The short hike into Panther Falls begins from Bridal Veil Falls parking along the infamous and scenic Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
The pullout for viewing Bridal Veil Falls is along the Icefields Parkway immediately above the Big Bend hairpin turn. Driving with care is important as vehicles, some of them are large buses and RVs, will be entering and departing from the large paved parking area.
The signed trail-head is located at the south end of the large parking area. The short hiking trail is only 0.5 KM (¹⁄₃ mile) one-way. From guarded views of Bridal Veil Falls, the heavily used trail descends abruptly into forest via switchbacks carved into the side of a steep slope. There are a couple of obstacles in the form of dead fall and rocky outcroppings.
At the trail junction, the trail straight ahead leads to impressive Panther Falls. A swirling breeze can make photography challenging. Protect the camera inside a jacket until the mist is heading in a non-threatening direction long enough for a rapid composure. A lens cloth is mandatory.
Panther Falls is over a descent in the path of Nigel Creek. Good photographs can be obtained by venturing carefully onto muddy, rocky and slippery terrain. Several steep drops near the site require caution and common sense to manage exposure.
Far below the thrashing, white water of Nigel Creek, heavily laden with glacial silt, continues downstream to capture the water from Bridal Veil Falls on the way to confluence with the North Saskatchewan River near the Big Bend at the hairpin turn on the Icefields Parkway. In winter Panther Falls is a popular ice climbing area and a photographer's dream landscape of ice formations.
On the short return hike to the trail-head there is a great commotion above on the approach to the still-invisible parking area. There is robust yelling and screaming combined with the sound of confused traffic. Perhaps an accident has occurred in the brief absence. As the final switchback breaches the trail-head at the surface, there is a mob of people racing in all directions with cameras, smart phones and tablets.
Traffic on the Icefields Parkway has come to a grinding halt in both directions and cars, buses and recreational vehicles are stopped helter-skelter at every conceivable direction a traffic jam can produce. The majority of people's attention is directed to one specific area above the highway.
A family of mountain sheep has ascended through a gully near the trail and crossed the road. Whenever this happens, and it frequently does, pandemonium ensues. Miraculously, there is no evidence of vehicle collision or personal injury. The sheep have taken station on the steep slope above the opposite side of the highway to pose graciously for photographs. It is a tad embarrassing to be part of it but they are very cute and the mountain sheep family includes a youngster which makes the image completely irresistible.
Eventually, the mountain sheep wander down the slope and onto the traffic-saturated highway to pose for close-up photographs.
Since there will be extra time, while the sheep continue their cameo appearance and absorption of adoration, A few photographs of Bridal Veil Falls are attempted through surrounding trees. Substantially better photographs are available by walking down the highway for half a kilometer.
Bridal Veil Falls is a thin ribbon of falling water which originates high above at the Huntington Glacier, before dropping 370 m (1,200 ft) down the steep slopes of 3,270 m (10,729 ft) Cirrus Mountain into Nigel Creek. From the Bridal Veil Falls viewpoint only the bottom 120 m (370 ft) of the waterfalls are visible.
Cirrus Mountain is home to several ice climbing routes in Banff National Park. Polar Circus and the Weeping Wall are popular ice climbs featured in the guide book 'Waterfall Ice, Climbs in the Canadian Rockies' by Joe Josephson. Polar Circus features 730 m (2300 ft)+/- gain with over 488 m (1600 ft) of waterfall ice spread out over 9+/- pitches.
Bridal Veil Viewpoint offers spectacular vistas of surrounding majestic mountain summits.
This short stop generated far more excitement than could possibly have been anticipated.