Banff National Park
Time: 2 hours
Distance: 5 km (return)
Elevation Gain: 250 m
How To Get There: Parker Ridge is located in northern Banff National Park but the closest town is Jasper National Park. Drive south of Jasper on Hwy 93 for 114 km to the parking lot on the right side of the road. Or go north 180 km from Banff along Hwy 93. There will be signs pointing you to the trailhead.
My brother and his fiancée had a friend from New Zealand staying with them for a month and so they wanted to take him to the mountains to show him all Alberta had to offer. Because none of them were experienced hikers but they still wanted good views, I decided the best option that would check all the boxes was Parker Ridge. While it’s a bit of a climb, there’s nothing technical about it and there’s no better place to see the Saskatchewan Glacier. Plus, in order to reach the trailhead for the ridge, you get to drive along Highway 93, which has some of the most gorgeous scenery the country, maybe the world, has to offer.
We wanted to get to the trailhead at a decent time, as I had heard that the parking lot gets saturated quickly, being so popular with tourists. Easy access trail plus good views at the top = tourist trap. We parked on the east side of the highway and then made our way to the obviously marked trailhead where a kiosk with some interesting information sits. The Ridge is named for Herschel Clifford Parker, an acknowledged adventurer who conducted surveys of the Continental Divide.
The trail itself has undergone a bit of a face lift in the last few years in an attempt to dissuade hikers from marking short cuts and braiding the trail. The area is sensitive to erosion, so it’s very important to listen to designated signs.
The trail starts off wide and well-graded, giving you only a short chance to warm up your legs before you’re suddenly climbing up uneven stair landings and then switch backing to the south along the bottom of the ridge.
Pine trees guide you along the path for the first bit of the hike with the odd root popping out of the ground to keep you on your toes.
The entire journey up to the top is via switchback as we moved back and forth, slowly gaining elevation.
The trees give way fairly rapidly and it wasn’t long before we could start to get a good look at the valley below.
There is a lot of trail maintenance done along the way, including several partitions to help divert rain erosion.
Up we continued to climb, feeling the burn but constantly being appraised for our efforts as more and more mountains came into view. Though it was mid-July, snow still remained on the trail, a good indicator that the winter season had been long.
Along the way we could see bits and pieces of the old trail, as well as false trails that connected between the switchbacks, a product of lazy hikers attempting to create shortcuts.
As the trees began to shrink more and more, they were replaced with a carpet of beautiful pink, purple and yellow alpine wildflowers, not to mention a long-eye opportunity of Mount Athabasca and Mt. Hilda.
Nigel Peak sits right across from the parking lot below.
The closer you get to the top of the ridge, the steeper the trail becomes. There are a few sporadic stairs put in place to help with the climb. Make sure you put on a jacket as you begin the final ascent, as the ridge is completely exposed to the elements, and the wind can be fierce up top.
Once we settled at the top, a few rock rings surrounding fragile plant life can be seen dotted here and there, acting as a protective casing to mother nature’s fickler fauna.
There are several indicators, including a yellow sign, that let you know you’ve reached the top of Parker Ridge. However, this is only a part of the hike as you have two additional trail options to check.
One trail turns north, taking you further up the ridge towards it’s true summit. The second option continues westward, allowing you to climb over the ridge horizon and get a better look at the Saskatchewan Glacier. We decided to climb upwards first, moving along the exposed ridge until all we had was tufts of grass and loose rock to keep us company.
Climbing further up the ridge allows for an even closer look at Mount Athabasca and Mount Hilda.
We came across a well-built wind wall and decided it was a good time to hunker down for lunch. It was a good thing we had the stone wall to protect us, otherwise we might have blown away at that point. The wind definitely had a bite to it. The trail ends at that point but you can still continue further along the ridge if you want. We opted to take a few pictures of the surrounding view and then head back and finish the official Parker Ridge Trail.
As we headed back the way we came, we got a better look at Saskatchewan River which lines the other side of the ridge.
Once we linked back up to the original trail, we continued west, enjoying an easy walk highlighted with a sprinkling of yellow and white wildflowers.
As we began rounding the south west side of the ridge, the glacier began to come into full view, with Castleguard Mountain looking on.
The trail is easy enough at this point and we continued on, taking a multitude of pictures as we went.
Just when you think the view is at it’s best, you walk a couple feet and are proven wrong. It keeps getting better. There’s several spots along the trail that provide great “looking out into the distance and pondering life” shots.
Further along, the trail begins to narrow significantly and there are several “iffy” spots that cross over fallen scree. As long as you pay attention and stay on the trail, there’s no cause for concern here, though the close proximity to the steep edge can be dismaying to some.
Finally, we reached the end of the official trail and took a moment to sit and enjoy the gorgeous glacier and all it had left in it’s wake.
We took a few more pictures and then headed back the way we had come, enjoying the last views of the glacier as we went.
If you want a well-marked trail that is easy to follow but has several side options and has the added bonus of gorgeous views, Parker Ridge is a must. The only downside to this hike is the large amount of tourists that buzz around the area, making it somewhat challenging to enjoy the vastness of the surrounding mountains. However, nature is not just for one person, and should be shared equally among all. Just remember to respect wildlife and the path that intersects it.