Thursday, February 24, 2022

Frozen Waterfalls, a Cave, and A Fun Ice Hike near Kananaskis Village

Last winter my son and I headed out to find a mysterious set of waterfalls known as either Kananaskis Falls or Wasootch Falls depending on who you asked. We followed vague instructions to find the unnamed waterfall, on an unnamed creek in Kananaskis, hiking a trail that doesn't even have a sign. Heck, there isn't even a parking lot for this one!

Our adventure was filled with route finding mistakes resulting in having to retrace our steps, and a few "sketchy" moments. Add that it was -30C and we were tromping around in the woods on a new-to-us trail trying to find a frozen waterfall I could only hope was really out there somewhere!

Frozen Kananaskis Falls are easy to find - if you know where you're going!

Fortunately for you, I now know how to find the waterfall and the hike has since been added to the popular All Trails app. It's also a short hike (2 km round trip according to All Trails.) Bring your ice cleats or micro spikes for this one, and you should have no problems finding the frozen "Kananaskis Falls."

Note this hike is not suitable for young children and I recommend it for families with school aged children or teens who are confident hikers. While it's only a short hike, the trail is rough and there are many steep sections.

Frozen waterfalls and an ice cave behind

It's pretty rare when you can crawl in behind a frozen waterfall!

Where to park for the hike to Kananaskis Falls

The hike is near Kananaskis Village so head south on Highway 40 from Calgary heading for the Village. 

When you get to the turnoff for the village, you're going to turn off the highway, and then do an immediate U-turn (when it's safe,) and you're going to park on the side of the highway almost immediately after doing your U-turn. You need to be heading north to park on the side of the road beside the trailhead.

This is where the All Trails app comes in handy because it shows where the hike starts (even if you don't follow the app while hiking.) - See the trailhead here on All Trails

You'll be following the hiking trail for Wasootch Peak (different from Wasootch Ridge.)

Be a responsible hiker:

  1. Have a backup plan in place in case there are already too many cars parked on the side of the road! Because there is no parking lot, there is only room for ~ 6 vehicles to park by the trailhead. If you see that there is already a large line of cars parked on the side of the road, please consider choosing a different hike.

    So far it has not become a problem with vehicles parking on the side of the road for this hike, but if there are suddenly 50 cars parked here every Saturday, I guarantee you that it will become a problem and vehicles could start to receive tickets.

  2. Do not do a U-turn if there is a car immediately behind you turning off for Kananaskis Village!! Drive into the Ribbon Creek or the Troll Falls parking lot and safely turn around there.

  3. There are no bathrooms at the trailhead so stop at the Casino where there are bathrooms by the Tim Hortons or visit the bathrooms at one of the other nearby trailheads (Troll Falls or Ribbon Creek for example.) You could even pull into the Barrier Lake Visitor Centre. Please do not just duck behind some trees near the trailhead.

  4. This isn't an official trail but I would still recommend your dog be on leash if you choose to bring him/her. Not only is it the smart thing to do for potential wildlife encounters, but other hikers will appreciate not having a strange dog running at them on the trail.

  5. Hike out everything you take with you! Nobody is following you on the trail to clean up after you! This includes your doggie poo bags.

From the highway you'll be following a snow covered creek bed until you reach the forest trail

Hiking up the Wasootch Peak Trail to find the frozen Kananaskis Falls 

You'll be following the trail that you'd take to climb Wasootch Peak. (See it on All Trails at this link.)

You're going to start by hiking up a snowy dry creek bed until you see a trail through the trees on the left side of the creek. Follow the trail for approximately half a kilometre until you see the sign below.

You'll eventually need to drop down into the creek, but do NOT leave the forest trail until AFTER you see the sign (even if the All Trails app tells you that you are off route.) Trust me. Watch for the sign!

The forest trail climbs fairly steeply, but it's easy enough if you have microspikes or ice cleats and good winter boots.

Last year we dropped down into the creek before reaching the sign above and then had to backtrack and retrace our steps when the route through the creek became impassible. There was open water, a small frozen waterfall we'd have to climb to get above, and there were lots of logs blocking our route.

Once you've passed the sign above, look for an easy way to descend down to the creek. We didn't have too much of a problem because we had our microspikes, but I could see a bit of bum scooting being necessary without them. It is a steep descent, but you're not dropping off a cliff. Just make your way down a slope with trees as you drop into the creek.

Once you're down at creek level, it's about another half a kilometre of hiking beside the creek (which might be open in spots) until you see the waterfall (as in the photo below.)

The hiking beside the creek is a bit tricky in spots and this is NOT a hike for preschoolers or young children. Careful footing is required and it'll take you at least an hour to reach the waterfall (even if it is only a kilometre of hiking one way.)

Hiking along the creek to reach Kananaskis Falls

A beautiful waterfall and an ice cave! 

Finally, after what could feel like forever depending on whether you're breaking trail or not, you'll come to the frozen waterfall - which won't look like much at first.

This waterfall isn't much to look at from the outside. You're here for the cave behind the waterfall that will give you the feeling of being inside an ice cave.

The coolest frozen waterfall I've hiked to

Standing behind Kananaskis Falls in the coolest ice cave!

Kids will LOVE this hike to Kananaskis Falls

You're here for the opportunity to crawl behind a frozen ice curtain of blue ice, an experience that is rare to come by.

Hopefully you'll get some time at the waterfall be yourself, but if there are other groups at the falls expect to wait for your turn to get close to the ice.

And please be respectful of other groups waiting their turn to go behind the waterfall. This isn't the place to have your lunch while others wait or to set up a fancy elaborate Instagram shoot when there's a queue forming behind you.  

Blue ice behind Kananaskis Falls

When we did this hike last winter, nobody knew about it, and it was easy to get the cave all to ourselves. This hike is becoming popular though so I recommend going mid-week if you want a quiet experience, or starting early to avoid the crowds.

Kananaskis Falls is a great half-day adventure!

Other activities to do in the area

Since this is a half-day hike, you'll want a few suggestions for other activities to do in the area unless you're only wanting a short outing.

You'll also want some backup plans in case there are already a dozen ore more cars parked along the highway beside the trailhead.

  • Hike Troll Falls and Visit the Upper Falls (where there's another waterfall you can go behind.)

  • Visit Kananaskis Village where there's a sledding hill and skating pond

  • Spend the morning skiing at Nakiska and then hike to Kananaskis Falls in the afternoon

  • Hike the Ribbon Creek Trail (where there are several fun bridges.)

1 comment:

  1. Cool, reminds me of the Robinson family in the sci-fi series “Lost In Space”. The pictures really have some resemblance. What an amazing place!