If you love a good waterfall hike, then put the Ribbon Falls hike in Kananaskis…
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.
Wind Ridge Trail Location
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.
Wind Ridge Trail Details
Total distance return: 13.9 km
Total elevation: 775 m (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
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.
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 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.
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.
Wind Ridge Trail nearby accommodation options
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.
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
- 9 Canmore Hikes that Offer Great Views
- Cycling the Banff Legacy Trail from Canmore to Banff
- Biking Alberta’s Goat Creek Trail from Canmore to Banff
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