Just because it’s cold outside and the ground is covered in snow doesn’t mean you…
If you live in Bragg Creek you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to hiking. Fortunately for those of us who live in Calgary, all of the trailheads for the Bragg Creek hikes described below are less than an hour’s drive away. All the trailheads are accessed off of Highway 66, with the Fullerton Loop and Sugar Mama hikes the first ones you reach, only 15 km southwest of Bragg Creek.
These seven Bragg Creek hikes are lovely – offering a mix of ridge walks and mountains. But for many, they won’t replace a trip to Banff National Park or the hikes off of Highway 40 in Kananaskis Country. Still you can’t beat them for accessibility, especially from the Calgary area. Many are family-friendly. All are dog-friendly (on a leash) and some you can knock off in just a half day.
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If you’re planning to do anyone of these hikes early in the season, take icers because there’s still likely snow at elevation. A pair of poles and extra clothing would also be smart. In mid-May 2020 a pair of snowshoes would actually be the best way to climb the mountain as there is easily thigh deep snow right at the trailhead.
Don’t forget your credit card so you can get a refreshment after the hike. There are several cafes in Bragg Creek that are perfect for refueling stops, with the Cinnamon Spoon the most visible one from the highway. There are a couple of gas stations in town too.
Before you start hiking, read The 10 Hiking Essentials Everyone Should Carry. I have never seen a bear while doing any of these hikes but I’d still recommend carrying a can of bear spray. I also highly recommend that you check the trail status of any of these hikes before you go as they can change in a heartbeat.
Bragg Creek hikes – the Fullerton Loop
The Fullerton Loop hike is the perfect easy, family-friendly half day hike. I like it in all seasons but summer, when my personal preference is to be high in the mountains.
Over its 6.7 km length you experience a combination of hilly valley trails and some delightful ridge walking. There are multiple options to extend the hike into an all-day outing by combining with trails that start in the West Bragg Creek day use area.
The Fullerton Loop hike starts at the Bill Allen parking lot, with signage pointing to it from the highway.
Moose Mountain – one of the best views of the Bragg Creek hikes
For a good workout and some of the top views in the area, do the 7.3 km one way hike up Moose Mountain. The elevation gain is a moderate 473 m (1552 feet), making this hike a great early season one. Ideally you want to do it after the gravel road to the trailhead has opened – usually in mid-May. Allow 3.5 – 5 hours for the return hike depending on your speed.
Moose Mountain tops out at 2,437 m (7,995 feet) with a 90 year old fire lookout marking the summit. (Respect people’s privacy up here as it’s been a working lookout.) I heard rumours last year that you can no longer hike the last few metres to the top – but don’t let that dissuade you from doing it.
To get to the trailhead drive just past the Paddy’s Flats Campground. Turn right, if coming from Bragg Creek, onto the Moose Mountain Fire Road. Follow it to the parking lot.
NOTE: Closed for construction until September 30, 2020.
Prairie Mountain is my favourite hike to do from late fall until early spring. I have never hiked it in the summer as I know I can do this one in the dead of winter.
The hike starts across from Elbow Falls by the winter gates. It climbs steeply until you pop out of the trees and then it moderates to the top. In total the trail climbs 726 m (2381 feet) in only 3.8 km. I find it’s the middle section through the trees that leaves you breathless. Once you’re out of the trees, you’re rewarded with views that extend from downtown Calgary to Moose Mountain and a whole lot more.
Allow 2.5 to 4 hours to do the return hike. Icers and poles in snowy months (October – early May) make all the difference, especially on the knee-knocking descent.
The Nihahi Ridge hike
The Nihahi Ridge hike offers some great views, lovely meadow walking and some rock scrambling which can get a little airy if you go all the way to the top. It’s approximately 10.2 kilometres round trip with a modest elevation gain of 412 metres.
The trail is tough to find at first as there isn’t any signage until you’re through the Little Elbow Campground, accessed via a turnoff at the end of Highway 66. About a kilometre past the barricade, at the end of the campground, is a sign for Nihahi Ridge pointing into the forest. From there on, it’s mostly easy to follow – at least until you get to a warren of trails by the ridge. I usually stick to the most heavily used ones. Follow the base of the ridge until you can find an easy way to scramble up onto the ridge.
Views from the ridge are terrific, even though we didn’t do the final scramble to the very top. Two hot, thirsty dogs vetoed continuing.
It only took us 90 minutes to get back to the parking lot – and a cold river to cool off in.
The Forgetmenot Ridge hike
The hard part of the hike isn’t the initial steep climb but finding the trailhead. It took numerous false starts before my friend and I were sure we were heading in the right direction. Once we were on the Wildhorse Trail I knew we were on our way.
It’s a very steep start on the Forgetmenot Ridge hike but once you clear the trees and get out onto a ridge, the views start to unfold. Continue on the obvious trail, a little less steeply, through trees mixed with some grassy sections. There are steep side trails up to the Forgetmenot Ridge but you can also continue on a well-trodden trail to a cairn just below the ridge some distance on.
From the cairn on the ridge you have a couple of options. Go left (north) and follow the ridge to a huge cairn (and windbreak) overlooking the Elbow River at a height of 2,240 m. This is the obvious turnaround point. Alternatively you can continue south on Forgetmenot Ridge to Forgetmenot Mountain, a one way distance of about 3.5 km.
It’s about five hours round-trip once you find the trail. The vertical gain is approximately 700 m over a one way distance of about 10 kilometres.
(Read the blog below for detailed instructions on finding the trailhead.)
Powderface Ridge hike
The Powderface Ridge hike feels like Prairie Mountain at the start. Over the first two kilometres you climb 400 m. But once you reach the meadows, the trail moderates though it’s still approximately 700 m of climbing to reach the col. From the col head right to reach the Canada flag and cairn – along with great views of Mount Glasgow, Cornwall, Outlaw and Banded Peaks.
There are several additional options to do the full Powderface Ridge but I’d recommend a map and some prior planning as you may have to hitchhike or arrange a car shuttle. (See the blog below for a better description.)
The regular trailhead is at the junction of Powderface Trail road at the end of Highway 66 just before you turn to go to Little Elbow Campground
Sugar Moma – Sugar Daddy Hike
The Sugar Mama – Sugar Daddy hike is part of a loop that shares the same start as the Fullerton Trail at the Allen Bill parking lot. There’s much to recommend it as a shoulder-season or even a winter hike that delivers a workout because of its length. You can also bike it.
The full loop comes in just under 14 km with 345 m of elevation gain. It’s made up of short sections of six trails – the Elbow, Snagmore, Strange Brew, and Bobcat trails along with 4.0 km on the Sugar Daddy trail and 3.3 km on the Sugar Mama trail.
The Cox Hill hike
Although Cox Hill isn’t one of the true Bragg Creek hikes because it’s not on Highway 66, I wanted to include it as you can get to it from the Powderface Trail.
Most people access this hike from the Trans-Canada via the Sibbald Creek Trail (Highway 68). It becomes a dusty, dirt road and eventually the Powderface Trail – which ultimately hooks up with Highway 66. The trailhead for Cox Hill is on your left if you’re coming from the Trans-Canada Highway, and it’s signed.
The Cox Hill hike is 12.4 km round trip with a 914 m (3000 feet) elevation gain. It takes you to the highest point on the Trans-Canada Trail.
The trail is easy to follow though I’d recommend that you read my blog post on it to get exact details for the start of the trail. In summer there are some lovely sections rife with wildflowers. And once at the top there are nice slabs of rock to laze on and enjoy a picnic with a view.
This hike is not as well-known so you probably won’t see a lot of people. At the top enjoy great views of Moose Mountain. If you’re feeling energetic continue to the Jumpingpound Ridge Trail from the summit, a further 3 km away.
What to take and where to stay
If you’d like to plan your hikes from the comfort of your home I highly recommend picking up a copy of the waterproof map of Bragg Creek and Sheep Valley.
If you want to learn more about wildflowers, this lightweight pocket guide is ideal.
And if you want to stay in Bragg Creek for a night or two check out these places, all within a super short drive of any of the hikes – The Craftsman House, Redwood Retreat or Sleepy Creek Country Manor.
Which one of these Bragg Creek hikes would you most like to do?
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