Now visitors have a dramatic new way to view Jasper National Park in western Alberta. The Glacier Skywalk, a glass-floored observation platform cantilevered more 900 feet above the Sunwapta Valley floor, opened to visitors on May 1. It is the newest attraction along the Icefields Parkway linking the Jasper and Banff townsites.
The Skywalk is an engineering wonder made of structural steel, structural glass, and some wood; it took three years to construct at a cost of CDN$21 million. That buys visitors an exciting walk that offers panoramic views of white-capped peaks and stunning glacier-carved valleys. Visitors first board a bus at the Columbia Icefield visitor center. They proceed to the Discovery Trail, a cliff-edge walkway above land that has been shaped by centuries of ice, snow, wind and sun impact.
This manmade wonder overlooks the natural wonder of the Sunwapta Valley, one of the few places in the world with a triple continental divide. Water from the Columbia Icefield flows to the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans. Rock striations demonstrate the power of glacial force. A hanging garden built into a rock wall showcases the plant species hardy enough to survive this intense environment.
The Glacier Skywalk juts 100 feet out from the side of the cliff. Some people step onto the glass without any hesitation and love the rare bird's eye view of the surroundings, while others have problems looking past their feet into the abyss below. Still, those who overcome the nervousness find spectacular views.
The project understandably did not get built without objections, which included privatization of a national park as well as the walkway's ecological impact.
Jill Seaton of the Jasper Environmental Association said, 'It's a thrill-based attraction and I don't know quite what the thrill's going to be because it's only 900 feet above a rubble-strewn canyon down below.'
Still, the Glacier Skywalk is not Jasper National Park's first commercial attraction. In addition to the Marmot Basin ski area, Maligne Canyon with its frozen waterfalls, surreal ice formations and frosted limestone walls is a magical place in the winter. Several local tour companies lead guided walks into the canyon. And a via ferrata is being developed in adjacent Banff National Park.
Strolling on the Glacier Skywalk costs $24.95 per adult, $12.50 for each child up to age 16, while kids under 6 are free. Audiotours are available, and unlike a similar attraction on Hualapai tribal land outside of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, visitors don't have to remove their shoes and photographs are permitted. '¨'¨The Glacier Skywalk is a project of Brewster Travel Canada, which also operates such visitor services as the Banff Gondola, Glacier Adventure, Banff Lake Cruises, and Explore Rockies tours. It is open daily through October 19. Discount packages combining the Glacier Skywalk with other Brewster attractions are also available. For more information visit the Glacier Skywalk website or call 800-760-6934.