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You Must Cross The Brazeau River

Nigel Pass Hike in Banff National Park

The hike to Nigel Pass in northern Banff National Park is a rewarding one – whether it be just a day trip or part of a longer backpack that includes Jonas Pass on the 5 – 6 day Brazeau Loop. Most people do this excellent hike as a day trip when they’re exploring the Columbia Icefield area.

On the weekend we did the Nigel Pass hike, we had been planning to go all the way up to Jonas Pass. We only made it to the Four Point Creek Campsite, which fortunately is absolutely lovely.  A staffer in Jasper National Park had given us bad information and as it turns out, you’re not allowed to take dogs past the Four Point Campground – and up Jonas Pass, because of the caribou.

It just means we’ll have to go back another time, especially since the hike up to Jonas Pass is supposed to offer some of the best mountain scenery in the Rockies.

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The hike starts up an old fire road
The hike starts up an old fire road
Crossing Nigel Creek
Crossing Nigel Creek
It's a steady climb up from Nigel Creek all the way to the pass
It’s a steady climb up from Nigel Creek all the way to the pass
Looking across to Parker Ridge
Looking across to Parker Ridge 
View from near the top of the pass
View from near the top of the pass

Nigel Pass hike details

It’s 7.2 km to reach Nigel Pass over a vertical gain of 361 m (1,185 feet). It’s gradual and not very taxing, even with a fully loaded backpack. For the first 1.8 km, follow an old road, reportedly the original Icefields Parkway, used until the 1960’s.

Where the road splits at 1.8 km veer right and stay on the main trail. Historic Camp Parker is reached at the 2.1 km mark. When the trail forks again descend to sturdy footbridges across Nigel and silt-laden Hilda Creeks.

Note that the source of water for Nigel Creek is rain and snow-melt so it’s fairly clear whereas Hilda Creek gets its water source from a glacier, a mere five kilometres away. It’s cloudy as the rock flour as no time to settle.

Make your way up to a warden’s cabin that is not in use. Continue right to follow the main signed trail, that stays east of Nigel Creek.

About an hour into the hike the annoying highway noise disappears and you arrive at open meadows with gorgeous views. Jump a few tributary creeklets as you continue the hike up to the pass marking the Jasper- Banff National Park boundary. It will take you roughly 2.5 hours to get there.

The meadows and the area immediately around the pass are reportedly frequented by grizzly bears but we didn’t even see bear scat. 

Once you reach the austere looking pass you have a view down to the Brazeau River and excellent views of Parker Ridge and Mt. Saskatchewan as you look back the way you came. It’s easy to rock hop across the Brazeau River and continue exploring.

The barrens of the pass area
The barrens of the pass area
You must cross the Brazeau River to continue on the Brazeau Loop
You must cross the Brazeau River to continue on the Brazeau Loop

The option going south from the Brazeau River

While we didn’t turn right (southeast) after crossing the river you can do this and continue to Upper Brazeau Canyon, Cataract Lake and then onto to Cataract Pass. But you need up to 10 hours to do the return hike to the pass.

An austere but beautiful landscape
An austere but beautiful landscape

The option going north from the pass  

After a straight forward rock hop across the Brazeau River, you can turn left (north) and climb up through rock slide debris to reach a viewpoint of a waterfall, 0.8 km from the river.

To continue towards Jonas Pass it’s a steep and hot descent in the afternoon sun to reach the Brazeau Valley. When we did it over a Labour Day weekend, the fall colours were showing up in ground hugging plants.

We continued all the way to Boulder Creek Campground, a pleasant place to spend a night though Four Point Campground at 13.9 km is even nicer. From there it’s 9.9 km to reach Jonas Pass – rather a lot for a day trip. If you want to continue plan to do it as part of a 3 – 5 day backpacking trip. 

There's a steep scree slope on route to the Boulder Creek Campground
There’s a steep scree slope on route to the Boulder Creek Campground
Layered rock detail in some of the mountains you see on the Nigel Pass hike
Layered rock detail in some of the mountains you see on the hike
Looking down the Brazeau River Valley
Looking down the Brazeau River Valley
Small waterfall on the Brazeau River
Small waterfall on the Brazeau River

Camping in Jasper National Park on the Brazeau Loop

There are several campsites in the Nigel Pass – Brazeau Loop area, all of which must be reserved in advance on the Jasper National Park website – even though the hike starts in Banff National Park.

On the way to the Boulder Creek Campground where we ended up, there’s one bridge to cross. We stayed here for two nights as we couldn’t get reservations for the slightly nicer Four Point Campground – despite the fact we found it deserted the next day.

How's your balance??
How’s your balance??
Humans are insignificant in this mountain landscape
Humans are insignificant in this mountain landscape
The beautiful Brazeau River Valley
The beautiful Brazeau River Valley
Great colour in the vegetation over Labour Day weekend
Great colour in the vegetation over Labour Day weekend

The hike up the Brazeau River

As our plans were thwarted we decided we would hike up the Brazeau River a ways but found the scenery after the warden’s cabin wasn’t very inspiring. It ended up  being a retrace your steps and hang out in the tent, reading kind of day. Next time the dog will not be accompanying us.

The deserted Four Point Warden Cabin
The deserted Four Point Warden Cabin
Heading back to the trailhead with a much lighter pack on a perfect morning
Heading back to the trailhead with a much lighter pack on a perfect morning

Want to do the hike as part of a backpacking trip?

If you are interesting in spending the night in the back-country reserve a backcountry permit from Jasper National Park. Call (780) 852-6177 and leave a message. They usually return your call within a few hours and can email you over one.

Make reservations well in advance especially for busy long weekends. Check the website for opening dates for reservations. The cost is a very reasonable $10.02 per person per night though there is a reservation fee of about $11 as well.

Don’t forget the following

You’re traveling through bear country so don’t forget the bear spray in an easy to access holster.

A waterproof paper map is an essential in my books.

Even in summer, dress in layers. I always take a lightweight down jacket and rain gear like this pricey but will last you a decade jacket from Arc’teryx. Don’t forget a sun hat.

For comfort on breaks, especially if its wet or cold, I recommend an inflatable seat cushion

Skies are clearer on the return hike from Nigel Pass
Skies are clearer on the return hike from the pass

Further reading on hikes in Banff and Jasper National Parks

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest board.

The hike to Nigel Pass in Jasper National Park - done as a day trip or as the start of the 5 - 6 day Brazeau Loop

 

 

 

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 27 Comments

  1. It looks fabulous. Inspiration for me to try to get in a little better shape – I’m thinking we are going to spend some time in Glacier and the Canadian Rockies next summer and want to be able to do more hiking than I have in recent years. After all, I want to see some of that fabulous scenery! I’ll be contacting you for advice too.

    Looking forward to more pictures some time when your dog is stuck at home.

  2. Man, you and I are so lucky to count Alberta (and BC in our backyard) as our home … just amazing! I’d be tempted to head back and ski/hike, but the peak of the cold and the dark is hitting right now, so I’ll stay hunkered down in Chiang Mai for now! 🙂

    Excellent post, sharing this tomorrow Alberta time!

  3. More spectacular Alberta scenery that I’m dying to see. Love all the colors you found on your hike. Wow, I’m glad you have that shot of the mountains vs man comparison. They are massive. It’s too bad about Jonas Pass but I’m sure you’ll make it there soon. Hope Costa Rica is treating you well 🙂

  4. Hi Leigh, another amazing hike! I’m in awe of the incredible landscape. That layered rock is so impressive. It looked iike a very rewarding hike even though you didn’t get as far as Jonas Pass as you had planned. It’s also great that you get some time to relax and read. I hope to make it to this part of your world sometime.

  5. I love those little creek crossings. . . and that the dog is just happily walking through the water. Too bad you couldn’t go further!

  6. I just sent you an email about your suggestions for a backpack trip to Banff. However, this looks beautiful, too! Would you recommend Jasper over Banff?

  7. My sister and I planned to do part of the Brazeau(we had our dogs too) for our first backpacking adventure. We planned everything to a tee. But still ended up unprepared…physically. Our biggest concern was my physical condition which is poor due to medical reasons however I was determined to go. Turns out that hike was hard on my sister as well which is in much better condition than me. We only mad it as far as Boulder creek but we think we did good considering. I’ve always loved the mountains, the trail was pretty awesome. We got back lastnight, sore, exhausted… don’t regret a moment of it! 😀

  8. My friend and I grunted our way up a talus slope past Wilcox lake then over a shoulder onto a glacier and glissaded down into Jonas Pass (camped overnight). Then went down the pass to the Brazeau (they call it Brazoo) River, past Nigel Pass which is a poor excuse for a pass in the Rockies and out to Hilda Creek hostel. It snowed overnight on us in Jonas and it was July long weekend. We did see caribou, but no bears! Actually in 20 years of hiking and working for Parks Canada on trails and bridge crew in Yoho, Kootenay and Banff–I have only seen 5 grizzly bears in the back country.

    1. @Emerson Thanks for your great comment. Sounds like an adventure. So far in my Rocky Mountain experience I have only seen one grizzly bear – from the car on the way to Lake Minnewanka.

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