Toe of the Athabasca Glacier Trail – Best Canadian Rockies Day Hikes

#35 Canadian Rockies Day Hikes: Toe of the Athabasca Glacier Trail

Athabasca Glacier Trail
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  • Location: Jasper National Park
  • Trailhead: Toe of the Athabasca Glacier
  • Type: Lollypop Loop (Partial Out-n-Back with Loop)
  • Rating: Moderately-Easy
  • Total Distance: 1-mile
  • Trailhead Elevation: 6500′
  • Total Elevation Gain: 185′
  • Recommended Time: 1 hour
  • Recommended Season: Early-June to Late-September

The Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier Trail
Jennifer stands at the overlook on the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier Trail.

The Athabasca Glacier is home to perhaps the most iconic experience to be had on the Icefields Parkway. Many travel the entire length of the Icefield Parkway only to visit the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center and pay the exorbitant fee to ride on a specially designed bus directly onto the glacial ice. While this is a very “cool” experience, not everyone can afford it. However, if you are on a budget you can still get a great view of the ice via the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier Trail.

Toe of the Athabasca Glacier Trail

The added bonus of hiking the moderately easy Toe of the Athabasca Trail is getting to see signs showing the receding records of the glacial ice. It is astonishing how fast this piece of ice is receding back into the higher peaks. Do not be too discouraged as this glacier amounts to only 2% of the overall mass of the largest icefield south of the Arctic Circle, the Columbia Icefield. You will be in awe by the sheer size of this one glacier, but knowing that it is only 2% of the entire mass of ice sitting on the mountain tops is mind-blowing.

Toe of the Athabasca Glacier Trail Signs
One of the many signs on the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier Trail showing the regression of the toe of the glacier.

The Sunwpta River

The glacier is also the headwaters for the Sunwapta River, a tributary of the Athabasca River which is the lifeblood of the town of Jasper and Jasper National Park. Many of the most scenic places and best day hikes in the Canadian Rockies are located on these two life-giving rivers.

Athabasca River Headwaters
The Athabasca Glacier is the headwaters for the Athabasca River, the lifeblood of Jasper National Park.

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Columbia Icefield Discovery Center View
This is the view of the Athabasca Glacier from the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center. When it was discovered in 1898 the glacier reached the present-day parking lot on the right.

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