Takakkaw Falls, British Columbia: Windy, Cold and Wonderful

Lake Louise was beautiful, and it was torture to have to work for hours without hiking or canoeing there. I contented myself with sitting in the lounge and in the Glacier Saloon on two different days–for hours, thanks very much to the serving staff who put up with me (namely Belinda in the Fairmont Lake Louise Lounge, who served me for something between six and nine hours–I lost track). Every now and then, I’d peek around the corner behind me or look up from the table to see the most unbelievable view of the lake and the mountains.

The entire Lake Louise area was crowded because of the Canada Day long weekend before school started…much like Labor Day in the states, but worse because many families take off the week before or after the long weekend for extended vacations. You couldn’t even get to Lake Louise OR Moraine Lake without a LONG wait on the road. So I decided to leave the Banff National Park (in Alberta) and drive to Golden, British Columbia, where I hoped I could avoid the crowds, get some laundry done, do a pile of work, and go back later for some hikes, at least. I thought the drive to Golden would be blah, but it was the best drive of the entire trip! I made a great discovery, almost as if I was the first person to see it: Takakkaw Falls, near Field, British Columbia. 

Once on Trans-Canada Highway 1, I could see it wouldn’t take long to get to Golden, even with a stop at the spiral tunnels, looping railroad tunnels built to level out the steep climb or breakneck downward path trains must make in these grand mountains. The lower end of the spirals was clearly visible from a surprisingly good roadside interpretive display not far from Field, BC. We didn’t see a train, but several people were hanging on the rail, determined to wait until one showed up.

Lake Louise to Golden: Spiral Railroad Tunnels

A nicely-done series of interpretive plaques like this one explain why and how the spiral railroad tunnels were built. The interesting stop-off is right along the road from Lake Louise to Goldn.

Once I saw the lower end of the tunnels, I was curious about the upper end, so I took a side road–up to Kicking Horse Pass, the sign said. I stopped at the less spectacular display on the upper end (just one huge sign and a terrible view of the tunnels from here). Then it was such a beautiful evening, I decided to follow my nose further up the road. I wasn’t disappointed; I discovered the confluence of two rivers here! The wide, thick-flowing, milky-grey Yoho River crashed into the waters of the smaller, crystal clear Columbia River, which seemed to be falling down the side of a hill to its fateful swallowing by the Yoho.

I was delighted, and decided to continue my Jeep trek up the paved mountain road. I began to see signs mentioning a falls: Takakkaw. Well, if the daylight held, I thought, maybe I’ll have another adventure. I couldn’t have imagined how wonderful it would be.

In no time at all, up a triple switchback road and into the depths of the forest, I found a gem that is altogether kept too much of a secret: a 1,260-foot (384-metre) falls, fed by the Daly Glacier. The best time to see the falls is July, when the ice is at its peak melt…but I have to say this end-of-summer viewing was spectacular enough for me. You might recognize the falls in the movie, Last of the Dogmen. The road to the falls is only open June to October due to winter avalanches. Check at the Field, BC, visitors centre to see if the road is open early or late in the season.

I parked in the large well-kept lot, noticing there was a campground there. Hmm…almost considered it, but I wanted to hightail it to Golden to get some work done, too. A clean, beautiful picnic area lines one bank of the Yoho River, and there is a paved, wheelchair-accessible path of only 1.3 km (3/4 mile) from the parking lot to the falls, over a beautiful river footbridge and then along the river, among lush pine, cedar, and native flowers (I assume) ending their season. I noticed the ground, as I neared the falls on the path, was carpeted with moss and tiny green plants, no doubt nurtured by the mist and damp air created by the falls.

Takakkaw Falls, near Field, British Columbia

This spectacular view of the Yoho River and Takakkaw Falls was taken at dusk halfway across the wheelchair accessible footbridge. It’s just a 1.3 km (about 3/4 mile) hike!

Once I began to approach the falls, the wind and spray increased gradually until it was nearly a gale, and it got COLD! A few brave souls passed me up and hiked all the way to the falls where they turned into tiny colorful specks from my vantage point, but I was freezing, hadn’t brought waterproof gear, and had way too many electronics. I got some great shots of other hikers on their way to ground zero, where the water plunges hundreds of feet from the glacier over immovable boulders, and finally into the river, where the water slows to a meandering crawl.

I took video footage of the falls, what seemed like a million still iPhone photos until I ran out of iCloud space…and finally had my fill. I was a satisfied, nearly teary traveler, overwhelmed by the beauty of the mountains and dark, dramatic canyons and dusky meadows on the way down the mountain. No wonder Canadian first nations named this falls Takakkaw–“it is magnificent.” It was the best bit of serendipity I could have asked for on my way to days of humdrum work away from the beauty of Canada’s National Parks.

At the end of Kicking Horse Road: Takakkaw Falls!

These hikers still have a way to go to the plunging lower end of Takakkaw Falls, near Field, British Columbia.

Yoho River in Yoho National Park, BC, merges with the Kicking Horse River
The milky-grey Yoho (from the left) intermingles with the Kicking Horse River (from above) on Kicking Horse Pass road near Field, BC.

1 Comment

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One response to “Takakkaw Falls, British Columbia: Windy, Cold and Wonderful

  1. Fantastic! This is exactly the type of place I want to go to when I go to the US eventually 😛 I look forward to more posts

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