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The Wind Ridge Trail Near Dead Man’s Flats, Alberta

The Wind Ridge Trail near Dead Man’s Flats, Alberta

If you live in the Calgary – Canmore corridor or you’re on your way to Banff National Park, I highly recommend a stop at Dead Man’s Flats to hike the Wind Ridge Trail. It’s a fantastic day hike – though steep – with superlative views the minute you’re out of the trees. 

The Wind Ridge Trail hike is easy to confuse with the West Wind Pass hike. Wind Ridge Trail is accessed from the Trans-Canada Highway while West Wind Pass (and Windtower) is accessed off the Smith-Dorrien Highway. 

Note that parts of the Wind Ridge trail are closed from December 1 until June 15 each year to protect winter range habitat of elk and bighorn sheep. Maps at the trailhead illustrate the closure well.

Another look at the upper part of the trail
A look at the upper part of the Wind Ridge Trail above the crux

Finding the Wind Ridge Trail 

If you’re driving from Calgary take the Trans-Canada Highway to Dead Man’s Flats – exit 98. Turn right on 2nd Street, right again on 2nd Avenue and cross the highway. It becomes George Biggy Sr. Road. Follow it to the parking lot at the end of the road, just beyond Banff Gate Mountain Resort. It’s about a one hour’s drive from Calgary.

If you’re coming from Canmore you can get off at Dead Man’s Flats (exit 98) and then immediately turn right onto George Biggy Sr. Road. Continue as above. It’s a 12 minute drive.

Trail signage is good on the Wind Ridge Trail
Trail signage is good

Stats for the Wind Ridge Trail

Total distance return: 13.9 kilometres

Total elevation: 775 metres (2,543 feet)

Time needed: 4 – 6 hours depending if you go all the way to the end of the ridge

Difficulty: Moderate – hard because of the short scramble and the steepness of the trail

Cross several streams on recently constructed bridges
Cross several streams on recently constructed bridges

Before you go

Before you start the hike, be mindful of the fact that there is a short – two move scramble required. It’s not hard unless you have a large dog you’re trying to take up with you, in which case you’re better off doing the alternate route – though it’s bloody steep. I think the alternate route is worse to descend than ascend. After descending it, half of our group wish they’d just retraced their steps via a short down climb on the rock face. See the photos below in the blog.

Also before you do the hike, I highly recommend taking a look at the scenic high point on the ridge showcased in Pink Floyd’s music video – Learning to Fly. I also understand via the blogger at On-Top.ca that the ridge has seen a grand piano on it for a performance by Canadian pianist Frank Mills.

The parking for this hike is also used for the hike up Centennial Ridge (not the usual route), Skogan Pass (a fun cross-country ski) and a hike up Pigeon Mountain.

You can see where you’re headed from the parking lot if you take the time to get oriented. Pick up the trail at the far end of the parking lot in the trees. You will see a notice-board with a map.

Wind Ridge Trail route description

We did the hike as a group of five – my husband John and my son Matthew along with two blogger friends – Gemma and JR from Off Track Travel. Even with some nasty biting flies in the middle of the hike, we all enjoyed the trail immensely. The views are impressive for a hike so close to Calgary.

The trail is in great shape with signage at key intersections. Overall you can expect route-finding to be easy.

The trail starts off flat, dips down to Pigeon Creek, weaves through the forest, crossing three bridges in total.

Ultimately you end up on an old fire road that boasts some wildflowers and views if you care to look back. It ends at treeline in a gorgeous alpine meadow with beautiful views and loads of wildflowers. For many people, the meadows are their turnaround point.

While there is a steady elevation gain up the old logging road, note that the bulk of the gain for the day really starts at the meadows. 

The initial hiking is easy on a mostly flat trail in the woods
The initial hiking is easy on a mostly flat trail in the woods
Beautiful views of the West Wind Valley
Beautiful views of the West Wind Valley

The rest of the hike is on a trail that is not maintained but is easy to follow. The crux of the hike is at the first major rock band you come across.

Follow the trail very steeply at times to the rock band. If it looks too unpleasant to you (or you have a large dog) look out for a bypass trail on your right, marked by a piece of flagging tape in the trees. The bypass trail contours below the rock band before heading take-your-breath-away steeply into the trees on Wind Ridge’s north aspect.

The Wind Ridge trail steepens when you break through the trees
The Wind Ridge trail steepens when you break through the trees
The crux of the hike is this rock band
The crux of the hike is this rock band (note the person on the right that just went up)
Enjoy views like this above the rock band
Enjoy views of Canmore above the rock band

After the rock band there is still some climbing to do but it goes quickly and in short order you’ll be standing on the ridge top. Continue along the ridge – enjoying the flat sections as you head for the summit marked by a cairn. Views of Canmore and the Bow Valley corridor are especially good through here.

From the summit you can enjoy big mountain views of Mount Allan, Wind Mountain, Mount Lougheed, the Windtower, West Wind Pass, Rimwall Summit, the Orphan and the Three Sisters (Faith, Hope and Charity Peaks) – going from left to right.

On the final push to the ridge
On the final push to the ridge
Caught some good wildflowers in July on the Wind Ridge trail
Caught some good wildflowers in July on the Wind Ridge Trail
Hiking the Wind Ridge Trail
Hiking the actual ridge part of the Wind Ridge Trail
And what a view from the Wind Ridge Trail
And what a view from the Wind Ridge Trail
The return starts off easily enough
The return starts off easily enough
There is the option to descend on a VERY STEEP trail to avoid the rock face
There is the option to descend on a VERY STEEP bypass trail to avoid the rock band – note flagging tape
The steep descent on the alternate trail to avoid the rock face
The steep descent on the bypass trail to avoid the rock band
Coming off that steep trail to hit up with the main Wind Ridge Trail
Coming off the steep bypass trail to hit up with the main Wind Ridge Trail
The steep descent where pole come in handy
The steep descent where poles come in handy
Follow the trail back to the parking lot
Follow the trail back to the parking lot

Where to stay near the Wind Ridge Trail

The closest place to stay – The Banff Gate Mountain Resort, is just a minute’s drive from the parking lot. 

Canmore, just a short drive away, has options for all budgets. 

The Basecamp Resorts (a self-check-in hotel) is a great choice if you want to be able to cook a meal or two. They have a great hot tub with a view.

For an upscale experience check out the Malcom Hotel. For the opposite end of the spectrum the Canmore Downtown Hostel should fit the bill.

5 things I’d take on this hike

For a comfortable lunch – especially if you have to sit on rocks or if it’s wet, I swear by my almost weightless inflatable seat cushion

Collapsible hiking poles come in really handy on the descent. I like the carbon poles for their weight.

A pocket-sized wildflower guide book is a great addition considering the number of wildflowers you’ll encounter. 

Take a buff for the wind, especially if it’s a cool day.

On this hike you’ll want layers in case it’s windy at the top. The MEC Airstream Hoody is a great lightweight choice.

Further reading on adventures in the Canmore area

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The fabulous Wind Ridge hike near Calgary, Alberta

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

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