Probably one of the shortest and easiest outings found on this here website, hike along with us as we take in Long Prairie Ridge in the Sheep River area of Kananaskis. Just one of the many trails within the Sandy McNabb network, it takes one up a long low, east/west trending hill, getting just high enough to break out of the forest and offer up some nice views. Little work, fair reward.
This is a multi-use trail, so depending on the season expect to pass hikers, bikers, equestrian riders, folks on snowshoes or skis, so in other words, near anyone using near any form of non-motorized conveyance. We saw not a single person on the trail the day of our visit. Had the place completely to ourselves. Your mileage may vary.
Start at the Ranger Station parking lot, Highway #546 west of Turner Valley not far inside Kananaskis. The trail starts at the far northeast end of the pavement. Begin. In mere metres, turn left at fence and head north-ish. Come to a junction, one of many in the network, all of which are marked with colour coded arrows, denoting xc-ski difficulty levels, with all major ones having detailed maps. Hard to get lost here…yet I’ve heard it’s happened.
Trending left-ish take the trail heading up at a gentle grade. The going is easy, the trail wide and way always obvious. In the trees initially, it bends left and right a little, rises and falls a little, an easy hands-in-pockets stroll in the woods. Pass a cutline. There’s a lot of them in Kananaskis and they’re connected to oil and gas exploration from many decades ago when the place was not the outdoor playground it is today. Interestingly, they’re almost always dead straight no matter the lay of the land.
Now heading west, a few more small ups and down, and break out of the trees. The north side of Long Prairie Ridge is forest, but is otherwise wide open on southern facing aspects. While not all that high, there’s still lots of scenery to take in. South is an endless sea of green, with a few hills off in the distance. The highway runs a bit below.
For us, this looked to be a nice place for an early lunch. Today’s wine selection, Rotas from Portugal, their slogan, “A Route to Explore”. Seems fitting. We gave it five thumbs up.
Continuing on the grassy top, come to a point with nice west facing views. This is the very best angle on the ridge. The big peaks are still quite a distance off, much too far to identify. They’re out of reach due to seasonal road closures, so this is about the closest one can get to them until nice weather returns. In the foreground are a couple hills and ridges familiar to us, Foran Grade and Windy Point Ridge being among them.
Reaching a high point, drop a little before joining up with the Death Valley Trail. This is where we turned around. A loop could be made using trails lower down and to the south, there’s a number of them in the woods. But they’re deep in the trees and the ground down there a bit marshy, so we expect it’d be icy. In summer, these low lying areas can be mucky quagmires. This is foothills hiking in Alberta!
You could of course head deeper in the woods to the right (north), making a loop with one of the many trails heading that way, then double back on another. Being higher up they’re generally dryer with far less chance of ice (which won’t matter in July). Doing this will make for a much longer loop. We didn’t have the time. In the past we did it though, but late in the summer. Here: Sandy McNabb XC ski trails to Pine Ridge. Visit these trails in the fall and be rewarded with wonderful colours.
Take in the views for time. We like to just stand there, quiet and still, and soak it up. Then head back at a leisurely pace. No point rushing it. Just before dipping back into the trees, take one final look around. Make quick time back your car. Now wasn’t that a hoot? For us Long Prairie Ridge was a warm up, a get in shape again trek, helping us preparing for the bigger stuff come summer.
If you wish more information about this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: April, 2017.
Location: Sheep River area Kananaskis AB.
Distance: 5km there and back (I told you it was short).
Height gain maximum: 100m-ish
Height gain cumulative: 130m-ish
NOTE: all distances and heights are approximate.
Technical bits and notes: None.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.