The Glacier Skywalk is about an hour by car from Jasper National Park, which is a good thing, because it takes that long to work up the courage to walk along the glass-floored platform, situated 280 metres above Canadian wilderness
This incredible structure was commissioned by Brewster Travel Canada and opened to the public in May 2014. Tickets may be purchased for $29.95 from the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre, from where you take a 5 minute shuttle to reach the Glacier Skywalk.
The suspended platform extends 35 metres from the cliff face and gives unfettered views of the incredible beauty of the area. The chosen location for the Skywalk was formerly a popular look out spot for cars. However, the experience offered here is arguable superior to snapping a quick cell phone photo from inside your vehicle.
Promotional pictures and videos on Brewster’s website show carefree tourists leaning over the railing to revel in the glory of nature. My hands perspire even now while typing that sentence. I was of the demographic not pictured – those crouched over, taking small steps, in the very middle of the walkway.
However, the Glacier Skywalk is not just for daredevils, there is plenty to learn as well. Once you depart the shuttle, you are greeted with the offer of an audio guide for the 400 metre Discovery Trail. Following this interpretive trail leads to the glass-floored platform, but along the way there are plenty of distractions as you learn facts about the ecology of the area. Numerous demonstrations are given to show the incredible adaptivity of the local plant and animal life. This is a part of the world where few things can survive, and those that do are celebrated for their diversity.
Although concerns from some environmental groups originally threatened to overshadow the accomplishment of designing and building the Skywalk at Jasper National Park, it has had full approval from Parks Canada. In fact, the interactive nature of this structure may end up inspiring visitors towards natural preservation. Walking along the glass-floored platform gives visitors the opportunity to interact with nature in an immediate way, while still providing enough distance as to prevent interference. Floating in between the peaks of the mountains and the rushing of the water below, makes you feel rather diminutive, even while standing on such an immense manmade structure. It’s impossible to walk away without a profound respect for the Rocky Mountains.
Children will love learning about the bighorn sheep native to the area, while their parents are likely to be thrilled by the roller-coaster like sensation of walking along the Glacier Skywalk and peering straight down to the landscape far, far below. Even those uninterested in such adventure, can enjoy the vista by sitting on a raised structure set safely on sound ground. This platform is situated in a way that allows you to enjoy the views of the landscape, without actually being part of it.
One piece of advice I would give to visitors is to bring your own snacks. Post-experience meals at the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre will cost as much as the Glacier Skywalk, but leave you quite a bit less satisfied.
Depending on your level of interaction, the entire experience could take between 20 minutes and an hour. I would suggest leaving as much time as possible in order to take in all of the information, and take some pretty dangerous looking pictures.
By Amanda Arbuthnot, freelance writer from Alberta who loves travel, food, and mountains. www.loveyourkitchennutrition.com