Everyone is quoted saying that Athabasca Crossing Campground is “the worst they’ve stayed at”. By everyone, I mean a select few on the internet. But I’m here to tell you why I loved staying there and why you should go too, even though the rest of the Fortress Lake trail is closed because of a bridge wash out. Here is how to hike Athabasca Crossing.
Trip Name: Athabasca Crossing – Jasper National Park
Distance: 14.8KM – OUT AND BACK
Total Time: 4 HOURS EACH WAY
Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
Enjoy an easy hike to Athabasca Crossing on the Fortress Lake Trail!
1. Drive Down the Icefields Parkway to Sunwapta Fall
2. Walk past all the tourists and over the ridge to start this hike
3. Hike an easy 6km stretch to Big Bend Campsite (6.3km) that sits right on the Athabasca River
4. Continue hiking beside the river and through forest to Athabasca Crossing Campground (8.5km)
5. Arrive at your destination!
6. Last but not least, wish the bridge had not washed away in 2014 that led to Fortress Lake… cry a little…
Getting To The Athabasca Crossing Trailhead (Fortress Lake)!
Most of the trails in Jasper start somewhere along the magnificent Icefields Parkway that runs down the Canadian Rockies between Jasper, the Columbia Icefields, Lake Louise and Banff. It is honestly one of the best drives you could ever do, but I’m getting away from myself.
One of my favourite spots to stop when doing an Icefields Parkway trip is at Sunwapta Falls. It is a beautiful spot to have a picnic or just relax. The water rushes over the falls at an alarming rate early in the season, and it’s definitely not somewhere you would want to fall.
In peak season (July and August) Sunwapta Falls will be swarming with tourists. Literally Swarming. The nice thing is the second you get past the falls you will have pretty clear trails.
Hiking to Big Bend Campground
The first 6 kilometers towards Big Bend campground is little rolling hills of ups and downs. It is fairly easy especially since you are mainly going downwards. Big Bend campground is rated as one of the best backcountry campgrounds in Jasper National Park (or so I’ve heard) and lays right on the Athabasca River.
This is a great place to stop for a snack or a relax before continuing on to Athabasca Crossing. It is also a great place to turn around if you want to do this trail as a day hike, or if you have kids that you want to take backcountry camping.
Finally Getting To Athabasca Crossing Campground
After Big Bend Campground the trail heads back into the trees, every so often peaking out to see a glimpse of the mountain peaks surrounding the river and valley that you are hiking through.
The trail is in really good condition, and only the length would be challenging to some. At 14.8 km each way (29.6 km return), there is still some stamina needed to finish the trail. It only takes a few hours to get all the way to Athabasca crossing though from Sunwapta falls, especially if you are just moseying along.
There is a short portion which diverges off the trail and you can go out and see the views of the river and the mountains around.
Camping At Athabasca Crossing
Once you finally get to Athabasca Crossing, it is time to settle in. You can usually have a fire while you are there, but when we went there was a total fire ban. The campsite is in really good condition, with nice flat tent pads and a nice trail to the “outhouse”. The tables are in better condition than some I’ve seen at other backcountry campsites. There are technically four tent pads and there are also four bear hangers for food and toiletries.
OBEY FIRE BANS no matter what! You never know what a single spark can do!
The Amazing Views Surrounding Athabasca Crossing
The best thing about Athabasca Crossing is the amazing 360 degree views that surround the campground. Right from the eating area you can see a brilliant crystal clear lake. Then just a short walk down a side trail you get to the amazing Athabasca Crossing which just shows you the power of the water.
It was cold and rainy the day we went, but we still loved every minute of it.
Don’t try to cross the water, it is deep and fast moving!
Why Do The Athabasca Crossing Trail
This trail is an easy trek. It also gives you great views of the area and the water surrounding it! This is one great backpacking trip in Canada.