Lower Sunwapta Falls

Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

About Lower Sunwapta Falls


Hiking Distance: 2km round trip
Suggested Time: 60-75 minutes

Date first visited: 2010-09-21
Date last visited: 2010-09-21

Waterfall Latitude: 52.52465
Waterfall Longitude: -117.65722

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Lower Sunwapta Falls was actually a series of three waterfalls (at least that was what I thought I saw) further downstream of the well-signed and well-visited Sunwapta Falls.

And while we felt the Sunwapta Falls was quite busy with tour buses and auto-tourists wanting to make a quick stop before continuing their journey along the Icefields Parkway, it was clear that not very many people bothered to go to the lower waterfalls.

Icefields_Parkway_232_09212010 - One of the three drops of Lower Sunwapta Falls
One of the three drops of Lower Sunwapta Falls

In fact, I’m not even so sure that most people were even aware there was a Lower Sunwapta Falls!

I think the big reason why this is the case was that the trail to the lower waterfalls started beyond the picnic and viewing areas where most of the attention would be towards the main Sunwapta Falls and its mountain backdrop.

However, as I walked gently downhill for roughly 2km (in one direction) along the well-forested trail, the commotion from the upper waterfall gave way to the subtle sounds of Nature.

At the end of this walk, I was led right to the fenced overlooks taking in the lower three waterfalls.

Icefields_Parkway_187_09212010 - Looking downstream at the gorge carved out by the Sunwapta River near the 'Upper' Sunwapta Falls shortly before continuing downstream towards the Lower Sunwapta Falls
Looking downstream at the gorge carved out by the Sunwapta River near the ‘Upper’ Sunwapta Falls shortly before continuing downstream towards the Lower Sunwapta Falls

I did notice a bench and plaque just above the uppermost of the Lower Sunwapta Falls in commemoration of someone that died young here.

I’m not sure what the circumstances were regarding this death, but I’d imagine it had something to do with that person either getting swept away into the gorge or falling into it directly.

Speaking of death, I was a bit worried about grizzly bears given how eerily quiet this trail was, but when I was on my way out, I did notice at least three other couples going the other way.

That provided me at least some assurance that there was sufficient foot traffic to keep this trail from being too dangerous due to bears.

Icefields_Parkway_191_09212010 - The trail to the Lower Sunwapta Falls started on the other side of this footbridge
The trail to the Lower Sunwapta Falls started on the other side of this footbridge

The uppermost of the Lower Sunwapta Falls seemed very similar in character to the main Sunwapta Falls.

I say this because its height seemed similar (though I couldn’t say for sure without measuring apparati), and the Sunwapta River was once again squeezed into a narrow gorge where the elevation of the river dropped quickly.

As for the remaining waterfalls, I was able to view the 2nd tier in a nice open setting.

However, the third tier was mostly blocked by foliage so it was hard to get a clean view of it.

There was also heavy cloud cover given the clearing snowstorm so I couldn’t see what the panorama was like as I peered over the two lower waterfalls.

Icefields_Parkway_199_09212010 - Looking down across the first drop of the Lower Sunwapta Falls, which kind of reminded me of the main Sunwapta Falls
Looking down across the first drop of the Lower Sunwapta Falls, which kind of reminded me of the main Sunwapta Falls

But of what I was able to see given the suboptimal conditions, I’m betting on a fair day, the panoramas would be just as attractive as that of the main Sunwapta Falls.

The time it took me to do this hike was an hour.

That said, since I did this hike solo without Julie, I’d imagine this excursion might take upwards of 75-90 minutes or more at a more leisurely pace.

Authorities

Lower Sunwapta Falls resides in Jasper National Park near Jasper in the province of Alberta, Canada. It is administered by Parks Canada. For information or inquiries as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Icefields_Parkway_183_09212010 - Our hike to the Lower Sunwapta Falls started from near the lookouts for the main Sunwapta Falls
Icefields_Parkway_186_09212010 - Walking in the downstream direction along this trail en route to the Lower Sunwapta Falls
Icefields_Parkway_190_09212010 - Zoomed in look at the footbridge spanning the deep gorge en route to the Lower Sunwapta Falls Trail
Icefields_Parkway_192_09212010 - Sign by the trail leading to the Lower Sunwapta Falls
Icefields_Parkway_193_09212010 - Quiet forest walk flanked by fresh snow from the clearing snow storm en route to the Lower Sunwapta Falls
Icefields_Parkway_207_09212010 - Long exposure photo of the uppermost of the Lower Sunwapta Falls
Icefields_Parkway_212_09212010 - Looking back upstream towards the uppermost of the Lower Sunwapta Falls
Icefields_Parkway_219_09212010 - Looking over the bottom two tiers of the Lower Sunwapta Falls
Icefields_Parkway_225_09212010 - Looking down towards the middle tier of the Lower Sunwapta Falls
Icefields_Parkway_235_09212010 - Looking downstream past the lowermost tier of the Lower Sunwapta Falls
Icefields_Parkway_242_09212010 - Obstructed view of the bottom two tiers of the Lower Sunwapta Falls
Icefields_Parkway_247_09212010 - Angled view looking down at the bottommost tier of the Lower Sunwapta Falls

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Lower Sunwapta Falls shares the same car park as that of Sunwapta Falls.

That said, the well-signed turnoff for the falls is roughly 45 minutes north of the Columbia Icefields (i.e. where the Athabasca Glacier and the Glacier View Inn reside) along the Icefields Parkway (aka Hwy 93).

Icefields_Parkway_101_09182010 - Looking back along the scenic Icefields Parkway somewhere near the Sunwapta Falls
Looking back along the scenic Icefields Parkway somewhere near the Sunwapta Falls

Heading south of Jasper, it’s about an hour’s drive on Hwy 93 (or 25 minutes south of Athabasca Falls).

For additional context, Jasper was 365km (under 4 hours drive) west of Edmonton and 412km (5 hours drive) northwest of Calgary.

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Tagged with: jasper, national park, alberta, canada, waterfall, icefields, canadian rockies, columbia, sunwapta



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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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