Wapta Falls

Yoho National Park / Columbia-Shuswap Regional District, British Columbia, Canada

Rating: 4     Difficulty: 2.5
Wapta Falls
Wapta Falls was a wide river-type waterfall that pleasantly surprised Julie and I though we did get into a little bit of an adventure just trying to find it. In any case, it's said to be 30m high and 150m wide, which would back up our impressions that it was a pretty grand waterfall. And since it was on the fairly sizable Kicking Horse River, for sure this waterfall would have year-round flow so even our late Summer-early Autumn visit in September 2010 didn't disappoint. In fact, the Autumn colors seemed to have added to our experience both on the trail and at the falls itself!

I recalled the hiking was about 1.6km each way (or 3.2km [2 miles] round trip). It took Julie and I two hours to hike to the falls, enjoy it, and hike back to the car park.

The hike was mostly flat (or with a slight uphill) for at least the first kilometer as we were flanked by pretty Autumn colors on the foliage of low-lying bush and trees. The trail was mostly quiet until we got closer to the Kicking Horse River when we could start to hear the rush of water.

Looking right at the front of Wapta Falls with some peaks momentarily revealing themselves amidst the cloud cover Eventually, the trail quickly descended along a fenced area with a view above and over the falls. Even though we were able to see Wapta Falls somewhat from this spot, there were better views to be had further down the trail. Julie stayed behind at this point due to the trail's steepness. Typically she could do the rest of the trail with me, but since she was pregnant, it was wise not to take the chance of a bad fall.

So a short distance further down the trail, there was a fork where the path on the left descended steeply in a narrow but well-worn path. The path straight ahead seemed to be the official trail, but I opted to take the narrow path on the left. And after a few minutes of doing so (there was some minor dropoff exposure), I reached another fenced overlook. But this time, the view was more of an angled profile perspective (see photo at the top of this page) that I thought was much better than the one above.

More contextual view of the profile of Wapta FallsBeyond this vantage point, the trail continued to descend where there was even an open outcrop where I was able to appreciate the width of the falls as well as the colorful pools left behind from its spreading mist. I noticed from here that there was a hill blocking most of the mist from the falls, and I could only imagine just how much wetter and mistier (and perhaps inaccessible) the base of the falls would've been had that hill not been there.

It looked as if that hill was actively being eroded away from a combination of the pounding that the falls would give it on the side facing it as well as water channels that would cut around that hill when the river would be in flood. In addition to the continuation of the river on the falls' far right side, I noticed there was a notch near the left side of the falls that might have been evidence of this constant erosion.

Continuing further downhill, I eventually made it to the bottom where a faint path continued on the left side towards the opening that was sheltered by the hill. That misty notch on the left side of the hill was practically impossible to take a photo from (at least not without risk of water damage to the camera let alone waterspots all over the lens).

Meanwhile, with some minor stream scrambling, I was also able to scramble to the far side of the waterfall sheltered by the hill where there was another path scrambling up that side of the hill for another misty in-your-face view of Wapta Falls. At least the mist there wasn't as bad as the little opening on the left side of the hill.

I was never able to get that all encompassing frontal view of the falls thanks to the hill. However, I can only imagine how the situation would change completely if that hill were to be gone. I often wondered how much time it would take before that hill would completely erode away.

In any case, I went back up the way I came to rejoin Julie and complete the hike. However, I did notice other people who reached the basin area further downstream. I believe this was where that path I didn't take ultimately would've gone. That path was probably the more official path judging by its width and gentle grade. The one I took almost felt like a scramble and I figured it would probably be more prone to closure due to exposure to dropoffs, tree roots, and erosion.

Directions: The car park at the trailhead for Wapta Falls was reached by driving about 25km south of the hamlet of Field (Field is a short distance east of the Emerald Lake turnoff or 23km west of the Icefields Parkway [Hwy 93] junction with Hwy 1 just 3km north of the Lake Louise turnoff). The unsealed turnoff for Wapta Falls would be on the left side leading the final 2km to the car park.

Even though this waterfall was pretty straightforward to see, Julie and I almost missed experiencing the falls the way we described in this write-up. The reason why was because the signposted turnoff leading to the car park was not visible going west on Hwy 1 (i.e. the way we were headed), but it was definitely visible heading east on Hwy 1.

Initially, we ended up getting off at the unsealed Beaverfoot Road (another 5.7km west of the official turnoff for Wapta Falls), which seemed remote. Ultimately, we ended up with a real distant and partial view of the falls after driving 10km on the unsealed road, which had its share of potholes.

This was an instance where it paid to not listen to the GPS, which led us here in the first place. But it definitely didn't help given the lack of signage in a particular direction of travel either.




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PHOTO JOURNAL
Contextual look at Wapta Falls and the colorful pools mostly sheltered by the hill fronting most of the falls
Near the junction between the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1) and the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) is Lake Louise
Another worthwhile detour between Banff and Wapta Falls is the Emerald Lake
Distant view of Wapta Falls from a little picnic site off Beaverfoot RoadDistant view of the falls from a little picnic site off Beaverfoot Road (which was the wrong way to the formal trailhead)

Car park and trailheadCar park and trailhead

Nice Autumn foliage while hiking near the start of the trailNice Autumn foliage while hiking near the start of the trail

Given some of the foul weather we encountered on our trip in September 2010, there were puddles left behind that we had to navigate our way throughGiven some of the foul weather we encountered on our trip in September 2010, there were puddles left behind that we had to navigate our way through

Julie further along the forested trailJulie further along the forested trail

Fences erected to keep us away from the river above Wapta FallsFences erected to keep us away from the river above Wapta Falls. This was where the trail went from quiet and serene forest to the loud turbulence of the rushing water below.

Looking over the top of Wapta Falls from the first fenced overlookLooking over the top of Wapta Falls from the first fenced overlook

Misty long exposure shot of Wapta Falls as I got closer to the bottomMisty long exposure shot of Wapta Falls as I got closer to the bottom

Looking across towards the other side of the hill through the mistLooking across towards the other side of the hill through the mist

Direct view over one of the pools at the base towards Wapta Falls partially hidden by the hillDirect view over one of the pools at the base towards the wide waterfall partially hidden by the hill

Partial long exposure shot of Wapta Falls from the top of the hillPartial long exposure shot of the falls from the top of the hill

Back at one of the fenced overlooks revealing Wapta FallsBack at one of the fenced overlooks revealing the falls

Lots more pretty Autumn colors as we started hiking back to the carLots more pretty Autumn colors as we started hiking back to the car


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS

Left to right sweep looking over the top of the falls as well as some pools accumulating from its mist


Circular clockwise sweep starting from the right side looking directly at the falls from the top of the hill opposite the falls


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MAP OF THE FALLS

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TRIP REPORTS
For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES




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NEARBY WATERFALLS


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