Hiking Prairie Mountain, Bragg Creek

by - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Prairie Mountain is a popular spring hike due to its proximity to Calgary and great, early season conditions. With 700 metres elevation gain over less than 4 kilometres, the trail is not for slackers, but you're paid off at the top with panoramic views. While ice cleats or microspikes are a good idea in February and March, by April, the trail is usually completely dry. Check the Kananaskis Trail Reports or my Trip Reports page for current conditions.


Prairie Mountain At a Glance

Distance: 7.8 km
Elevation Gain: 700 m
Time: Allow 4-5 hours (5-6 hours if hiking with small children)
Nearest Washrooms: Elbow Falls Day Use Area
Stroller Friendly? No. 
Geocaches: There are several geocaches on the mountain! Download and store cache data at home as there is no cell service on the trail.
Trailhead: There is no sign marking the trailhead. See below for details. 
Distance from Calgary: 65 km
Directions from Bragg Creek: Take Hwy 22 South. At the 3-way intersection, turn right onto Hwy 66. Continue on Hwy 66 for 18 kilometres. Elbow Falls parking lot will be on your left. If the winter gate is open, continue on for half a kilometre and park at Beaver Lodge on the left.
Parking: Beaver Lodge (When the winter gate on Hwy 66 is closed, park at Elbow Falls).

Prairie Mountain 

Finding the Trailhead

The trail up Prairie Mountain is pretty straightforward, except for the trailhead. Three trails converge in one spot, so you must pay pick the right one if you want to get up the mountain! 

1 a) From Beaver Lodge head east (towards Elbow Falls) on foot for about 100 metres until you reach a small bridge over Prairie Creek. Continue to step 2.

1 b) From Elbow Falls head west on foot until you reach a small bridge over Prairie Creek (~300 metres past the winter gate). Continue to step 2.

2) From Prairie Creek Bridge, with your back to the highway, take the trail on your right that climbs steeply upward (the low lying one on the left, along the creek is Prairie Creek and the trail that runs parallel to the road is Elbow Valley Trail). Prairie Mountain Trail is a steady climb. If you find yourself heading back towards Elbow Falls, you're on Elbow Valley Trail, not Prairie Mountain Trail.

Once you're on the right trail, the route is straightforward. Keep going up, up, and up! A rock cairn marks the summit and an anonymous hiker has kindly planted a flag there (Thank you!).

Prairie Mountain - only a few hundred metres to go!

Hiking Prairie Mountain With Kids

On the day we hiked Prairie Mountain (March 18, 2016), it was covered in a blanket of sparkling snow. Fortunately, early-rising hikers had broken trail, so it was easy to find our way. Slowly and steadily, we made it to the top, using every lookout as a snack spot. I'm glad I packed lots of food because we devoured all of it!

A good snack spot and viewpoint!
The hike is a steady climb, but the last bit in the trees (1 km from the top) was the toughest with solid ice beneath the snow. Microspikes for the win! Icy slope behind us, we emerged from the trees and could see our objective: the summit cairn and flag, only 500 metres away. With Calgary's skyscrapers to the west, Elbow Valley behind us, and mountains all around, the view was beautiful in every direction. We took a summit selfie, enjoyed a well deserved "good job treat" (chocolate bars) and headed back the way we came.

On the final push to the summit
All in all, it took us 3.5 hours to ascend and 2.5 hours to come down including lots of breaks (snacktime, lunch, washroom, snow play). It was a big day for my little hikers and I am so proud of them!

Prairie Mountain Summit Selfie!

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