Hike the Wilcox Pass Trail to the Athabasca Glacier Viewpoint

The Wilcox Pass Hike within Jasper National Park offers stunning landscapes and breathtaking views of the Athabasca Glacier from a unique vantage point. The Wilcox Pass Trail is one of my favourite hikes near the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre on the Icefields Parkway.

What to Expect on the Wilcox Pass Trail

  • Timing: Plan to start the hike early in the day to avoid crowds and to allow plenty of time to complete the trek at a leisurely pace.
  • Trail Length: The Wilcox Pass Hike is approximately 9 kilometres (5.6 miles) round trip, with a moderate elevation gain. Expect to spend around 3-4 hours on the trail, depending on your pace and time at the viewpoint.
  • Weather Variability: Be prepared for changing weather conditions, including sudden temperature drops and potential afternoon thunderstorms. Dress in layers and bring waterproof gear.
  • Altitude Considerations: Consider the trail’s higher elevation and allow yourself time to acclimatize if needed, especially if arriving from lower elevations.
worn path of dirt lined with rocks in a alpine meadow with mountains in the distance on the Wilcox Pass Trail

Wilcox Pass Trail Highlights

  • Scenic Beauty: From lush forests to vast alpine meadows, the Wilcox Pass Hike offers unparalleled natural beauty at every turn.
  • Wildlife Encounters: Keep your camera ready for potential sightings of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and even elusive grizzly bears.
  • Athabasca Glacier: The highlight of the hike is the viewpoint overlooking the Athabasca Glacier, which provides a rare opportunity to witness the sheer vastness of a glacier up close.
Length

9 km return

Level

Moderate

Where

Columbia Icefield

Gain

420 m

Time

4 hours

Children

no

pass

Required*

Dogs

on a leash

*A daily admission pass from Jasper National Park is required to enjoy this hiking trail in the park.

Getting to the Trailhead

The Wilcox Pass Trailhead is located along the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) in Jasper National Park. 

The town of Jasper is approximately 100 km north on the Icefields Parkway. 

From Banff, it is a 2-hour drive South on the Icefields Parkway.

Look for the well-marked trailhead parking lot between the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre and the Wilcox Creek Campground.

Trail Description

Beginning of the Trail

The hike commences with a constant ascent through a subalpine forest, offering glimpses of the surrounding mountain peaks. The trail is well-marked, and the dirt-packed path is covered in tree roots and bordered by tall white spruce and balsam fir.

The first part of the Wilcox Pass trail on a dirt-packed path covered in tree roots and bordered by tall white spruce and balsam fir.

As you quickly gain altitude, you might easily feel out of breath. The Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre and its surroundings are the highest elevation point in Jasper National Park. 

You will encounter a footbridge and wooden stairs to help you on your way. As you come out of the trees, the views open up and let you admire the surrounding mountains, including Athabasca Glacier and Dome Glacier, in the distance. 

view of the Valley and the snowy mountains in the distance with Athabasca Glacier on the right and Dome Glacier on the left

This first part of the hike is the hardest, as you gain over 150 meters in altitude under 2 kilometres. At the 1.6-kilometre mark, you will come to the famous Parks Canada red chairs. Take a well-deserved break and admire the stunning scenery from the red chairs.

The famous Parks Canada red chairs overlooking the valley and the Athasca and Dome Glaciers on the Wilcox Pass Hike

From here on, while still gaining a bit of altitude, the trail levels mostly wander on the ridge with minimal gain. The trees are much smaller and sparse, making it ideal for admiring the surrounding mountains and glaciers. 

Alpine Meadow

Transitioning into an alpine meadow, the trail opens to expansive views of the rugged terrain and towering peaks.

alpine meadow with the snowy mountains in the distance

Watch for wildlife, such as bighorn sheep and mountain goats grazing in the meadows. Bighorn sheep are known to wander the meadow along the Wilcox Pass.

Bring your binoculars to spot wildlife better along the hike in the meadow. I was lucky enough to encounter a herd of bighorn sheep on my hike, but they were far away, and I regretted not having my binoculars to watch them. 

The trail is still apparent on the ground in the meadow. It turns from packed dirt to rocks. The views of the surrounding mountains are stunning. Mount Wilcox stands high above in front of you as you head towards it. Nigel Peak stands to your right. 

hiker on a rocky trail in an alpine meadow with the mountains in the backdrop

After 3.5 kilometres, you will come to an intersection. The Wilcox Pass Trail continues straight, heading to Tangle Ridge and Tangle Creek Falls. You want to turn left on the Wilcox Ridge Trail toward the Athabasca Glacier Viewpoint. There is a sign indicating the way. You can not miss it. 

This trail continues for approximately 1.4 kilometres to the much-anticipated lookout. Inukshuk and yellow markers mark the way. Keep an eye out for them. 

Athabasca Glacier Viewpoint

The hike’s climax is reached at the Wilcox Viewpoint, where you are rewarded with an awe-inspiring panorama of the Athabasca Glacier cascading down from the Columbia Icefield. 

The Athabasca Glacier

You will notice the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre and its parking lot below. A little further up is Sunwapta Lake, fed by the melting glacier and the immense Athabasca Glacier. You can also glimpse other glaciers from Mount Snow Dome and Mount Andromeda. 

Hiker at the Athabasca Glacier Viewpoint looking out the the snowy mountains on either side of the glacier

Safety Tips for the Wilcox Pass Hike

  • Trail Conditions: Check trail conditions and weather forecasts before hiking. Conditions can change rapidly, especially in alpine environments.
  • Dress in layers: Although you will be warm as you hike up and gain altitude, the temperature changes once you are above the treeline. You can expect wind and colder air as you get closer to the viewpoint. Ensure you are dressed appropriately for the hike.
  • Wildlife Awareness: Practice wildlife safety by making noise while hiking, carrying bear spray, and being alert for signs of wildlife activity.
  • Hydration and Nutrition: Bring an ample supply of water and snacks to stay hydrated and energized throughout the hike.
  • Leave No Trace: Respect the environment by packing out all trash and minimizing your impact on the fragile ecosystem.

You might also like: Essential Hiking Gear

FAQ About the Wilcox Pass Trail

How long is the Wilcox Pass Hike?

The Wilcox Pass Hike to the Athabasca Glacier Viewpoint is 9 kilometres return.

How challenging is the Wilcox Pass Hike?

The Wilcox Pass hike is considered moderately challenging.

Is the Wilcox Pass Trail dog-friendly?

Dogs are welcome on the Wilcox Pass Trail; they must be on a leash.

How long does it take to hike to the Wilcox Pass Viewpoint?

The hike to the Athabasca Glacier Viewpoint and back takes approximately 4 hours. 

Final Words

The Wilcox Pass Hike to the Athabasca Glacier Viewpoint offers an unforgettable outdoor adventure, showcasing the natural wonders of Jasper National Park. From lush forests to alpine meadows and the majestic Athabasca Glacier, every step of the journey is filled with awe-inspiring beauty. The Canadian Rockies will never disappoint when it comes to magical scenes and hiking adventures. 

More hiking adventures like this one in the Canadian Rockies

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