The first hot weather of summer has descended on the Rockies, and as snow and icefields start to melt, most of the waterfalls start to roar. Athabasca, Sunwapta, Takakkaw and Bow are all impressive cascades that are visited by roadside visitors every summer.
But for me, the real gems are those that I reach by trail. Some of these waterfall hikes are short, others are longer. And some are far enough from the trailhead that you’ll want to backpack to nearby campgrounds.
For best viewing, go during warm weather and, if you have a choice, reach your waterfall in the afternoon when flow is at its greatest. Following are some of my favourite backcountry waterfalls in the Mountain Parks. Distances provided are one-way and numbers prefixing each trail refer to descriptions in the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide:
BANFF NATIONAL PARK:
19-Johnston Canyon Upper Falls—2.7 km. You pass Lower Falls and other cascades on the way up the canyon, but Upper Falls is by far the most impressive. But be forewarned, this is one of the most popular trails in the Rockies; hike this trail very early or very late in the day, especially on weekends, to avoid the crowds.
54-Bow Glacier Falls—4.7 km. This waterfall is fed by the Bow Glacier, the source of the Bow River. It is best visited during warm days mid-to-late July and is not nearly as impressive at other times of the year.
69-Panther Falls—0.5 km. A short walk to the base of one of the largest waterfalls in Banff Park. (The viewpoint near the base of the falls can be muddy and slippery during peak flow.)
JASPER NATIONAL PARK:
103-Geraldine Falls—4.2 km. This little-known cascade slides over a cliff between Lower and Second Geraldine Lakes and is one of the highlights on this short trail.
128-Snake Indian Falls—26.7 km. One of my favourite waterfalls for sheer volume and setting. You can backpack to nearby Seldom Inn Campground or bike in from the Celestine Road. Also a highlight stop for long-distance backpackers on the North Boundary Trail.
YOHO NATIONAL PARK:
143-Twin Falls—8.2 km. While Twin Falls is the most impressive waterfall on this trail, you pass three other waterfalls en route—Angel’s Staircase, Point Lace and Laughing Falls. For an easier trip, only go as far as Laughing Falls (4.2 km).
159-Wapta Falls—2.3 km. A short, flat walk to the largest waterfall by volume in Yoho Park. You can view the falls from above at 1.9 km or a bit further downstream at 2.3 km.
KOOTENAY NATIONAL PARK:
166-Helmet Falls—15.0 km. Judged to be the second highest waterfall in Canada. Not as spectacular as #3 (Takakkaw Falls), but its remote location at the north end of The Rockwall makes it special. People have run to the falls and out in a day, but you’ll likely want to stay at Helmet Falls Campground.
WATERTON LAKES NATIONAL PARK:
183-Lower Bertha Falls—2.6 km. One of the most popular hikes from Waterton townsite and, along with Upper Bertha Falls, a pleasant stop on the way to Bertha Lake.
186-Crypt Falls—8.5 km. There are four waterfalls on the way up Hell Roaring Creek to Crypt Lake—Hell-Roaring, Twin, Burnt Rock and Crypt. Crypt is by far the most spectacular as it leaps from a cliff right beneath your feet just 200 metres from the lake.
MOUNT ROBSON PROVINCIAL PARK:
218-Overlander Falls—0.5 km. This major falls on the Fraser River is just a short walk from the Yellowhead Highway (16) and the furthest point on the river that salmon reach during the annual run in late summer.
220-Emperor Falls—15.0 km. Situated at the top of the Valley of a Thousand Falls on the trail to Berg Lake, Emperor is a raging giant at all times of the year.
Photos by Brian Patton