About Lower Sunwapta Falls
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. In fact, I’m not even so sure that most people were even aware there was a lower waterfall!
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 waterfall and the mountain backdrop. However, as we walked gently downhill for roughly 2km (in one direction) along the well-forested, the commotion from the upper waterfall gave way to the subtle sounds of Nature. At the end of this walk, we were led right to the fenced overlooks taking in the lower three waterfalls.
I did notice a bench and plaque just above the uppermost of these waterfalls 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 traffic to keep this trail from being too dangerous due to bears.
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 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. Since I did this hike solo without Julie, I’d imagine it might take upwards of 75-90 minutes or more at a more leisurely pace.
This waterfall 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). Heading south of Jasper, it’s about an hour’s drive on Hwy 93 (or 25 minutes south of Athabasca Falls).
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