Sunday, May 10, 2015

Walk the Jasper Skywalk in Alberta, Canada

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This past weekend my fantastically thoughtful husband gifted me a trip to Jasper, Alberta for my birthday / Mother's Day. It was a very exciting present indeed, seeing that I hadn't been to Jasper since I was a child, and Joey has NEVER been to the Jasper area in his life.

It was also great timing because the newly created Jasper Skywalk (officially termed the Glacier Skywalk) had just opened, and I was itching to go visit it, despite my love/hate relationship with heights.

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My lovely family and I on the Glacier Skywalk in Jasper, Alberta

We packed up our gear (which is significant with a sixteen-month-old babe) and began our drive on a Friday morning. From our hometown to Jasper it is a five hour drive, and with a kid, that turns into a six hour drive. We weren't sure if we'd be able to make it to the Skywalk before it closed at 5:00 p.m., but we were determined to give it a fair try.

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On the road to Jasper, enjoying a nice roadside stop

The drive was fantastic. We took Highway 11 from Rocky Mountain House to the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93 North), and it was beautiful. One pleasant surprise we encountered on our journey from Rocky Mountain House to the Icefields Parkway was an amazing stretch of the North Saskatchewan River that spreads out into a giant plateau of lake-sized proportions. The glacial temperatures, combined with eons of riverbeds being carved and layered by the powerful waters, made for a spectacular view. It almost looked Jurassic. Mount Michener overlooks this particular expanse of river with its impressive peak. We stopped to marvel at the water's colors and to stretch our legs before continuing on.

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The brilliant waters of the North Saskatchewan River, with Mount Michener overlooking it

We made it to the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre by 4:00 p.m., one hour before the last bus to the Glacier Skywalk was scheduled to leave. We purchased tickets for the 4:15 bus, thinking we wouldn't require more than an hour to enjoy the Skywalk and its view. For those of you looking to spend more time at the Skywalk, there is an entire interpretive centre at the Discovery Centre, including a theatre featuring educational films about the area and the Skywalk's creation. You can also book a ride to the Athabasca Glacier Tour, which is something we opted to save for another time when our children are older. (Hopefully that glacier won't melt anytime soon!)

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Our route took us down Highway 11 and then onto the Icefields Parkway, marked in red

The shuttle bus took us on a quick five-minute drive up the 93 North to the Glacier Skywalk, which has been built into the mountainside just off of the highway. You can easily see the Skywalk as you drive past, but there is nowhere to park at the Skywalk itself, so you must purchase a ticket and board a shuttle at the Discovery Centre. Tickets are approximately $30 per adult (Avy was free), but you can also buy packages and get tour deals through the Explorer Package, so I recommend you check out their website for specifics.

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Making a round on the Glacier Skywalk in Jasper, Alberta

Once at the Glacier Skywalk, the friendly staff offer you free audio tour devices (which Avy LOVED) and send you on your way. There isn't much at the location other than the Skywalk itself, and a small building for washrooms. Of course, you are there to see the Skywalk, so what else do you need?!

After a brief and informative 400 meter walk along the interpretive trail at the edge of the Sunwapta Valley, you reach the Skywalk. Formed of metal, steel bars, and thick glass, the Skywalk juts out from the mountainside for 35 meters, floating 280 meters (or 918 feet) above the valley floor. If you are afraid of heights, this could be a challenging sight-seeing endeavor for sure.

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The Skywalk protrudes from the mountainside for 35 meters.

For me, I did get a sense of vertigo when I looked down as I walked along the Skywalk. You can see right through the floor to the rocks and treetops below. However, the day was bright and sunny and the sky, with its puffy little clouds, was reflected in the glass flooring as well, which made it not so terrifying. It was slightly difficult to see the ground below in some places, as you had to make an effort to focus through the reflection of the sky above. Looking over the edge and down... well, that's a different story. I don't recommend that if you don't like heights!

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Looking down, way down, at the river below

My baby had no problem whatsoever with the Skywalk's height, and made about seven rounds before plunking down in the middle of the Skywalk to listen to her audio tour.

Unlike the skywalk at the Grand Canyon, you ARE allowed cameras on the Glacier Skywalk. This was great for us, because Avy was so fearless we had to capture her on film.

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Our fearless daughter runs free and easy on the Glacier Skywalk

If you find yourself traveling down the Icefields Parkway, or are thinking of visiting Jasper, Alberta, I highly recommend a short stop at the Glacier Skywalk. It is about one hour south of Jasper, so it is a bit of a drive, but one that is well worth it!