Prairie Mountain in Elbow Valley, Kananaskis Country is a season opener for many hikers.
Each year, a physical and mental training process is required to counter winter doldrums in preparation for summer and fall hiking to new summits on much longer, sunny days. At the beginning of each hiking season, a series of annually repetitive hikes to increasingly higher elevations builds physical conditioning as trail conditions improve and snow cover melts and recedes.
Prairie Mountain in Kananaskis Country, west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada is traditionally one of these preseason conditioning treks. Calgary's climate is erratic and seasons are commonly difficult to distinguish. Occasionally, all four seasons occur in the same week.
Prairie Mountain is accessed heading west from south-west Calgary on Hwy. 22X then, past Bragg Creek, on Hwy. 66 which dead ends in Kananaskis. It is important to note the final portion of Hwy. 66 is gated off between December 1 and May 15 to facilitate wildlife management, to ease the burden of winter highway maintenance and for avalanche risk avoidance. The trailhead for Prairie Mountain is a short hike past parking at the gate and just prior to Beaver Flats on the opposite side of the road.
This hike is a sustained climb of about 4 KM (2½ miles) one way, with the same net and gross elevation of 715 m (1,960 ft.), to a maximum elevation of 2,210 m (7,253 ft.).
There is a brief, but welcome, section of less intense elevation gain in the middle which reduces the risk of heart failure. Early in the hiking season it is wise to have a pair of hiking crampons in the backpack for additional stick on steep, sheltered sections where ice may remain from previous winter hikers packing down the snow.
After the beginning and ending series of switchbacks on steep terrain, the final approach to the summit is over rock on a gentle grade to the barren summit and a fantastic view north across Canyon Creek Valley to the fire lookout on the summit of 2,437 m Moose Mountain (7,995 ft.). From the north ridge of Prairie Mountain, the large entrance to the Ice Caves on Moose Ridge is visible.
From the summit cairn of Prairie Mountain there are sweeping views of surrounding mountains. On this day, the summit hosts a brisk, attention-getting, cool breeze which encourages a short-term stay before returning to the protection of the forest.
On the hike down, there is an outstanding view from one overlook of the valley and river tributary running through Beaver Flats.
When the gate opens on May 15, Hwy. 66 provides access to many great hikes including:
which are all excellent, lower to moderate elevation hikes. Consult your hiking guide and map.