Phillipps Pass is in between Crowsnest Ridge and Phillipps Peak of Mount Tecumseh and, like the Crowsnest Pass, crosses the continental divide. In 1873 Michael Phillipps crossed this pass from west to east, the first white person to visit the area. A track was soon cut across Phillipps Pass, and in 1888 it was used by Colonel Sam Steele and the North West Mounted Police during the evacuation of Fort Steele.
With the development of towns in the southern Rockies, the Phillipps Pass track was gradually improved and became the first automobile road across the continental divide in Canada. On October 3 1912 Thomas Wilby and Jack Haney crossed it during the first ever trans-Canada drive from Halifax to Victoria. Parts of the route remained very rough, however, and the Phillipps Pass route was replaced by a good, gravelled road blasted around Crowsnest Lake in 1921, which is the route followed by the present Highway 3.
Phillipps Pass was famously used by rum-runners to illegally import alcohol into Alberta during prohibition (1916 – 1921). Sometimes the rum-runners would pose as innocent picnickers, or sometimes they’d try to outrun the Alberta Provincial Police in their McLaughlan “whiskey sixes”.
The traditional Phillipps Pass trail on the Alberta side is a rough, gravelled road with a long uphill section – but part of it runs over private land, and is at present closed to the public. Public access is only from the BC side, beginning at the Crowsnest Provincial Park day-use area off Highway 3 just two kilometres west of the Alberta border (at the Welcome to BC sign). The trailhead is not signposted, but is fairly obvious; a rough road makes its way directly up to Phillipps Lake. There is a vehicle trap at the beginning of the road, so plan to do the entire 3.2km of moderately easy but consistently uphill terrain on foot. Return the way you came.