The Prairie Mountain hike, accessed near Bragg Creek in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, is one of the top year-round hikes if you live in the Calgary area. Nothing beats it for the workout and the views, especially during the winter months. And you don’t have to worry about avalanche danger if you stick to the main trail.
Even though the Prairie Mountain hike is similar to Vancouver’s Grouse Grind, there is no sky tram at the top to whisk you down to a Starbucks at the bottom. You have to hike down – but you can get a coffee 12-minutes later at a locally owned café in Bragg Creek. And the views are great part way up – and again once you emerge from the trees.
Spring 2023 update: I read in late April that the trail up Prairie Mountain will be closing soon for repairs and upgrades so check trail reports in Kananaskis before you go.
This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thank you very much for your support.
Prairie Mountain hike summary
Distance: 7.0 km (4.3 miles) return
Elevation: 726 m or 2,382 feet
Difficulty: Hard because it’s steep. Regular hikers or the super-fit would label it as moderate. There is nothing technical about the hike.
Time needed: 2.5 – 4 hours return. I usually take 2 hours & 20 minutes return but I’m passed by the super fast. There will be some that might take five hours, especially with a lunch stop thrown in there.
Best time to hike: A great year round hike, even in the dead of winter
- You do need a Kananaskis Conservation Pass.
- The Prairie Mountain hike is popular year-round for people wanting a workout. There is no avalanche danger on the main trail.
- Count on strong winds when you reach treeline, so dress accordingly.
- The trail map you need is Gem Trek Bragg Creek & Sheep Valley.
- Don’t count on any route signage.
- There are toilets and a garbage bin at the Elbow Falls parking lot.
- For another cool hike close by, check out the Canyon Creek Ice Cave.
- Leashed dogs are allowed on the Prairie Mountain hike.
Prairie Mountain hike description
From the parking lot, the Prairie Mountain hike starts up on the north side of Highway 66. Most people start just past the winter gate but there is the option to start east of that (see photo below), though if it’s muddy I would recommend against it.
In my mind, I break the Prairie Mountain hike into three three parts. The first gets me up the initial steep bit and through some pretty open forest and delivers me to the first good viewpoint – about 40 minutes into the hike. On the second part, I know I have the steepest section on Prairie Mountain to deal with. It’s head down, steady breathing and counting steps for me, until I pop out of the trees. And then it’s a quick walk to the summit.
Prairie Mountain route description
The Prairie Mountain hike starts off steeply no matter what route you take up. All the routes intersect, about 10 – 15 minutes into the hike, and from there you can catch your breath on an easier, somewhat level section. But only for about 10 minutes. Then it’s take your breath away steep again until you pop out of the trees.
Turn right once you’re out of the trees and and follow the ridge, past snow cornices in winter, all the way to the summit. It will take you between 10 – 20 minutes once you leave the trees. This is my favourite section of the Prairie Mountain hike as you are rewarded with expansive mountain views, all the way to the top but at a grade that doesn’t take your breath away! However, this part of the hike up Prairie Mountain is usually very windy to the point that if you have any loose cords on your jacket, you will get painfully slapped on the face.
At the top of Prairie Mountain, you are treated to views of the prairies, the City of Calgary – including downtown Calgary to the east, and Moose Mountain, Banded Peak and Powderface Ridge if you look west. On my most recent hike up Prairie Mountain, I noticed that the large summit cairn and Canadian flag is gone.
It’s a quick descent in the winter (usually about 75 minutes) as the snow is easier to descend then the rocks and scree you find the rest of the year. Even the dogs seem to breathe a sigh of relief when we’re on the descent. I have never done this hike in summer – and prefer it as my shoulder season and winter workout.
***There is one area on the descent where if you aren’t paying attention, you could end up going right instead of left. It will be the only time there is an option, other than when the two trails meet coming up from the start. It is at a spot with a great view that is popular for a break.***
The hike is a popular one and in all likelihood you’ll meet many people going up and coming down. Don’t be surprised if you see some people doing the hike multiple times – something I marvel at! This is one of those hikes where I know my legs will be hurting for days afterwards if I haven’t regularly been doing hikes with big vertical.
What to take on the hike
The Prairie Mountain hike is one of the few near Calgary that you can literally hike 365 days of the year. Obviously you have to use some common sense on your choice of days in the winter months, but if you’re properly attired and prepared then it should be quite doable. If there’s a major winter storm with awful visibility, give it a pass.
Never forget the 10 essentials and starting when the snow falls. I’d also HIGHLY recommend carrying icers or microspikes because you can’t always tell at the bottom of the hike, how slippery it will be up high. I like the Canadian-made Hillsound and Kahtoola especially for the descent along with a pair of hiking poles. Take a thermos of something hot to warm you up along with a few energy bars.
Take a windproof jacket for the upper part of the mountain. I would also suggest a warm hat in winter and a lightweight down coat.
I’ve never seen so much as bear scat but bears can be around. I’ve seen deer and I’ve heard of people seeing cougars so it would be prudent to carry bear spray.
Prairie Mountain hike trailhead location
The trailhead is just 45-minutes from downtown Calgary via Highway 66 near Bragg Creek. It’s roughly 22 km from Bragg Creek to reach the parking area across from the Elbow Falls parking area. There is another parking lot that holds about 15 cars on the south side of the highway, just past the entrance to the Elbow Falls parking lot. It’s free. If it’s full, park along the shoulder of the highway.
The trailhead itself is across the highway from Elbow River, just before the winter gates. To get on the trail, cross the highway, then cross Prairie Creek and look for the trail going up. The Prairie Mountain trail climbs immediately.
People that park on the shoulder across from the Elbow Falls parking lot often start up right from the highway across from the entrance to the Elbow Falls parking lot. It’s doable but often very muddy. It joins the main trail after about 10 – 15 minutes of solid uphill hiking.
There is another trail that follows the Elbow River Valley, paralleling Highway 66. You do not want that one.
Location map of the Prairie Mountain hike
Further reading about hikes near Bragg Creek
- The Fullerton Loop Hike in Kananaskis Country
- The Moose Mountain Hike in Kananaskis Country, AB
- The Fabulous Forget-Me-Not Ridge Hike
Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.