skip to Main Content
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Stay Back From The Cornice

Prairie Mountain Hike near Bragg Creek

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 once you emerge from the trees.

Hiking through the trees but there are some views
Hiking through the trees but there are some views

The route up

The hike climbs 726 m (2381 feet) in only 3.8 km one way. It’s the middle section through the trees that is take your breath away steep. But once you pop out of the trees, not only are you rewarded with expansive mountain views, but the grade moderates all the way to the top. 

In my mind, I break the hike into three parts. The first gets me up the initial steep bit and through some pretty open forest and delivers me at the first good viewpoint. On the second part, I know I have the steepest section on the whole mountain to deal with. It’s head down, steady breathing and counting steps for me, until I pop out of the trees.

The last part of the hike is my favourite. Not only do you get the views, but the grade moderates all the way to the top. Sometimes, this section is so windy, that any cords on your jacket will slap you painfully on the face. Beware.

I can usually get down in about 1.25 hours. Even the dogs seem to breathe a sigh of relief when we’re on the descent, though if I haven’t done the hike in a while I know my legs will be hurting for days afterwards. I have never done this hike in summer – and prefer it as my shoulder season and winter workout. 

The views are pretty darned good about a third of the way up
The views are pretty darned good about a third of the way up
A view through the trees to the mountains in Kananaskis Country
A view through the trees to the mountains in Kananaskis Country
The view at tree line
The view at tree line
Turn right out of the trees and climb the gradual slope to the summit
Turn right out of the trees and climb the gradual slope to the summit
Stay back from the cornice
Stay back from the cornice
The final push to the summit
The final push to the summit
My dog and I at the summit
My dog and I at the summit 
A few years later - same hike, different dog
A few years later – same hike, different dog as mine can’t do the hike anymore

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.

A year round day hike close to Bragg Creek and Calgary

The hike is one of the few 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” 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.

Note: The Canadian-made icers made by Hillsound are the ones I have. Click here to purchase. Another great brand is Kahtoola

I know our dog is not impressed at the top but she's happy going down
I know our dog is not impressed at the top but she’s happy going down
Moose Mountain is behind me
Moose Mountain is behind me
Views on the way down from the Prairie Mountain hike
Grand mountain scenery on the way down
It's early November but I'm decked out in down
It’s early November but I’m decked out in down

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 beside Elbow Falls.

There is a 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 Falls, 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.

The trail starts immediately east of Prairie Creek
The trail starts immediately east of Prairie Creek

People that park on the shoulder often start up right from the highway. It’s doable but often very muddy. It joins the main trail after about 10 minutes of solid uphill hiking. 

There is another trail that follows the Elbow River Valley, paralleling Highway 66. You do not want that one. There are no trail signs once you’ve begun your climb.

Details about the hike

Strong hikers should allow 2.5 to 3 hours to do the 7.6 km return hike. Slower hikers could take upwards of five hours to go up and come down.

It’s a quick descent in the winter as the snow makes it easy to descend but it’s rocky and more difficult the rest of the year. Poles come in very handy and icers/cleats if there is any ice.

The hike is a popular one and in all likelihood you’ll meet many people going up and coming down. I’ve never seen so much as bear scat but they can be around. I’ve seen deer and I’ve heard of people seeing cougars. I marvel at the people I see who are doing it multiple times in a day.

Further reading about hikes near Bragg Creek

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Prairie Mountain - a year round day hike near Bragg Creek, Alberta with 726 m elevation gain over 3.8 km


Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 37 Comments

  1. Hi Leigh, what a spectacular trail. It’s great that you still find an unexplored trail in your backyard. I love the view from the trees but I also like the expansiveness once you pop out of the trees. I can’t believe that your dog was not impressed, I think the view from the top is just breathtaking. Thanks for taking me on another beautiful hike. Lovely photos.

    1. @Marisol Interestingly an old friend here in Calgary who has lived here for 10+ years just heard about the trail sometime this fall. Kind of a treat to discover something so close that is so beautiful.

  2. Beautiful shots as always, Leigh. Yikes, sitting in Scottsdale where the temps have hovered at high 80’s and 90’s this week, your parka is a jarring reminder that up north – winter isn’t far away!

    1. @Jackie It was cold and blowy on top but we were dressed for it so it was fine. And really it was such a great day and just wonderful to be outdoors. Besides I have Costa Rica to look forward to in just over 48 hours.

  3. Hi Leigh, Love those views! You wouldn’t get me up there in the snow…I know, I’m a wuss! 🙂 Enjoy Costa Rica! From a down filled jacket to a bathing suit in 48 hours…bliss!

  4. What an amazing shade of blue! Wow, makes you just want to stay there — except for the snow — and just drink it all in.
    Except for that piece in the middle, it sounds like a hike even I could do even now.
    I really must get out to Calgary.

  5. We’re having a heat wave in SoCal this week so it’s a bit refreshing to see all that snow. Those are some spectacular views and such a great hike so close to your home. I hope to see more pictures of Prairie Mountain as the seasons change. I can’t get over how blue those skies are. Fabulous pictures,Leigh. Have a safe flight to Costa Rica and best wishes to your son.

    1. @Mary I can definitely see hiking Prairie Mountain on a regular basis. I do like my workouts. Alberta is known for its blue skies and cinematographers come from around the world to film here.

  6. That’s wonderful that there is this good of a hike close to you. The views are indeed spectacular. I remember taking the tram to the top of Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain and being amazed that people had walked up. (And then I took the tram back down.)

    1. @Michele When I lived in Vancouver I’d do the Grouse Grind regularly. I think the fastest I ever did it in was 52 minutes. This was that much harder as we had to hike down on our own – no trams but that’s what I liked about it too.

  7. Gorgeous views! I miss those kind of hiking. We’re slowly preparing our young sons, and I hope in a few years they will join us. Before they get too bored of theirp parents and ditch us 😉

  8. Oh gosh you have no idea how much I love hiking (or driving if that’s the case) to high vantage points that offer beautiful vistas like this!! Of course I love that you included the pics of your dog, Leigh!! What is his or her name?? 🙂

    1. @Mike My dog is a mutt from the island of St. Maartens – Torrie. She was rescued at 3 months & is by far the smartest dog we’ve ever had. She hates the heat but at almost 10 she still manages to do well climbing the hills & mountains. It was a fantastic hike that we’ll end up doing a lot.

    2. Heya Leigh! It’s 2019 and your blog is still endearing. We love your write up, photos and qwerky comments! Gonna scale it this weekend. Keep up the good work in sharing the beauty of Alberta with the world.

  9. Amazing photos , nice views of the mountains really beautiful ,
    I invite you visit the huayhuash mountain range cordillera blanca areas for trekking climbing cultural tours hiking walking holiday vacation in peru the best season is from may to september

  10. Hi Leigh, I just did Prairie Mountain for the first time yesterday. Like you, I can’t believe I’d never done this hike before–what an amazing view! Being an early spring (until winter blasts us again?), the trail only had about 10 minutes of icy patches for which cleats are highly recommended and a couple of soft spots when it warmed up in the afternoon, otherwise it was dry and even dusty on the first steep ascent.

    I found your directions to the trailhead confusing compared to how we approached the trail. It sounds like the winter gate was still open when you did it? Anyway, in my experience, the trailhead is AFTER the winter gate (we parked on the shoulder of the highway before the gate and before the Elbow Falls parking lot, along with dozens of others). You identify the trail as going up on the “left” of the photo. We went up to the RIGHT of Prairie Creek as shown in the photo. Just wanted to note this in case other readers are looking for the trailhead based on the information in this blog post.

    1. @Grace If you’re driving the hwy with Elbow Falls on your right, then I would say parking is definitely before the winter gate.
      It’s a great hike isn’t it – and one I plan to do again tomorrow. Thanks for your thoughts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close search

Pin It on Pinterest