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Mistaya Canyon in Banff National Park is a scenic gem on the Icefields Parkway. Sculpted by the rushing water of the Mistaya River, which originates from Peyto Lake to the southeast, this deep slot canyon features curvy limestone walls and eroded pothole depressions.
Mistaya Canyon is easily accessible from the Icefields Parkway and doesn’t involve much hiking. It’s more of a short, downhill walk. Here’s what you need to know about visiting Mistaya Canyon and our trail guide for the Mistaya Canyon hike.
Mistaya Canyon Trail
Distance: 1 km round trip
Elevation Gain: 60 m
Surface: Dirt with exposed rocks and roots
Trail Type: Out and back (there is an option to do a longer loop but most people turn around once they see the canyon and river)
Time: 30 minutes
Trailhead: The Mistaya Canyon parking lot, on the west side of the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93). The lot is 5.2 km south of the David Thompson Highway junction.
The Mistaya Canyon trail starts at the north end of the parking lot where you’ll see an information board about the canyon and hikes in the area. The trailhead for Mistaya Canyon is also the starting point for hikes to Sarbach Lookout and Howse River.
The walk to Mistaya Canyon begins with a gradual descent through the forest on an abandoned roadbed. The trail is partially shaded with trees on both sides and there are some rocks and roots sticking up through the dirt.
In about 10 minutes you’ll arrive at a bridge spanning the narrow gorge. From the bridge you can gaze down at the deep slot canyon and see its limestone walls smoothly eroded from years of powerful, swirling currents.
The bridge is the only safe place to look into the canyon because there’s a barrier to prevent falling. All other viewpoints around the canyon are unfenced, so getting close to the canyon rim is very dangerous, especially when the rocks are wet or snowy.
After admiring the canyon from the bridge, most people head left to access the rocks above the canyon.
You don’t need to get close to the edge to enjoy the picture perfect views of Mistaya Canyon. The canyon’s walls and the Mistaya River create an interesting leading line that draws your eye towards Mt. Sarbach in the distance- something photographers will appreciate.
If you walk a little further upstream on the trail, you can descend to some wide rock slabs near the point where the Mistaya River plunges into the canyon.
This is a delightful place to sit and relax while listening to the rushing water and enjoying views of Mt. Sarbach and the surrounding forest.
Once you’re ready to leave, head back to the parking lot on the same trail as before.
Review of Mistaya Canyon
Mistaya Canyon is well worth stopping at when driving the Icefields Parkway during a summer trip to Banff National Park. While not exactly a hidden gem, it’s far less popular than the similar, but larger Maligne Canyon in Jasper.
The best part about visiting Mistaya Canyon is that there’s more to see than just the gorge. In some ways, the beautiful landscape upstream over shadows the canyon itself.
Another great thing about Mistaya Canyon is that it’s a quick and easy walk to get there, so even non-hikers can enjoy this scenic setting. Since you don’t need to dedicate a significant amount of your day getting to the canyon, you’ll have plenty of time for more sightseeing and hikes on the Icefields Parkway.
Tips for Visiting Mistaya Canyon
Location: Mistaya Canyon is located on the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) in Banff National Park. It’s 5.2 km south of the David Thompson Highway (Hwy 11) junction and about 74 km north of Lake Louise.
Best Time to Visit Mistaya Canyon: The best time to visit the canyon is in summer, early fall, and late spring.
- The rocks above the canyon and along the river can be slippery with snow and ice in winter and water in early spring.
Facilities: None. The nearest washrooms are at Saskatchewan River Crossing.
Visitor Guidelines and Safety: Keep away from the canyon rim and river’s edge as falling in could be fatal. Don’t attempt to look into the canyon anywhere except the bridge.
- Leave no trace by packing out all garbage.
What to Bring: Sturdy, closed-toe shoes with good grips are recommended.
Nearby Hikes and Places to Visit
You may also enjoy these nearby trails and places to visit:
Accommodations in Banff National Park
For your convenience, here is a list of hotels in Banff National Park. Please consider booking your Banff accommodations through the included link. It costs nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!
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