There are so many incredible things to see in Banff National Park that it can be hard to pick which spots to see if you have limited time. If you find yourself driving down the iconic Icefields Parkway, we definitely recommend making a stop at Mistaya Canyon. This hike is short, easily accessed from the parkway, and it offers stunning mountain and waterfall views with unique canyon features. Let’s get into the details!
Getting to the Mistaya Canyon Trailhead
The Mistaya Canyon Trailhead lies about 70 kilometers (43 miles) down Icefields Parkway from the fee station on the Banff side of the parkway. It takes about 50 minutes to reach the trailhead from the fee station. You can also reach it by coming down Icefields Parkway from Jasper. From this direction it is about 150 kilometers (93 miles).
The trailhead is easily visible from the road – it will be on the left if coming from the direction of Banff. We still recommend downloading maps for the area and bookmarking the trailhead and your other stops since the service is spotty along the parkway.
The parking area is fairly large and paved; however, this is a very popular stop, so the spots frequently fill up. It is best to arrive early during peak times of the year.
A parks pass is required to visit Mistaya Canyon. You can buy your pass at the toll window as you begin down Icefields Parkway or you can purchase your pass online beforehand. It is $10.50 Canadian dollars per day for an individual or CAD$21 for a group of two to seven people. These passes expire at 4 p.m. the day after you select to visit the park for. We purchased a pass online for convenience, printed it, and presented it to the ranger as we passed through the toll booth.
If you plan to visit multiple parks in the area or visit one over an extended period, it’s worth looking into the Discovery Pass. This pass is good for a year from purchase and costs CAD$70 per adult or CAD$140 for a group pass.
The Trail to Mistaya Canyon
Hike Type: Easy out-and-back trail
Distance: 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) roundtrip – Plus 0.8 kilometers or 0.5 miles if you add the little loop above the falls
Elevation Gain: 60 meters (197 feet) – Plus about 19 meters or 62 feet if you add the little loop
Duration: 30 mins – 1 hour
Regulations: Pets are permitted but must be leashed. Drones are not permitted. Do not feed wildlife.
After taking in the beautiful views at Waterfowl Lakes, we were excited to continue our journey down Icefields Parkway. Despite arriving at Mistaya Canyon mid-morning on a week day in September, the parking lot was fairly busy. Happy to find a spot, we parked, and began making our way down the trail.
The path to Mistaya Canyon was a steady downhill, leading through the trees until we reached a bridge over the canyon. Blue waters flow from Peyto Lake to this spot and have carved deep grooves in the limestone over time. The winding, smooth canyon walls, grooves, and little arches make this a truly unique and beautiful spot. Not to mention the mountains in the background adding to the dramatic scenery.
From the bridge, visitors can take in the view from the rock outcroppings to the right of the canyon. Be careful around the edge, especially if the rocks are icy or wet. After enjoying the canyon view, you can either hike the small loop that begins across the bridge or head back up the trail the way you came.
What to Bring to Mistaya Canyon
Parks Pass/Payment Method: Bring along your parks pass or cash or card to pay for one.
Water: Recommended for any hike
Layers: Even summers in the Canadian Rockies can be chilly, so extra layers are a good idea. Also bring a rain jacket. In cooler months, heavier jackets, beanies, and gloves may be needed.
Comfortable Shoes: The trail pretty well-maintained and is dirt with some rocks and roots that simple trainers should be able to handle. It is best to have some solid tread if you want to walk the rocks near the falls.
Bear Spray: There are grizzlies in Banff National Park, so bring the bear spray and understand how to use it.
Extra Gear: After recent snows you may need heavier boots and crampons or Yaktrax to handle ice on the steeper sections of trail
Camera: This is a popular spot among photographers