Red Rock Canyon & Blakiston Falls

Red Rock Canyon & Blakiston Falls

Blakiston Falls is an easy to reach waterfall near Red Rock Canyon. This is an incredible area for geology geeks as the rocks are ancient, colourful and fascinating. We visited on a grey day, so my photos don’t really show how bright they can be.

As the waterfall and the canyon start at the same trailhead, it is best to visit them both at the same time. Just be aware, the bright red rocks and ease of access make for one of the busiest spots we visited in Waterton Lakes National Park (Alberta, Canada).

Blakiston Falls and Red Rock Canyon – the basics

Distance: 2.4km for Blakiston Falls and 0.8 for Red Rock Canyon
Elevation gain: 85m to Blakiston Falls
Time: Less than an hour
What to bring: The 10 essentials, and bring bear spray
Facilities: Loos at the trailhead and picnic benches
Dogs: Dogs are allowed (on leash)
How hard is it? Easy

Blakiston Falls map

Red Rock Canyon

The start of this hike is at the fabulous Red Rock Canyon (at the end of the beautiful Red Rock Canyon Parkway.) This is a very popular spot for families and picnics. There is a very short loop (0.8km) along the top of the Canyon, but most visitors tend to climb down into the canyon to paddle and see the red/pink rocks up close.

How busy is Red Rock Canyon

As you don’t need to hike at all, this seemed to be the busiest place we visited in Waterton Lakes. I still think it is worth visiting as it was easily the best place to see the famous red rocks. Having said that, if you continue on to Blakiston Falls, it is far quieter.

Geology of Red Rock Canyon

Waterton Lakes has some of the oldest exposed sedimentary rock in the Canadian Rockies. The rocks were pushed up by a giant thrust fault, called the Lewis thrust. This left the ancient rocks (1.5 billion years old) sitting above the younger (75 million year old) Cretaceous rock.

What made the rocks red?

The rocks are argillite, a sedimentary rock made from mud from the edge of a shallow sea. The stripes you can see were created as the earths atmosphere started to change, when the sea started to fill up with bacteria and simple microorganisms that excreted oxygen. It takes an increase of just 3% extra oxygen to turn the green argillite red. There are also some thin white layers of sandstone, that may have been caused by tsunamis.

As you hike down the canyon, you can see where the rocks turn from red to green. It’s pretty cool that you can see when life on earth started to change the atmosphere enough to alter the colour of these rocks. All of these rocks formed well before animals evolved, so the only fossils here are of algae colonies called stromatolites; They look like cabbages.

On to Blakiston Falls

Once you reach the south end of Red Rock Canyon, cross Bauerman Creek and walk up the hill on a gentle slope. This area was affected by the Kenow Wildfire in 2017, but there are now lots of saplings and shrubs filling up the space between the burned trees trunks.

As you get closer to the waterfall, the trail goes alongside Blakiston Creek and opens out to give fantastic views of the park’s tallest mountain, Mount Blakiston (2910m). This was named after the first European to record his travels here, Lieutenant Thomas Blakiston.

Blakiston Falls

This is a lovely waterfall. It has two drops that curve around a corner, plunging around 15m. There’s a great viewpoint right above the falls, but I quite like the view from afar even more.

If you keep walking beyond the main waterfall, there are a few smaller cascades slightly further up the creek.

Return the way you came

You can also look back to the viewpoint (below left) to see how this waterfall has carved out a canyon. The image (below right) is from the viewpoint looking back towards Red Rock Canyon. Once you’ve had a good look at Blakiston Falls, return the way you came.

Wildlife along the Red Rock Canyon Parkway

Part of the fun of reaching Red Rock Canyon is the beautiful drive to get there; It’s just over 19km through the beautiful scenery of Waterton Lakes. We spotted deer as well as a couple of bears, even in the late afternoon. (I didn’t get a photo of the deer, so the photo below is from the hike to Bertha Lake.) Make sure to keep your eyes peeled!

More red rocks?

If you like the look of Red Rock Canyon, and want to see more red rocks, here are others:

We visited Blakiston Falls and Red Rock Canyon on a dreary, rainy afternoon, and still had fun. If you are interested in geology, you will LOVE this area. Even if you’re not interested in the rocks, the waterfall and canyon are still great for a super-easy hike. On sunny days, the rocks of the canyon will look bright red!

17 thoughts on “Red Rock Canyon & Blakiston Falls

  1. I never knew about Red Rock Canyon before reading your post. It looks like a stunning place to visit. I appreciate all the hiking tips. I’ll be saving this for a future trip!

  2. Very cool spot! I didn’t know Canada had a Red Rock Canyon. We have one in California and there’s a more popular one outside Las Vegas, plus another famous Red Rock place in Colorado. It looks really pretty.

    1. We were not there very long, just 5 days and 4 nights. We only did two really big hikes (and then loads of smaller hikes on the other days) I had at least another 3 biggies that I would have liked to explore, so a week would be better!

    1. Me too! I hardly ever know what I am looking at when we hike, but I always try to look it up afterwards as it is so cool!

  3. As a geology nerd (all my science credits were in geology in undergrad; I spent many an hour studying rocks and geology), I love the focus on the geology of Red Rock Canyon and Blakiston Falls. It was a nice refresher course! It is even better that this is a unique part of the Canadian Rockies – so it is definitely going on my list of places to hike in Canada. I noticed the impacts of the wildfire right away. Hopefully recovery continues

    1. Ooh I didn’t know you are a geology nerd too! I have always been fascinated in Geology as well (although I went a totally different route for my undergrad once I started learning Japanese!) You and Ganesh are going to LOVE this area if you visit!

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