The hiking trail over Wilcox Pass was used frequently before the Icefields Parkway opened in 1940. It is best in late June through to mid-August, although snow can remain in Wilcox Pass until late July. Wilcox Pass is in Jasper National Park, Alberta and accessed just off the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93).
[1- Indian Paintbrush near the Icefields Parkway - click to enlarge]
The trailhead begins at the Wilcox Creek Campground with the distance to Wilcox pass is 4.0 km (2.5mi) one way. To take the full hike one-way from the Wilcox Creek Campground to Tangle Falls is 11.2km (7.0mi).
Half day to day trip
Allow 1.5 to 2 hours to Wilcox Pass
Elevation gain: 335m (1,100ft)
Maximum elevation: 2375m (7800ft)
To reach the trailhead take the Icefields Parkway Hwy 93 to the Wilcox Creek Campground on the east side of the highway 2.8km (1.7mi) south of the Icefields Centre or 1.9km (1.2mi) north of the Banff-Jasper boundary at Sunwapta Pass.
This hike is considered one of the best day hikes in Jasper National Park.
[2- Golden Mantle Ground squirrel aka Chipmunks - click to enlarge]
These little guys seem to populate the wood piles near campgrounds wherever one travels in the mountains.
The Wilcox Campground road is at an elevation of 2040m with a steep climb through alpine forest.
At approximately the 1.7km mark the trail emerges above the treeline gaining 120m in less than a kilometre.
In another 2.5km there is a steep climb to flat alpine meadows and the viewpoint for the Athabasca Glacier.
[3- Viewpoint of Columbia Icefield, Mt. Athabasca to left with Mt. Andromeda behind, the Athabasca Glacier in the middle and Mt. Kitchener and the Snow Dome on the right - from the Wilcox Pass Trail - click to enlarge]
Only a small portion of the Columbia Icefield is visible from the Icefield Parkway. The Athabasca Glacier is the most accessible and visible of the glaciers which flow from the Icefield, but there are numerous others. Over three hundred square kilometres in area, the depth of the icefield varies from 100 to 365 metres. The average annual snowfall on the upper reaches is seven metres.
From the viewpoint the trail moderates, opening out onto a ridge overlooking the Icefields Parkway and the Athabasca Glacier. The hiker can feast his/her eyes upon the massive ice-covered Mount Athabasca (3491m) (11454ft), Mount Andromeda (3450m) (11,319ft), the Snow Dome (3460m) (11,399ft) and Mount Kitchener (3511m) (11,500ft).
Mt Kitchener was named in 1916 after Horatio Herbert Kitchener (Viscount Kitchener), a British Field Marshall who organized the British armies at the beginning of WWI. He was lost when HMS Hampshire struck a mine in 1916.
[4 - Snow Dome and Mt. Kitchener from the Wilcox Pass trail - click to enlarge]
Norman Collie and Hermann Woolley completed the first ascent of Mount Athabasca on August 18, 1898. Collie described a vast icefield that stretched westward and surrounded by unknown peaks.
[5 - Snow Dome Glacier above Mt. Kitchener - click to enlarge]
The Snow Dome was named in 1898 by J. Norman Collie . This dome-shaped mountain is covered by the Columbia Icefield. The water produced from this mountain flows into three oceans through the Saskatchewan and Nelson rivers to the Atlantic, though the Columbia to the Pacific, and through the Athabasca and Mackenzie Rivers to the Arctic.
[6 - View from Wilcox Pass trail toward Mt. Andromeda, the Athabasca Glacier and Mt. Kitchener on right - click to enlarge]
Past the viewpoint the trail climbs along the edge of a creek, then levels out across alpine tundra and heads northwest into the long U-shaped pass between Wilcox and Nigel peaks.
[7 - Looking back to Mt. Athabasca and Mt. Andromeda from the Wilcox Pass Trail - click to enlarge]
Here the wildflowers grow close to the ground.
[8 - Wilcox Pass trail - click to enlarge - Mt. Wilcox is above horizon of hill on left side]
At 4.0km is the summit of Wilcox Pass (2374m). Wilcox Pass and peak are named after Walter Wilcox, whose party first crossed the pass in 1896 on horseback. The pass became the usual route north as it avoided the Sunwapta Gorge and the Athabasca Glacier, which nearly blocked the valley below.
[9 - on Wilcox Pass trail - click to enlarge]
It is here and at the other end of the pass that the hiker will find Bighorn Sheep.
[10 - Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep at Wilcox Pass - click to enlarge]
[11 - Wilcox Pass trail with Rocky Mountain Sheep - click to enlarge]
Here the hiker can often find small herds of Rocky Mountain Sheep grazing.
[12 - Wilcox Pass - click to enlarge]
[13 - NW on Wilcox Pass trail with Mt. Wilcox in background - click to enlarge]
[14 - Wilcox Pass - click to enlarge]
[15 - Wilcox Pass - click to enlarge]
To continue on to Tangle Falls the route continues north across the pass to trail makers or cairns at the 7.1km mark, where there is a steep descent into the forest. Stick to the left side below Mount Wilcox. At about 8.6km, the trail crosses to the left of the creek where it becomes more defined. Here the slope goes from moderate to steep on the descent south of Tangle Creek.
At 11.2km is the Tangle Creek trailhead (1860m) with the Icefields Parkway 200m south of Tangle Falls and 10km north of the Wilcox Creek trailhead.
Otherwise, at the rock cairn the hiker can begin to backtrack the way they came to return to the Wilcox Creek Campground.
[16 - Wilcox Pass - click to enlarge]
[17 - Coming down from Wilcox Pass - click to enlarge]
[18 - Mt. Athabasca with glacier - click to enlarge]
[19 - On Wilcox Pass Trail looking toward the Athabasca Glacier]
[20 -Mt. Kitchener beneath the Snow Dome]
Photo Credits: -jdww CC=nc-nd-flickr, -karenwithak CC=nc-nd-flickr, -richd777 CC=nc-sa-flickr, -A tea but no e CC=flickr, -Alaskan Dude CC=flickr,-BinoCanada CC=nc-sa-flickr, -Feffef CC=nc-sa-flickr, -canoe too CC=nc-nd-flickr, -gordmckenna CC=nc-nd-flickr, -DavidQuick CC=nc-nd-flickr,
Monday Night Music: Max Richter
3 hours ago