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Prairie Mountain – A Year Round Day Hike From Calgary

Prairie Mountain – A Year Round Day Hike from Calgary

Prairie Mountain, located in Kananaskis Country Alberta, is a new hike for me and one I can see doing with great regularity to stay in shape all year round.

The trailhead is close to Calgary, just 45 minutes from my house via Highway 66 near Bragg Creek. Finding the trailhead is a little trickier than I thought it would be because it isn’t well signed. See specific instructions below.

The Prairie Mountain hike is similar to Vancouver’s Grouse Grind but offers better views and there is no sky tram at the top to whisk you to a Starbucks at the bottom. You have to hike down.

"Hiking through the trees but there are some views"

Hiking through the trees but there are some views

The hike climbs 726 metres (2381 feet) in only 3.8 kilometres 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.

"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 too the mountains in Kananaskis Country"

A view through the trees to the mountains in Kananaskis Country

"When you pop out of the trees this is the view"

When you pop out of the trees this is the view

"The final push to the summit of Prairie Mountain:

The final push to the summit

"The dog and I at the summit"

My dog and I at the summit

Prairie Mountain - A Year Round Day Hike from Calgary

A few years later – same hike, different dog as mine can’t do the hike anymore

I had no idea that there was a mountain of this caliber so close to Calgary. Now that I’ve found out about it I understand that many people hike it on a year round basis. 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. Never forget the 10 essentials and starting when the snow falls I’d also recommend carrying Yactrax, especially for the descent and a pair of hiking poles. Take a thermos of something hot to warm you as well.

"dog on top of the mountain"

I know our dog is not impressed at the top but she’s happy going down

"The summit of Prairie Mountain"

The summit of Prairie Mountain; you can see Calgary and a lot of mountains to the west

"heading down Prairie Mountain:

Heading down; this part would be nasty in a snowstorm

"It's early November but I'm decked out in down"

It’s early November but I’m decked out in down

"trailhead for Prairie Mountain"

The trail starts immediately east of Prairie Creek

Finding the Prairie Mountain Trailhead

The trailhead is across the highway from Elbow Falls, just before the winter gates. 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. To get on the trail, cross the highway, cross Prairie Creek and look for the trail going up – just up on the left in the bottom photo. The Prairie Mountain trail climbs immediately. 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 Prairie Mountain hike

Strong hikers should allow three hours to do the 7.6 kilometre 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 Prairie Mountain hike is a popular one and in all likelihood you’ll meet many people going up and coming down.

Other Kananskis Country hikes you might enjoy:

Prairie Mountain - A Year Round Day Hike from Calgary

Leigh McAdam




Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 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 22 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.

  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.

  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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