Prairie Creek Trail connects Hwy 66 with Powderface Road in Elbow Valley, Kananaskis Country, Alberta.
The Prairie Creek trail has two ends in locations significantly distant from one another. The common beginning from Elbow Falls Road (Hwy 66) is just east of the often crowded trailhead for Prairie Mountain. On the weekends the Highway 66 trailheads for Prairie Creek and Prairie Mountain are likely to be very crowded and busy. Some hikers prefer busy trails (safety in numbers) and others prefer peace and quiet in relative isolation. To experience some facsimile of peace and quiet, it would be wise to hike trails in this area very early or late on weekends and holidays, or during the week when hiking traffic is reduced.
The Prairie Creek Trail contains two sections. The most commonly used east section is a one-way distance of 5.7 KM (3⅝ miles) beginning at Highway 66 and ending at the junction with the Prairie Link Trail. The west end of the Prairie Creek Trail begins from Powderface Road at a small parking area 9.6 KM (6 miles) north of the junction of Highway 66 with northbound Powderface Road. The west end of the Prairie Creek Trail is a civilized and substantially less busy 3.5 KM (2¼ mile) stretch of gentle trail between Powderface Road and the junction with the Prairie Link Trail. Check your Gem Trek Map.
If you are unfamiliar with the area, or shaking your head in confusion after reading the previous description, you need the specific Gem Trek Map for this and a huge number of other potential hiking experiences within the incredible Kananaskis Country Bragg Creek and Elbow Valley arena.
Seija and I choose the more remote, quieter and civilized west section for this early season hike. Powderface Road is in relatively good shape after major repairs following devastating damage from June 2013 floods. After a 9.6 KM (6 mile) drive north from the junction of Powderface Road with Elbow Valley Road (Hwy 66), parking for a few vehicles is obvious in a broad valley past a small bridge over Prairie Creek across from the north sloping end of Nihahi Ridge.
Mixed sun combined with intermittent cloud cover keeps the day comfortable as the early morning start begins from roadside parking and tracks east through a field of grass and wildflowers to the nearby, small wooden, platform bridge over Prairie Creek. An easy, short, rocky ascent gains elevation to flat trail above the valley with outstanding views over the meandering creek and the wide, densely treed valley.
Seija hiking above Prairie Creek in Kananaskis Country, Alberta
The Prairie Creek Trail offers short forested sections and trail dips to enhance the hiking experience. The trail passes a relatively new and strikingly attractive, moss-covered lean-to with fire pit and baffle a short distance off-trail beneath picturesque rocky outcrops on the opposite side of the trail.
Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the undulating trail descends to the valley floor where a flood-ravaged bend in the creek offers log seating to enjoy healthy, homemade cookies, rest and conversation.
Trail continues past a short bending section of Prairie Creek where raised trail construction and new tree planting will potentially help counter and reduce the impact of future flood damage. A short hike further encounters the junction of the Prairie Creek Trail with the Prairie Link trail.
Nearby, on the Prairie Link Trail, a wooden bridge crosses Prairie Creek and passes a large meadow laced with Spring wildflowers surrounded by lush evergreen forest. Groups of people have assembled near the trail junction to enjoy lunch after completing the other and longer section of the Prairie Creek Trail.
Seija and I will return via the same route taken in. Skies are increasingly overcast and dark patches threaten sporadic rain but we are spared on this day and well-equipped anyway to handle anything thrown at us. A variety of interesting features along the trail capture the attention.
Lunch is enjoyed after a short hike off trail through geometric dead fall accented by filtered sun on mossy ground beneath a dense forest of Lodgepole Pine. A perfect old log provides comfortable seating on either side of the Tree of Separation.
All that remains is the hike back to the car for the return drive south on the narrow, gravel Powderface Road. Convenient parking along Elbow Valley Road and time remaining in the day provides the opportunity to enjoy the short stroll at Beaver Lodge. Less a hike than a surreal vision quest, Beaver Lodge would have been inundated by the high water levels of the June 2013 floods and curiosity motivates an inspection of damage done.
Following are a few photos provided to me from Seija's cell phone camera. Dramatic skies. Prairie Creek meanders through the bottom of the broad, forested valley separating mountains. Beginning and ending at Powderface Road, magnificent mountain cirques capture the horizon beneath moody skies on a warm and comfortable summer day in late June 2017.
Seija and Barry enjoying lunch on a log in the forest on either side of the Tree of Separation
Thanks to Seija for transportation.
This excellent, short and easy hike along Prairie Creek, with a start from Powderface Road north of Highway 66 through the Elbow River Valley in Kananaskis Country, was completed on Saturday, June 24, 2017 southwest of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.