Within the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies roars Athabasca Falls, a class 5 waterfall with a drop of 79 feet. The falls tumble over a layer of hard quartzite before falling onto soft limestone, which has carved a gorge over thousands of years. The falls are part of the Athabasca River, the longest river in Alberta and a designated Heritage River.
Athabasca Falls is located 30 minutes south of Jasper, inside Jasper National Park, in the southwestern part of Alberta. Athabasca Falls is easily accessible from either Banff or Lake Louise. It is just off of the Icefields Parkway, a 232 km double-lane highway that connects Lake Louise to Jasper. The parkway itself features over 100 glaciers, waterfalls, and views of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Athabasca Falls were formed as the Athabasca Valley Glacier receded through what is today Jasper National Park. The falls are fed by the water runoff from the Columbia Icefield.
The Cree, one of the largest groups of First Nations in North America, are indigenous to the area. They named it Athabasca, meaning “grass or reed here and there.”
The first Europeans arrived in 1788 to trade furs and explore gold reserves. Jasper Park was established on September 14, 1907, and it gained the title of a National Park with the passing of the 1930 National Parks Act. The park is named after Jasper Hawes, the postmaster of a fur trading post in the area.
Today Athabasca Falls is a major tourist destination within the park, with a variety of activities available in the area including hiking, camping, snowshoeing, and kayaking.
Athabasca Falls are accessible year-round, thanks to the nearby well-maintained highway and the parking lot close to the falls. The river flow is highest during the summer and lowest during the winter. The river typically freezes over from November through April each year, though this depends on weather conditions.
The summer climate is temperate, with July being the warmest month seeing average temperatures of 22.5°C. Winters are harsh and cold and temperatures rarely reach higher than -8°C. If you are able to visit in the fall, aim for September and October to enjoy the beautiful autumn colors.
Because of the mountains, weather can change suddenly and unpredictably in the area. Ensure you are prepared for a variety of conditions including rain, wind, or sudden drops in temperature before you set out.
Athabasca Falls is just one feature to take in while visiting Jasper National Park. There is an assortment of attractions in the area, both natural and manmade, which you can explore during your visit to Athabasca Falls.
This slot canyon is the deepest canyon in the Rockies, with a depth of more than 160 feet. Slot canyons are long and deep channels, eroded into the limestone.
There are six bridges that connect areas of the canyon, making the trail an easy and safe walk for all ages and abilities. You can sightsee through the area within about 90 minutes by using all of the bridges. Take a shuttle into the area or drive and park in the nearby parking lot. There is a restaurant with a patio and a souvenir shop nearby.
The Columbia Icefield is the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains and one of the most accessible icefields in North America. It is nicknamed “the mother of rivers” given the number of rivers the meltwater feeds. Visitors can see the impact of global warming by the signs showing how much the glacier has receded each year.
The Jaspar SkyTram was built in the 1960s as a way to share the view from the summit of Whistlers Mountain, Jasper. The gondola ride takes just under eight minutes. From the top, you will overlook Jasper National Park and get outstanding views of both the valley and the Rocky Mountains. The upper station is located at 7,425 feet.
Located just 45 minutes from Athabasca Falls is the Columbia Icefield Skywalk. This 3,300-foot cliff-edge walkway, complete with a glass floor viewing platform, provides spectacular views of the Columbia Icefield, which feeds the Athabasca River. Stop by the nearby visitors center for tickets for the glass platform.
The Athabasca River crosses four diverse ecological regions: the Rocky Mountains, Foothill Forests, Temperate Grasslands, and Boreal Forests. Follow the Athabasca River Trail, an easy 10-mile trail along the banks of the river, to get a feel for the variety of plants and animals in the area.
River trips are a great way to see some remote areas of the park without having to hike for miles. Both white water rafting and kayaking experiences are available on the Athabasca River during the summer months.
There are no motorized boats allowed within the park, but you can spend hours going over the rapids either by yourself or with a guide. It is recommended that you either already have white water experience or hire an experienced guide.
Most of the river stays at Class I or II, meaning that you may experience waves up to three feet high. With the right experience and gear, this is a fun family outing.
The Miette Hot Springs are the hottest hot springs in the Canadian Rockies. The water starts at the mountain around 54°C. However, it is cooled to 40°C before entering the manmade pools. Two pools are hot and two pools are ice cold, giving a full Nordic spa experience.
The water contains sulfate, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium, and sodium. The pools boost blood circulation and can help reduce stress and heal skin issues. Surrounded by peaceful mountain scenery and trees, this is the perfect spot to relax after a long day exploring Jasper National Park.
You can get to Athabasca Falls by following Highway 93A off the Icefields Parkway. There is a large parking lot at the falls, which will take you directly to the viewing platform. The best option is to bring or rent a car. However, there are tour buses available from either Jasper or Banff.