The hike to Wilcox Pass and on to Wilcox Viewpoint is one of the easier hikes along the Icefields Parkway, that gives you access to glorious alpine meadows surrounded by glacier-filled mountain views. This is slightly more effort than my previous post (Parker Ridge). But we saw plenty of children on this trail and it is short enough that most people can do it easily.
If you think 9km is still a bit long; You can just hike the first part, up to the grand glacier views above the Athabasca Glacier (by some red chairs.) Or, if you want to be extra adventurous, you can go beyond the main trails to see the incredible landscape around Wilcox Lake.
Wilcox Viewpoint via Wilcox Pass map
This is the map of the route most people follow. If you want to continue to Wilcox lake, there is no defined path, but you can click through for my recording of our hike here.
Wilcox Viewpoint and Wilcox Lake – the basics
Distance: 3.5 km to the red chairs
9.3 km to Wilcox Viewpoint
18.7 km if you hike to Wilcox Lake too
Elevation gain: 174m to the red chair
520m to Wilcox Viewpoint
700m if you include Wilcox Lake
Highest Points: 2426m (on the way to the viewpoint) and 2546m (near Wilcox Lake)
Time: 3 hours to Wilcox Viewpoint and an extra 2.5 hours to Wilcox Lake (total 5.5 hours)
What to bring:
Even in summer, bring warm clothes as the glacier produces it’s own chilly winds
The 10 Essentials (as always)
Pit toilets at the trailhead. If there is a long line, you can drive to the Icefields Discovery Centre
Dogs: Great for dogs, but keep them on a lead.
How hard is it? Easy to the red chairs. Intermediate to Wilcox Pass and Wilcox Viewpoint. The route to Wilcox Lake is more of a challenge, as there is no path, and it’s a bit of a scramble.
Wilcox Pass – Getting started
The trailhead is just off the Icefields Parkway, by the Wilcox Creek Campground (less than 3km from the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre.) There is an information board with details about the trail. The pathway starts next to the sign and heads straight into the trees.
Start off steep
Most people only hike for the first couple of kilometers to the red chairs. The trail has some moderately steep sections, but it is easy to follow. Just watch your step as the path is rooty. This walk starts at over 2000m, so you may find you need to breathe more heavily than normal.
Hike to the red chairs
1.7 km into the hike on Wilcox Pass Trail you’ll arrive at a set of Parks Canada’s red chairs. From this lower viewpoint you can admire Athabasca and Dome Glaciers. It’s impressive view for about 20 mins walk.
The thing is, even on a smoke-filled day, the views get better and better as you hike further. So, if you have even a little more energy, keep going further to the gorgeous meadows at Wilcox Pass. Once you’re past the red chairs, the trails turns north.
One side of the trail there is a creek that cuts through a deep gully with little waterfall.
Athabasca Glacier Views
The views of the Athabasca Glacier are fantastic from the trail.
The views of the surrounding mountains are also fabulous.
Once you reach Wilcox Pass, you need to turn left to continue on to Wilcox Ridge and the viewpoint. There are some great views of Mount Wilcox from the pass. If you keep going straight, that is the way to Wilcox Lake and to Tangle Ridge beyond.
This is the view back to Wilcox Pass from the trail. That is the long ridge of Nigel Peak in the background.
Mount Wilcox Views
If you are confident scrambling, you could even continue on to Mount Wilcox. You can see more details about summiting Mount Wilcox here. It sounds like the views up there would be truly spectacular!
Keep Mount Wilcox to your right, and follow the well-trodden trail to Wilcox viewpoint. You’ll need to gain (and lose) elevation a few times as the path undulates. But it’s easy to follow with yellow blazes fixed onto sturdy cairns.
We visited on a smoke-filled day, with terrible visibility and we could still see why this trail is so popular! There are magnificent views over to Mount Athabasca and the Snow Dome, with the Athabasca Glacier in the middle.
There is a fun, easy hike to the Athabasca Glacier too (that hike is all down below, up to the toe of the glacier.) But we loved the views up here even more. Plus, although there were other hikers up here, it was very quiet compared to the hoards of people down below.
This is where we stopped for lunch and spent some time attempting to work out the names of the glaciers and peaks that surrounded us.
Leave no trace
If you stop here to eat, it’s likely that you’ll be greeted by one of the local ground squirrels. They come to investigate if you take any snacks out of your bag. Just resist their cuteness as you should never feed wildlife in Canada (it’s one of the principles of leave no trace)
Continue on to Wilcox Lake?
To head back to the trailhead, you’ll need to retrace your steps back down to Wilcox Pass. We still had plenty of energy (and daylight) left, so we decided to attempt to find the route to Wilcox Lake. I’d read through the trail description in Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies, and I’d looked through maps; But I still wasn’t 100% sure if we’d find the right way. To give you an idea, you want to end up on the ridge of Nigel Peak (that long ridge on the opposite side of Wilcox Pass.)
The problem is, although there are plenty of incredible wild flowers to see, there are also several small ponds, puddles and boggy patches between the obvious path on Wilcox Pass, and the ridge below Nigel Peak.
Route-finding to Wilcox Lake
In the end, we couldn’t find an obvious place to cross the wetlands at first, so we hiked along the Wilcox Pass trail heading northwest for about 1km. From there we found a place to cross over to the rocky ridge. There is no set path over this soggy area, so tread carefully.
We found that after we’d crossed the wetlands, it was easier to find the way. First you climb up onto a lower section of the rocky ridge. This area looks like you have landed on the moon!
Once you get closer to the scree-covered ridge below Nigel Peak, you’ll be able to see the path up. Head towards the big bolder. From that bolder, there is a well trampled path along the scree. This trail is a bit of a challenge because the rocks are loose and slide-y.
Once you get to the main ridge, you can see down to Wilcox Lake. We decided to make things harder by scrambling a little further up for a better view. It was all pretty steep!
Views down to Wilcox Lake
The scenery up here is so, so different to the meadows below. You can see where glaciers have scoured the rocks, leaving long tracks on the moon-like landscape. We stopped for a snack and admired the views through the smoke.
On the way up the ridge, we’d seen a small group of bighorn sheep munching grass. On the way back, there was one sheep who stopped to watch us the entire way. We took a bit of a detour to give him plenty of space, but we both loved seeing him.
The hike to Wilcox Pass is one of the best hikes we’ve dome along the Icefields Parkway, even in the smoke. I love that there are a range of options, depending on your hiking abilities. Hike to the red chairs, then to Wilcox Pass, then on to Wilcox Viewpoint, depending on how much time you have and how strong you’re feeling. For confident hikers, going a bit further to Wilcox Lake was a total treat!
Wilcox Pass area Panoramas
Like my previous post on Parker Ridge, it was a bit smoky, but hopefully these wider views will give you a taste of the incredible scenery in this area.
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