The hike to Abbott Ridge is located in Glacier National Park (GNP), one of my favorite parks in western Canada. In particular, I love exploring the area around the Illecillewaet camp ground. In the winter this place is a magical wonderland of trees and mountains covered in a thick layer of frosting. In the summer, the area is just as stunning and is a great place to hike through the old growth forest and stare up at multiple glaciers.
This summer I had the chance to hike one of the best day hikes you can do in GNP: Abbott Ridge. Located in the Selkirk Mountain Range, this hike takes you up through beautiful forest, a high alpine meadow and up onto a ridge line with stunning views in every direction. What also makes this hike so stunning are the 3 glaciers visible at various staging on the hike to the top. It’s a tough hike but well worth the effort.
Where & When
Glacier National Park is located in interior British Columbia, about halfway between the towns of Golden and Revelstoke. The Trans Canada Highway (TCH) passes right through the middle of the park. The Rogers Pass Visitors Center and park office right on the TCH are less than a kilometer from the start of the Abbot Ridge hike.
To begin this hike drive to the Illecillewaet Campground parking lot. From there follow the signs for “Abbott Ridge”. As you exit the parking lot, turn right on to the “1885 Trail”. This is a main trail that crosses the Illecillewaet River. You’ll only be on this trail for a couple hundred meters before you see a trail veering off to the left called the “Meeting Of The Waters Trail” (NOTE: There are 2 trails with this name as its a short loop hike. The first trail is right as you exit the parking lot. You want the second trail). Hike along this trail past the ruins of Glacier House, an old lodge from the 1800’s. Keep you’re eyes peeled for the Abbott Ridge trail sign (and trail) on your right.
This hike can only be done during the summer months as there is simply too much snow in the winter. The military also uses the area to set of explosives to conduct controlled avalanches. Near the summit of Abbott Ridge are a few avalanche corridors that regularly cover the TCH. If you’re planning to visit in the spring or early fall, stop by the Rogers Pass Visitors Center and inquire about the trail status.
How Long & Other Stats
For this hike my brother turned on his Strava app and rerecorded everything so I’m going to give those details. There are trail signs at the start and twice in the middle of the hike stating the trail name and how many km’s to the summit. I’ve found these distances to be very inaccurate so use them as a guideline only. Parks Canada is always building new trails or changing existing ones and they don’t seem to update their signs.
Abbot Ridge Stats
Time hiking to summit: 3 hrs
Distance from the parking lot to the summit: 6.6 km
Elevation Gain: 1,268 m
Max Elevation: 2,242 m
Total km’s Hiked: 15.3 kms (I’ll explain later)
Total Time Hiking: 6h 28 min
I should also mention that my group was fairly fit though we weren’t in a rush and stopped often to take pictures and admire the views. We were passed by hikers but we also passed other hikers.
Once you’re on the Abbott Ridge trail you’ll spend some time hiking up switch backs through beautiful old growth forest. Its steep and steady so take your time and enjoy the cool forest air.
After approx 3 km’s of hiking up you’ll come to Marion Lake, a pretty little green colored mountain lake. There’s a lookout if you hike an out-and-back trail off to the right. If you don’t feel like stopping just yet, follow the trail sign and continue hiking up through the forest.
Only a kilometer or two after Marion Lake you’ll come to a trail junction, though both trails will take you to the top of Abbott Ridge. The trail to the right is shorter but steeper. The one to the left is easier but longer. Both trails meet up again in the high alpine meadow before the last push to the summit of the ridge.
My group decided to hike the steeper but shorter route up but opted to hike down the longer but gentler route (much easier on the knees). Both have amazing views and I suggest doing one on the way up and the other on the way down. Though I will warn you, the longer route is much longer (about twice the distance) than the shorter one, so keep that in mind if budgeting for time.
As you continue up on the shorter but steeper route, it doesn’t take long before you notice the trees beginning to thin and you’ll catch a few glimpses of the mountains through the foliage. The views start to get pretty spectacular in no time at all. But keep going, the views get even better the hirer up you climb!
The most notable mountain peak you’ll see is the pyramid shaped Mount Sir Donald. Off to the right of it you’ll start to catch glimpses of the first glacier, the Illecillewaet Glacier.
Continuing on you’ll eventually enter a beautiful high alpine meadow with spectacular views that just get better and better. The meadow is flat for the first bit giving your legs a nice break. About halfway through the meadow you’ll see a trail coming in from the left which is the longer but gentler route joining back up with the main trail.
As you enter the meadow you’ll catch your first glimpse of the 2nd of 3 glaciers on this hike, the Asulkan Glacier.
Slowly the trail climbs up the meadow to a cliff wall (the bottom of Abbot Ridge). You follow the trail along the wall which wraps around the end of Abbott Ridge. From here there are even more incredible views of the valley the TCH travels through.
As the trail wraps around the edge of the ridge you’ll start to ascend one last time. Looking up, you’ll catch your first glimpse of the 3rd and final glacier on this hike: Mount Bonney and Mount Bonney Glacier.
From here, it’s a final push to the summit. Although you can walk the length of the ridge, you only have to make it to the “End of Trail” sign post to officially reach the top! Because it’s a open ridge, there are amazing views of the mountains, valleys, glaciers in every direction.
The summit of Abbott Ridge makes for the perfect lunch spot. You can sit along the edge of the cliff and admire the incredible views all around.
On the hike down, you simply back track on the same trail until you reached the meadow. Once in the meadow you can choose which route you’d like to hike down: the longer but easier or shorter but harder. As I previously mentioned, my group decided to hike the longer but easier route for the middle section. This trail took us across a rock slide field as we hiked deeper into the valley and closer to the Asulkan Glacier.
After a few switch backs we were back in the beautiful forest, catching glimpses of the mountains through the trees. The trail was fairly flat and easy at this point, as we made our way back to the main trail.
It didn’t take nearly as long to hike down as it did to hike up. My brother and dad decided it was easier to jog down the well packed trail and we were back in the parking lot in no time.
Experience: According to Parks Canada, Abbott Ridge is listed as being a Black Diamond Hike (difficult). You should definitely have backcountry knowledge and be in good physical shape.
Fitness: This is a hard hike, as rated by Parks Canada (above). While it’s only a day hike it’s still strenuous. You gain quite a bit of elevation and most of the hike is up! That being said, it’s less strenuous (but longer) to take the long but easy way through the middle section. If this is your plan just give yourself extra time.
Bear Safety: This is grizzly bear country! They are a common site to see so be prepared with bear spray or other bear deterrents. Know how to act appropriately if you encounter one (ie. never turn your back, never run). On this hike I came across a note someone had written and left in the middle of the trail in the meadow. It said “Grizzly spotted VERY CLOSE to the trail” and gave the time of 14:00 (the day before). At the trailhead the park staff had also put up a sign warning that a grizzly was in the area.
Best Route: This trail is an out and back trail, except for the middle section where you have 2 options (as previously mentioned). For the middle section I suggest taking the short but steep way up and the long but gentle way down. Both have incredible views and it’s a nice change of scenery.
Abbott Ridge is now one of my absolute favorite day hikes in Western Canada. With easy to access panoramic mountain views, this hike will take your breath away (and not just because of the up-hill hike!). For a day hike, it’s incredible how deep into the mountains you can get, a feature that’s usually reserved for multi-day hikes. Every backcountry hiker should add this one to their bucket list!