Prairie Mountain - Kananaskis Country - Hiking Alberta

 

Prairie Mountain in Elbow Valley, Kananaskis Country is a season opener for many hikers.

 

Prairie Mountain, Elbow Valley, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

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 - Elbow Valley, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

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 - Elbow Valley, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

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.

 

Prairie Mountain - Elbow Valley, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

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.

 

Prairie Mountain - Elbow Valley, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Prairie Mountain - Elbow Valley, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

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.

 

Prairie Mountain - Elbow Valley, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Prairie Mountain - Elbow Valley, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Prairie Mountain - Elbow Valley, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Prairie Mountain - Elbow Valley, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

Probably best for beginners to stay on a known course. Often, there are many opportunities for alternate returns but it is wise to have the research done prior to the hike. Every hiker should be carrying a very good map of the area and a current hiking guide. Fundamental compass skills and application can be very helpful. It is easy to get turned around in the wilderness. Familiar mountain take on different profiles from different angles. It is very easy to become disoriented. Common sense, thorough planning and good documentation can save the day. Most common and maintained trails are intuitively obvious.

Hi Barry! Love your website. Do you recommend coming back down the same way you went up, or is there another route down that you prefer? Thanks! Stephanie

The trailhead for Prairie Mountain is just inside the Hwy 66 winter gate so it is easily accessible year round. It is a unique hike in each season with viewpoints over Beaver Lodge and west to prominent Nihahi Ridge. Glad you enjoyed your hike, Dustin. It is often used by hikers as a season opener to alert winter leg muscles of a new season. Thank you for your comment and for sharing your experience. Perhaps it will inspire others to get up there for that incredible view from the summit of Canyon Creek Valley and Moose Mountain. It is a very good first summit.

I did this one today and was blown away by the view up top. To be honest I didn't expect it to be so gorgeous up there because it is farther east and more in the foothills than the mountains, however I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the hike you are in the trees, but once at the summit the view is unbelievable. I went around 5:30 so the mountains were silhouetted with the sun just starting to descend, and with the foothills sitting in front and endless peaks layered behind the hills it offered a very unique view that rivals anything nestled in the mountains. Moose Mountain looks great from Prairie Mountain too. I'm very happy I found out about this jewel of a hike which is so close to Calgary!

Well, Stephen, I have checked my blog comments this evening. I hope your hike went well. I also hope you stopped into or phoned the Kananaskis Visitor Centre before arriving at the trailhead just beyond the winter gate. Conditions can change very rapidly, particularly in winter. Last minute contact is the best alternative. There is a trail condition report maintained on the Kananaskis Country website. I know they work hard to keep it as current as possible. I do not have current information except for trails I have tackled very recently. Even that can be obsoleted overnight in the winter. So I usually go prepared for anything and make gear choices right at the trailhead. I do post to Twitter and FB but I do not check regularly for activity. I try to make the journals I publish available there on my profile but I do not maintain active conversation. I do not own a Smartphone, will likely resist owning one, and would not carry one in the wilderness. It is my place to enjoy nature. I am often in a place where the technology would be nonfunctional anyway. Works for me. Sorry I could not be more helpful. I hope you had a great day and thank you for your comment.

I'm looking for current trail conditions for a hike on Jan 8th. Thanks

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