06/10/2022

Penelope Tours

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Windtower Hike in Spray Lakes Provincial Park

Windtower Hike in Spray Lakes Provincial Park

Summary

  • A double whammy of a hike as you knock off West Wind Pass and Windtower – with its astounding views of the Spray Lakes, Canmore, and the Bow Valley.
  • The hike is 9.8 kilometres round trip with an elevation gain of 988 metres. There are a couple of easy scrambling sections. 
  • Allow up 6 – 7 hours to do the return hike, depending on your fitness level and how sure-footed you are on steep terrain. 

I have looked up at Windtower for years – both from West Wind Pass on a chilly, windy day and from the Smith Dorrien Trail from the comfort of my car. I finally did it on a hazy, warm August day. It wasn’t as hard as I expected. On the summit, I was blown away by the views. If you’re a keen hiker, and you don’t mind some scree, I would highly recommend the Windtower hike.

You won't tire of the views on the Windtower hike
You won’t tire of the views on the Windtower hike

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Windtower hike details

Distance: 9.8 km round trip

Elevation gain: 988 metres (3241 feet)

Difficulty: Moderate to expert

Time needed: 5.5 – 7 hours 

Location: Spray Valley Provincial Park

Dogs allowed: Yes, on a leash but on a hot day this hike wouldn’t be a good idea as there is NO water

Map needed: Gem Trek Canmore and Kananaskis Village or on Amazon

Don’t forget: You need a Kananaskis Conservation Pass. Carry the hiking essentials and take lots of water and a sunhat if it’s a hot day. Also pack layers as its usually very windy on the summit – so it can be quite cold. This is one hike where hiking poles are very helpful for the descent.

Before you go: Normally I would encourage you to check trail reports but as the trail is unofficial, there is never anything online.

Windtower hike description

Cross the road and begin a steep ascent towards West Wind Pass. Be sure to stick to the right trail as there are a couple of junctions. At the first intersection (pictured below) stay right. There is a marker on the tree which helps. Left is the High Rockies Trail. Further on up there is another trail that heads left for the Rimwall – a far more difficult hike. That intersection is marked with a small cairn. Again, stay right for the pass. There is a lot of trail braiding on the way up to the pass, but if you follow what looks like the main trail, you will break out of the trees and reach West Wind Pass at the 2.1 km mark. You will have climbed 378 metres at that point, but you have another 610 metres to go!

If you haven’t been to West Wind Pass before, it’s worth hiking a few hundred metres more. At the pass look into Wind Valley. Then look up. The pass sits between the Rimwall (on your left or to the northwest) and Windtower on your right or to the east.

You’ll see the trail curving east to the Windtower (4 photos below) and then start climbing. I found the trail to be an obvious one. There were a couple of cairns around, but the trail is boot-beaten enough that if you’re paying attention, you shouldn’t have any trouble. The initial section up Windtower is at a gentle grade but it does entail a couple of short, easy scrambles up some rocks. You should literally be able to do them in 30 seconds or less. You shouldn’t be struggling – and if you are, you’re likely off course. 

After 50 or 60 minutes of hiking, you’ll head left or east. The general direction is steeply up towards Mount Lougheed. When you stop to catch your breath, look around as the views of the Spray Lakes Reservoir are superlative.

At a certain point – and it’s obvious, the trail turns and heads north towards Windtower through bootbeaten scree. The grade does moderate for a while and then zigzags up the final hump to Windtower. We were very lucky as there was no wind on teh summit but there are a couple of wind breaks on top. Have a wander around the small summit – admiring the views of Canmore, the Bow Valley, and the Wind Ridge Trail far below. Look across to the Rimwall – and decide if that kind of steep hiking is for you. And after enjoying lunch with a view, retrace your steps.

Hang a right when you get to the first intersection
Hang a right when you get to the first intersection
Starting up towards West Wind Pass - with Wind Tower on the horizon
Starting up towards West Wind Pass – with Wind Tower to the immediate right of the tree on the trail
Sweet views of the Spray Lakes Reservoir in short order
Sweet views of the Spray Lakes Reservoir in short order
We can see our goal from West Wind Pass
We can see our goal from West Wind Pass
The views just get better and better the higher we go
The views just get better and better the higher we go
Some lovely hiking after you leave the trail up to West Wind Pass
Some lovely hiking after you leave the trail up to West Wind Pass
You can see the trail up Rimwall
You can see the trail up Rimwall on the left
It's a steady climb - sometimes on scree
It’s a steady climb – sometimes on scree
A good look over to Mount Lougheed as you get close to the summit of Windtower
A good look over to Mount Lougheed as you get close to the summit of Windtower
The summit of Windtower feels close
The summit of Windtower feels close
Looking over the edge might give you vertigo
Looking over the edge might give you vertigo
There are a couple of wind breaks on the summit of Windtower
There are a couple of wind breaks on the summit of Windtower
Me at the top with Bow Valley in the background
Me at the top with Bow Valley in the background
Three of us women did the hike together
Three of us women did the hike together

The descent off Windtower

I was not looking forward to the descent off Windtower, especially as I hadn’t brought poles with me. (And I almost always do!) However, it was not nearly so bad because you can boot step through most of the scree – without feeling like you were going to slide out of control. You might want short boot gaiters here, to keep the rocks out.

The one section of scree that was hardpacked and slippery with ball bearing-sized pebbles was fine with a borrowed pole. In fact, I got through it without even knowing it. Once you’re back in the trees, it’s easy going, save for a few short, very easy scrambly sections. We were down from the summit of Windtower and at the car in about 2.5 hours.

Coming down on scree - but much of it is deep enough that its actually easy hiking
Coming down on scree – but much of it is deep enough that its actually easy hiking
The last kilometre or two to the car feels long
The last kilometre or two to the car feels long

Finding the Windtower trailhead

Drive through Canmore to reach the Canmore Nordic Centre. Zero your odometer here. Drive 18.5 km to park in a pullout on the right or west side of the highway, just before Spurling Creek. You will almost always see other cars here. The trail starts across the highway. It’s obvious and there is signage telling you about annual closures though it refers to West Wind Ridge and West Wind Valley.

There are no facilities to speak of at the parking lot. But there is a lot of toilet paper in the woods. Please don’t be that person and instead practice Leave No Trace principles.

Signage at the Windtower trailhead
Signage at the Windtower trailhead

Further reading on Alberta hikes

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The fabulous Windtower hike - Spray Valley Provincial Park