Mistaya Canyon is one of the glorious sights along the Icefields Parkway. It is located halfway between Jasper and Banff, close to Saskatchewan River Crossing. Exploring this gorge involves a short, easy hike but allows you to look down into an impressive deep canyon where the Mistaya River has carved swirls into the limestone.
What do you do when the weather is misty and wet in the Canadian Rockies? If you are anything like us, you go looking for waterfalls or canyons. You may not be able to see all the surrounding scenery, but places like Mistaya Canyon are great fun in any weather.
Mistaya Canyon trail map
Most people stop once they have peered into the canyon, but you can keep going along a little loop. I have a recording of our visit here.
Mistaya Canyon – the basics
Distance: 1.8 km
Elevation gain: Minimal -60m (ish)
Time: 30-40 mins
What to bring: This is short, so you don’t need much! We just brought bear spray and our cameras. If you’d like to peer into the Canyon, make sure you have non-slippery hiking boots.
Facilities: Nothing here. There are loos, cafe and shops at the nearby Saskatchewan River Crossing.
Dogs: Dog friendly (on a lead)
How hard is it? Super easy. This is a good one for non-hikers with a short, easy to follow trail.
Extra Note: There are no guard rails around this canyon, so you can go right up to the edge. However the rocks can be slippery, so be really careful, especially if you bring children.
Mistaya Canyon – Getting started
The trailhead for Mistaya Canyon is just 5km south of Saskatchewan River Crossing, at the side of the Icefields Parkway. There is a large sign to show you where to park. From there, there is an obvious pathway heading down the hill, away from the highway. It’s about 500m before you reach this sign and the canyon itself.
Mistaya Canyon from the bridge
When you first arrive, you cross the canyon on a sturdy bridge. You can peek straight down into the twisty narrow gap between the rocks. From above, it looks a bit like an incompetent giant created a jigsaw puzzle, that doesn’t quite fit together.
Have a (careful) look up close
Once you’ve crossed to the east side of the Mistaya River, there are plenty of places where you can climb down, right to the edge of the gorge. This is where you need to be careful if you visit with children. The rocks can be slippy, and falling into those churning glacial waters would be fatal.
I love the views from Mistaya Canyon further upstream towards Mount Sarbach.
We visited on a gloomy misty day, so I thought the name Mistaya might have something to do with mist. However my hiking book (Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies) mentions Mistaya is a Stoney word for grizzly bear. At the turn of the century, it this section was called Bear Creek by fur traders. The book, the 2001 Indian Place Names of the West mentions it was originally called maskowa sipi, or Bear Stream.
This is quite a short river by Canadian standards – only 38km long, originating at Peyto Lake, to the southeast. The incredible blue colouring is from rock flour from the various glacial lakes that feed into the Mistaya River.
If you climb down to the river, you can look back and see the layers of limestone that have been carved out by the surging river.
We walked a bit further along the Mistaya River to see the views towards Mount Sarbach. If you think about it, all this water needs to squeeze into the narrow canyon. The canyon must go quite a lot deeper to be able to accommodate so much fast flowing water!
This is looking back towards Mistaya Canyon with Mount Murchison rising out of the mist. It’s pretty stunning for such a moody day isn’t it!?
I really loved our mini visit to Mistaya Canyon. The surrounding mountains are beautiful, and this is such an easy trail it doesn’t quite feel like you deserve such incredible scenery with so little effort. The power of the Mistaya River is awesome and it is really interesting to see just how it has shaped this fabulous landscape.
What do you think? Would you pop in for a visit when you drive along Canada’s prettiest road, the Icefields Parkway?