Big Bend Hike- Jasper National Park

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The hike to Big Bend in Jasper National Park will take you away from the crowds and deliver you to a peaceful backcountry campground beside the Athabasca River. 

Bench beside the Athabasca River at Big Bend in Jasper National Park.

The route is along Chaba Trail, an old fire road that gradually descends through the forest towards a bend in the Athabasca River. For a longer hike, the trail continues past Big Bend to the Athabasca Crossing backcountry campground.

Athabasca River and mountains at Big Bend.

The Big Bend hike in Jasper is easily done as a day trip or you could plan to spend the night at the Big Bend campground.

People setting up tents at the Big Bend campground.
Big Bend backcountry campground

Big Bend Hike

Distance: 12.7 km round trip

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation Gain: 148 m

Surface: Packed dirt with exposed rocks and roots

Trail Type: Out and back

Time: 3.5- 4.5 hours (including lunch at the campground)

Trailhead: Sunwapta Falls parking lot about 500 m southwest of the Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge.

Track log/map of the Big Bend hike.
Track log/map of Chaba/Big Bend Trail

Big Bend Trail Description

The Big Bend hike begins at Sunwapta Falls, a popular tourist attraction along the Icefields Parkway. At the parking lot you’ll see a large sign with a brief description of the hikes that start here. There’s also a signpost nearby listing the trail destinations and their distances.

Trail signs on a post.

Chaba Trail (a.k.a. Big Bend Trail) is trail #126 and is shared with mountain bikers (although you likely won’t see many).

A few steps into this hike you’ll arrive at the Sunwapta Falls viewpoint. Cross the bridge spanning the gorge and head straight into the forest. There’s a sign nailed to a tree letting you know that Chaba Trail will lead to the Big Bend campground.

Sunwapta Falls.
Chaba Trail sign on a tree.

Leaving the waterfall behind, you’ll be embarking on a long, downhill hike on a wide trail. As you hike through the forest, you’ll see some wildflowers and berry bushes beside the trail. You might even see bear scat on the path, so make sure you have your bear spray accessible.

Trail in the forest.
Bunchberries in the forest.
Purple wildflowers (showy aster).

There’s nothing really notable on the trail until about 2.8 km into the hike, when you’ll come to a little log bridge crossing a stream. This is also where you’ll finally get a glimpse of the mountains through an opening in the forest.

Log bridge crossing a stream on Big Bend Trail.
Mountain seen through a gap in the forest.

After crossing the stream the trail gains a little bit of elevation over the next 600 metres or so, then starts descending again. Straight ahead there’s a nice view of a mountain peak to enjoy.

Big Bend Trail leading towards a mountain.

During this last downhill section the trail starts to get closer to the Athabasca River, but it doesn’t come into view until you reach the bottom of the hill.

Big Bend in Jasper.

Here there’s a marked trail junction with directions and distances. Turn right to get to the Big Bend campground. 

Trail sign for Big Bend Campground.

The path proceeds along a small body of water between the river and the forest, offering up beautiful views of the Rocky Mountains. 

Mountains at Big Bend.
Big Bend in Jasper.
Athabasca River at Big Bend.

Soon you’ll arrive at a big bend in the Athabasca River where you’ll see a large sandbar.

Sandbar in the Athabasca River at Big Bend.
Sandbar in the Athabasca River at Big Bend.

A very short distance later the trail ends at the Big Bend campground. You’ll be arriving at the camp’s communal cooking/eating area where there’s a fire pit, bear lockers, picnic tables, and benches. 

Picnic tables and fire pit at Big Bend.

For the best view of the Athabasca River and surrounding mountains, take a seat on the bench next to the riverbank. From here you can even see a glacier nestled on one of the mountaintops.

Hiker resting on a bench beside the Athabasca River at Big Bend.
Mountain with a glacier at the top.

After relaxing for a bit, take a short stroll downstream for a different perspective of the river. There’s another bench here and a partially sheltered meadow where the campground’s four tent pads are.

Athabasca River with mountains in the background.
Bench beside the Athabasca River.
Tent pad at Big Bend Campground.
Tent pad in the campground

Before leaving the campground, if you need to use the “facilities” there’s a primitive outdoor toilet in a forested area uphill from the picnic area. Just follow the signs/trail markers.

Outhouse sign on a tree.

When you’re ready to begin the return hike, follow the same trail as before. The trip back to Sunwapta Falls will be mostly uphill, but nothing steep. 

Forest beside the river.

Review of the Big Bend Hike

The Big Bend hike is one of the most peaceful day hikes in Jasper National Park, even though it starts out at a popular tourist attraction.

Chaba Trail/Big Bend Trail in the forest.

Chaba/Big Bend Trail is a great choice if you’re looking to experience a quiet walk in the forest, but the hike itself is unremarkable. What the trail lacks in inspiring scenery, Big Bend more than makes up for with its gorgeous riverside location and mountain views.

Athabasca River at Big Bend.
Athabasca River with mountains in the background.

A nice bonus is that this hike has a comfortable spot at the end of the trail to enjoy lunch. That coupled with the area’s natural beauty makes Big Bend a place worth lingering.

Mountains and the Athabasca River seen at the end of the Big Bend hike.

Tips for Hiking Big Bend Trail

Location: Big Bend Trail is in Jasper National Park, just off the Icefields Parkway near Sunwapta Falls. It’s approximately 55 km southeast of the Jasper townsite and 49 km northwest of the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre.

Getting to the Big Bend Trailhead: From Jasper, travel south on Highway 93 (Icefields Parkway) until you reach Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge. Turn right immediately after passing the lodge and drive about 500 m to the parking lot at the end of the road. There are signs on the highway marking the turnoff to Sunwapta Falls.

Best Time to Hike Big Bend Trail: The Big Bend hike is best done from late spring to early fall. If you do the hike in winter you will likely need snowshoes.

Facilities: There are outhouses and picnic tables at the trailhead parking lot. At the campground there are picnic tables and an outdoor toilet.

Visitor Guidelines and Safety: This hike is in bear country so bring bear spray and know how to use it. Don’t leave food unattended at the campground.

  • Leave no trace by packing out your garbage. If bins are full, take your garbage home with you.

Gear and What to Bring: Wear hiking boots or shoes with a sturdy sole. Hiking poles aren’t essential. 

View of the Athabasca River from Big Bend.

Accommodations in Jasper National Park

For your convenience, here is a list of HOTELS IN JASPER NATIONAL PARK. The only accommodation option by the Big Bend hike is the SUNWAPTA FALLS ROCKY MOUNTAIN LODGE. Please consider booking your Jasper accommodations through the included link. It costs nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!

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At Adventure Alberta, you’ll find locally written guides to Alberta’s outdoor recreation areas. From national and provincial parks to lesser known conservation sites, we’re busy discovering the best places to hike, bike, paddle, ski, and explore so you can plan your own active, Alberta Adventure!