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.
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.
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.
The car park at the trailhead for Wapta Falls was reached by driving about 25km south of the hamlet of Field. Field was 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 was on the left side (as we headed south and west on Hwy 1) 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 it above 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.
For additional context, Lake Louise was about 57km (45 minutes drive) north of Banff, 182km (2 hours drive) west of Calgary, 232km (3 hours drive) south of Jasper, and 469km (4.5 hours drive) southwest of Edmonton.
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