The most beautiful waterfalls that you’ll likely never see
In Jasper National Park there are a lot of great waterfalls. Some are accessible by car and others require a short or long hike. Today’s blog is about one set of falls that is truly spectacular but very difficult to reach and I’m talking about Snake Indian Falls. It wasn’t always this way. Many years ago, in my late teens and early 20’s, I was able to drive across the steel and wood bridge and park about 5km closer than is now possible. At some point in the 1980s Parks Canada closed that bridge to automobiles. It’s still open to hikers and mountain bikes and perhaps for emergency use or Canada Parks maintenance. Five km may not sound like a lot but it’s the most difficult 5km of the trip and that makes a huge difference when added to the remaining 22km to reach the falls. Note that if you are using an older guidebook it may still assume that the road to the junction is still open and therefore provide incorrect distances. Also the route is sometimes referred to as the North Boundary Trail as this is considered the first two days of a 174km hike that passes through Jasper and then Berg Lake up on Mount Robson in BC. It is the longest hike in the Canadian Rockies.
Directions: From the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park, drive about 9km east on highway 16 to the Snaring Campground turnoff. The campground is quite nice and is about 5km down this road. To continue to the falls drive past the campground and across the bridge. The road starts to get rougher here and you must look for a sign that indicates the times that the single lane road changes direction (these times are reproduced below). It’s not a bad idea to check the sign the day before in order to plan your trip and make sure that you are not on the road when it switches direction as there are very few opportunities to pass another vehicle or turn around. Plan for about an hour drive, more or less depending on how fast you are prepared to drive on a very rough road. There is a historic site along the way. You can park just before the bridge and from here it’s just for hikers and bikers. Bring lots of water because a lot of the trail is exposed to the southern sun so it can get hot. After the bridge the trail rises steeply until it reaches the general location of the original parking lot. I suggest walking your bike up parts of this hill to warm-up. Once you arrive at the split in the road there is an old backcountry campground to your right (approximately 2 km or so) and the Snake Indian Falls trail is to your left. The trail is mostly a gentle rolling and wide path although it’s primarily uphill for the first half. As to what is meant by gentle, please see my comments at the end of the blog. At one time the road was a fire road used only by Parks Canada personnel and mostly for campground and trail maintenance. The road has grown over so it will be basically a single track trail the rest of the way. There are few if any views, especially during the first half of the trip.
Shalebanks campground is around 17km from the parking area. It makes a nice place to camp if you are hiking in. There is another campground very close to the falls but it is somewhat more primitive than Shalebanks, especially when it comes to the quality of the privy. From here you have more rolling hills that quickly lose altitude until you reach Seldom Inn Campground which is about 1km from the falls. At this point you have made it. The falls are loud and spectacular as well as being among the most photogenic waterfalls in the Canadian Rockies. There’s an outcropping of rock right at the precipice of the falls. It makes a great place for lunch or photos.
Here are the times that the road direction changes from a bit past the Snaring Campground to the final parking area. North is toward Celestine Lake and South is back toward Snaring. It is a narrow single lane rough road so don’t expect that you can ignore these times and just pull over to let someone pass you. At one point the road passes around a shear cliff so that those on the cliff side can look out their window and see nothing below them. I’ve never had to negotiate that part of the road in the rain or in any other slick conditions and I hope I never do. When it is dry and sunny though it adds some real excitement to the drive to the bridge.
- 8:00am to 9:00am north
- 9:30am to 10:30am south
- 11:00am to 12:00 noon north
- 12:30pm to 1:30pm south
- 2:00pm to 3:00pm north
- 3:30pm to 4:30pm south
- 5:00pm to 6:00pm north
- 6:30pm to 7:30pm south
So why the title that says you will probably never see these falls? Well, consider the scenario of hiking this trip. You will likely spend your first night at Shalebanks campground which will make a long day of carrying your backpack and gear in. Your second night will be at the falls and the rustic Seldom Inn Campground where the privy is a horizontal log in the bush; this is not glamping. Night three is back at Shalebanks and on day four you are back at your vehicle. That’s a long time for an otherwise pretty boring hike except for destination goal of the falls. How about biking it like I did? That works but consider this. When I did this trip as a very young man it seemed pretty easy but it was shorter as I could drive up that last steep hill and park where it was a 22km ride to the falls. The next time I biked it I was closer to 60 than 50 and in reasonably good shape for my age but it took all I had to reach the falls and back. If it was a cooler day or if I brought more water it might have been a bit better but it was tough with lots of walking the bike up hills. Having said that, since the last two thirds is basically downhill ending with a very steep and fast 5km ride to the bridge it was exhilarating on the return. You have to decide if you are willing and able to do this trip by bike. The rewards are there for those who do go and you will be one of the small group of people who have seen these falls in person. Now if you want to view a short YouTube video from the trip just click here.