Wilcox Pass Trail, in Jasper National Park near the Columbia Icefield, offers spectacular mountain and glacier views.
Wilcox Pass Trail is one of the best hikes in Jasper, offering spectacular glacier views with minimal effort. Since you start from a high elevation – 2040 metres in this case – you are quickly rewarded with a panoramic view of Athabasca Glacier, Dome Glacier, and surrounding glaciated peaks. If you’re short on time, the view is pretty sweet from the Red Chairs, just 1.2 kilometres from the parking lot. If you’ve time to spare, we strongly recommend going past the pass to Wilcox Ridge for even better views!
The pass and nearby Wilcox Peak are named for Walter Wilcox, an explorer of the Canadian Rockies who discovered now-famous valleys near Lake Louise and made first ascents of Mount Temple and Niblock (among others) in the 1890s. While the glaciers are much smaller than when Wilcox roamed these parts, they are still super impressive – and Wilcox Pass is one of the best places to see them.
From the trailhead kiosk, the trail climbs quickly, gaining over 100 metres in a kilometre. Tall, old growth spruce and fir trees provide shade. After hiking across a little boardwalk, up stairs, and over tree roots, the trail levels off and the trees thin out.
As we approach the Red Chairs, the glaciers loom larger than ever. Athabasca Glacier, directly across from us, is bustling with activity. Giant Ice Explorers shuttle people to and from the ice, while further down, hikers make their way to the Toe of the Glacier. To the right, sitting on the Continental Divide, is Mount Snow Dome (3,456 metres high), home to the Dome Glacier. We sit back and enjoy the epic view until the wind kicks up. A breeze over hundreds of square kilometres of snow is bound to be cool!
Did you know Mount Snow Dome is the hydrological apex of Canada? Depending on what side rain (or snow) falls on this peak, it will later end up in the Pacific, Arctic, or Atlantic Ocean.Source: Canadian Geographic
Carrying on, we pass a gulley and expansive alpine meadows. In early July, there are still patches of snow, and the stream is running high. The sound of rushing water is punctuated by peeps of ground squirrels and pikas. Only a few hardy flowers have bloomed; more will bloom in the coming weeks.
Side trails lead down to the creek, but we recommend staying on the main trail at right to protect the fragile alpine environment. Follow the trail to a cairn with Wilcox Pass’s elevation (2,370 metres); depending on water levels, you’ll cross at least one small creek. Large flat rocks near the pass make the perfect picnic spot. It’s less windy here too, in the lee of the ridge, and you can look for fossils and watch bighorn sheep while you eat.
From the pass you have two options: 1) hike the backcountry trail all the way to Tangle Creek Falls (car shuttle recommended, it’s a long way); or 2) hike 1.4 km to a fantastic viewpoint on Wilcox Ridge. We opted for the latter and highly recommend it. The Wilcox Ridge Viewpoint takes you right up close to the glaciers. There’s a little more elevation gain over a couple small knolls, but it was totally worth it. To get there, follow the yellow trail markers.
Wilcox Pass & Wilcox Ridge at a Glance
- Distance (one way) & elevation gain*:
- 1.2 km, 100 metres elevation gain to the Red Chairs (year round, conditions permitting. Avoid this trail if the avalanche danger is high or extreme)
- 4 km, 390 metres elevation gain to Wilcox Pass (summer only)
- 5.4 km, 500 metres elevation gain to Wilcox Ridge Viewpoint (summer only)
- Nearest washrooms: Pit toilets at the trailhead
- Stroller friendly? No due to steep, rocky, and rooty terrain and stairs.
- When to go: July to October. Do not go past the red chairs in winter conditions; this is avalanche terrain! Check Parks Canada | Jasper Trail Reports for current conditions.
- Parking: Look for the Wilcox Creek sign on the East side of Highway 93 North, 126 km north of Lake Louise / 3.1 km south of the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre.
*Tip: If you’re short on time, hike to the Red Chairs. It’s the best viewpoint after Wilcox Ridge (the view from the pass is obstructed by the ridge).
Know Before You Go
This is a very popular trail and the parking lot is small, so plan to visit early or late in the day on summer weekends (and park the trailer at the campground first).
It can be quite breezy and chilly above treeline with icy wind coming off the icefields, so carry an extra layer with you.
You are in bear country. Hike in a group, and make noise often to announce your presence. We recommend carrying bear spray on every hike just in case. Learn more in our story: Bear Safety Tips for Hikers.
What to Bring
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Good hiking boots, a down hoody or fleece, toque, gloves, and windproof/waterproof shell are recommended year round. Trekking poles are useful for long hikes, steep descents, or when you’re carrying a heavy pack. You should also carry The Ten Essentials including: water, extra food, extra clothes, a first aid kit, headlamp, GPS / compass, and map of the area, sunscreen (this mineral sunscreen is fragrance free, paraben free, and reef-friendly), bug spray (this Deet-free one contains 20% icaridin and will repel ticks), and bear spray. Carry bear spray in a Bear Spray Holster or Scat Griz Bear Spray Running Belt.
A Garmin inReach Mini 2 satellite communicator is highly recommended for contacting Search & Rescue and emergency contacts in the event of an emergency, or communicating with friends and family when you are out of cell phone range. You can send text messages and your GPS coordinates via satellite, but a monthly service plan is required!
The Wilcox Pass trailhead is located 126 km north of Lake Louise / 3.1 km south of the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre on the east side of Highway 93 North (Icefields Parkway). Park in the first gravel lot on your left. Get Google Maps Directions here.
Where to Stay
Glacier View Lodge is the closest hotel, with 32 luxurious rooms in the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre. Choose from a stay only, or all-inclusive experience that includes a cocktail reception, and private tours of the Columbia Icefield Skywalk (evening) and Athabasca Glacier (morning). Read about our experience here: Treat yourself to a luxurious stay at Glacier View Lodge.
The nearest campground is Wilcox Pass Campground. If that one is full, try Icefield (tent only) Campground, or Icefields Centre RV Campground a few kilometres north. All three campgrounds are first come, first served. Visit Parks Canada for more information.