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West Wind Pass Hike in Kananaskis

The West Wind Pass is one of our favourite short Kananaskis hikes. A highly enjoyable hike up the side of a river valley to a mountain pass, the West Wind Pass trail packs in a ton of scenery for the effort.

At the top of the West Wind Pass trail, you’ll be at a mountain pass below The Rimwall and Windtower mountains. Looking northeast, you’ll enjoy sweeping views of Wind Ridge (another of our favourite Kananaskis hikes), the Little Sister (Hope) from Canmore’s Three Sisters as well as Pigeon Peak. It’s an incredible viewpoint which requires less than 3km of hiking to get there.

West Wind Pass hike with Kids in Kananaskis

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West Wind Pass Hike – Quick Details

Trailhead: West Wind Pass trailhead

Distance: 5.4 km out and back

Elevation: 353 m elevation gain

West Went Pass Hike Highlights

The initial hiking trail is a short access trail which lasts only a minute or two. Soon you’ll arrive at a T-intersection for the High Rockies trail (also a portion of the Great Trail – formerly known as the TransCanada Trail). Turn left onto the High Rockies Trail to get to the West Wind Trail.

After 200 m of hiking the High Rockies Trail, you’ll see a small handmade white sign nailed to a tree with “West Wind Pass” written on it. The West Wind trail begins here with a right-hand turn up the hill.

West Wind Pass hike - trailmarker on tree

You’ll notice the incline of the single track West Wind Pass trail right away. With a few short exceptions, the West Wind Pass starts uphill and stays that way until the end of this short Kananaskis hike.

The West Wind Pass hike winds up one side a mountain river valley through a beautiful evergreen forest. There are many shrubs growing beneath the coniferous trees, including a large amount of buffaloberry bushes (a very important food source for bears in the late summer).

The trail surface is somewhat challenging along the West Wind Pass trail with plentiful rocks and roots to manage. We recommend proper hiking shoes for this hike due to the footing issues.

kids hiking over roots on West Wind Pass trail

After 0.3 km of hiking along the West Wind Pass trail, you’ll get your first glimpse of the river valley below. This is the first of many valley views as you’ll be following it nearly the whole way up to the West Wind Pass. At this first viewpoint you’ll get a good glimpse of where you are heading with The Rimwall on the left and Windtower towering overhead on the right. Look behind you for your first glimpse of the Spray Lakes Reservoir from above.

One of the reasons hikers enjoy the West Wind Pass hike so much is that you almost always have the forest on your left and an open view through the valley on the right. There are many breaks in the trees on the West Wind Pass trail which encourages a wide variety of wildflowers to grow, including Bluebells, paintbrushes, and plenty of other varieties.

View of Spray Lakes Reservoir from West Wind Pass hiking trail

At the 0.7 km mark of the West Wind Pass trail, the hike deviates from the mountain valley a bit and becomes forested on both sides. After a brief break, the strain becomes steep again.

One of the knocks on the West Wind Pass hike is that there are multiple trails to choose from and it’s often hard to know where to go. We recommend using AllTrails to follow along on your phone, but you can also (usually) rely on the help of fellow hikers.

The first example of this comes at the 0.8 km mark of the West Wind Pass where you come to a trail junction. Here, there are two hints on which way to go. The trail to the left has a fallen tree over it – when you see a fallen tree at a trail junction this often is a message to not go this way.

Hiking with Kids in Kananaskis - West Wind Pass trail

To the right, you’ll see an orange ribbon tied to a tree. If you follow the orange/pink ribbons all the way on the West Wind Pass trail, you likely won’t get lost. You’ll encounter another orange ribbon on the left after an additional 100 m of hiking.

The West Wind Pass trail gets steep again after 1.2 km of hiking. There’s some loose rocks here, making your footing a challenge. Try to use the tree roots on the trail as steps to help with your traction.

If you’d like some fun along the West Wind Pass trail, there’s an excellent echo spot at a clearing at the 1.4 km mark. The views of Windtower and Lougheed above the clearing are very impressive.

Views from West Wind Pass trail in Kananaskis

You’ll encounter a short field of slanted smooth rock slabs at the 1.5 km mark of the West Wind Pass trail. This section confuses a lot of hikers on the West Wind Pass as it seems wrong, but to remain on the main trail you’ll need to cross over these rocks. They don’t last long.

Shortly after the rocks, the West Wind Pass hike reenters the forest, with rocky slopes up the left-hand side. At this stage of this Kananaskis hike, we remarked at how amazing the West Wind Pass hike is, every single time we hike it. With a magical forest and amazing views, the West Wind Pass hike is just so beautiful the whole way up.

West Wind Pass trail as it passes back through the forest

The West Wind Pass trail opens up again at the 1.9 km mark. You’ll notice how close the peak of Windtower is now that you are nearing the end of your hike. The hiking trail is a bit rugged at this stage with a few precarious steps over some rocks.

After 2 km of hiking you’ll reenter the forest for the final push to the top of West Wind Pass. There’s a large rock wall along the edge of the trail, some massive old growth trees and an explosion of mountain wildflowers. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear the sound of a woodpecker in the distance as we did.

wildflowers in bloom along West Wind Pass hike in Kananaskis in summer

The final portion of this leg is a bit tricky. It’s very steep and the trail is made of loose scree, making it quite slippery. Watch your step carefully here, especially on the way back down. Hiking poles will be a big help maintaining your balance here.

Boy hiking up rocky section on West Wind Pass trail in Kananaskis

After a short slog through the steep scree section, you’ll emerge from the trees. You’ll be standing in a grassy, boulder-filled meadow in-between The Rimwall and Windtower – a truly amazing sight. If you look behind you, the views of the Spray Lakes Reservoir are equally impressive.

With all the uphill climbing out of the way, the final 200 m of the West Wind Pass trail is very enjoyable. As you walk along the hiking trail, you’ll see a junction for the hike to the summit of Windtower on your right. The summit is another 600 m above you, so only attempt this if you are skilled and prepared.

Windtower hike via West Wind Pass - trail goes away from West Wind Pass to the right

As you near the end of the hike, the views of the Bow Valley mountains start to take shape. The big grassy hill in front of you is Wind Ridge (another of our favorite challenging Kananaskis hikes), while the rocky peak jutting out behind it is the Little Sister “Hope” (from Canmore’s Three Sisters). Pigeon Peak completes the amazing mountain vista ahead on the right.

It’s almost always very windy at the top of West Wind Pass. With many landmarks around with ‘wind’ in the name, I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Bring a light jacket in your daybag to put on at the top. You’ll want to spend some time enjoying the views you’ve earned, and a jacket will make it more enjoyable.

West Wind Pass - one of the best Kananaskis hikes

West Wind Pass Trailhead

West Wind Pass trail is found along the Smith Dorrien Highway (AB-742). It’s just under an hour to reach this Kananaskis hike from Banff and 1.75 hours to reach the trailhead from Calgary.

Once in Canmore, navigate to the Three Sisters Parkway (AB-742), which will turn into the Smith Dorrien Trail. It’s approximately 20 km on the Three Sisters Parkway from Quarry Lake to the pull-out on the side of the Smith Dorrien Trail where you can park for the West Wind Pass hike. Look for sign for Driftwood Day Use, it’s only another 2 km up the road where you’ll find a pull-out to park for this Kananaskis hike.

To find the West Wind Pass trailhead, stand with your back to the Spray Lakes Reservoir and walk across the Smith Dorrien Highway.

parking for West Wind Pass hike in Kananaskis

West Wind Pass Hike Stats

How Long is the West Wind Pass Hike?

The round-trip distance of the West Wind Pass trail is 5.4 km (one-way distance of 2.7 km) from the West Wind Pass trailhead to the pass.

That’s a short Kananaskis hike for the incredible views you get!

Best views on West Wind Pass trail in Kananaskis

How Hard is the Hike to West Wind Pass?

Due to the length and incline, we rate the West Wind Pass hike as “easy”.

At only 5.4 km and 353 elevation gain, the West Wind Pass trail is an easy Kananaskis hike that most anyone can do.

It is a consistent climb on the way up, so if you are a beginner hiker or don’t hike frequently then this will probably feel much more like a moderate hike.

Hiking West Wind Pass with Windtower looming overhead

There are some sections of this hike that are steep. There are also some sections that are along the ridge. Just know that it’s not a very long distance and the views are well worth it!

How Long Does the West Wind Pass Hike Take?

It should take a typical adult 1-2 hours to hike to West Wind Pass. We did this hike with our two kids (8 and 6 years old) and it took us 3 hours including time for a break at the pass and stopping for pictures.

West Wind Pass - Best Kananaskis hikes with kids

West Wind Pass Trail Map

The West Wind Pass trail is not the easiest trail to follow. There have been some ribbons added to the trees to help hikers navigate which weren’t there previously. On a weekend, this trail is popular enough that you’ll meet plenty of people on the trail to help you navigate but this isn’t a guarantee.

If you aren’t comfortable relying on your navigation skills, you can use the Alltrails app while hiking to West Wind Pass.

To find the West Wind Pass trail map in Alltrails, simply search for “West Wind Pass trail”. Be sure to download your hiking maps prior to leaving as you will not have cell service on this Kananaskis hiking trail.

trailmarker on West Wind Pass
Someone trying to help hikers stay on trail

If you prefer to hike with a paper map and compass as an additional safety layer, we highly recommend Gem Trek hiking maps. We own the entire set of these excellent Banff and Kananaskis hiking maps. They are exceptional 3D topographic maps which we love looking at for hiking inspiration.

The West Wind Pass trail map is found in the “Canmore and Kananaskis Village” map. You can order it before your trip, or you can pick it up here as they are widely available.

Hiking West Wind Pass Trail with Kids

We’ve been hiking the West Wind Pass trail with kids for a couple of years. Our kids are now 8 and 6 years old, but the first time they hiked West Wind Pass they were 6 and 4 years old. This hike is more challenging for kids as it has some steep inclines that can be slippery on the way down. There are also some rocks and roots to navigate.

Best Kananaskis hikes with kids - West Wind Pass

While it’s not as easy as a hike like Troll Falls, it’s still is completely doable with kids. You should plan for some extra time and be prepared to help younger kids on the way back down.

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

The obvious place to stop for lunch is at the West Wind Pass. This is a viewpoint where you’ll want to spend some extra time.

We always recommend bringing a jacket up as the wind at the top makes it chilly any time of year.

End of West Wind Pass looking over Wind Valley

If stopping at the viewpoint isn’t pleasant, there are picnic tables at the Driftwood Day Use just 2 km down the road from the parking area for West Wind Pass.

West Wind Pass Hiking Safety

There are a few hiking hazards along the West Wind Pass hiking trail. The trail can be slippery in spots on the way down. Take caution on the way down or use hiking poles to help with balance.

Take the time to educate yourself on Bear Safety. This should entail carrying bear spray, hiking in a group and making plenty of noise on the way up.

Cougars also live in Kananaskis Country. Learn more about Cougar Safety.

Chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter in Kananaskis are very low, but you never know what will happen with wildlife, so be prepared.

West Wind Pass doesn’t have an official trail report by Alberta Parks, but you can check the area advisories for wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.

West Wind Pass trail in Kananaskis

West Wind Pass Trail Logistics

  • On-leash dogs are allowed on the West Wind Pass hike.

  • Mountain biking is not allowed on the West Wind Pass trail, though a portion of the West Wind Pass trail is a connector for the High Rockies Trail and you will find mountain bikes on that trail.

  • There are no toilets at West Wind Pass, stop at one of the day use areas along the Smith Dorrien Trail.

  • Plan to pack plenty of water and snacks for this hike. Fill your hydration packs before you leave.

  • You won’t get cell service for the entirety of your hike, so don’t count on it for your safety.
View of Spray Lakes from West Wind Pass hiking trail

What to Bring for Hiking West Wind Pass Trail

Check out our list of hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing we recommend to get the most enjoyment out of your hike, regardless of the variable Kananaskis weather and trail conditions.

The West Wind Pass trail is a short Kananaskis hike, but there are still a few items that we recommend bringing:

  • Bear spray is a must. Cannisters are available to buy or rent at many locations in Canmore and Banff. Carry your bear spray in an easily accessible location.

  • Water – the West Wind Pass trail is a consistent uphill climb and on a hot summer day you’ll want to ensure you have enough water. A hydration pack is an effective and eco-conscious way to bring enough water for a hard hike.

  • Bring several layers of clothing with you. The weather can be quite variable hiking in Kananaskis, no matter the season. For hiking in Banff, we typically wear convertible hiking pantsT-shirts, a fleece top and rain jackets. Bring a daybag as you can expect to put on and take off layers all day.

  • We don’t use trekking poles, but they will be helpful coming back down this trail! Trekking poles can help with balance and to take pressure off knees on the descent.
Pack Layers for West Wind Pass hike

West Wind Pass Footwear Recommendation

We recommend proper hiking shoes or boots for hiking West Wind Pass. There are some sections where you’ll be glad you have the traction of your hiking boots.

Hiking boots are the best choice of footwear for West Wind Pass Hike

Looking for a shorter hike with incredible views? West Wind Pass is a clear winner!

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The West Wind Pass hike in Kananaskis offers some incredible views on such a short hike! Sure it's steep at times, but it's well worth the effort for this short Kananaskis hike.

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