Location: Jasper National Park (near the Banff border on the Icefields Parkway)
Trailhead: Wilcox Pass Trailhead Parking Lot
Total Distance: 6.2 miles
Trailhead Elevation: 6,744′
Total Elevation Gain: 1,390′
Recommended Time: 3 – 4 hours
Recommended Season: Late-June to Mid-September
Beauty of the Wilcox Pass Trial
The Wilcox Pass Trail has an odd distinction of being a somewhat nondescript steep ascent while also having so much beauty that words do it no justice. The birdseye views of the Ice Fields Parkway and the snow-covered peaks that rise out of the valley are nearly overwhelming. The trail is steep and it literally takes your breath away but that is okay because you will want to stop often to take in the overwhelmingly beautiful scene. The pinnacle of this journey is the cliffside overlook of the Athabasca Glacier and many other glacier-covered mountain peaks, but the entire lung-burning adventure is full of wonder and ever-increasing beauty.
Wilcox Pass Trail Guide
The Wilcox Pass Trail starts at a small, mundane parking lot. This humble beginning shrouds the wonders that lie beyond. The trail ascends quickly through the woods, passes through the treeline, and onto a ridge. The ridgeline has flowers and shrubs growing all over it in the summer months and the views of the valley floor and the mountains get better with every footstep. Eventually, the path arrives at one cliffside view where two of the famous red Adirondack chairs have been bolted to the terrain. This is a great breather and for many the destination they set out to see. But better views lie further up the Wilcox Pass Trail.
Beyond the Adirondack
Leaving the Adirondack chairs the path steepens once again and turns into the mountains as it ascends along a small cascading creek gorge. The path eventually becomes a moderate hike through an alpine meadow as it approaches Wilcox Peak. At just over 2 miles on the trail, hikers reach a rather confusing junction that isn’t well signed. The path to the overlook is the narrow one to the left. It climbs up and down two small ridges before arriving at the end of the trail and the final cliffside overlook. Along the way, there is one especially beautiful little tarn with reflections of Mt. Athabasca.
Wilcox Pass Overlook
At the Wilcox Pass Overlook, hikers are rewarded with a panoramic view that is nearly eye-level with the massive Columbia Icefield located on the mountain ridges to the south. This is one of the best vantage points of the largest icefield in North America. I can only imagine a better view being obtained from a helicopter ride or by ice climbing. The entire 3-mile hike on the Wilcox Pass Trail is an amazing journey, but the views at the trail’s terminus are jaw-dropping and well worth the effort to get to this remote cliffside.
When to Go
We recommend hiking this trail from late June to mid-July. Snow will still cover the mountain peaks adding to the beauty of the glaciers that are there throughout the summer. Snow will also still cover the trail in some places, so micro-spikes, a good map (maps.me is a good tool), and a sense of direction are needed. Later in the summer is good as well and hikers will have a better chance of spotting bighorn sheep on the trail as the summer heats up and these animals move higher. No matter when you decide to go, get an early start. This is a popular trail, and the extremely small parking area fills up fast.
This part of the Icefields Parkway is remote. The Wilcox Campground is a great secluded area to camp. It is first-come, first-served, and will fill up fast, especially on the weekends. You should plan to arrive between 11 am and 1 pm to snag a spot. This makes a great base camp for hiking the Wilcox Pass Trail. The campground is laid out well for small to medium-sized RVs and tent campers. There is also the tent-only Columbia Icefield Campground just down the road to the west.
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