DLTK's Blog
Calgary to the Athabasca Glacier Tour
October 2018 - Alberta, Canada

by Leanne Guenther

Driving to Canmore on the first frosty, snowy day in autumn 2018.

Driving to Canmore on the first frosty, snowy day in autumn 2018.

I love driving into the mountains on the first frosty day of the year. It’s like living in a black and white movie. The sky is grey, the ground is white and all of the evergreens look black.  

Kids love the way frost sparkles and grows in crystallized patterns from blades of grass, branches of trees and barbed wire fences.  And it makes cool scrunchy noises when you walk on it with your boots!

Like magic, the moment the sun breaks through the overcast skies the frost melts away... almost exploding if the sun’s rays are strong enough.

Some years we don’t get much autumn colour here near the Rockies, but somehow the magical nature of frost in the foothills makes up for that a bit.

Past the foothills and into the mountains, the frost became full on fresh fallen snow.  During the day it kept snowing gently.  It was only a little below freezing so it was a perfect day for a hike. 

Grotto Canyon Trail

Grotto Canyon Trail near Canmore, Alberta.

We picked Grotto Canyon this time because it’s a nice 4km hike on a snowy day.  It’s one of my favourites to take children on (kids love scrambling over rocks, picnicking by the waterfall, hopping over the creek and hunting for petroglyphs) — we saw a couple of school groups on it today, but it’s quiet enough to be a lovely, romantic couple’s walk too (my husband Darren loves scrambling over rocks, picnicking by the waterfall, hopping over the creek and hunting for petroglyphs *wink*).

After hiking for a couple of hours we headed off to Lake Louise where it DUMPED snow on us.  So much so, that we were a bit worried they were going to close the road that we needed to take to get to our hotel for the night (they didn’t, thankfully).

We drove through Canmore and past Banff, which are both great places to visit, but since our goal on this trip was to visit the Glacier Center we skipped past both of them this time.

Flowers in the snow.

These flowers at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise were feeling the weight of the first snowfall.

We stopped at the Fairmont Lake Louise for a late lunch but were sorry we did.  The main restaurant was closed for all but hotel guests and the downstairs lounge had the non-guests huddled in a corner in the back of an otherwise fairly empty space.  This made for a noisy, crowded corner that we didn’t really enjoy.  

The food was good, as usual, but we’re sad about what’s happened to the CP (Fairmont) hotels in Canada since the international Accor hotel chain bought them up.  They just don’t seem to have the same friendly atmosphere they used to.  We’ve been Fairmont Platinum loyalty members for years and have always loved the historic hotels but it’s looking like those days might be coming to an end.  Even while guests of the hotel, the last couple stays have been a zoo of people and frenzied looking staff instead of the historic mountain retreat we used to love.  Oh well, times change and it seems like they’re doing loads of business so they likely won’t miss us as customers.

We had plenty of time for a canoe or a walk around the lake but since it was snowing so heavily, decided to skip it, fill up with gas and be on our way.  There isn’t another gas station for an hour or so, so a quick fill is a good idea.

After our short stop in Lake Louise we continued on to our home for the next two nights — Num Ti Jah lodge about half an hour north of Lake Louise on highway 93N otherwise known as the Icefields Parkway. This highway closes when the winter weather is bad (not usually in September!) but luckily it was open though marked as “poor conditions”. 

The Icefield Parkway can be treacherous on a snowy day.

The Icefield Parkway can be treacherous on a snowy day.

We drove slowly through the slushy mess on the highway, thus avoiding the fate of those unlucky few who’d ended up in the ditch, all the while enjoying the beauty of the snow laden evergreens and mountains all around us.

This was our first time at Num Ti Jah Lodge.  It’s a rustic, independent lodge with a restaurant that serves breakfast and dinner.  A simple lunch is available at the gift shop or you can plan to have lunch in Lake Louise or at the Glacier Center.  You likely won’t have cell service but the lodge provides free satellite wifi (enough to text and get email, not to watch Netflix!).

Num Ti Jah Lodge on Bow Lake off the Icefields Parkway

Num Ti Jah Lodge on Bow Lake off the Icefields Parkway

The rooms are comfortable but aren’t terribly nice.  The bathroom is tiny but the shower has good water pressure and is a nice temperature.  The windows are small and hard to see out of unless you walk right up to them (they’re in a little cubby but they do provide good natural light).  The walls and floors are quite thin and creaky so you can hear the other guests talking, snoring and moving around.  And the accommodations and dinner are both quite pricey.

However, the common areas are nice in a log cabin kind of way.  Plus it’s conveniently located beside Bow Lake near the start of the Icefields Parkway about half an hour from Lake Louise and an hour from the Glacier Center.  

Num Ti Jah has a hunting lodge feel.

Num Ti Jah has a hunting lodge feel.

If you’re looking to escape the more heavily touristed area, this is a decent choice.  We came because it’s one of those places we’ve driven past quite often and finally decided to stay at.  

Despite having a nice time at Num Ti Jah lodge, I’d still recommend the Post Hotel in Lake Louise for first time visitors who want to stay in the town, Deer Lake Lodge for those who want to stay right beside the lake in Lake Louise or Emerald Lake Lodge for those who want to be a bit further into nature but still next to a beautiful lake.   Or, if you’re very lucky and plan ahead you might get a spot at Moraine Lake Lodge but in my experience that’s a tough one to get into (but well worth it just to have easy access to the beautiful area around it). 

Anyways, Num Ti Jah lodge wasn’t bad, but wouldn’t be my first, second or third choice of places in the area to recommend.  All of the above lodges, including Num Ti Jah, are family friendly but make sure you bring old fashioned things like a deck of cards and colouring pages because you likely won’t have tv, movies or much wifi access.

The rec room in Num Ti Jah Lodge.

The rec room in Num Ti Jah Lodge.

Just after we arrived in the evening, we enjoyed dinner at the lodge.  Portions were tasty and a good size for us (we don’t like too much food) but entrees were expensive at about $50 each.  After dinner we took turns playing pool at their free pool table as did many of the other guests.  Although there are no tv’s, there are board games and books that are free to borrow.

Moose candle holders lighting up the dining room at Num Ti Jah during a power outage.

Moose candle holders lighting up the dining room at Num Ti Jah during a power outage.

While we were playing pool the power went out which caused a flurry of activity among the staff.  They set up lanterns in the common area, candles in the restaurant and distributed flashlights.  It was all very exciting (though disruptive to our pool game... pool by flashlight makes it tough to judge angles *grin*).  We made sure to unplug our electronics to protect them from power surges and wished we’d remembered the international power adapter/surge protectors that we usually bring with us when we travel.

After an uneventful but tasty breakfast the next morning (continental breakfast is included in the stay) we headed off to Peyto Lake about ten minutes from where we were staying.

Peyto Lake from the Upper Viewpoint

Peyto Lake from the Upper Viewpoint

There are numerous hikes leaving from the lodge or a close drive away but Peyto Lake is one of those “must do” hikes along the Icefields Parkway.  It’s either a 5 min walk from the tour bus area to the lower, wooden overlook or about a 3km loop trail that starts just past the wooden overlook and takes about an hour and a half depending on how often you stop to take photos.  People parking in the lower parking area add about a 15 minute climb on a pretty paved trail to get to the lower, wooden overlook.

A view of the Icefield Parkway from atop Parker Ridge

A view of the Icefield Parkway from atop Parker Ridge

After Peyto Lake, we continued down the Icefields Parkway to Parker Ridge Trail (toilets are available here too).  Parking is limited, but we lucked out and got a spot.  The trail isn’t long (about 4km there and back — 2km up and 2km back down), but it is a climb of about 250 meters.  It’s pretty neat, but tiring, to climb up the hill and along the ridge for a chance to look out at the mountains and glacier over the other side.

The Icefields Discovery Centre

The Icefields Discovery Centre is the launching point for all tours to the Athabasca Glacier.

The day was wearing on, so after returning down the trail we went straight to the Glacier Center for a late lunch. There are two restaurants there — a more formal dining room called Altitude and the more casual, Chalet cafe.  We enjoyed a quick lunch at the cafe, then wandered around the interpretive center and watched the 20 minute movie.

An Ice Explorer Bus

This custom made Ice Explorer bus is our transportation onto the Athabasca Glacier.

In order to visit the Athabasca Glacier on the Ice Explorers you need a ticket which we had pre-purchased.  We met our bus at the designated departure time for the 5 minute ride up to the ice explorers.  Our bus driver/tour guide transferred us onto the Explorer and we were off to drive onto the glacier.

It was snowing quite heavily, but surprisingly there was no wind.  The safe zones were clearly marked and we enjoyed exploring the area.  During busy times there can be as many as 200 guests up there at a time, but during our visit there were only 30 of us so it was easy to interact with the two guides and have space to enjoy the expanse of snow covered glacier before us without feeling crowded.

Snowman on the Glacier

A previous visitor made the best of the snowy conditions taking the opportunity to build a patriotic snowman.

My favourite part was a toss up between the glacier blue ice peeking through the snow and the snowman someone had stopped to build.

It was a great two night trip and we were sad to head home the next morning but happy to have experienced the snowy autumn days on the Icefields Parkway.

Mount Athabasca

A sign points to Mount Athabasca from the parking lot of the Discover Centre.


Make It
Paper Cup Circle Snowman

Circle Snowman

What you’ll need

  • blue construction paper
  • paper cups, plastic cups or TP rolls
  • white paint (we used acrylic paint)
  • markers or pencil crayons


  • Dip the top of the cup in white paint and press it on the paper.Dip the edge of the cup into the paint and then press it onto the white paper. Repeat 2 more times to stack three circles.
  • Dip the bottom of the cup in white paint and press it onto the paper.- OR - Dip the bottom of the cup in white paint and press it onto the paper. Repeat 2 more times to stack three circles.
  • Dip one end of toilet paper roll in white paint and press onto the paper.- OR - Dip one end of a toilet paper roll tube in white paint and then press it onto the paper. Repeat 2 more times to stack three circles.
  • Let dry.
  • Draw a face, arms and buttons using coloured markers or pencil crayons.

More detailed instructions are available on the Circle Snowman craft page.


Disclaimer: As always, my opinions are my own.

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All photos in this blog post are copyright Leanne Guenther or are used with permission.

Leanne's byline photoAbout Leanne:

Wife, mom and the woman behind the scenes of the DLTK's Crafts for Kids websites.  The websites are a terrific hobby -- run by (me) Leanne, a mom with two girls as my official craft testers and my husband as my technical support.  DLTK are the first initials of each of the people in my family (I'm the L!).  Whenever we send out little cards or whatnot, we sign 'love DLTK' ... when I started the website I used the initials.  Had I known the website would get actual strangers visiting it, I would have picked a less mysterious name but we're all stuck with it now!

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