This is the 4th in a series of posts featuring photos from a recent camping trip we took to the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park. We stayed at Waterfowl Lakes Campground (about halfway between Lake Louise and the border between Banff and Jasper National Parks. We stayed for 5 nights and spent the days hiking and exploring in the nearby region…. The first few days (Tuesday through Thursday) it was just our immediate family but we were joined by my sister Heidi and her family from Friday afternoon through Sunday.
Day 1 – Glaciers, Rainbows, and Bears
Day 2 – Parker Ridge Hike, Swimming in the Mistaya
Day 3 – Nigel Pass Hike
Day 4 – Rained Out, No Pictures
Day 5 – Wilcox Pass Hike
Day 6 – Sunrise at Upper Waterfowl Lake
Day 3 – Wilcox Pass Hike
On the fifth day of the trip we headed out to hike the Wilcox Pass trail (yes, one last trip to the Columbia Icefields area) with Heidi and her family. This is easily one of the most beautiful hikes in the Rockies, at least when you consider how accessible it is. The trailhead is right beside the highway and it is less than a kilometer from the Columbia Icefields visitor center. As a result it is also one of the most popular hikes and it is always busy!
We had intended to get on the road early so that we could beat the crowd, but we ended up having a nice long breakfast and didn’t arrive at the trailhead until after 11 AM. However, due to the snow the from day before it seemed like everyone else also had a slow start and we were able to easily find parking. The outbound leg of the hike really didn’t feel very busy. It was a lovely blue sky day and warm enough that the snow was melting very quickly; therefore, the trail was very muddy and slippery in places. This may also have held some people back, but we slogged through it and made the best of a realy nice day.
Wilcox Pass is quite different from the other hikes we did on this trip in that it is relatively steep at the beginning (we climbed very steadily for 2 km) and quickly blasts up past the treeline and into an open (snow-covered) meadow between the surrounding peaks. This trip is worth doing if only for the panoramic views of the Athabasca Glacier and the base of the Columbia Icefield across the valley. We actually witnessed an avalanche on the glacier while we were eating lunch. Although it was a relatively small slide it was very loud and released a huge puffy cloud of snow and ice.
Doing this hike in the snow is an entirely different experience; in the summer these alpine meadows are normally filled with wildflowers and thick grasses. Seeing everything covered in snow was definitely an interesting experience.
After enjoying lunch at the top of the pass and spending some time exploring the area we started back down the mountain. The highlight of the return trip was finding a herd of Bighorn Sheep across the valley and then quickly discovering another one only a few feet away from us on the trail!
Sadly for little Kelly she found some very slippery spots on the way back down. She went for a tumble, got a little scratched up, and ended up in the mud. She was a trooper though and continued on her own power after a little TLC and some cleanup.
It was a really nice hike and we were very lucky that the really bad weather hit on our planned down day… We spent the rest of the day and evening hanging out back at camp…
Here are a few more pictures from Day 5…