ll find the rates are cheaper during off-peak times (such as in May).

Children 5 and under are free when sharing a seat with an adult. And children ages 6-15 get a discounted rate. 

You can purchase tickets online in advance or at the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre. I HIGHLY recommend purchasing your tickets in advance, especially if you’re visiting during a high crowd time. Just don’t be late like we were…ha! I’ll get to all of that below.

You can check prices and book your tour here. 

What to Expect on the Columbia Icefield Adventure

Alright! Now let’s get into the fun stuff…here’s everything you’ll need to know about the Columbia Icefield Adventure tour from start to finish. 

Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre

The Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre is where you’ll start and end your tour. Here, you’ll find parking, dining options, bathrooms, a gift shop, interpretive exhibits, and of course…check-in for your adventure!

The charter bus for the Columbia Icefield Adventure during our trip to Banff with kids

Checking in for the Tour

If you purchased your tickets in advance, you can go straight to the boarding area to have your ticket scanned. But make sure you’re there early! You can check in up to 15 minutes early. 

Quick story: we booked our tour for 10:15 AM, but we made some stops along the Icefields Parkway on our way (like Peyto Lake!). We arrived at the parking lot at 10:12 AM, and thought, “Whew! Just made it!” 

But by the time we got to the boarding area, it was 10:19 AM, and boarding had closed! They did NOT let us on and directed us to the desk for assistance. 

At the desk, they gave us the next available tour time, which was 11:45 AM. Needless to say, this took a good chunk of time out of our day that we weren’t planning on. Bummer! But you live and you learn (then you share your mistakes on a blog, so others don’t make them! Ha!). 

We used all that extra time we had to eat the packed lunch that we picked up in Lake Louise before starting our road trip that day. So it worked out in the end but wasn’t an ideal situation.

Columbia Icefield Ice Explorer Ride

When it’s time for your tour, you’ll hop on a charter bus, which takes you closer to the Athabasca Glacier. From there, you’ll get off of that bus and onto the Ice Explorer, a HUGE vehicle that will drive you onto the glacier. 

Our tour guide on the Ice Explorer was super knowledgeable and gave us so many interesting details about the area, glaciers and icefields, and how it’s all been affected over the years. 

Seeing how much the glacier has receded over the years is a stark visual. In fact, we learned that if it continues to recede at the rate it is, it will be completely gone in 40 years. Yikes!

The Ice Explorer vehicle moves veryyy slowly, but at one point feels as if you’re vertical! There are actually windows on the roof of the Ice Explorer. That way, you can still see straight ahead, even when you’re on such an angle. It was a fun ride, to say the least.

Three brothers standing in front of Ice Explorer in this Columbia Icefield Adventure Review

Time on the Athabasca Glacier

During the Icefield Adventure tour, you get about 20-30 minutes on the Athabasca Glacier. That gave us time to take photos, explore the glacier, and fill up our water bottles. 

There is a roped-off section of the glacier that you must remain within. You’ll likely see people outside of that area, but that’s because they’re on a separate tour in which they hike the glacier. With young kids, there was no way we could do that, which is why we chose the Columbia Icefield Adventure. 

It’s also good to note that your Ice Explorer won’t be the only one on the glacier. This is a very popular tour, and there were quite a few people on the glacier when we were.

I think there would have been much fewer people on the glacier with us if we had made it for the time we had originally reserved, though. 

Columbia Skywalk

Once your time on the glacier is over, you hop back onto your Ice Explorer to drive off the glacier. Then back onto the charter bus to head over to the Columbia Skywalk. 

The Columbia Skywalk is a glass-bottom bridge suspended 918 feet in the air with sweeping views of the Canadian Rockies (more specifically the Sunwapta Valley).

You can spend as little or as much time as you want here! After you’re done exploring the area, you just head back to where you started and jump on the next charter bus available. From there, you’ll go back to the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre, where your tour ends. 

How long is the Columbia Icefield Adventure?

The total time for the Columbia Icefield Adventure and Skywalk tour was almost exactly 2 hours when it was all said and done. About 30 minutes of that was spent walking around on the Athabasca Glacier. 

Is Columbia Icefield Adventure Worth it with Kids?

To cut to the chase, we were very happy that we chose to do this tour (other than the little hiccup where we arrived too late–scroll back up to the “What to Expect” section if you missed that story.)! 

Although your time on the glacier is very limited, it’s something that my boys STILL talk about. And we did SO many fun things on our Banff vacation.

To top it off, this is a tour that all ages can participate in. We not only had our young kids with us, but my in-laws also came along on the tour. It was nice to have a family-friendly activity that our whole group could enjoy. 

The kids got such a kick out of taking a ride in an Ice Explorer. And our sweet tour guide let them each take a turn sitting in the driver’s seat, which made their day!

Plus, being able to play on a glacier in the middle of summer made my boys’ eyes light up. I won’t lie, the texture of the glacier was much different than I thought it would be. And my kids loved running around on the crunchy ice. 

Another highlight? Being able to drink the water straight from the Athabasca Glacier! It really was as delicious as you’d imagine. 

Now as far as the Columbia Skywalk (or the Columbia Icefield Skywalk as some people call it) goes, it was just okay in my opinion. We did it because it was a part of the price we paid for the tour. But if there was an option to only do the Columbia Icefield glacier walk without the Skywalk, we would’ve chosen that route. 

Disclaimer: I may have felt differently if we weren’t there on such a smokey day. Our views were very limited on the day we visited. 

My mother-in-law actually skipped the Skywalk completely and just stayed on the charter bus back to the Discovery Centre. So, that’s an option, too, if your kids are getting antsy (or need to go to the bathroom–make sure to read the tips below!). 

Columbia Icefield Adventure Tips

Give yourself time to park.

The parking lot for the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre is large. And there are a bunch of stairs to get up to the center after you park. 

So two things to note:

  1. Give yourself enough time to park AND get into the building before your tour.
  2. If there’s someone in your party who has mobility issues, you can drop them off in a separate, handicapped parking lot before heading to the main parking lot. That way they avoid all the stairs. 

Use the bathroom before you leave for the tour. 

There are NO bathrooms once the tour starts, which can be challenging if you’re going on the Columbia Icefield Adventure with little kids like we did. 

The Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre has large, clean bathrooms.  So make sure to make a pit stop there before checking in to your tour. 

Don’t forget to bring an empty water bottle. 

One of my boys’ favorite things on the tour was that we got to fill up our water bottles with water on the glacier. And dang, that water was GOOD! 

Bring along a water bottle or two (or three!), fill up, and enjoy.

Mom filling up water bottle on the Athabasca Glacier

Dress warm.

We visited Banff in July/August. And even though the day we visited the glacier was on the warmer side, we were happy to have our coats with us. 

Glaciers have their own climates, so you can expect it to be chilly when you’re on the Athabasca Glacier tour. We had light winter coats, long pants, and our hiking shoes, which worked out great. 

Book your tickets in advance.

Like I mentioned above, this is a very popular tour. So, you want to ensure you have a spot.

I would hate to drive out there with hopes of walking on the Athabasca Glacier just to find out there aren’t any open times. 

check it out
Ice Explorer vehicle during Columbia Icefield Adventure

Columbia Icefield Adventure Tour

FAQ: Columbia Icefield Adventure Review

What is included in Columbia Icefield Adventure?

The Columbia Icefield Adventure tour includes riding in a large vehicle called an Ice Explorer onto the Athabasca Glacier, spending about 20-30 walking on the glacier, then taking a charter bus to the Columbia Skywalk.

How long is Columbia Icefield Adventure including Skywalk?

Our Columbia Icefield Adventure tour took 2 hours total. About 20-30 minutes of that total time was spent on the Athabasca Glacier. 

Can you go to the Columbia Icefield without a tour?

Yes, you can go to the Columbia Icefield without a tour; however, you will not be able to walk on the Athabasca Glacier if you aren’t on a tour for safety reasons.  There is a 0.9-mile trail, which you can take to walk near the toe of the glacier. 

Is Columbia Icefield in Banff or Jasper?

The Columbia Icefield spans close to 90 miles. Part of it is in Banff National Park and part of it is in Jasper National Park. 

Is Athabasca Glacier the same as Columbia Icefields?

Sort of. The Athabasca Glacier is actually a smaller part of the Columbia Icefield. There are six main glaciers that make up the Columbia Icefield. 

Wrap-Up: Is Columbia Icefield Adventure Worth it with Kids?

Walking on the Columbia Icefield Athabasca Glacier with my kids and husband will be such an incredible memory I’ll hold onto. Because of that, I’d absolutely say that the Columbia Icefield Adventure was worth it. 

Not only was it a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it was also a great learning opportunity. Our whole family really enjoyed this tour, and I would highly recommend it for your trip!

For more international adventures from Those Johnson Boys, check out the International Destinations page.

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