This is one of the short, must-do XC loops in Kananaskis. Grunty climbs, creek crossings, fast descents, singletrack, airtime, and some consequences if you're not paying attention [!], this ride has everything. A quick loop is 45 minutes, but beginners can easily take 2+ hours if you include stops/rests.
As the shortened version of the bigger Powderface Loop
, it has all the good and none of the bad of its parent. It's heavily used by hikers and cyclists, so pay attention and yield where appropriate.
The descent off the high point of the Prairie Link Trail
is sweet, with drifty corners and potential airtime off the many erosion ruts on the way down. Time things wrong and those ruts could eat your front wheel, YMMV. It's all loose over hard, wide and fast.
There are a couple of neat features on the north side of the loop. One is a wee drop-in at the top of a techy climb. It has eroded out over the years and can play tricks with your head if you're in a bit of oxygen debt after the ascent. The other one is closer to the end of the trail, and has a small "CAUTION" sign beforehand. Quite a few riders have gone over the side, so watch your line. Both are totally rideable.
The floods of 2013 did a number on the bridges at the far east end of the loop, so keep an eye out for closures and ride-arounds.
Ride this trail clockwise - it's way more fun that way.
Need to Know
Cell phone service is highly variable. The trailhead has picnic tables, toilets and a notice board [because bears].
From the trailhead, the Powderface Creek trail goes straight up. It starts off very wide, and a bit gravelly. Things level out briefly, then tip up again before a short and fast descent that levels off as it approaches the first creek crossing. After that, it's a mostly gradual climb [with one sharp pitch] on wide trail all the way to the junction with Prairie Link Trail
The right turn to Prairie Link Trail
is signed and should be pretty obvious. If you continued along the Powderface Creek Trail
, you would eventually reach the junction with Powderface Ridge Trail, and beyond that, Powderface Trail
[a gravel road that connects to Hwy 66].
Prairie Link is narrower than Powderface Creek Trail
, and heads up into the trees rather abruptly. The trail is smooth on the way up, with little in the way of roots or other tech. About 1km from the junction you'll be at the high point of the ride. Collect your friends and catch your breath for the 1 km descent! The trail widens out again, with lots of little bumps and root steps to air off of. There are some 90-degree corners in there to keep you scanning the trail ahead.
A brief climb takes you to the top of the next 1 km descent, but this time things are a lot steeper. Erosion has done a real number on this downhill, with loose corners and lots of sizable ruts forming over the years. Air out the gaps if you can! A couple of abrupt turns will appear near the bottom of the slope, signalling that the bridge across Prairie Creek is coming up. Regroup, fix flats, raise your seat, etc.
On the far side of the bridge, turn right [east] on the Prairie Creek Trail
. Big sections of this trail have been rebuilt and rerouted over the years; at least 4 major reroutes in the last 20 years. The current version is fast and rolling, not to mention a lot drier than it has been in the past. Soon after departing the bridge, you'll be subjected to a steep climb on loose soil, which is followed by a rolling descent that will bring you close to the creek and the cattle that are often found in the area.
One more short climb awaits before the steep 'n' evil loose+exposed burn up to the wee drop in. Lots of folks spin out somewhere around here, but it's 100% doable. The drop in represents the beginning of a super-fun and fast rip on narrow singletrack. Any uphill bits can be overcome by maintaining your speed and throwing in a few pedal strokes when needed.
The last challenge is just after the CAUTION sign. You may wonder "where did the trail go?". It's still there, just down and to the left over some rock steps. The line on the right is smoother, but more exposed. Going off trail means a tumble down a steep, rocky slope. The left line is rougher. Both look ugly from the top, but really aren't that bad. Mostly.
Feel free to open it up a bit on the home stretch. The floods of 2013 hit this last section a bit hard. It should all be doable now, with rough roots giving way to smooth dirt and an exit climb to the highway. Stay right to get back to the trailhead, left leads to the Elbow Valley