The Mistaya River meanders through the Canadian Rockies, with the stunning Icefields Parkway tracing its path.
Beginning at Peyto Lake, 30 km away, the Mistaya River flows northwestward. Along its journey, it is fed by tributaries such as Delta, Silverhorn, Cirque, Noyes, Chephren, Totem, Epaulette, Bison, Kaufmann, and Sarbach. En route, the river forms elongated lakes, some of the most stunning in Banff, including Mistaya Lake and the beautiful Waterfowl Lakes.
The Mistaya River converges with the North Saskatchewan River at the Saskatchewan River Crossing, spanning 38 km. It’s one of the best canyons in Banff, far quieter than the famous Johnston Canyon hike. The best place to see the river and all its wonders is at the Mistaya Canyon viewpoint, accessible via a very short hike. We consider it a must-stop on any Icefields Parkway itinerary, especially considering it’s only a short walk to reach the view.
*The name “Mistaya” originates in the Cree language, where (mistahaya) translates to ‘grizzly bear.’
*Before you drive consider getting the Gypsy Audio Guide for the Icefields Parkway*
Mistaya Canyon Hike Stats
Mistaya Canyon Parking Lot
About the Mistaya Canyon Hike
Mistaya Canyon’s starting point is 5km south of Saskatchewan River Crossing, along the Icefields Parkway. It’s about mid-way between Jasper and Banff and is a great place to stop if you want to stretch your legs for 30-60 minutes.
A prominent sign indicates the parking area on your left (if driving from Banff to Jasper). There isn’t much parking, but it gets the job done unless it’s a busy summer weekend day.
Following the clearly marked pathway leading downhill, away from the highway, you’ll encounter the sign marking the canyon’s location approximately 500m before reaching the destination. It’s a quick 5-10-minute downhill walk to the Mistaya Canyon viewpoint and bridge.
Upon arrival, you’ll traverse the canyon via a robust bridge, affording a direct view into the convoluted, narrow crevice between the rocks. From this vantage point, you may think Mistaya Canyon resembles a jigsaw puzzle clumsily assembled by an inept giant right under Mount Sarbach.
Upon reaching the eastern bank of the Mistaya River, you’ll find numerous spots beckoning for exploration of these Banff waterfalls. You can walk around the rocks above, but please remember that caution is essential, as a wrong step could send someone falling into the canyon, leading to an almost certain death. There are no fences, and plenty of people approaching the canyon, so approach edges at your own risk.
Tours Along the Icefields Parkway
Some of the top tours offered along the Icefields Parkway are:
How Hard is the Hike Around Mistaya Canyon?
The gradual trail down to Mistaya Canyon is short and sweet. It is an easy path to the viewpoint that will take just .5km to the bridge. Nearly anyone can reach this easy path to the viewpoint, which is well-graded and easy to follow. On your way back to the parking lot, you may find the bit of incline a bit strenuous for a few minutes, depending on your fitness level.
How Long Should You Plan for Mistaya Canyon
You can easily visit Mistaya Canyon in 30 minutes or less! It’s a quick stop at the Icefields Parkway unless you intend to take your time on the trails and spend lots of time taking in the views and photos.
Parking at Mistaya Canyon
There is a smallish parking lot specifically designated for Mistaya Canyon. We’ve never had a problem parking at Mistaya Canyon, but on a busy summer weekend day, I could potentially see parking being a problem.
As you can’t park along the Icefields Parkway, if you don’t find parking you might have to skip Mistaya Canyon altogether and venture back later. If you get an early start on the Icefields Parkway, you shouldn’t have any trouble making it to Mistaya Canyon before the heat of the day, hopefully beating all the crowds.
Is Mistaya Canyon Busy?
We’ve visited Mistaya Canyon multiple times now. Once, on an early June day around 10am, we were the only people at Mistaya Canyon. Another in Banff in the winter, where there was NO ONE else anyway. The last time we visited Mistaya Canyon, it was a lovely August midweek day, and although it was busy, it wasn’t overwhelming like some places in Banff.
The earlier in the day you get to Mistaya Canyon, the better experience you will likely have. The same goes for later in the day. If you visit after 7pm in the summer, you’ll likely have a crowd-free experience.
Mistaya Canyon in the Winter
Mistaya Canyon is easily accessible in the winter. Microspikes may help walk the short trail down to the bridge. It’s essential to take extra caution in the winter and never get too close to the edge.
How to Get to Mistaya Canyon
From Lake Louise, take Lake Louise Drive to turn left onto the Trans-Canada Hwy bound for the Icefields Parkway. Make sure to stop at other sights along the way, like Bow Lake and Peyto Lake before reaching Mistaya Canyon. It should take about one hour (74km) to get to Mistaya Canyon from Lake Louise without stops.
From Jasper, it will around two hours without stopping (160 km) to reach Mistaya Canyon. After passing the Saskatchewan River Crossing, keep an eye out for the parking area on your right-hand side. You’ll undoubtedly want to stop at Waterfowl Lakes (and potentially hike to Chephren Lakes – a favorite) nearby first!
As far as hotels go, there aren’t many near Mistaya Canyon, or on the Icefields Parkway in general. Our favorite place to stay on the Icefields Parkway is Glacier View Lodge at Athabasca Glacier. However, the closest lodge to Mistaya Canyon is The Lodge at Bow Lake, followed by the hotel options at Lake Louise. Regarding camping, the closest campground is Waterfowl Lake Campground, which is 10 minutes away.
Tips For the Mistaya Canyon Hike
The sooner you arrive in the morning, the higher the likelihood of avoiding tourist crowds from tour buses on the Icefields Parkway.
You need a Parks Canada Pass to drive the Icefields Parkway and see any sights along the route.
It’s best to wear hiking shoes for walking around Mistaya Canyon. You’ll also want hiking shoes for other stops and hikes along the Parkway, like Parker Ridge Trail, which is 30 minutes away.
Again, take extra caution when walking around Mistaya Canyon. There are some famous photo points that are very close to the moving water. A fall in would likely be fatal.
Other Things to Do Near Mistaya Canyon
There are many beautiful stops along the Icefields Parkway; we recommend visitors take two days to tackle everything there is to do. Our favorite stops include Herbert Lake, the Weeping Wall, the Athabasca Glacier, and Sunwapta Falls in Jasper!
Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
- Hiking in the Rockies: Purchase an AllTrails subscription to have a mobile map on you as you hike.
- Tours (New in 2024): The Banff Blog is partnering with one of the leading tour companies in Western Canada so readers can experience the magic of the Rockies with other travelers – without having to think about a thing. See all our 2024 tour offerings here!
- Hotels in the Rockies: There are many places to stay, from luxury hotels to wilderness cabins. See all our favorites here.
- Get to Banff or Canmore Without a Car: The Banff Airporter provides fantastic service that will connect you right from YYC to the town of Banff or Canmore.
- Get Around: We suggest renting a car to get around. You can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip. We like to compare prices on Motorhome Republic and Outdoorsy.
- Fly For Free: Turn your spending into airline miles and points with travel credit cards (that’s what we do!). See our favorite travel credit cards. We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals!
- Hop On, Hop Off: This tour is taking Banff by storm. It’s exactly what it sounds like, hop on and off a bus bound for all the best attractions at your own pace!
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. We recommend checking out HeyMondo, which offers competitive rates for all travelers.