The Foran Grade and Windy Point hike is a great choice for anyone who lives in the Calgary area and is eager for a hike that delivers great mountain views starting early in the season. I wouldn’t do this hike in the summer when there are more interesting choices, but I’d come back again in the fall to catch the vibrant colours. The effort to reward ratio on this hike is high.
The Foran Grade trail hooks up with many other trails at well-signed intersections, so there are many days worth of hiking in the area. The access to the trailhead from the Sandy McNab Day Use Area in the Sheep River area of Kananaskis Country near Turner Valley is closed to cars from December 1 to May 14. Fortunately it’s an easy 1.5 km walk on the highway to reach the well-signed trailhead. There is limited parking at the trailhead once the highway is open.
All told the hike is about 10 km return, depending on exactly what route you follow – and that includes 3 km back and forth from the winter gate. It’s 3 km shorter come May15th when you can drive to the trailhead. Expect to climb about 305 m in total. Allow 4 – 5 hours.
The first part of the hike was a gradual walk up through pretty meadows and open woods to a high point on the ridge line. We didn’t see any cows on our hike, but they certainly left their evidence behind. There was some ice and mud – but we only needed icers for a few minutes on the descent to the trail intersection.
Reach a signed intersection after the descent from the Foran Grade trail. There is an option to follow the Windy Point Ridge Trail – but in early April, we found it hard to follow.
Instead, we hiked steeply off trail, contouring up to reach the ridge line. When we got there, we went right at first to see where the trail went. After reaching a high point, we retraced our steps and settled in the lee of some trees to enjoy lunch with a view. We could see the office towers of downtown Calgary from our perch.
Then we went the other way to check out Windy Point itself – a place with great mountain views including Banded Peak and Threepoint Mountain.
The descent back to the road
It’s a very steep descent down to the trail from Windy Point. We picked our way down carefully and I for one was happy to have a hiking pole. Once we got into the woods, we just headed in the general direction of the trail we’d seen from above and followed it to the road.
There is the option to take a trail on the far side of the highway – above the river – back to the parking lot. This would normally be a good option but it was very muddy, so we stuck to the highway and walked back in about 20 minutes.
Bighorn sheep reside in the area year round
Bighorn sheep live in the Sheep River Valley on a year-round basis. In fact, the road is closed to protect their winter range. According to a researcher we met at the winter gate, there are approximately 100 bighorn sheep living in the area.
Foran Grade – Windy Point Trailhead Location
Get to Turner Valley. At the four-way intersection by the gas station, head west on Highway 546. Take it for about 21 km to reach the winter gates by the Sandy McNab Campground. If the gates are open (which they will be from May 15 – November 30) continue for another 1.5 km to reach the trailhead and small parking area.
The Sheep River Road is ideal for biking, especially when it’s closed to traffic. In April there was only a minor amount of snow on the road that could be easily avoided.
If you’re into biking, you might also enjoy the ride up Highwood Pass from the Longview area before June 15th – when it opens to cars.
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