The Cascade Falls, cascading roughly 300m down Cascade Mountain, are hard to miss when driving west along Highway 1. Standing north across the quirky and enchanting town of Banff, Cascade Mountain is said to have been named by James Hector in 1858 due to the cascading of water for nearly a thousand feet down the mountainside. It has been described as a “tall shoestring waterfall” as it cascades down in a very narrow fashion. The mountain has also been called “Stony Chief” in relation to its smaller neighbor Stoney Squaw Mountain. To the natives though, the mountain was named “Minihapa” whose meaning is translated as “Mountain where the water falls”.
Although Cascade Mountain received its official name in 1858, there were a few individuals who did travel through the area prior to James Hector's expedition. In 1841, Sir George Simpson passed by Cascade Mountain and noted the following: “a stream of water which, though of very considerable volume, looked like a thread of silver on the gray rock.” Then in 1845, another notation was made about the Cascade Falls by Father Pierre-Jean De Smet who was visiting the area. He noted “a beautiful crystalline fountain issues from the centre of a perpendicular rock about five hundred feet high, and then pours its water over the plain in foam and mist.” Finally in 1858 when James Hector's expedition came through, he noted that his party reached, “A beautiful little prairie at the base of the 'Mountain Where the Water Falls,' or the 'Cascade Mountain'.” That is where his party set up camp and where they spotted the cascading falls. What is now known as Whiskey Creek Meadows is what James Hector described as the 'beautiful little prairie” in his writings. James Hector was only 23 years old when he came through the Banff area on his 2 year expedition exploring the Rocky Mountains. he did end up ascending Cascade Mountain to an alpine tarn high on the mountain, sketching and taking in the wildlife. Although a recent medical school graduate, James Hector had an uncanny sense of adventure and passion for geology and made a lasting impression in the Rocky Mountains during his 2 year expedition.
Cascade Mountain can be climbed starting from the Norquay Ski Area Base. The hike up to the Cascade Amphitheatre is relatively moderate. From there, the trail gets a bit tricky and the trail isn't usually accessible until mid-July because of the huge amount of snow. Many climbers have needed to be rescued off the trail and others have died so one should only go when a full clear day is anticipated. The views from the summit are said to be stunning.
The Cascade Falls waterfall is fed partly by a Karst stream from the mountainside above, which essentially is water that is seeping into underground channels and feeding the stream down Cascade Mountain. The hike is short but rather steep as you climb up quickly to the base of the waterfall. There are several paths that you can take which bring you up higher and closer to sections of the waterfall where you can touch the water as it flows down. Although it is not wide and very thundering, it is still powerful and the length of it is what makes it spectacular. It is no wonder that many who had come through the area always take note of the waterfall. it is also neat how Banff Avenue in Banff town site lines up perfectly with Cascade Mountain, making it one of the most photographed mountains in the area.
Cascade Falls Trip Log
The trail itself is pretty straight forward. From the parking lot, follow the wide gravel road of a trail that leads up to the base of Cascade Mountain.
As you approach the mountain, you get a good view of Cascade Falls. There is a cautionary sign just before the start of the forest warning of avalanche danger. Once in the trees, the trail wastes no time and starts going up and a reasonably steep angle.
Once the trees start to thin out, you start seeing a substantial amount of dead fall from previous avalanches. The trail thins out into a single track trail. Once the ground turns rocky, there are numerous paths to take; the popular ones are clearly defined.
When you reach the base of the waterfall you get a great view of the valley and Mount Rundle. One of the most stunning contrasts is how remarkably straight the forest is and the massive cliffs of Mount Rundle are thrust from the earth. Looking down the way you came, there is a very evident U shaped area where the avalanches have absolutely pummeled the trees into the ground.
Return the same way.
What were your experiences hiking Cascade Falls?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.