Athabasca Falls, in Winter


At first glance, it might look like Athabasca Falls is just one more attraction along the Icefields Parkway that you can’t enjoy in winter.  Athabasca Falls is located along Highway 93A, a scenic alternative to 24 kilometers of the more-traveled Highway 93, south of Jasper.  And when you pass by the southern end of Highway 93A during the colder months, you see this:

Yes, the southern end of 93A shuts down in winter, creating a cross-country ski and snowshoe path.  Athabasca Falls isn’t very far away from here — in fact you can see it from the highway.  That means you can still access it in the winter — you’ll just need to take a walk in the snow.

If you don’t have a pair of skis or snowshoes, don’t worry.  The snow should be walk-able (unless you’re visiting immediately after a heavy snowfall, and the path hasn’t been trampled-down yet).  Take a stroll down the middle of Highway 93A, and in just a few minutes, you’ll be at the falls.

At Athabasca Falls, the Athabasca River takes a 23-meter (or 75-foot) tumble.  One of the Icefield Parkway’s more recognizable peaks, Mount Kerkeslin (2,955 meters or 9,694 feet), stands behind the falls, making a nice photo even better.

Just below the falls, a pedestrian bridge crosses the Athabasca River, and provides some good viewpoints.  Keep in mind, this area is not maintained in the winter, and those steps can get quite slippery.

During the summer, the river crashes quite violently through this miniature canyon.  I assume it’s equally fierce in winter, but you can’t see most of the motion…

… since the falls are coated in ice.  Take a moment to appreciate this natural art sculpture, that’s always changing, as the icicles melt and re-freeze.

You can also look the opposite direction, into the canyon below the falls.  The water is stunningly blue-green, thanks to all the glacial silt (rock flour) that’s in the otherwise pure, clean river.

A treacherously slippery staircase will take you down to another viewpoint.  I took a few steps, then realized that even with the ice cleats on my shoes, I was tempting fate.  So I gave up on this path.

Nowadays, it’s a staircase through a slot canyon, but long ago, this was the path of the Athabasca River, back before it cut a new course.  You can see what the entire area looks like in the summer months, here.

Back on the Icefields Parkway, watch for this beautiful view of Mount Kerkeslin.  Without realizing it, I think I stopped here three times, on different days during this trip, to take the exact same picture (albeit in different weather conditions and snow cover).

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