Exploring the Mistaya Canyon Trailhead in Banff National Park

One of the most scenic hikes in Banff National Park is the Mistaya Canyon Trailhead. This roughly 4 mile out and back trail takes you to a dramatic canyon carved by the Mistaya River, with stunning views of the Canadian Rockies along the way.

The Mistaya Canyon Trailhead starts from the Icefields Parkway, about 30 minutes north of Lake Louise. The trailhead has a small parking lot where you can park your vehicle. The trail starts off by crossing the Mistaya River over a wooden bridge, with churning turquoise waters below.

The first mile of the trail winds through a lush subalpine forest with spruce and fir trees. The trail climbs gently, gaining about 200 feet in elevation. In late June and July, the forest floor is covered in a carpet of wildflowers like Indian paintbrush, asters, and arctic lupine.

As you emerge from the forest, you’ll see the walls of Mistaya Canyon come into view. The canyon was carved over thousands of years by the rushing waters of the Mistaya River. The sedimentary rock layers contain shades of browns, rusty reds, greys and tans. You can see the power of the forces that shaped this landscape.

The trail continues for another 0.6 miles to an open rocky area directly across from the canyon. This is a perfect spot to sit and enjoy lunch while gazing at the views. The canyon stretches as far as the eye can see, with jagged cliffs, hoodoos and dramatic rock formations. The aqua blue waters of the Mistaya River glisten below. You may spot mountain goats climbing the steep rocky slopes.

For a closer view of the canyon, continue walking for 10-15 minutes beyond the lunch spot. The trail descends about 200 feet down to the river flats at the base of the canyon. From here you get a sense of the immense scale of the canyon towering above. The rock layers contain fossils and ripple marks from an ancient seabed.

On the hike back, take time to appreciate the beauty of the subalpine forest, lush from the runoff of the massive canyon. The Mistaya Canyon Trailhead is the perfect introduction to the natural beauty found within Banff National Park. With stunning views and a moderate 4 mile hike, it is suitable for hikers of all abilities while still showcasing the geological wonders of the Canadian Rockies.

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