Wilcox Pass is a stunning 8 km hike in Jasper National Park. For a little effort, you’ll be rewarded with unique views of Athabasca Glacier and Snow Dome Glacier as you pass the bighorn sheep who frequent the area.
There are many beautiful hikes in the Canadian Rockies, especially along the Icefields Parkway. But because most people don’t have an infinite amount of time for exploration, they have to choose where to put more effort. Wilcox Pass Hike is one of the hikes I highly recommend to anyone taking the Icefields Parkway, even families.
My recommendation is, if you only have time for one hike on the Icefields Parkway, make it Wilcox Pass Hike in Jasper National Park or Parker Ridge in Banff National Park. They are close to each other and both offer amazing views of glaciers. Wilcox Pass is easier and longer while Parker Ridge is steep and short.
Our comprehensive travel guide to Jasper National Park will make your planning easier.
For more activities, read our post about 65 adventurous things to do in Jasper
In this blog post, you will read about the Wilcox Pass Hike, see a lot of photos to show you what you can expect, where to stay overnight to have glacier views and FAQ about the hike at the end.
More hiking ideas:
- Hiking in Jasper National Park: 17 best hikes for all levels
- 20 best hikes in Banff National Park
- Hiking in Yoho National Park
Pros & cons of the Wilcox Pass Hike
- One of the highlights of Icefields Parkway
- View of the Athabasca Glacier
- The usual spot for bighorn sheep
- Epic views from popular red chairs
- One of a kind alpine environment
- Easy trail with no cliffs or exposure
- Picturesque campground near the trailhead
- different starting and ending points if you want to hike the whole trail (but for the best views, you don’t have to
Columbia Icefield is the only place in the world from which the water flows into 3 oceans – Pacific, Atlantic, and the Arctic.
Where is Wilcox Pass Hike
Wilcox Pass is in Jasper National Park, 47 km north of Saskatchewan River Crossing or 107 km south of Jasper. When you drive from Lake Louise on the famous Icefields Parkway, the trail is located shortly after you pass the sign welcoming you to Jasper National Park. It’s clearly signed along the highway before you reach the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre.
Wilcox Pass Hike, Jasper National Park
- Distance: 8 km one-way (or 9 km roundtrip if you follow our footsteps)
- Elevation gain: 425 m
- Difficulty: easy trail with moderate uphill
- Best time to go: May to October
You can see on the map above that we hiked halfway and then turned around the same way back.
The full-length trail starts at the kiosk of the trailhead for Wilcox Pass, right by the Wilcox Creek Campground. The end of the trail is at Tangle Creek Falls, 10 km northwest from the start (on Icefields Parkway). Hiking the full length would require a shuttle – parking the other car at the finish of the hike.
The good news is, you can only hike 2.4 km return and still have stunning glacier views.
The trailhead is located at 2,030 m so you might feel out of breath very soon if you’re not used to the elevation. Drink lots of water to avoid headaches.
When Michal and I drove the Icefields Parkway at the end of May, we were pleasantly surprised to see no snow towards the Wilcox Pass. We parked by the campground, checked the route at the kiosk and off we went towards a beautiful day.
The start of the hike leads through a wide forest path. The wooden bridge traversing through the forest suggests heavy use of this trail. Yet, we haven’t met many people on this hike. A few steep sections follow so if you’re starting early in the morning, you warm up quite quickly.
We cleared the treeline pretty quickly and the breathtaking views opened up right away.
From this point, the trail is flat with constant glacier views across the Icefields Parkway. Kitchener, Snow Dome, Andromeda, and Athabasca mountain peaks line up the panorama.
I almost ran to the bighorn sheep as they were enjoying the view towards the red chairs and I was busy staring at the Athabasca Glacier. We had to go a bit off-trail and around them as they clearly weren’t letting us pass.
The trail shortly enters a wide alpine meadow surrounded by snowy peaks. I can only imagine the number of alpine wildflowers in the summer. Even though the sign towards the ridge of Mount Wilcox was very inviting, we had to pass due to the large accumulation of snow on the mountain. We continued hiking for a few more kilometres and turned around at a small unnamed tarn.
Wilcox Pass has significant importance in the Rockies’ history. In the past, Aboriginals and horseback travellers used the Wilcox Pass as an alternate route to avoid passing through the canyon of Sunwapta River. It was named after a climber Walter Wilcox who also discovered several mountain climbing routes in the Lake Louise area.
We admired not only the glacier views but all the different grasses and bushes so delicate and rare to see while hiking in the Rockies.
This alpine adventure couldn’t get any better so early in the hiking season!
Another trail to access Wilcox Pass is above the tent campground at Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre. It’s steeper but shorter.
Where to stay before or after the Wilcox Pass Hike
The Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper is a mountain road with no cell phone signal. There are a few wilderness hostels along the way, even fewer hotels but lots of campgrounds. That’s why we always suggest renting a campervan to enjoy nature to the fullest.
An amazing campground I’ve mentioned already is right at the beginning of the Wilcox Pass Hike. Wilcox Creek Campground is simple with 46 sites but offers amazing views. The campsite costs 26 CAD per night per campsite and has an outhouse, picnic shelter, drinking water, and dumping station.
Another campground, for vehicles only, is a parking lot at Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre. You are guaranteed to have glacier views. How does that sound? Read our comprehensive guide about Camping in Jasper National Park for all camping info and lots of pictures of the campgrounds.
FAQ about Wilcox Pass Hike
How long is Wilcox Pass Trail?
Wilcox Pass Trail is 8 km long one-way if you hike the whole trail from Wilcox Creek Campground to Tangle Creek Falls as it has different starting and ending points. If you don’t organize a shuttle with your friends and would like to hike back where you started, it’s a 16 km hike.
A lot of hikers choose to hike to the Wilcox Pass and then return back, which is an 8 km return. Or you can make your hike even shorter and hike only to the amazing Athabasca Glacier viewpoint with red chairs 2.4 km return.
How high is Wilcox Pass?
Wilcox Pass sits at an elevation of 2,370 meters above sea level. Given that the Wilcox Pass trailhead starts at 2,030 meters above sea level already, you might feel a slight headache if you’re visiting the Rockies and coming from a sea-level country. Just drink lots of water and enjoy the views, the headache will be gone after the hike at the latest and you will have beautiful memories to keep.
What is the best time to hike Wilcox Pass?
The best time to hike Wilcox Pass is July to September. As with many other hikes on the Icefields Parkway, due to high elevation, it gets a lot of snow. We were able to hike quite far in May but the Wilcox Pass had a lot of snow which usually stays until early July.
Can you hike to the Athabasca Glacier?
When you see the Athabasca Glacier across the valley from the viewpoint, it’s tempting to hike for a closer look. After all, Athabasca Glacier, including many others, is slowly disappearing.
The only hike to the glacier is called Toe of the Athabasca Glacier where you can get close to the edge. The 1.8 km long hike takes about an hour and the trailhead starts just across the Icefield Centre where you can park your car.
A word of caution: It’s not safe to walk on the Athabasca Glacier. There are crevasses and water flow under the thin ice and can collapse under the weight of a person. If you’d like to safely walk on the Athabasca Glacier, buy a tour where a bus can take you high up on the glacier.
What amenities are at Wilcox Pass Hike?
The only thing you can find here is an outhouse and a kiosk with a map. The trailhead is located by the Wilcox Creek Campground and there are no shops or restaurants. You can purchase water and snacks at the Icefield Centre.
There’s no cell signal so download any maps you need before travelling the Icefields Parkway. Alternatively, there’s a wi-fi inside the Icefield Centre which only works from inside of the building.
Tips for Wilcox Pass Hike
National park fees
To visit any national park in Canada, you are required to purchase a Park Pass (daily or yearly).
- 10.50 CAD per person for a daily pass, 21 CAD for a group/family
- 72.25 CAD per person for a yearly pass, 145.25 CAD for a group/family
The yearly Discovery Pass is valid for all National parks in Canada. You can purchase it at the gate when you enter the national park, in the Visitor’s Centre or online here.
For road closures due to avalanche dangers in Jasper National Park, check out the report from Parks Canada.
Accurate road conditions can be checked here.
Before you head out, check current trail conditions on Trail Report from Parks Canada.
Packing list for Wilcox Pass Hike
Our hiking essentials include:
- Paper map of the area and downloaded map of the hike on the phone
- External battery for the phone (especially for using GPS on the phone)
- Water, as there’s no stream to fill up on the hike
- Extra snacks
- Windproof & waterproof jacket (yes, in summer as well)
- Fleece or down jacket as unexpected snowstorms happen in summer
- My absolute favourite trail running shoes
- Bear Spray
And a few other items as well. For a full list of our gear, check out our hiking packing list for summer in the mountains. You can see the full list with links to purchase our favourite gear on our Amazon page.
As always in the Canadian Rockies, you are in bear habitat. You should always carry a bear spray (can be purchased at Visitor’s Centre or outdoor stores), know when and how to use it and make noise while hiking and running (so you don’ surprise any bears)! Carefully read these instructions on how to behave around them.
*In the spirit of full disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through them, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. We appreciate your support!
Our favourite hikes in the Rockies
Canmore & Kananaskis Country:
Banff National Park:
- Sulphur Mountain
- Johnston Canyon in summer and winter
- Aylmer Lookout
- Glacier Lake
- Mount St. Piran
- Healy Pass
- Boom Lake
- Rockbound Lake
- Peyto Lake
Kootenay National Park:
Yoho National Park:
Additional reading about the Canadian Rockies
Plan your trip with our suggested Jasper itinerary.
More hikes in Jasper National Park:
Plan your trip to the Rockies:
- Epic travel guide to the Canadian Rockies
- Adventure travel guide to Banff National Park
- 100 things to do in Banff National Park
- Adventure travel guide to Yoho National Park
Spread the word! PIN this to your Pinterest board.