Prairie Mountain is a popular year-round hike due to its proximity to Calgary and panoramic views. With 700 metres of elevation gain in less than 4 kilometres, you will have to work for those views, but the effort is well worth it. Microspikes are recommended from late fall through spring.
September 9, 2023 Update: Prairie Mountain Trail has reopened! Please follow all signage and stay on the trail to prevent trail braiding and erosion.
Prairie Mountain Trip Report
On the day we hiked Prairie Mountain, it was covered in a blanket of sparkling snow. Fortunately, early-rising hikers had broken trail, so it was easy to find our way. Slowly and steadily, we made it to the top, using every lookout as a snack spot. I’m glad I packed lots of food because we devoured all of it!
The hike is a steady climb, but the last bit in the trees (1 km from the top) was the toughest with solid ice beneath the snow. Microspikes for the win! Once we emerged from the trees, we could see our objective: the summit cairn and flag, only 500 metres away. With Calgary’s skyscrapers to the east, the Elbow Valley below, and mountains all around, the view was beautiful in every direction. We took a summit selfie, enjoyed a well deserved “good job treat” (chocolate bars) and headed back the way we came.
All in all, it took us 3.5 hours to ascend and 2.5 hours to come down including lots of breaks and snow play. It was a big day for my little hikers and I am so proud of them!
Prairie Mountain At a Glance
- Distance: 7.8 km round trip
- Elevation Gain: 700 m
- Time: Allow 3-4 hours (5-6 hours if hiking with small children)
- Nearest Washrooms: Elbow Falls Day Use Area
- Stroller Friendly? No
- Geocaches: There are several geocaches on the mountain! Download and store cache data at home as there is no cell service on the trail.
- Distance from Calgary: 65 km
- Directions from Bragg Creek: Take Hwy 22 South. At the 3-way intersection, turn right onto Hwy 66. Continue on Hwy 66 for 18 kilometres. Elbow Falls parking lot will be on your left. If the winter gate is open, continue on for half a kilometre and park at Beaver Lodge on the left.
- Parking: Limited parking at Beaver Lodge. When the lot is full or the winter gate on Hwy 66 is closed, park at Elbow Falls.
Finding the Trailhead
Note: The trail up Prairie Mountain was formalized in 2023, so there should now be trailhead signage.
The trail up Prairie Mountain is pretty straightforward, but finding the trailhead is confusing if you’ve never been there before. Three trails converge in one spot, so you must pay pick the right one if you want to get up the mountain! When the winter gate is closed, park at Elbow Falls.
1 a) From Beaver Lodge head east (towards Elbow Falls) on foot for about 100 metres until you reach a small bridge over Prairie Creek. Continue to step 2.
1 b) From Elbow Falls head west on foot until you reach a small bridge over Prairie Creek (~300 metres past the winter gate). Continue to step 2.
2) From Prairie Creek Bridge, facing the mountain (north), take the trail on your right that climbs steeply upward (the low lying one on the left, along the creek is Prairie Creek and the trail that runs parallel to the road is Elbow Valley Trail – don’t take those!). If you find yourself heading back towards Elbow Falls, you’re on Elbow Valley Trail, not Prairie Mountain Trail.
Once you’re on the right trail, the route is straightforward. Keep going up, up, and up! A large rock cairn (and Canada flag – unless it has blown away) marks the summit.
What to Bring
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Good hiking boots, a down hoody/fleece, toque, gloves, and windproof/waterproof shell are recommended year round. Trekking poles are useful for long hikes, steep descents, or babywearing. You should also carry The Ten Essentials including: water, extra food, extra clothes, a first aid kit, headlamp, GPS / satellite communicator or compass, and map of the area, sunscreen (this mineral sunscreen is safe for babies), bug spray (this deet-free one contains 20% icaridin and will repel ticks), and bear spray. Carry bear spray in a Frontiersman Bear Spray Holster or Scat Belt.
In snowy/icy conditions, traction devices such as Kahtoola Microspikes (Available from Amazon or MEC), or Hillsound Trail Crampons (Available at Amazon and Sport Chek) are recommended. See our Fall Gear Guide for recommended clothing and gear.