Tangle Pass, Jasper National Park

Distance: Day hike, 4.5 km to the pass, about 5-6 hours round trip.

Access: 7km north of the Icefield Centre, park in the Tangle Falls parking lot area. The trailhead is on the opposite side of the highway and right of the falls. There is a sign that says Wilcox Pass and this is the correct trail.

Tip: Contrary to some beliefs you don’t need a GPS to find the pass on this trail. Yes you will be bush whacking but on a clear day the destination is visible. Definitely bring a map just in case. The pass is not named on maps but you can see where the pass is located just the same if you understand how mountains work.

Tangle Pass was never something I yearned to discover. It wasn’t until a colleague suggested a different idea for a day hike that it came up. I had never even heard of it until reading “Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies” by Craig and Kathy Copeland, at work during a slow evening shift. There it was, something new and unpopular among tourists because there was no trail. Hiking it was wonderful, it felt like we were in territory that had never been explored before and it felt so freeing to have no trail to follow.

The beginning section of the trail is technically the trail that leads to or from Wilcox Pass so it is well travelled and easy to follow. Following the suggestions of the Copelands, we stayed on the main trail for about 50 minutes until we came to a small rock wall. The main trail continued along the forest and headed toward Wilcox. We, on the other hand began our bush whacking adventure here.

At the end of the rock wall, the trail turns immediately left but we were advised to abandon the trail and continue north-northeast into the forest. We came upon a small drainage and although our guide told us to avoid descending it we crossed it anyway because we were rebels. We continued to ascend the forest hoping we were still heading in the right direction. I should also mention that the weather was pretty terrible. It was misty and cold and I was sure I might be getting hypothermia at one point, but we continued on. We could just see the pass ahead and we knew we were heading in the right direction.

Finally out of the trees the valley opens up and you must cross a short bushy bench before seeing the creek drainage and hopefully the pass straight ahead. The creek drainage leads directly up to the pass so this is what you will be following. You will need to rockhop to cross the creek. We took our time and did some exploring in the valley. There is a beautiful cirque to your right and it’s not too far to explore. The bushwhacking led us through some pretty dense coverage so you may want to consider wearing a pair of gaters to help yourself out.

Ascending the creek drainage up we continued on the left side of the creek as suggested. At kilometer 4.5 we reached the pass and took our fill of photos each. Unfortunately we couldn’t see much since it was still raining and the clouds were low and thick. We eventually made our way back down and decided to take a different route to find the main trail again.

Following the direction of the creek we bushwhacked along the upper side of the canyon. It’s hard to say for how long we were hiking, it didn’t feel very long and then eventually we decided to find a way to get back down. Eventually the high edge dropped steeply down to the creek and we spotted the main trail in the forest ahead. We carefully descended the loose rock to the creek and rockhopped once more to get to the other side. By this time the weather had gotten slightly better and I wasn’t freezing cold anymore, spirit slightly lifted knowing we would soon be in a warm car again. We bushwhacked through a very dense section of forest again before finally finding the trail we had spotted before.

We made our way back down the familiar trail and took a group photo, something we had forgotten to do while on the pass, then finally made it to the parking lot when the clouds departed and we glimpsed the sun.

Take it from me and be sure to be in good spirits before attempting this hike. The bushwhacking can be very frustrating when it’s super thick and you yearn for a plain old trail. But revel in the freedom of not having a set course. It doesn’t happen very often so enjoy it even if it seems endless.

If its your first time bushwhacking in unknown territory bring someone who might know what they’re doing. It’s not a very difficult pass to locate but if you get turned around or head in the opposite direction it could be very interesting trying to find your way back.

There are other places to explore in the area as well that require more route finding than the pass. Beauty Lakes (also unofficially named) is another 4km away but much more difficult to get to. This destination would require planning and an overnight stay in the wilderness. No campground or bear prevention is located out there. But that’s for another day!

If you want to escape the busy trails and noisy bustle of the Icefield Centre, Tangle Pass is the place to go to test your bushwhacking and route finding skills. Don’t forget your bear spray and sense of adventure.

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