The hike through Paradise Valley to the Giant Steps Waterfall is one I've wanted to do for quite some time and just recently I finally had the opportunity. The trailhead is located 2.5km up the Moraine Lake Road in Banff National Park, just outside the town of Lake Louise. The hike is considered difficult by Parks Canada as it's approximately 20km round-trip and gains almost 400m in elevation. Despite the length the trek is more than worth the effort. Paradise Valley didn't come across its name by accident and the Giant Steps Waterfall is quite spectacular if not unique.
|Crossing Paradise Creek|
Walter Wilcox and his fellow alpinists were some of the first Europeans to set eyes on Paradise Valley from a high pass back in 1894. He had this to say about first viewing the scenery before him,
"This beautiful scene opened up before us so suddenly that for a time the cliffs echoed to our exclamations of pleasure...The beautiful place which had been discovered in such a delightful way we called Paradise Valley."
The trail starts out gradually climbing its way through dense forest (similar to sections of the Boom Lake Trail) before eventually opening up closer to Paradise Creek. From here you're rewarded with outstanding views of Mount Temple, Sheol Mountain, and Saddle Mountain. You'll cross Paradise Creek a couple of times before re-entering the forest and beginning your ascent towards Lake Annette.
|Another bridge crossing over Paradise Creek|
|Thankfully this was the closest we got to seeing a bear all day!|
Lake Annette sits below Mount Temple's towering north wall in a picturesque location. Many hikers opt to end their day on Annette's calming shoreline, but our final destination was the Giant Steps, so after a short break and some photos we were back on the trail, climbing steadily through stands of Alpine Larch.
After a solid climb the trail opens up and we're rewarded with breathtaking views of Paradise Valley from a scree slope on Mount Temple. Even though much of the view was shrouded in low-hanging clouds, we could still see enough to know how Wilcox and his team must have felt. Luckily for us the clouds were moving fast and we were given glimpses of the surrounding peaks at different intervals throughout the day.
|On the trail|
|Here the trail crosses a rocky slope offering great views of Paradise Valley|
|Christine, Rome, and I on the trail|
|As the trail re-entered the forest we flushed out this White-Tailed Ptarmigan and several of her chicks|
|After a few quick photos we left mama to recollect her brood!|
After the scree slope the grade evened and we continued at a leisurely pace; hopping across creeks and dodging the muddiest sections of the trail. With all the rain southern Alberta had received over the past week it's a wonder the trail wasn't completely impassable! At that point we heard low rumbling in the distance and assumed that it was an approaching thunderstorm. We soon realized that it wasn't thunder at all, but small avalanches tumbling down from Mount Lefroy and The Mitre. From the sound reverberating off the granite walls one would assume that these were large avalanches crashing down, but as we watched small amounts break away from the larger snowpack I was amazed just how loud it was. A short time later we arrive at the trail junction, indicating we must now descend the final 1.5km to the Giant Steps. We were close, which was great because we were all really hungry!
|Mount Aberdeen peeking through the clouds|
|Small avalanches rumbling down Mount Lefroy|
|Descending to the Giant Steps|
|The boardwalk leading to the Giant Steps|
|The Giant Steps area with Pinnacle Mountain in the background|
|Looking down the Giant Steps Waterfall|
|Massive boulders nearby|
|Ryan standing at the top of the falls|
|Another section of the falls|
|Christine at the top|
|Giant Steps Waterfall|
|Back on the trail in the rain|
|A couple of quills but no worse for wear!|
|An eerie view of the Sentinels on Sentinel Pass|
|Climbing back up to the Paradise Valley Trail from the Giant Steps|
|Crossing the scree slope below Mount Temple|
|The sun was shining as we passed below Saddle Mountain|
I would definitely recommend this hike to anybody looking for a long day-trip with rewarding views. Be prepared for inclement weather and the potential for bears. Read the Trail Report and review the Closure/Restrictions to ensure you're abiding by the rules for the area. As mentioned the rewards outweigh the effort required for this trip and I would love to head back into Paradise Valley at some point, maybe without all the rain!