Just south of Jasper lies another waterfall near Athabasca Falls, right along the Icefields Parkway in beautiful Jasper. Like Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls isn’t a very high Alberta waterfall at only 62 feet, but it’s widely known for its crystal clear waters, very powerful water flow in the summer, and stunning ice features in the winter. The area’s beauty is just one reason to make this a must-see stop on your journey through Jasper National Park and a bucket list stop when driving between Banff and Jasper.
Here, you’ll find the rushing Sunwapta River funneling through narrow gorges to join the Athabasca River. Two waterfalls make up Sunwapta Falls. The Upper Sunwapta Falls is easy to reach, while the Lower Sunwapta Falls requires a little more effort as you hike. Either way, there’s something for everyone, and you’ll be immersed in spectacular natural surroundings no matter which falls you visit.
All About Sunwapta Falls
What’s in a Name?
Sunwapta translates to “turbulent water” in the Stoney language, which is still spoken by the Stoney First Nation people. After visiting the area, AP Coleman gave The Falls this name in the late 1800s.
Where is Sunwapta Falls?
Sunwapta Falls is situated in Jasper National Park along Highway 93, also known as the Icefields Parkway, about 55 kilometers from Jasper. When you reach the Sunwapta Falls Resort from Jasper, turn right and drive to the end of the road until you reach the parking area.
From Jasper: To get to the Sunwapta Falls from the town of Jasper, you’ll need to get on the Icefields Parkway, also known as Highway 93, and drive for about 55 kilometers before reaching the trailhead. Sunwapta Falls is after Athabasca Falls and the drive takes about 40 minutes without any stops. However, there are a few amazing places to stop between Jasper and Sunwapta Falls, including Honeymoon Lake, Horseshoe Lake, and the Valley of the Five Lakes Trailhead (if you want to hike!)
From Banff: From Lake Louise to Sunwapta Falls will take 2 hours and 5 minutes (177.5 km) via AB-93 N. If driving from Banff to Jasper along the Icefields Parkway, Sunwapta Falls will be near the end of your journey before you get to the Town of Jasper. It will take 2 hours without any stops from Lake Louise, though you’ll likely stop A LOT at sights like Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Tangle Creek Falls, and more!
What to Expect When Visiting Sunwapta Falls
While most people visit Sunwapta Falls to see the falls, hiking is just as much of a draw. The stunning scenery, pristine nature, and various trails make it popular with visitors passing through the area.
The hike to the lower falls is considered an easy Jasper hike. The trail is well-maintained but much longer than the one to the upper falls. The 3-kilometer hike takes you along the river and through a beautiful pine forest. If hiking isn’t your main reason for coming to Sunwapta Falls, you can take a 100-meter stroll to the upper falls, where you can get fantastic views from the bridge.
What’s the Hike to Sunwapta Falls Like?
Upper Sunwapta Falls: Upper Sunwapta Falls is a roadside stop and arguably the main attraction. It’s just a short walk from the parking lot to the bridge viewpoint. You can easily stop at Sunwapta Falls for less than 20 minutes, take in the view from the bridge, and be on your way. Besides the bridge, plenty of other places to take in the view and look over the edge with the safety of a railing in front of you.
Lower Sunwapta Falls: Most people are unaware of lower falls but hike for 1.3 km, and you’ll surely see it! Before you get to the viewing bridge, you’ll notice a sign pointing toward the Lower Sunwapta Falls trail. The trail descends as you head in, making for an easy downhill hike, and the return trip involves just a gradual ascent. Despite its brevity, this hike is well worth the time invested.
Can You Whitewater Raft Over Sunwapta Falls?
It is impossible to whitewater raft over Sunwapta Falls, though you can book rafting trips in Jasper that cruise the Athabasca River.
Guided Tours versus Going Solo
You can explore Sunwapta Falls on your own or with a guided tour. How you explore this incredible natural wonder depends on your preferences, but one way is no better than the other. Exploring independently allows you to enjoy the sights and sounds for as long as you want, while a guided tour limits your time. If you’re traveling independently, we recommend checking out our complete Icefields Parkway guide and downloading the Guide Along audio tour!
On the other hand, traveling independently means you’ll miss out on valuable information about the area or even miss an incredible feature. Various tours are available from several companies, and they depart from the towns in the area, including Jasper. If you’d rather go on a guided excursion, several tours depart the town of Jasper. However, unlike nearby Athabasca Falls, many tours don’t stop at Sunwapta Falls. We have found that Sundog Tours includes a stop at Sunwapta Falls on their full-day Jasper highlights tour!
Other Icefields Parkway Tours
- Banff to Jasper Tour
- SunDog Tours Banff to Jasper
- Jasper to Banff One-Day Tour
- Lake Louise to Jasper One-Way Tour
- Jasper to Lake Louise One-Way TourSunDog Tours Banff to Jasper
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, opt for a Sunwapta River Rafting Tour, which combines adrenaline-pumping adventure with incredible views of the falls.
When is the Best Time to Visit Sunwapta Falls?
If you want to beat the crowds in the summer, it’s best to visit in the early morning before 8am or later in the day after 5pm. If you want the best pictures, the afternoon offers the best lighting. In the winter, you won’t find many people around Sunwapta Falls, and you’ll likely have them all to yourself, especially if you visit on a cold winter day.
While many claim that the best time to visit is between May and October, there is no real best time to visit Sunwapta Falls. When you visit depends on what you want to see and do while there, and of course, when you find yourself driving the Icefields Parkway.
In the spring, the water is at its most powerful due to the snowmelt. This is a good time to visit if you want to beat the tourist crowds of summer and see Sunwapta Falls at their most powerful.
The warm and dry weather combined with lush vegetation makes summer a popular time to visit the falls. The hiking is at its best this time of year but you’ll have to dodge larger crowds!
In fall, there are fewer tourists and the weather is cooler but still comfortable for hiking. The water volume is also less powerful and creates a more relaxing ambiance surrounded by the vibrant colours of the season.
You can visit Sunwapta Falls in winter, but the access road to the parking lot isn’t always in the best condition, so it’s best to have a proper 4×4 vehicle with winter tires, which you should have anyway if driving the Icefields Parkway in winter. If you were to ask me, my favorite time to see Sunwapta Falls is in the winter. It’s worth the effort to see the falls completely frozen!
Flora and Fauna Around Sunwapta Falls
Deer, caribou, elk, bear, wolf, moose, coyote. These are just some of the wild creatures that frequent Jasper. Early morning and evening are the best times to see wildlife.
The forest is lush at Sunwapta Falls and features a variety of trees, including Lodgepole Pine, black spruce, aspen and white birch. In Spring and summer, you’ll spot colorful wildflowers set against the backdrop of the rocky mountains.
Unique Features at Sunwapta Falls
Towering trees, snow-capped mountain peaks, roaring rapids and cascading falls. What more could one ask for in a nature excursion? Well, at Sunwapta Falls, there’s so much more! Take the sunrises and sunsets for example. Awe-inspiring to say the least!
Another unique feature of the area is the little tree-laden island in the river right before the water drops over the edge and makes for the most amazing photo opportunities.
Is it Free to Visit Sunwapta Falls?
Like many of the attractions in Canada’s National Parks, Sunwapta Falls is free as long as you pay the day fee of $11.00 for a National Park Pass or you go all out for the Discovery Pass if you plan on visiting Banff and other parks around Alberta and the rest of Canada in the same year.
Parking at Sunwapta Falls
There’s plenty of parking available at Sunwapta Falls, and even in the middle of summer, we haven’t had an issue parking at Sunwapta Falls. The Upper Falls is accessible by wheelchair on the short trail leading from the parking lot, but the Lower Falls are not. On-site, you’ll find facilities, including washrooms and picnic tables. Dogs can explore the entire area with their families if kept on a leash.
How Busy is Sunwapta Falls?
Sunwapta Falls is a popular destination along the Icefields Parkway. If you visit between June and September, experiencing the falls without a crowd isn’t likely unless you arrive early or late in the evening, preferably before 8 am or after 7 pm. However, during the off-peak season and the winter months in Jasper, Sunwapta Falls is notably less crowded, particularly on weekdays.
Can You Visit Sunwapta Falls in the Winter?
It’s definitely possible to visit Sunwapta Falls in the winter, and it’s a gorgeous site! In my opinion, visiting Sunwapta Falls in the winter is prettier than visiting in the summer, there are far fewer people around too!
There’s something special about seeing a frozen waterfall as the surrounding peaks are covered in fresh snow. However, keep in mind that road conditions on the Icefields Parkway in the winter can deteriorate quickly, and it’s imperative to check beforehand what conditions are on Alberta 5.11. We do not recommend driving the Icefields Parkway if it’s snowing heavily, and you absolutely should have a vehicle with winter tires.
Other Things to Do Near Sunwapta Falls
Sunwapta Falls are located on the Icefields Parkway, and if you’re visiting them, you have likely taken the whole day to drive the road. There are plenty of other amazing things to do in Jasper. Nearby Sunwapta Falls, you can find many natural attractions.
Athabasca Falls is just 25 km from Sunwapta Falls, but it’s far more popular. It stands out as one of Alberta’s most powerful waterfalls. Its sheer power is highlighted by its impressive class-five waterfall rating. With a height of over 75 feet (24 meters), it’s a great addition to your Icefields Parkway day!
Merely a 20-minute drive from Jasper along the Icefields Parkway, Horseshoe Lake is a hidden gem that often escapes the notice of many visitors. However, it’s a destination well deserving of a stop! This expansive lake is uniquely shaped like a horseshoe, surrounded by cliffs that allow adventurous souls to leap into the refreshing Canadian waters.
Several jumping points are available, with whispers of the highest platform reaching an impressive 80 feet. Prioritize safety by thoroughly assessing your landing before taking the plunge. In addition to cliff jumping, Horseshoe Lake offers a serene setting for summer paddling enthusiasts to enjoy.
Valley of Five Lakes Trailhead
This easy hike stands out as a quintessential Jasper hike and is likely the park’s most widely appreciated. The trailhead can be easily found along Highway 93 just before reaching Downtown Jasper. This straightforward hike unfolds along a well-maintained, relatively flat path, showcasing five picturesque lakes.
The trail’s ease of navigation allows hikers to appreciate the beauty of the lakes, each displaying a spectrum of mesmerizing blue and green hues. If you have time to hike in your itinerary, the Valley of the Five Lakes is great!
Goats and Glaciers Lookout
The Goats & Glaciers lookout stands true to its name— a scenic point along the Icefields Parkway offering a panoramic view of the Athabasca River, framed by the imposing Mount Kerkeslin. This spot is known for attracting mountain goats that come to lick salt from the riverbank, though we have never seen any goats when we stop!
It’s a brief yet delightful stop, perfect for capturing memorable photos. Be attentive to spot the pull-off on your left when traveling from Banff to Jasper, as it’s easy to miss!
Where Are the Best Places to Stay Nearby?
Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge is the only place to stay near Sunwapta Falls. These cute and cozy tiny Jasper cabins are perfect if you want to stay along the Icefields Parkway but still have easy access to the town of Jasper. Rooms are romantic, with a fireplace, kitchenette, and free firewood. There’s also a restaurant on-site should you want to not venture too far for dinner.
- Address — 53km South of Downtown Jasper (GPS)
- Booking.com – Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge
- Hotels.com – Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge
Other Fantastic Places to Stay in Jasper
Where Are the Best Places to Eat in Jasper?
- Coco’s Cafe: They’ve got all the classics for breakfast in Jasper, such as bagels, oatmeal cinnamon waffles, breakfast burritos, breakfast bowls, and huevos rancheros.
- Harvest: Harvest Food & Drink serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner. It’s one of the newer restaurants in Jasper with a healthy menu.
- Bear’s Paw Bakery: Bear’s Paw Bakery is an institution in Jasper, and just about every visitor to Jasper should pay the bakery a visit in the morning.
- Sunhouse Cafe: The bright, airy cafe with modern decor serves mouth-watering coffee and food.
- Jasper Brewing Company: They have fantastic craft beers and dinners that pair well with those beers.
- Downstream: A downstairs bar with varying sandwiches, steaks, and chicken meals.
- The Raven: A small and intimate bistro perfect for special dinners from around the world.
- The Dead Dog: Fun and quirky bar and a local favorite bar.
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.