Minutes southeast of the Columbia Icefields region, the Nigel Pass hiking trial presents a long but easy walk amid very picturesque terrain, and serves as a starting point for many possible multi-day backpacking trips. Following Nigel Creek, the trail climbs gently through a mixture of pleasant forest areas and clearings with a wide variety of wildflowers on display. As you draw closer to your destination, a look behind offers an ever improving view of Mt. Saskatchewan, which dominates the valley to the southwest. The pass itself offers excellent views of Mt. Nigel (to the northwest), Cataract Pass (to the south), the Brazeau River (south and east), and a large number of unnamed peaks.
The parking area for Nigel Pass is situated along the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93), 9km south of the Columbia Icefield Centre and 1km north of the “Big Bend”. To reach the trailhead, you need to follow the road down (north) past the interpretive signs and then right (east) across a footbridge. The trail from that point all the way to the pass is very easy to follow, with no real route-finding required. The only challenges along the route are a pair of water crossings, which were barely flowing and easy to cross by late August, and an increase in trail steepness encountered before reaching the pass.
For those looking for a bit more variety on the return trip, a decent option is to switch to the horse trail which diverts from the hiking trail about a kilometre or so below the pass (look for the sign). This trail quickly drops to, and then crosses, Nigel Creek. Unlike the previous water crosses you'll have encountered, don't expect to make it across this one with dry feet.
The horse trail follows a similar route back towards the trailhead, but does so from the other side of the creek and through the backdrop of a denser forest. You will eventually reach a fork in the trail with two separate bridges, one heading left (south) back to the hiking trail, and another continuing straight (west). My recommendation is to take the left/south bridge back across the creek to the main hiking trail. The other route will eventually bring you to a warden station (of sorts), where the driveway leads to a long, and incredibly boring, fire road that will eventually return you to the main parking area to the south.
Nigel Pass is a very popular destination for day trippers during the summer months. If you're hoping for a reasonable amount of tranquility while wandering about the valley, your best bet is to aim for an early start, as the limited parking area can fill even on week days. That said, the broad width of the pass, along with the multitude of potential side trips possible from its location, usually does result in a reasonable dispersion of people.
While Nigel Pass is a great destination in and of itself, it can also serve as a great staging point for further adventures. There are many easy scrambles available in the immediate area, the hike up to Cataract Pass would prove a very worthwhile side trip, a hike through unnamed pass to the Tangle Ridge/Beauty Creek area is also possible, and for the more ambitious, I've heard nothing but great things about doing the five-day, 80 km, Brazeau Loop trip which begins here.
Multiple sources warned me of insect issues along the Nigel Pass trail, advising the liberal use of sprays and other counter-measures to ensure a comfortable voyage. However, this wasn't an issue at all when I was there in late August.