Prairie Mountain is one of those peaks that do not require an abundance of effort to hike, but still gives you a rewarding experience. There are minimal environmental dangers and no technical skill required. It is a favorite early season starter for many, both tourists and avid local hikers. 700m is gained from the parking area to see the surrounding peaks in the Kananaskis area. By being one of the Front Range peaks it gives you a unique opportunity to look east and see nothing but rolling hills and prairie; but turn around and that panoramic view changes to nothing but sheer mountain sides and majestic peaks.
Due to its easy nature it is commonly summited year round; from t-shirts in the summer to snowshoeing escapades in the winter.
As you drive towards Kananaskis, the rolling foothills quickly give into the Front Ranges of the Canadian Rockies; that is if you are coming in from the direction of Calgary. The jagged peaks of the Front Ranges make up the most easterly section of the Canadian Rockies and the landscape quickly goes from gentle rolling hills to vertical geometry. Although Prairie Mountain cannot be seen going on highway #1, it is still one of the Front Range peaks within the Kananaskis area.
The geology of the Front Ranges consists of heavily folded limestone sheets. There are some shale and sandstone amongst other compositions found within these sheets but they are predominantly composed of limestone. The peaks of the Front Ranges and their rocks average in age between 350 and 135 million years old. The Front Ranges go on for many kilometres with the highest Front Range Peak being Mount Brazeau in Jasper National Park, standing at 3,470m in height.
The Front Ranges have a high abundance of coal within their composition. Predominantly, most of the coal mines and coal mining towns were supported and located across the Front Range Peaks such as Bankhead and Anthracite in Banff, Pocahontas in Jasper, the Canmore mines and several others within Kananaskis itself.
For those interested in geological formations, the Front Ranges are known for their 3 layered sandwich. On the bottom lies the limestone of the Palliser Formation. Overlying that are the soft shales of the Banff Formation and finally on the very top lies the limestone of the upper Livingstone Formation. Commonly found throughout the Front Ranges are summits composed of limestone and valleys covered in shale.
Prairie Mountain Trip Log
The hike up Prairie Mountain starts off across the street from Elbow Falls. We came across groups of people that parked on the road but we decided to park in the parking lot across the road, Elbow Falls. This allowed us to not have to park on the road itself and run the risk of someone driving into the car as they were staring at the deer on the side of the road. There is no desginated trail head, but on the north side of the road, and east of the gates you will see trails starting in the woods. All these hiking trails go up hill and eventually merge together into one.
After weaving through the numerous trails you will funnel onto the one main hiking trail that leads up Prairie Mountain. The forest does not offer too many views at this point.
The trail widens and disapears into the trees, but does allow you to walk side by side to share your exciting stories.
Eventually the trail opens up as you reach one of the humps. You can see what a waits before you as you can roughly trace the trail through the trees.
After the trail descends from the hump you get to a point where it goes up ... It felt like it was the steepest part of the hike as the trail was gaining a nice steady elevation, then out of nowhere comes the hill.
As you make your way up to the summit you follow relatively close to the exposure on your right side. Depending on your comfort level, the exposure should not give you any problems as there is LOTS of room on the way up so you can give more than enough space to the cliffs.
Once you reach the summit you quickly realize it looks more so like a hill then a mountain. My guess is that this has something to do with the name 'Prairie' as you could fit half the prairies up there so there is no danger of falling off anywhere. If you wander far enough away from the large summit cairn you will eventually come across some of the cliffs that you can see from the road. On a clear day you should be able to see Calgary fairly easily. It was a grim looking day with heavy thundershowers a few minutes after we left the summit and we were still able to see a faint outline of Calgary in the distance.
Return is the same way.
GPS Plotted Route
Once you get through the maze of beaten in trails at the start, the trail progression is rather logical as you make your to the summit.
The route up to the summit of Prairie Mountain is rather steady. You can see by the graph that the two steepest portions are the start and the point in the forest when the trail suddenly steepens. That visual is visible on the fifth image down in our trip report.
Click here to download the GPS route in GPX format. You may have to right click and select "Save Link As" if your browser does not download it automatically. Be sure to save it as a .gpx file.
What were your experiences hiking Prairie Mountain?
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