Abbott Ridge Trail in Glacier National Park BC


The Abbott Ridge Trail in British Columbia’s Glacier National Park (often confused with Montana’s national park that goes by the same name) is the must do hike in the park despite its length and significant elevation gain. After hiking the Hermit Trail in the park a few years ago, I had an inkling I’d be in for a treat.

Abbott Ridge is named for Henry Abbott, a mountain and railway man who helped build the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Abbott Ridge hike in the rugged Columbia Mountains isn’t an easy one, but it is straightforward. There are no route-finding issues or scary moves you must make. But you do have to hike a minimum of 13.6 km return with an elevation gain of 1029 m (3376 feet).

The hike starts in an ancient rainforest and climbs up into the alpine tundra where you enjoy phenomenal glacier and mountain views from your finish on a narrow ridge. Despite appearances from the approach to the ridge, the hike feels like a true mountain-top experience. Some of the highlights of the hike include views of the Asulkan Valley and Glacier, Vaux Glacier, Illecillewaet Glacier as well as Mount Abbott, Mount Sir Donald, and Uto Peak.

You’ll feel like you can reach out and touch the glaciers 

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Hike details

Length – 6.8 km one – way on the short route, or 15.5 km if you go up the short route and descend the long route
Hiking time: 5.5 – 7 hours return depending on your speed
Elevation Change: 1029 m on the short loop, 1059 m on the full loop trail
Trailhead: Illecillewaet Campground off the Trans-Canada Highway
Trailhead Coordinates: 117°29’31″W 51°15’49″N

Good trail signage right from the parking lot
Good trail signage right from the parking lot

Hike description

The hike heads up a road from the campground and turns right. You’ll see signage for the trails in the area almost immediately. If you look left, you’ll also see the A. O. Wheeler Hut, run by the Alpine Club of Canada.

Head for the ruins of Glacier House, a 90-room hotel with a bowling alley and observation tower. It was operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway from 1887-1925, attracting people from all over the world. Swiss climbing guides were brought to the hotel in 1899 to take people up mountain peaks. The railway is responsible for building many of the steep trails in the area as access routes for the mountain climbers. When the railway no longer ran in front of the hotel in 1916, the popularity of the place declined and eventually closed in 1925. It was torn down in 1929. 

A short distance after you pass a noticeboard with the latest wildlife sightings and Glacier House, you turn right onto a signed trail for Marion Lake and Abbott Ridge. The climbing starts gently at first on a series of switchbacks through gorgeous stands of old rainforest. There are some monster big trees in this section. Reach Marion Lake after climbing 2.2 km over 425 m.

The ruins of Glacier House
The ruins of Glacier House
Pretty view along the Illecillewaet River
Pretty view along the Illecillewaet River
Description of the animal activity on the trails
Description of the animal activity on the trails
The turnoff onto the Abbott Ridge Trail is well marked
The turnoff onto the Abbott Ridge Trail is well marked
Hiking initially in beautiful temperate rainforest
Hiking initially in beautiful temperate rainforest
Don't touch the devil's club - armed with prickly spines
Don’t touch the devil’s club – armed with prickly spines – bears eat the berries

Marion Lake

Take the time to visit Marion Lake. It’s a scenic place for a refueling break, especially at the far end of the lake.

According to Parks Canada, the lake – which is more pond like, was named for the daughter of Reverend William Spotwood Green who climbed Mount Bonney back in 1888. Although we didn’t bother, there is a viewpoint you can visit high above the Trans-Canada Highway where you can watch the trains coming and going into the Connaught tunnel. The tunnel was built to protect the rail cars from Roger Pass avalanches.

From Marion Lake, it’s a short distance to reach a trail intersection. Go right for the short route up Abbott Ridge and left for the long route. We ended up doing a loop hike – going up via the shortest trail and back via the longer trail. (It adds 2 km to the day.) Just know that in the third week of July there was still one significant snowfield that would be dangerous to cross without an ice axe. We ended up crossing at the top of the snowpack – between the snowfield and the rock.

It's 2.2 km up to Marion Lake
It’s 2.2 km up to Marion Lake
There's a short route and a long route to Abbott Ridge
There’s a short route and a long route to Abbott Ridge

The Abbott Ridge trail above tree line

Once you break through the trees, the hiking gets very interesting. The trail heads for the ridge on an obvious trail through boulders and grass. When you reach the pond, you start up switchbacks, eventually going right around the end of the ridge. The views literally get better with every step.

On the day we did the hike, it was quite smoky but the higher we hiked the windier it got – so visibility improved immensely. It’s a very gradual climb on a good trail around the end of the ridge. Once on the ridge you follow it to reach a sign that says – end of trail – except it’s not and the good stuff lies ahead. Just keep following the well-worn trail until you reach the final blocks at the end. They require some scrambling – and our guide Alison said you should really be roped up to do it – so we turned back. 

We retraced our steps to the intersection where the short and long loop meet. This time we went right onto the longer route and enjoyed a different landscape than the one we’d hiked up on. The views of Mount Sir Donald were particularly compelling. 

The long route adds a few kilometres to the day but it’s more gradual and a good choice for anyone with knee issues. In July you do have to be prepared for a large snowpack blocking part of the trail. We went over the top and solved the problem. From there it was mellow hiking the rest of the way down.

Abbott Ridge stares you fully in the face once you break through the trees
Abbott Ridge stares you fully in the face once you break through the trees
Reflection in a pond beneath Abbott Ridge, Glacier National Park
Reflection in a pond beneath Abbott Ridge; it’s also a good place to refill water bottles
Climbing towards the ridge before going around it on the right
Climbing towards the ridge on gentle switchbacks before going around it on the right
Looking down on the trail to Abbott Ridge
Looking down on the trail with Mount Sir Donald on the right in the distance
Looking down at the small pond and weather station in the distance
Looking down at the small pond and weather station – there is also a hut that is off limits to hikers
Gaining some height as we round the ridge
Gaining some height as we round the ridge under great conditions but be careful if its windy or snowy
Our guide Alison Dakin looking down at the Trans-Canada Highway
Our guide Alison Dakin looking down at the Trans-Canada Highway
Lovely climbing past wildflowers on Abbott Ridge
Lovely climbing past wildflowers on Abbott Ridge
Walking out in Abbott Ridge
Walking out on Abbott Ridge
What a view with glaciers all around
What a view with the Illecillewaet Glacier behind me
John enjoying the view
John enjoying the view
Our turn around point just before this block at the end of Abbott Ridge
Our turn around point just before this block at the end of Abbott Ridge
Descending the ridge
Descending the ridge
Heading for the snowfield on the longer route down
Heading for the snowfield on the longer route down
John pointing out the hole I need to avoid to get around the snowpack
John pointing out the hole I need to avoid to get around the snowpack
Getting around the snowfield by going over the top end of the snow
Getting around the snowfield by going over the top end of the snow; there were holes in the snowpack almost the size of a human I wasn’t interested in ending up in!
The longer loop is more gradual so you can focus on the views of Mt Sir Donald
The longer loop is more gradual so you can focus on the views of Mt Sir Donald
The last of the good views of Mt Sir Donald before we head into the trees
The last of the good views of Mt Sir Donald before we head into the trees

Map of the trail

Note Abbott Ridge near Marion Lake in the top left quadrant of the map.

Map of the trail
Map of the trail

Do you need a guide?

John and I were guests of nearby Heather Mountain Lodge for a couple of nights. They were kind enough to organize a hiking guide so I would understand the services they could offer other guests. John and I don’t usually need a guide to get around BUT we loved having Alison with us and learning about the area. Alison Dakin is Golden, BC-based and has been guiding most of her adult life. In the winter she is a heli-ski guide at the lodge and in summer she offers her own guiding experiences through her company Gamut Ventures Inc. She can be reached at al@uniserve.com. 

For people unfamiliar with the Rockies, or those who are nervous hiking in bear country, a guide is a terrific asset. They come fully prepared with a massive first aid kit along with a means of getting in touch with a park ranger if anything goes badly wrong. Allison also had maps, hiking poles, bug spray, bear spray, water filters…literally everything you would need. Occasional hikers who don’t necessarily have all the gear would also benefit from her easy manner and expertise.

It was a treat to spend the day with Golden BC based hiking guide Alison Dakin
It was a treat to spend the day with Golden BC based hiking guide Alison Dakin

Finding the trailhead

The trailhead is at the end of the road near the Illecillewaet campground, about a kilometre in from the Trans-Canada Highway. The Illecillewaet campground is well-signed in either direction on the Trans-Canada but it can be a bit tricky to access when you’re driving west, especially the first time you do it.

The Illecillewaet campground and trailhead is located 3 km west of the summit of Rogers Pass. If you’re driving east, you’ll simply turn right onto the road that takes you to the campground.

But if you’re driving west, you actually drive past the campground about a kilometre to reach a U-turn-Lane. Be sure that you’re in the far-left lane in advance and there is warning sign that a U-turn-Lane is coming up. Turn left into the U-turn lane and then drive east on the Trans-Canada, getting off when you see the signs to the campground. 

Important things to note

  • This is major grizzly bear country. Be bear aware, carry bear spray and know how to use it. It should be readily accessible.
  • On a summer day, you’ll go through a lot of water. We refilled water bottles at the pond below the ridge but you’ll need either a water filter or purification tablets.
  • Don’t forget a wide-brimmed sun hat in summer. 
  • Take the 10 hiking essentials.
  • Glacier National Park is on Pacific time, one hour behind Mountain time. Our car changed the time at the Alberta – BC border – way before it should have.
  • It’s hard to find a recent paper map of Abbott Ridge. Check out the Gaia GPS app.
Details of the Abbott Trail hike from the Gaia GPS app
Details of the Abbott Trail hike from the Gaia GPS app

Where to stay nearby

You can stay at the Illecillewaet Campground located 3 km west of the summit of Rogers Pass. It’s the only campground in Glacier National Park that is open right now and is available on a first come-first served basis. Check back with Glacier National Park for what campgrounds will be open in 2022.

The campground is also the trailhead for a number of hikes into the park.

A typical campsite in the Illecillewaet Campground
A typical campsite in the Illecillewaet Campground

Another excellent choice for a basecamp hiking experience is nearby Heather Mountain Lodge. It’s just a 22-minute drive to the east and is immediately off the Trans-Canada Highway. The dining experience is also tops!

We stayed in one of the two super cute cabins
We stayed in one of the two super cute cabins at Heather Mountain Lodge

Further reading about things to do in the general area

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The outstanding Abbott Ridge hike in Glacier National Park, BC



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