The Nigel Pass hike 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. (We finally did it in 2021!)
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Nigel Pass hike summary
Distance: 14.4 km (8.9 miles) round trip
Elevation gain: 365 m or 1,197 feet
Level of difficulty: Easy to moderate
Time needed: 4.5 – 6 hours
Dogs: Permitted on a leash
Best time to hike: July to September
Camping: There are backcountry campsites beyond Nigel Pass that can be reserved. In 2023, reservations open on March 20 at 8 AM, MST.
Don’t forget: Let someone know where you’re hiking and when you’re due back. Always pack the 10 hiking essentials.
Where is the Nigel Pass trailhead?
Drive west on the Trans-Canada Highway from Lake Louise to the Icefields Parkway (93N). Continue north for 113.0 km.
Look for a Nigel Pass sign and turn right onto a dirt road. If you’re coming from Jasper the trailhead is 13.0 km south of the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre – but the turn can be hard to make and you may have to pass it and then turn around and get it going north.
Where to stay before of after the hike
There is lots of camping along the Icefields Parkway and some of it is first come, first served. The closest campgrounds are Wilcox Creek and the Icefield Campground. At the Columbia Icefield, there is also a hotel – the Glacier View Lodge.
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, the Wonder 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 Ridgeand Mt. Saskatchewan as you look back the way you came. It’s easy to rock hop across the Brazeau River and continue exploring.
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.
You can also camp overnight without permits once you leave Banff National Park, and it’s reportedly amazing scenery and camping.
The option going north from Nigel 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.
Count on 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.
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.
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.
Want to do the Nigel Pass hike as part of a backpacking trip?
If you are interesting in spending the night in the backcountry reserve a backcountry permit from Jasper National Park on March 20, 2023 starting at 8 AM MST.
An online reservation costs $11.50. Costs are $12.75 per person per night.