Jasper National Park of Canada
Sunwapta Falls in winter© Parks Canada
A torrent of plunging water not far from the Icefields Parkway, Sunwapta Falls is just one of the many waterfalls in Jasper created by hanging valleys.
Hanging valleys were formed when glacier ice receded 8000 years ago, leaving behind broad U-shaped valleys. Larger valleys were carved deeper than smaller ones and in places where the two meet, the smaller valleys "hang" at a higher elevation. This is an excellent place to find waterfalls. At Sunwapta Falls, the smaller "hanging" Chaba Valley and larger Athabasca Valley join in a spectacular stepping waterfall that has carved a deep limestone gorge out of the rock some metres below the footbridge.
Sunwapta Falls is also the trailhead for a 25-km hike that takes you to isolated Fortress Lake and Hamber Provincial Park. The trail passes through the Chaba River burn area, legacy of a 1967 wildfire. The fire rejuvenated a large portion of the subalpine forest along the Chaba River Valley and is now one of the best bear and moose habitats in the park.
Caution - Mist from the falls covers surrounding rocks with a slippery film of water. For your own safety, do not cross the railings.
Bears are often seen along trails and roads in the park. For your safety and their survival:
- do not feed or approach bears - they can attack very quickly with deadly force;
- stay at least 100 metres (10 bus lengths) away;
- if you're hiking, make noise at all times - singing and yelling, especially near creeks or rivers and blind corners, ensures you don't surprise a bear;
- if you're backpacking, ensure that your campsite is clean and all food and attractants are kept in a bear pole or tree;
- read the brochure Keep the Wild in Wildlife carefully before visiting the backcountry.