How To Hike The Windtower Summit in Kananaskis Country

Windtower is one the shortest, but most rewarding hikes we tackled last summer. We had never even heard of it, but thanks to a friend’s recommendation we decided to drive down the Smith Dorrien Highway and get it done!

After a fun four hours, I am so happy that we were able to complete another epic Kananaskis Hike. Read on for what to expect while hiking Windtower in Kananaskis Country.

Windtower Hike

Windtower Hike Guide

Key Points

  • Length: 9.8km
  • Duration: 4-6 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 898m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Scrambling Involved: No
  • Best Time To Go: April – October
  • Where to Park for This Kananaskis Hike: Look for West Wind Pass signs along the Smith Dorrien
  • Gear Needed: Daypackhiking poles for the descent, bear spray

Windtower Route Description

Tasha Descending From the Windtower Summit in the sunset

The hike starts out pretty mild. You’ll hike in the treeline for the first 45 minutes or so until you reach West Wind Pass. It’s a steady uphill easy climb to West Wind Pass. If you want a nice and short hike – stop here and enjoy the views over the Bow Valley. You’ll know you have reached West Wind Pass around 3km when you get above the trees and have awesome views.

To conquer Windtower you have at least an hour and some change more of light scrambling and a moderate incline to go. But it’s worth it to continue on. The path starts to fall apart a tad bit from West Wind Pass. Stay on trails with the AllTrails path. We saw two other guys taking a detour only to run into them later saying they got cliffed out.

The West Wind Pass on the way up Windtower
At West Wind Pass looking back towards Spray Lakes
Rimwall Summit and West Wind Pass From Windtower Ascent
Continuing On

The last 1km is a pretty relentless uphill climb in scree, once you reach the top stop to admire the views. It gets really windy – hence the name – Windtower. We hid out in a small rock wall to eat a cliff bar while enjoying the view with epic views. Don’t get too close the edge it is literally a straight drop off up here.

Wind wall on the summit of Windtower that overlooks Spray Lakes
The Small Rockwall to Hide in

Turn around and return the same way you came while enjoying views over the Spray Lakes Reservoir.

When Can You Hike Windtower?

Windtower descent with a view of Lougheed in the distance
Natasha Throwing up the peace sign on the Windtower hike
Sitting next to the massive rock wall cliff on Windtower
Sitting near the edge – this as close as I get!

Windtower can be tackled between late April and November. Although you’ll likely need poles and microspikes between April and June and in November. If you go hiking in winter weather make sure to have ankle high waterproof boots, and other waterproof warm clothing.

Windtower Parking

From Canmore, driving down the Smith Dorrien you’ll pass other stop-offs like Ha Ling and EEOR. Follow the AllTrails start mark to find the parking options. There is a small area for street parking along the road on the right-hand side of the road near Spray Lakes. Park Here.

How Long Does Take To Hike Mount Windtower?

The descent down to spray lake from windtower summit at sunset

Windtower is a 9.8km hike with an elevation gain of 898 meters. The hike is rated as moderate, but there are only two bits of very light scrambling. Nothing technical is required.

Natasha in scale to spray lake

We wanted a sunrise hike when we hiked Windtower and started after 5pm and came back just before dark. Total round trip time took 4.5 hours with a 30 minute summit stop. You can expect Windtower to take you anywhere between 4-6 hours. If you are only heading to West Wind Pass allow yourself two hours round trip.

How Hard is Windtower?

A far angle of Natasha on the summit of Windtower above the rock wall

As far as hikes in Kananaskis go I would personally rate this hike as on the harder end of easy or the easier end of moderate. It’ slightly easier than Tent Ridge nearby, and definitely easier than East End of Rundle.

While the hike takes at least four hours to complete, the uphill climb is gradual and really only picks up at the end. There is nothing technical about this hike. You only have to use your hands once or twice, where a fall would result in a sprained ankle or similar (not death). Of course, this is not including the summit of Windtower where you definitely don’t want to get close to the cliff edge.

If you are in reasonable shape this hike is suitable for you. If you are an experienced hiker but want to take someone new to hiking out I would recommend Windtower. It will get your heartbeat up for sure, but it’s not scary like other hikes in the Rockies and provides breathtaking views.

Are dogs and kids appropriate to hike Windtower?

Tasha sitting on the summit of Windtower after the hike up and enjoying the sunset

Both dogs and experienced kids would be able to handle Windtower, although towards the summit you’ll be walking on nonstop scree.

How Busy is Windtower Hike?

Cameron Walking up the ridge in the wind on windtower

West Wind Pass is relatively busy, but many people stop here and turn around. The hike all the way up to Windtower is one of the lesser-known hikes in the area and you will likely only see a few other parties even in the heat of summer. A reliable outdoor hat and sunglasses will be greatly appreciated since the route lacks much in the form of sun protection.

Other Notes about Hiking Windtower

Cameron on the summit of the Windtower Hike with wild light

Bring a windbreaker jacket as it gets super windy. Be careful at West Wind Pass with routing. If you try to make your own way you may get cliffed out. Follow your GPS and AllTrails for the correct route up.

Wildlife Awareness on The Hike

Bear Safety

If you’re on any hikes in Kananaskis you should practice proper wildlife awareness. In the region, there are frequent sightings of black bears, grizzly bears, moose, coyotes, and cougars. They all a potential threat to humans and we should reduce our impact on their natural lives.

Before any hike or walk-in the Canadian Rockies, you need to have bear spray. Remember that the bear spray is worthless if it’s in your pack, you’ll need to be able to grab this in two seconds or less in an emergency. We wear our bear sprays on our hip.

The likeliness of seeing wildlife on this trail is high. It is a moderately trafficked trail, but bear sightings have occurred. The meadow and valley is prime grizzly habitat and the trail has been closed in the past due to bear activity. We saw a male grizzly near the saddle of this hike. Thankfully he was fairly far away and we had a large group.

Always check the park websites for wildlife information (Parks Canada) and then check again for notices at the trailhead. 

When you’re on the trail make noise by banging hiking poles, talking, whistling, clapping, or singing. This is particularly important around blind bends and corners. You’re through the deep woods during these times, and it’s prime time to sneak up on a bear. Once you’re at the summit, you’re safer as you can see wildlife from afar, but still, don’t let your guard down and keep the bear spray on you just in case.

As always while hiking, you need to stay alert, travel in a group, mind children and pets, and finally carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it. If you’ve come to the park without bear spray Valhalla Pure Outfitters in town sells spray and holders with employees who will demonstrate how to use properly. 

Besides bears, it’s common to see hoary marmots and pika. We asked a marmot for directions, but they only gave us a whistle.

Advice on Hikes in the Canadian Rockies

Natasha looking out at lougheed

If this is your first time hiking in the Rockies take a conservative approach. Pick an adequate hike for your fitness, plan for plenty of time, pack water and food, and don’t be afraid to turn around. If you want to learn more about what to wear hiking we have a great post.

For long hikes, set a turn around time at the departure. Any time we set out for an objective I determine a time at which we need to turn around in order to arrive at the parking lot or campsite by dark. I would recommend not hiking in the dark as it’s easy to get lost and it’s not fun in bear country.

On that note, always carry bear spray if you plan to hike in the park. We carry ours in the neighborhood and bears have been known to stroll through town and busy parking lots. Always practice wildlife awareness when you’re on a trail, and please give animals space.

Windtower Hike

In regards to times keep in mind your mountain fitness — different than the gym. The low end of the times in this post is a constant fast pace uphill with little to no breaks and a brisk pace downhill. Most hikers should plan for a middle of the road time with the estimated duration.

It’s also super important to know that there are limitations and to come prepared. These are very serious mountains and it easy to get in well over your head with life-threatening consequences.

Lastly, a GPS tracker could save your life – it’s one of those backpacking essentials I like to have on me just in case I need to hit SOS.

Alltrails is our favorite app to have on a hike. It shows the correct trail way, elevation, and other hiker reviews. We paid the subscription fee so that we could download all the data we need to our phones. Best $2.50 (per month) ever spent!

What to Wear On a Hike?

Windtower Hike

The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone that has spent time in wilderness or mountains can speak to the fact your temperature can fluctuate a lot on a hike. You can easily start off cool at the base of the mountain and get hot as soon as you begin moving.

The goal of hiking clothing is to help regulate your body temperature, element protection, and moisture management. Temperature management is best done through a layering system if you want to learn more about what to pack for a day hike or what to wear on a hike, you can see our full post!  Here are the best hiking clothes for men and the best hiking clothes for women.

We Have an Entire Website on Banff!

We live in this beautiful area of the world and want to make sure you have an epic time in the wilderness. Check out The Banff Blog for more travel information.

Banff Blog 4

What to Pack for Canada?

We’ve put together our favorite packing list items for the Canadian Rockies. This list is meant to be good in any season, for many different levels of activities. Whether it’s hiking or just wandering around exploring the town of Banff and it’s surroundings here are the things to consider for your trip.

Travel Insurance

Banff Itinerary

We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen in a foreign country and it’s best to be prepared. World Nomads provides good short term coverage

SafetyWing is perfect for digital nomads. See our full review here!

Hiking Backpack

Best Camera Backpacks for Hiking

You’re going to need something to carry your belongings in while your traveling around Jasper. Even if you’re not doing extensive hikes you need at least something small for day trips. My favorite daypacks are from Camelbak.

Hiking Shoes

The North Face Ultra 110 GTX

If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Banff then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Canada.

Down Jacket

We ALWAYS have a down jacket with me on every single hike I go in the Rockies. It’s a just in case jacket that we usually end up wearing when we reach the summit, and it gets cold. Down jackets pack up light and small so there is no reason NOT to have one in your bag. Seriously it could save your life in a bad situation. We wrote a whole post on our favorites (hint – Arc’Teryx Cerium LT Hooded Jacket, Patagonia Down Sweater, REI Coop Down Jacket)

Hiking Pants

Packing List Keb Hiking Pant

Both Cameron and I have Fjallraven’s well known Keb pants. Fjallraven’s Keb pants are a mountaineering staple, but they are heavyweight and not excellent for quick dry properties yet extremely durable.

They kept me warm throughout this entire hike and are windproof. When I was too hot at the base of the mountain, I was able to unzip the sides for airflow. These are, without a doubt, my favorite pants to hike in the Canadian Rockies. You can also check out the best hiking pants for women and the best hiking pants for men.

Peak Design Capture Clip

Peak Design Capture Clip

This is has been one of our favorite additions to our camera equipment and hiking outfit. The Peak Design capture clip allows for a camera to be clipped on to your backpack strap or belt.It has to be one of the best accessories we’ve ever used for carrying our camera.

The clip feels secure and robust with a straight forward design that makes switching straps easy. We’ve brought it on several hikes around the Canadian Rockies now and it has changed the way in which we photograph hikes. The access it provides to your camera is so much better than a camera strap that allows a camera to swing and banging into everything.

It’s super handy and a must for anyone who want to carry their camera on hikes, but not have to fumble around in their bag every time they want to take a photo.

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