Prairie Mountain is a popular spring hike due to its proximity to Calgary and great, early season conditions. With 700 metres of elevation gain over less than 4 kilometres, you will have to earn the panoramic summit view, but the effort is well worth it. While ice cleats or microspikes are a good idea in February and March, the trail is usually dry by April.
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!
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 east, the Elbow Valley below, 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.
All in all, it took us 3.5 hours to ascend and 2.5 hours to come down including lots of breaks and snow play. It was a big day for my little hikers and I am so proud of them!
Prairie Mountain At a Glance
- Distance: 7.8 km round trip
- 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).
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 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.
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!|