Lying on the edge of the Athabasca Icefield and surrounded by some of the tallest mountains in Alberta, a snowshoe trip into Wilcox Pass offers the casual snowshoer a glimpse into the world of snow and ice typically reserved for the serious mountaineer.
The Wilcox Pass parking lot is 3.0km south of the Icefields Discovery Centre in the Wilcox Creek Campground, roughly 128.0km North of Lake Louise. Park in the spaces provided, or along the driveway to the campground. The trailhead is on the left, just after you turn off the highway.
|When to do|
December - April
Yes - On Leash
Out and back
Anyone on a snowshoe trip should have Avalanche training, we recommend AST 2 for all backcountry travellers, and AST 1 is the minimum. It is important to note that when travelling through avalanche terrain it is extremely valuable to always have a companion.
Wilcox Pass is the alpine pass to the east of the Columbia Icefields Center on the Icefields Parkway. It’s an incredibly popular summer hike and makes a spectacular and relatively safe snowshoe trip in winter. It’s technically just inside Jasper National Park, however we included it here as it is a popular trip for those spending a few nights in Lake Louise, from which it can be reached in 1.5-2 hours in winter.
The snowshoe trip up Wilcox Pass is best completed on a day with great weather and safe avalanche conditions, so plan your day accordingly. When the conditions align, head out early, and hope to be on trail around 10am. If the trail is broken, the snowshoeing here is very easy. Enjoy views of the Athabasca glacier, as you come out of the trees on the Parks Canada red chairs. Always be prepared to break trail, as Wilcox Pass is not highly frequented in winter.
After 90 minutes of snowshoeing beyond the red chairs, you arrive at a high-point east of Wilcox Pass. The views here are simply mind-blowing, and photos just don’t do it justice! The pass stretches for several kilometers, surrounded by high peaks and snowy glaciers.
After taking in the views, consider heading for the windblown slopes of Mount Wilcox and ascend as far as you safely can. Keep in mind the lower reaches of the pass can be quite cool, and you will likely need to keep moving to stay warm. Climb just 20m above the pass on the other side to find some warmth in the sun and a spot to break for lunch.
Those trained in Avalanche Terrain could continue to ascend the shoulder above Wilcox Pass if conditions are favourable. It is important to have a good understanding of the current mountain conditions prior to departure in order to make good decisions on the trail.
If you choose to continue up the shoulder, you will eventually reach a point where snowshoes are no longer required, and you should switch to microspikes on your boots. Continue gaining the slope, to earn your views. Do not be discouraged as you climb, because this point is more than 300m above Wilcox Pass and the view is spectacular!
After a short stay head back down and maybe start a wandering hunt for ptarmigan; Wilcox Pass is often covered in their tracks!
Return the way you came, enjoying the views on the way down.
Use the washroom before you arrive, and consider bringing your own toilet paper, as it has run out in the past. There is only the one outhouse at the trailhead, which has a near constant line on a good day. People who skip this have to use the trail. If you do so, please don’t leave toilet paper littering the trail side.
In 1896, Walter Wilcox and his team became the first westerners to reach Sunwapta Pass. On an expedition to find a pass between the Athabasca & Saskatchewan River, their path was blocked by a gorge, cutting between the toe of the (then unnamed) Athabasca Glacier and Wilcox Peak, they ascended over the high grassy pass to the east instead.
Snowshoeing along the Icefield Parkway takes you into remote terrain. Make sure you are prepared for an emergency with warm clothes, extra food, matches and ideally a satellite transceiver, like a Garmin InReach. Cell phones do not work until you get to Canmore.
Always check the avalanche forecast for Jasper before heading out.
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