For many people the hiking season ends when the snow starts to fly. But it…
If you’re looking for an excellent mountain hike close to Canmore that doesn’t take all day, consider the easy but steep hike to West Wind Pass. Considering the return distance is just 4.2 km and you gain only 378 m, most people will be able to knock the full hike off in 1.5 – 2.5 hours. It’s a great alternative to the nearby, busier Ha Ling Peak.
The other bonus with the West Wind Pass hike is the fact you can make it into a longer day hike by continuing to Windtower. Keep in mind though, that on truly windy days, that might not be a good choice. The area around both the pass and the tower are notoriously lose-your-hat windy. Also even though the trail is often snow-free by June 15th, you are not supposed to hike it. There is a trail closure from April 1 until June 15th when the bighorn sheep are lambing. Apparently, grizzlies time their visits with lambing season too.
Check trail reports before you head out, no matter what the weather forecast is like. Trails regularly get closed for construction and wildlife.
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Once you find the main turnoff, the trail is a snap to follow. However, more than a few people have ended up on the Rimwall Trail – a longer, more ambitious, and difficult hike. As an aside, you can see the Rimwall summit from the pass on your left as you look out towards Wind Ridge Trail.
The hike starts out on the east side of the Smith Dorrien Road immediately northwest of the Spurling Creek trail. As long as you’re paying attention when you reach the intersection and turn right towards West Wind Pass, you’ll have no trouble with navigation.
Follow the well-traveled trail – quickly gaining elevation and with that, superb views of the Spray Lakes Reservoir. At 2.1 km you reach the pass – sandwiched between Rimwall on the left or northeast and Windtower on the right or east. There’s a large flattish area to explore at the pass and plenty of boulders to block the wind.
After you’ve finished exploring the area, either continue to Windtower or return to the trailhead. Be a little careful on the descent as there are plenty of ballbearing-sized pebbles that could trip you up.
Option to extend the hike
The Windtower hike is a moderate one. To do it, you will add 5.6 km to your day along with another 610 m of elevation gain. Allow 4.5 – 6 hours to do the return hike to the parking lot.
Note how easy it is to find the trail intersection from the West Wind Pass hike. I have yet to do it, but I understand there are cairns when the trail starts to die out. And be prepared for scree on the final section to the summit. Allow roughly 2 hours from the pass to reach the summit and about 1.5 hours to descend back to the pass.
Finding the trailhead
From the Canmore Nordic Centre in Canmore, drive 18.5 km south on the Smith Dorrien – Spray Lakes Trail. Park in the pullout just west of Spurling Creek. On a weekend it will be particularly obvious as it’s a popular trail.
A few things to take on the hike
I like paper maps – so I don’t have to rely on GPS batteries. You’ll find the route on the Gem Trek Canmore and Kananaskis Village map. Some people might like hiking poles for the steep sections of the hike. I personally like the carbon poles because of their weightless quality.
Take a windproof jacket and a toque as it can be quite chilly, even in the summer. Don’t forget the bear spray in an easy to access holster. Pack an energy bar or two and more water that you think you’d need.
Staying in Canmore?
If you’re using Canmore as a base for a couple of days of hiking and exploring, then you’ll find plenty of choice for where to stay – across the whole spectrum of prices. There is camping in nearby Bow Valley Provincial Park, but beware of highway noise.
In town at the high end I’d recommend the Malcom Hotel. For a hostel check out this one run by the Alpine Club of Canada. And if you prefer the B&B experience, the Bear & Bison Country Inn should fit the bill quite nicely.
A few other Canmore area hikes you might enjoy
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