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Sunwapta Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls along the Icefields Parkway and a must-see attraction in Jasper National Park.
This stepping waterfall on the Sunwapta River consists of two main falls and each is viewed from a separate location. Upper Sunwapta Falls is the most attractive tier and easiest to visit, since it’s only a few metres from the parking lot. Lower Sunwapta Falls can be reached via a short, easy hike that leaves the crowd behind.
Sunwapta Falls Hike- Upper to Lower Sunwapta Falls
Distance: 3 km round trip
Elevation Gain: 72 m
Surface: A short section of pavement to start then packed dirt with exposed roots.
Trail Type: Out and back
Time: 1- 1.5 hours (including time spent admiring the falls)
Trailhead: Sunwapta Falls parking lot about 500 m southwest of the Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge.
Sunwapta Falls Trail Description
The Sunwapta Falls hike starts from the day use area parking lot. There are two trailheads, but only one is marked with a large sign listing the hikes that begin here. Besides the Lower Sunwapta Falls hike, this is also the trailhead for the Big Bend hike and the multi-day trek to Fortress Lake in British Columbia.
Departing from the sign, it’s less than 100 m until you reach a bridge spanning the deep limestone gorge carved by the turbulent waters of the Sunwapta River. From this main viewpoint you can see the river flowing around a treed island then cascading forcefully over a ledge and in between the narrow canyon walls.
For a different perspective of Upper Sunwapta Falls, backtrack to the start of the bridge then follow the trail downhill towards the river. Here there are some fenced viewpoints where you can get a closer look at the top of the falls plunging into the gorge.
Once you’re done admiring the upper falls, make your way back to the bridge where you’ll embark on the hike to Lower Sunwapta Falls. Instead of crossing the bridge, go straight at the trail junction. There’s a signpost at the intersection, but oddly it doesn’t indicate the way to Lower Sunwapta Falls.
Follow the paved path up the small hill and around the bend where you’ll be met with a great view of the Sunwapta River, its rocky canyon, and the bridge above the upper falls.
Continuing on, the trail turns to dirt and enters into a pine forest. There are a few partial views of the river before the path curves away from the canyon’s edge.
For the rest of the hike along Sunwapta Falls Trail there’s not much to see other than trees as the path makes a gentle descent towards the lower falls. It’s not long until the trail returns to the riverbank and arrives at a viewing area beside Lower Sunwapta Falls.
At this viewpoint you can see the first of three drops that Lower Sunwapta Falls makes. Just like at the upper falls, the rapidly flowing river once again tumbles down into a narrow gorge.
After the viewpoint, continue to follow the trail a short distance downstream until you reach the end of the path. Along the way there are more fenced spots where you can safely enjoy views of the other tiers of Lower Sunwapta Falls.
Once you reach the end of the path, turn around and return the way you came. The hike back to the parking lot will be uphill, but it’s not steep and gradually gains elevation.
Review of Sunwapta Falls and the Sunwapta Falls Hike
Sunwapta Falls is a beautiful area so it’s easy to see why so many people stop here when driving the Icefields Parkway. At the same time, a lot of people miss out on visiting Sunwapta Falls when in Jasper National Park, choosing instead to visit the larger (but way more crowded) Athabasca Falls 25 km up the road. So while the falls are not a hidden gem, they’re not attracting the tour bus crowd either.
As for the Sunwapta Falls hike, it’s definitely worth doing even though the lower falls are not as impressive as the upper one. It’s surprising how few people venture to Lower Sunwapta Falls, especially considering how easy of a hike it is. You only have to walk a few metres on the trail for the crowd noise to be replaced by the sounds of nature.
Whether you’re visiting Sunwapta Falls for a quick photo opportunity or a short hike, you’ll get to enjoy one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Alberta.
Tips for Hiking Sunwapta Falls Trail
Location: Sunwapta Falls are in Jasper National Park, just off the Icefields Parkway near Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge. It’s approximately 55 km southeast of the Jasper townsite and 49 km northwest of the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre.
Getting to Sunwapta Falls: 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 Sunwapta Falls Trail: Sunwapta Falls Trail is best hiked from late spring to early fall. The falls are especially impressive in late spring and early summer when snowmelt runoff is the highest. You can visit Sunwapta Falls in winter too, but will likely need snowshoes to make the hike easier/more comfortable.
Facilities: There are outhouses and picnic tables near the parking lot.
Visitor Guidelines and Safety: Do not cross safety railings and fences because the rocks are slippery with mist from the falls.
- This hike is in bear country so bring bear spray and know how to use it.
- Leave no trace by packing out your garbage. If bins are full, take your garbage home with you.
Gear and What to Bring: This hike can be done in regular running shoes. Hiking poles aren’t necessary.
Accommodations in Jasper National Park
For your convenience, here is a list of HOTELS IN JASPER NATIONAL PARK. The only accommodation option by Sunwapta Falls 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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