The road itself is kept open year-round, but during the winter months it is extremely snowy and none of the tourist attractions along its length will be open or able to be visited. The gas-station, store and tourist centre will all be closed for the winter, so there is nowhere to get food or petrol on the Parkway at that time. In fact, the road is often closed due to weather during the winter. Check with park officials for the road conditions before you choose to travel it and be well prepared for winter conditions on the trip. Car access is denied in winter, regardless of the weather, unless you are fitted with snow tires or carry studded tires or chains.
The Icefields Parkway is a fifty minute drive west of Banff, two and a half hours west of Calgary and three and a half hours west of Edmonton. The actual parkway itself runs for 230 km (143 miles) and is a three-hour drive. But you will want to spend as much time as you can to have time to take in the views. Accommodation can be found at Lake Louise, Jasper and at the Columbia Icefield.
One highlight of the Icefields Parkway is a visit to the Columbia Icefield, where you can ride on a Snocoach right up onto the glacier itself and get out and walk around on the ice. During the summer, trained guides offer 3 or 5 hour walks on the Athabasca Glacier, but this is only possible when there is no snowcover on the ice. We were there at the very beginning of the tourist season, and the glacier was a smooth white sheet of snow, giving no hint as to the maze of deadly crevasses under its surface.
Other scenic highlights of the drive include Peyto Lake, the Crowfoot and Bow glaciers and the Athabasca Falls.
It is quite common to see native wildlife including bears, elk and caribou. They are found grazing at the side of the road, often on summer evenings. Look out for "bear jams," where the tourists stopping to take photographs will block the road.