Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada
Sunwapta Falls is an absolutely stunning place to visit and photograph! The power of these falls along the glacier melt blue water, and the perfectly placed diamond shaped island, make for a magical photographic opportunity.
Located along the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park, in Alberta, Canada, Sunwapta Falls will capture your heart and then take your breath away. It is certainly, one of those places that make you ask, “How did this happen”. The Falls (this is the upper Sunwapta Falls) are fed by the Athabasca Glacier, and only drop for about 60ft. However, the volume of the converging sides produces a silky illusion for this dreamlike spot.
Trail Difficulty - MODERATE
I would rate the difficulty of this trail as a 3 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most difficult).
The hike to the location of this shot is a fairly easy 200 yd hike from the parking lot. However, the spot upon which you must stand to get the shot shown above is directly next to the drop-off into the falls. A fall would be certain death. If you are afraid of heights and / or very dicey foot placements, you may want to pass on this specific spot.
There are alternative locations to shoot the Sunwapta Falls which are much safer: 1) the bridge or 2) the visitors area to the left of the falls.
AGAIN, THE PLACE YOU ARE LOCATED FOR THIS SHOT SHOWN ABOVE IS DIRECTLY NEXT TO THE DROP-OFF FOR THE FALLS. A MISSTEP WOULD BE CERTAIN DEATH!
Download KMZ Trail File
Click Here to download the KMZ file for this location.
GPS Coordinates & Elevation
4570 Ft. Elevation
Google Maps Birds-Eye-View
Click link above to view location in Google Earth
CLICK HERE to Sunwapta Falls parking area
The closest towns to Sunwapta Falls is Jasper, AB (45 min), Lake Louise (2 hours and 30 min) and Banff, AB (3 hours). Banff is a much larger town and is usually is the destination most people are coming from.
Travel north on Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 W for 57 KM (36 miles) and take the exit for Icefields Parkway Canada AB-93 toward Jasper. Once on AB-93 N travel for 174 KM (108 miles) until you see the Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge on the left (west) side of the road. Turn right on a simple paved road with the sign for Sunwapta Falls and drive for 500 meters (.3 mile) until you get to the parking area. Note: on the road from Banff, you will pass Lake Louise just before exiting for Alberta 93 toward Jasper.
Travel south on AB-93 S for 54.3 KM (34 miles) until you see the Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge on the right (west) side of the road. Turn right on a simple paved road with the sign for Sunwapta Falls and drive for 500 meters (.3 mile) until you get to the parking area.
From the parking area - you can easily hear the falls. Walk down the simple trail to the viewing area (foot bridge) facing the falls.
Walk to the bridge and take in the unbelievable power of the Sunwapta Falls. The location of the shot is found on the right side of the raging falls down an unmarked trail (see red arrow below). At this point, you may become apprehensive about taking the shot from that location. This spot can be deadly if you are not VERY CAREFUL.
To get to the location of this shot, walk past the bridge and immediately look for a small unmarked opening on the left. Walk down the dirt path for about 15 yds or so and look to the left for a path toward the falls (about 10 yds or so). The location of the shot is next to the last tree before the drop-off into the raging river.
My tripod was setup next to the last tree (before the dropoff into the falls) and about 1 ft off of the ground. I shoot close to the ground for 2 reasons: 1) tree limbs block your view if you set up too high and 2) I could sit on the ground while photographing - to make sure I did not fall into my demise.
As mentioned, if you are afraid of heights and / or very dicey foot placements - there are alternative locations to shoot: 1) the bridge or 2) the visitors area to the left of the falls. You can also shoot a few feet to the right of the main shot. However, it does not have a symmetrical view (see images above).
Best Time of Day to Shoot
In my opinion, the best time to shoot the falls is late in the afternoon (about 30-45 min before sunset).
In the image above, you will notice the trees on the right side of the river are illuminated at the very top. I wanted to capture this feature to add dimension to the scene. In the summer, to capture a little sun on the trees to the right, you have to take the shot about 45 minutes before sunset (the above shot was taken @ 9:07pm and the sunset was at 9.48pm).
After the trees to the right of the river are in shade, you still have about 15 -25 minutes of shooting while the back mountain is luminated. After the mountain is in shade, you can shoot for another 30-45 minutes before the whole scene is dark.
Best Time of Year to Shoot
I have only been to Sunwapta Falls in summer, but I believe the best time to shoot is late spring to mid-summer while the glacier runoff is still robust. I have seen shots in early fall when there is snow on the back mountain which was nice (but the water flow was not as strong).
The above shot was taken on July 27th
What Lens(es) Do You Need
There are many ways to shoot the falls.
The most symmetrical shot is straight on horizontally with a moderate to wide angle lens. Shooting the Falls vertical is also very appealing as the tail of the falls looks like a bridal gown. Both of the shots below were taken with a 24mm tilt sift lens to reduce the keystone effect of pointing down.
The shot below is with a 16mm lens – which captures both the symmetrical view and the bridal gown of the falls. However, the metal fence on the left side of the Falls will be part of your image.
You will need a Parks Canada Discovery Pass to enter the Jasper National Park. Once you have the Discovery Pass, there is no additional permit required to visit or shoot the falls. Fees range from $10 per day to $70 for an annual pass.
Direction of the Shot
The direction of the shot is northeast around 50°.
Special Nuances of Shot
There are nuances to this shot worth noting.
The color of the rivers water will change based on the color of the sky - meaning that if the sky is clear in late afternoon, the water will be blue. On a cloudy day or late evening / sunset the water will be a muddy grey.
There is a visitor’s viewing area on the left side of the Falls with a metal fence which you will need to deal with. If you shoot very wide angle (16mm lens), you will either have to clone it out or just have it as part of your image.
The water flow is very strong – so you only need a shutter speed of 1 second to get the creamy flow of the water. I tried shutter speeds up to 8 seconds, but it had little effect on the view of the water in the image.
Most important – the location of the shot above is positioned only a foot or so from the ledge of the Falls and there is no recovering from a misstep. EXTREME CAUTION is needed in setting up and photographing from here.
Special Equipment Needed
You will need a sturdy tripod, a 2 t0 4 stop neutral density filter to reduce your shutter speed to at least 1 second. You may also consider using a polarizing filter to help reduce the glare of the water on the rocks around the falls.
I would also strongly consider bringing some bug spray as you will be standing in the woods around sunset.
Number of Other Photographers to Expect
The Sunwapta Falls receives many, many visitors each day. Most visitors stay on the foot bridge or shoot from the visitors area on the left side of the Falls. Only a brave few photographers venture down to the place where this shot is taken. With that being said, there is only one A+ premium spot to take this picture (with a few other A - spots close by). So if you want this shot, I would suggest you arrive at least an hour before sunset to make sure you get the A+ premium spot.
Weather in Canada can vary a great deal based on the seasons and time of year. In the late spring, summer and early fall the weather can be mild days with cool nights.
I have US based Verizon and the cell service along the Banff to Jasper corridor is spotty at best. Most of the time, there is no cell service unless you drive to Jasper or back to Lake Louise or Banff.
As mentioned, the closest towns to the Sunwapta Falls is Jasper, AB (45 min), Lake Louise (2 hours and 30 min) and Banff, AB (3 hours) - with very few hotels or lodging in-between. There are however several campsites along the Icefields parkway. Most of the campgrounds are small with moderate camping fees.
Nearby camping and lodging
Camping - click on the campground below for directions
Honeymoon Lake Campground (4.5 Km north on Icefields Parkway)
Lodging - click on the lodging below for a TripAdvisor review
Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge
Highway 93, Sunwapta Falls, AB
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Old Lodge Road, Jasper AB
Along the Icefields Parkway, there ARE NOT many restaurants to choose from. The closest restaurant to Sunwapta Falls is at the Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge. Service there is very pleasant, and it is a nice place to grab a sandwich or dinner (gluten free options to vegan selections available). Otherwise, the closest restaurant is in Jasper (45 min away). Jasper is a nice tourist town with plenty of places to eat or grab a beverage.
Nearby Restaurants - click on the restaurant below for yelp review
Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge
Highway 93, Sunwapta Falls, AB
The Raven Bistro
504 Patricia Street, Jasper
610 Patricia Street, Jasper
The only laundry mat I know of is Coin Clean Laundry at 607 Patricia Street in Jasper.
Other Photography Opportunities Around
The closest international airports to Jasper are the Edmonton International Airport (YEG) and Calgary International Airport (YYC), which are four hours and five hours drive away.
Area Guides and Workshops
The Photographer's Ephemeris is a very valuable tool for landscape photographers to determine the direction of the sunrise/sunset & moonrise/moonset from any place on earth on any day (past and future). Click here to take you to The Photographer's Ephemeris for this location.