I was told that I HAD to see Athabasca Falls, despite the fact it would be crowded ... and crowded it was!
So here is the requisite photo of the falls ... but the real treat will come later ,in the lower canyon ....
The falls are situated in Jasper National Park and on the Upper Athabasca River. The falls are approximately 23 metres high but are more renowned for their force than their height. There are various walking trails and viewing platforms where you can enjoy the falls and also take photographs. When I last visited Athabasca Falls, I witnessed a rainbow over them and this was one amazing sight!
The Athabasca Falls were our second stop, driving the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Banff. They are situated about 30 km south of Jasper, just where Highways 93 and 93a join. There is a big car park and during our visit it was almost full. Perhaps it is better to be as early as possible to avoid the crowds.
Through walkways and platforms you can get a good impression of the power of these falls. Although they are just 23 m. high, there is coming down an impressive amount of water through a narrow canyon.
Looking on my map I suppose the water is coming all the way from the Athabasca Glacier (Columbia Icefield).
The falls are so powerful that you have the feeling it is raining, although the sun is shining. There is constant mist around the pathways and you have to protect your camera from getting wet.
If you wander the trails beyond the falls viewpoints, you can actually walk through an abandoned channel (where the river flowed thousands of years ago) and see the lake (2nd photo) at the bottom of the falls.
The advantage of coming here (especially during prime time) is that the people on the tour buses don't have time to come down here, so there are fewer tourists.
I didn't capture it well enough in a photo, but you could walk all the way down to the edge of the water where many people had build iglulaks (is that the correct term?) using rocks that have been piled there by the Athabasca River during higher flows. Next time I will have a zoom lens and get the picture.
This is a special place. A lot of water flowing down the Athabasca River (coming from the glaciers of the Columbia Icefield) dropping a total height of 23 metres. The viewpoint is just off the highway. My first two photos were taken in September, which means the water is low compared to spring and summer when runoff is at it's peak.
You can wander around the paved trails (map is in my 3rd photo) and see it from many views - channels cut through the limestone where water used to flow - circles ground into the limestone where a rock acted as a drill and the falls as the power - a beautiful blue lake at the the bottom (a distinct blue, bluer than Lake Louise, perhaps similar to Peyto Lake).
It is crowded. Every tour bus (photo 5) that travels the Jasper-Banff parkway stops at Athabasca Falls. Every person on every bus makes it to the first stop, perhaps half of them make it to the viewpoints on the other side, and perhaps half of them follow the pathways down the abandoned channels to see the lake below the falls. Spend the extra time and follow the paths through the old river channel.
Interestingly when we were last here in 2002, there were paper signs pasted everywhere asking people to look for the body of Roger Wilgenbusch who had fallen into the river and not been recovered yet. That possibility of happening to you was enough to keep you on the pathways. When we returned in 2006, there was a plaque (photo 4) on one of the benches about him.
Athabasca is a waterfall in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. It is a 5-class waterfall with a fall of 23 meters and a width of 18 meters.
The waterfall is best known not to have seen this level is relatively low, however, the power of the large amount of water in the stream falls down, even on such a cold morning in the autumn.
A layer of hard quartzite caused the waterfall in a softer layer underneath could erode limestone, creating a short neck with a large number of holes is created. There is often whitewater below the waterfall that goes into the Athabasca River to the place Jasper.
The waterfall is easily accessible from the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) between the towns of Banff and Jasper.
After we left the Columbia Ice Fields area, we continued on Highway 93 north to Jasper. Before entering Jasper National Park, we stopped to see the Athabasca Falls. They were easy to access and we were totally amazed by the beautiful blue color that we had seen earlier in Lake Louise.
The Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park is not the highest or the widest waterfall in the Canadian Rockies but it must be the most powerful. The full width of the Athabasca River is funneled into a three metre gap and over the brink of the falls. Athabasca Falls is actually one of the major tourist stops along the Icefield Parkway and is a very busy place during the summer months. To avoid the crowds it is best to visit earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon and even after dinner time. Most of the trail system is paved but stairs limit access for people in wheelchairs. There is a wonderful picnic area with ten picnic tables, kitchen shelter and washrooms.
From the parking lot it is a short walk past the washrooms to the trail next to the river. The picnic area is to the left and the falls are to the right. There are viewpoints to take in the waterfall from both sides of the river, including the bridge that spans the canyon downstream of the cataract. Over time the waterfall has moved back and forth in it's search for the path of least resistance, cutting and abandoning channels as it goes. One such channel has been developed with stairs and trail for easy exploration. It also gives access to viewpoints at the bottom of the main canyon and to the river bank beyond.
The vast majority of people who visit Athabasca Falls do not give it enough time. They rush to the falls, snap a picture and they're gone. But if you do have a bit more time, do xplore the area looking for signs of abandoned waterfalls and other water worn rock. Stand in the spray at the closest viewpoint, or just hang out and enjoy the view. Follow the trail down to the river and back, it's an easy walk (including some stairs) with wonderful views.
Nothing spectacular if you've seen a glacier before, but great all the same. It's a bit of a tourist trap (Japanese EVERYWHERE) and the Snocoaches are generally packed with a long queue.
One great view is from the Icefields centre, where you can see exactly how far the glacier has retreated over time (used to cover the current road and car park).
I did the steep walk up to the foot of the glacier which is surprisingly wide up close.
Watch out for ravens, they are EVERYWHERE!
The Icefields Centre is a bit of a tourist trap too....with loads of interactive displays for kids etc (half of which don't work) complete with lots of info about glacier formation etc which is interesting.
The walls of the canyon are quartz sandstone.
Athabasca Falls is about 20 miles south of the Jasper townsite. Little or no hiking is required to view this splendid sight.
For more information about Jasper try:
The river is quite broad as it approaches Athabasca Falls. All of this water is funnelled into a series of gorges that produce very framatic waterfalls. The river looks quite smooth and untroubled but soon it will become a fury of power and thunder.
Athabasca Falls sits at the junction of Highway 93 and 93A at the foot of Mount Kerkeslin. In mid September when we visited last, there had just been a snowfall to give the mountain top a skiff of snow!
You can see the banks of the Athabasca River in the foreground of the picture. This photo is take from behind the falls.
The Athabasca Falls are breathtaking in both the summer and early spring. In the summer you can see the rainbow in the spray of the water as it courses through the gorge. In the early spring the ice almost looks blue. There are paved paths for you to walk around. It's not exactly stroller friendly because there are areas where there are stairs to get to the different viewpoints.
A Word of Warning!!
Every couple of years someone dies at Athabasca Falls. Park staff search for and rescue people who fall into the canyon. Usually only the bodies are found.
Step off the trail and you risk your life! The rocks, covered by spray year round are as slippery as ice. Within minutes of slipping into the water hypothermia takes over - you cannot pull yourself out of the river. Once over the falls death is swift.
Stay on the trail!
The ATHABASCA RIVER, along the Icefields Parkway, is funnelled into a narrow canyon cut in hard, quartz -rich sandstone rock.
The sheer force of the rushing water create these POTHOLES in the hard, quartz-rich sandstone rock. It really is a magnificent sight to see.