Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park

Jasper, Alberta

By Kay Barbaro
Staff Writer

Of all the not-to-miss sights in Jasper National Park and the Canadian Rockies (and let’s admit it, there’s a lot of them) one of the best for seeing the power of nature in the park are the Athabasca Falls.

The Athabasca River at sunrise.

The Athabasca River at sunrise.

The 23-metre Athabasca Falls is not very high by Canadian Rockies standards, but the volume of the river is what makes it one of the most powerful in the Rockies. At the falls, the water passes over a layer of hard quartzite.

Over the years, the water has cut into the softer limestone beneath, carving intricate features, including potholes and a short canyon.

The Athabasca River is the largest river system in Jasper, with the enormous Columbia Icefields as its source. In 1810, David Thompson, Canada’s premier map-maker and explorer, plied the Athabasca in search of a viable fur trade route to the Pacific Ocean. Discovering Athabasca Pass in early January 1811, David Thompson’s route helped establish Canada as a country that spans the North American continent.

In 1862, the Overlanders traveled along the Athabasca River headed for the Cariboo Goldrush, followed 30 years later by two national railways. Today one railway and a transcontinental highway follow parts of the river through the park. Recognized for its historical, natural and recreational values, the Athabasca was designated a Canadian heritage river in 1989.

Caution – Mist from the falls covers surrounding rocks with a thin, slippery film of water. For your own safety, do not cross the railings.

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