The Abbott Ridge Trail in British Columbia's Glacier National Park (often confused with Montana's national…
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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
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