Mistaya Canyon on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
Mistaya Canyon is well-signed along the Icefields Parkway 74.2 KM (46 miles) north of Lake Louise in Banff National Park and 55 KM (34 miles) south of the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.
The pullout for parking at Mistaya Canyon is along the west side of Icefields Parkway and the wide gravel trail exits from the north end of the paved parking area. The easy, 0.5 KM (¹⁄₃ mile) trail descends gently for an elevation loss of 40 m (130 ft) to a fenced bridge over the narrow pot-holed gorge where roaring, frothy water churns through rock below.
The views to mountains upstream is breathtaking even when compromised by the shadows of early morning light. There is valuable information at the trail kiosk to explain the source of the Mistaya River and the power of water carving a course through rock over thousands of years. The kiosk elevation is 1,520 m (4,987 ft). The bridge over Mistaya Canyon is at 1,480 m (4,858 ft).
'Mistaya' means 'grizzly bear' in the language of the Cree Indians.
This short, easy hike on well-traveled trail through forest is brief and soon arrives at a carved, wooden sign with highlight information before the final dip onto the sturdy, fenced bridge.
The views straight down from the bridge feature powerful water flow constrained by smooth and narrow canyon walls. A multitude of different angles reveals a dichotomy of limestone and water within a seemingly infinite number of variations of sight and sound as milky, blue-green water surges below. The unique experience includes a small natural bridge.
Upstream, the course of the river transitions rapidly from smooth, sleek flow into white water rapids racing into the canyon. Mount Sarbach at 3,155 m (10,351 ft) stretches into the horizon.
There are amazing sounds and unique views from each side of the bridge.
On the other (west) side of the bridge, a trail takes off to the right. A short distance past the initial ascent from the trail-head, the trail branches left to the Sarbach Fire Lookout Site, abandoned in 1971 and subsequently removed, on the north shoulder of Mount Sarbach. The 4.9 KM (3.0 mile) one-way trail to Sarbach Lookout has an elevation gain of 565 m (1,855 ft) to a maximum elevation of 2,045 m (6,710 ft). The alternate branch to the right is the long, arduous hike to historic Howse Pass.
Spectacular views of the water entering Mistaya Canyon can be obtained from accessible and unprotected rock edges above the rapid water. Warning signs are prominently in place. Anyone who slips into the fast-flowing water has negligible chance for survival.
All that remains is the return, short, uphill hike through lush, aromatic forest, to the parking area.
Howse Pass has a rich history over thousands of years as one of the main routes across the Rocky Mountains between what is now British Columbia and Alberta. The historic route is designated as the Howse Pass National Historic Site.
This early morning visit to Mistaya Canyon on Canada Day is the most northerly of this day before the return drive south on the Icefields Parkway for the views from the Bow Summit and Peyto Lake Exhibit. It is surprising on this National Holiday to be the only person at Mistaya Canyon. The main hike for today will be to Helen Lake.
Photographs for this post were taken with sun rising from the east on July 1, 2014.