Wilcox Pass Trail – Best Canadian Rockies Day Hikes

#6 – Canadian Rockies Day Hikes: Wilcox Pass Trail

Wilcox Pass Trail
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  • Location: Jasper National Park (near the Banff border on the Icefields Parkway)
  • Trailhead: Wilcox Pass Trailhead Parking Lot
  • Type: Out-n-Back
  • Rating: Difficult
  • 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

Wilcox Pass Overlook
The view of the Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefield from the Wilcox Pass Overlook.

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

Wilcox Pass Trail
Looking down the Wilcox Pass Trail towards Mt. Athabasca.

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.

Wilcox Adirondacks
The Canadian Park’s red Adirondack chairs on the Wilcox Pass Trail.

Beyond the Adirondack

Tarn on Wilcox Pass
A tarn near the top of Wilcox Pass with a reflection of Mt. Athabasca. Click the picture to get this image for your home.

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

Wilcox Pass Trail
Jake stands on the Wilcox Pass Overlook, taking in all the beauty that this part of the Canadian Rockies has to offer…. It is a lot!

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 in 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.

Columbia Icefield
Looking across the Canadian Rockies at two of the many glaciers pouring off of the Columbia Icefield. Look how thick that ice sheet is sitting on top of the mountain known as Snow Dome.

Camping

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 11am and 1pm 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.

Canadian Rockies
Looking across the Canadian Rockies from the Wilcox pass you get a new perspective of the landscape that towers over the Icefields Parkway.

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Wilcox Peak
Wilcox Peak is an afterthought to the overlook from the mountain side. But this peak does have its own beauty, especially reflected in the small tarns that dot the surrounding landscape.

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