a peek inside the fishbowl

03 Oct, 2018

The Fishbowl goes West: smoked out of the Columbia Icefield

Posted by andrea tomkins in: travel talk

I am not done writing about our trip out west! I didn’t want to skip over our visit to Jasper. This was one of my favourite stops, and if you ever find yourself planning a trip like ours (Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise) I definitely recommend including Jasper on that list even though it’s farther afield. It’s a really nice town, and we snagged some great accommodations, possibly the best during our entire trip. I will write about that later, but first I wanted to tell you about one place we stopped on our way to Jasper: the Columbia Icefield. Did you know it’s the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains? Mark and I took a tour here 20 years ago and were eager for the girls to see it.

The drive up the Icefields Parkway was 100x smokier than anywhere we’d been. We were hoping the skies would clear but the smoke from BC forest fires was denser than ever. The only thing we could see clearly were the trees closest to the car:

The drive to Jasper

This was the view from one of the many scenic lookouts by the side of the road!

A smoky view during the drive to Jasper

Not much of a view, eh? Anything in the distance was a smoky wash or entirely invisible.

The ghosts of mountains looked down upon us as we drove, headlights on.

Here’s something else: there’s no cell service along that road either, so we were pretty much in the dark regarding our distance from our next destination, which was the Columbia Icefield. We had booked a tour and were anxious about making it on time. As it turned out, we needn’t have worried. All of the tours were cancelled due to the poor visibility. (!) We obtained our refund ($400 back in our pockets!) and were starting to make our way back to the car when we decided to strike out on our own.  It was the best decision we could have made.

But first, this was our view from the main building of the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre, looking towards the glacier. (It’s there, I swear.)

View from the main building, towards the Columbia Glacier

We walked across the highway and found a little trail that looked promising.

Forefield Trail, Columbia Icefields

It was very pretty, in a strange and eerie kind of way. I felt like we were walking on the moon. What’s more, we were practically the only ones there.

Athabasca Forefield Trail

Athabasca Forefield Trail


We ended up at a more established part of the trail which had a few more people on it.

Walking towards the glacier

We followed the path to the toe of the glacier. Ropes and signs forbade access without a guide, so we held back even though we saw many people striking out on their own. (I was not about to risk anyone falling into a hidden crevasse.)

That's the glacier back there..

We followed a path away from the glacier and when it was safe to do so we ducked under the ropes to explore another area.

Near the Athabasca glacier

Near the Athabasca glacier

Cool rocks

We poked around for a long time, following the rushing water and filling up our water bottles with glacial water. It was utterly gorgeous.

Near the Athabasca glacier

Soon it was time to head back. We still had a ways to go before our final destination (which was Jasper)!

Walking back to the Columbia Icefields Discover Centre.

Although we were a little disappointed the glacier tour didn’t work out and the view wasn’t what we knew it was behind all that smoke, I chose to look on the bright side. We saved a lot of money and had a great little hike across some really interesting terrain…  and had a lot of fun doing it.

We ventured forward instead of turning away. There’s a lesson there, I think.

Related: My cheer that day, or really, the whole week, was “TEAM TOMKINS wins!” and “GO TEAM TOMKINS” and other variations of this, always accompanied by high fives. Another frequent refrain: “WE ARE TUFF STUFF” which had more to do with our aching legs, which never really stopped aching the whole time we were there. I was very proud of us. I still am.

2 Responses to "The Fishbowl goes West: smoked out of the Columbia Icefield"

1 | Kiya

October 3rd, 2018 at 5:10 pm


“there’s no cell service along that road either, so we were pretty much in the dark regarding our distance from our next destination”

Imagine 25 yr old you reading this. Terrifying. “But what have they done to road signs and maps??!!”

2 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive Camping at Charleston Lake Provincial Park, the 2020 edition - a peek inside the fishbowl

August 2nd, 2020 at 3:08 pm


[…] not like it’s even that scenic,” she said. She’s not wrong. It’s neither a mountain vista nor a tropical paradise, but it feels like happiness and home to […]

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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