Added by Erik Peterson
You probably want to spend the night on this one, it's about 8 hours of snowshoeing roundtrip. It's a gentle slope hike with amazing views of the falls and surrounding mountains.
The Big Bend Trail is the first part of the greater Fortress Lake trail system. Situated in Jasper National Park, Canada, this hike is extremely quiet during the winter, so if you're looking for seclusion, this winter trail is for you. The trail is transformed into a wonderland during the winter months with heaps of snow, making the hike somewhat strenuous and challenging even in snowshoes.
The hike starts 55 km south of the Jasper town site on the Icefields Parkway (the drive itself is definitely something to see). Pull to the right at Sunwapta Falls Resort. The road to the trailhead and parking lot are not cleared during winter so you will have to walk about 1 km down the road.
Once at the trailhead you will immediately cross a bridge suspended over the semi-frozen Sunwapta Falls.
After admiring the falls, you will begin the bulk of the hike – a very gradual downward sloping walk through lodgepole pine and white spruce. The trail is well maintained and wide enough for two people to walk side by side.
You will cross four short wooden bridges over a small creek, during the hike. Be careful during these crossings – the snow hanging off the sides of the bridge make it look wider then it actually is, and there is no railing to grab if you fall.
At 8km from the trailhead you will reach an opening in the forest and a T-intersection. 200m to the right is the Big Bend Campground. To the left is the rest of the 25 km Fortress Lake trail.
This intersection will provide you with your first good view of the Athabasca River, guarded on all sides by sharp peaked mountains. The panoramic view is slightly better at the Big Bend Campground; however, as the campground is situated on a small peninsula jutting out next to the river, on the right, and an oxbow type pond, on the left.
The view is amplified by the setting sun, try to arrive at Big Bend around 6pm, as this is when the sun starts to creep behind the mountains on most winter days. This view is definitely the highlight of the trip, and well worth the potentially exhausting hike out.
The campground is pretty basic, as with most backcountry campgrounds. There are a few cleared areas in which to set up tents, and two fire pits that you may have trouble finding as they will be covered in two feet of snow. There is also a bear pole for food and an unreliable green toilet – the lid is usually frozen shut.
This trip is best done in 2 days, as snowshoeing to Big Bend and back in one day would be extremely tiring and not worth the effort.
You can spot a variety of wildlife along the trail, including ravens and owls, and the tracks of moose, elk, and deer.
Remember to obtain a backcountry permit from the information building in Jasper, before you leave ($11). Snowshoes can be rented from an outdoor store called Totem nearby for $10 a day. Also remember to check the weather before leaving, as this area can reach -30 C in the winter.
- Winter rated sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Hiking poles
- Winter layers
- Water and snacks
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