Even after being chased off by strong winds and an incoming storm, Wilcox Pass is currently holding the title of my favorite day hike in the Canadian Rockies. Beginning just north of the Banff National Park border, this eight kilometer trail wanders through the forest and quickly emerges above the tree line to some outstanding views of surrounding peaks and glaciers.
There are a couple of ways to customize this hike to your own personal preferences;
- as an out and back, begin at the Wilcox Creek Campground and wander as far along the Pass as you like until returning back the way you came.
- as a one way, hiking down to Tangle Falls and either hitching or bringing two vehicles to get back to Wilcox Creek.
- with or without the scramble up Wilcox Peak to views of the Columbia Icefield.
We work up early to make the 100 kilometer drive from our Jasper campground to the trailhead and initially planned to make use of the first option - figuring hitching with our highly emotional dog in tow might not work out so well. However, as we began trekking north along the Pass a rather intense looking storm began to barrel it's way towards us - complete with whipping winds and rain. We made it only about a mile down the flat portion of the trail through the Pass before deciding to turn around for safety purposes.
The beginning of the hike starts out in the most lovely way possible, at least for my problematic knees and ankle. A soft base of dirt and pine needles with solid tree roots under the cooling cover of a dense forest help you up most of the 360 meters of elevation gain. Both of these traits are short lived - so enjoy it while it lasts!
Emerging above the tree line, the trail loses it's cover and starts to get a bit rocky. So watching the skies for quickly changing weather and the ground for ankle rolling hazards becomes important. There are several very steep and eroded sections of trail which made trekking poles a valuable asset on this hike.
Above the tree line is where the views begin to get both dramatic and incredible. It is possible to scramble up Wilcox Peak for even better views of the Columbia Icefield - perhaps something I'd try during a less stormy day. The views of the Snow Dome glacier were absolute perfection and plenty to keep you going towards the Pass.
Eventually, the constant elevation gain will come to an end when you reach a crossing of Wilcox Stream. Here the views down the Icefields Parkway and of Mount Athabasca call for lots of stopping and gawking. I could have spent hours up here just admiring the sights - there's really nothing like the views that come from trekking up to a higher elevation.
Walking along the flat open trail though Wilcox Pass was hands down my favorite part of the entire hike. It reminded me of my absolute love for these open desolate alpine spaces.
When my husband snapped this shot, the wind was blowing so fiercely that in order to get the shot I wanted, sitting cross legged and bracing myself on the ground was the only way I wasn't going to get blown over in the process. At this point, we had begun to seriously consider turning back to get off the Pass as quickly as possible due to the weather.
But, I still wanted to get that shot.
If I were to offer you just one tip for hiking in these higher elevation areas of Jasper National Park - bring your rain gear, warm layers, and watch the weather. We started our hike on a sun filled and beautiful day, but by the time we reached the Pass - a cold storm was imminent. Luckily, we had rain gear, layers, and day packs with rain covers (critical for care of fancy camera gear). The last time we moved this fast on a hike was to catch the last bus on a one way hike in Glacier National Park in Montana.