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The top of Prairie Mountain

Prairie Mountain Hike near Bragg Creek

A workout of a hike!

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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.

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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.
winter is my favourite time of year to do the Prairie Mountain hike
Wnter is my favourite time of year to do 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.

Starting up the section that is sometimes muddy
Starting up the section that is sometimes muddy

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.

The views are pretty darned good about a third of the way up Prairie Mountain
The views are pretty darned good about a third of the way up Prairie Mountain
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 of Prairie Mountain
Turn right out of the trees and climb the gradual slope to the summit of Prairie Mountain
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 of Prairie Mountain
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
Me at the summit in November 2022 - a different looking place without the cairn and flag
Me at the summit in November 2022 – a different looking place without the cairn and flag
Another view off the top of Prairie Mountain
Another view off the top of Prairie Mountain

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.

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

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.

The hiking trail starts immediately east of Prairie Creek
The Prairie Mountain trail starts immediately east of Prairie Creek
This trail heads up Prairie Mountain BUT it starts east of the winter gate on Highway 66
The other start option up Prairie Mountain is east of the winter gate on Highway 66 

Location map of the Prairie Mountain hike


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



  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.

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