Penner: Big adventures in small town Bragg Creek

Article content

The hike to the summit took us a whopping 26 minutes. No Sherpas were needed. Ice axes, rope, bottled oxygen? Nope. The scamper to the top of Two Pines – a 2.3-kilometre round-trip hike with 140 metres of elevation gain – is about as easy as summit sojourns get. My hamster could do it. However, if you’re looking for a super-quick hike close to Calgary – and one with a substantial payoff thanks to the stunning views at the top – then this under-the-radar Bragg Creek hike should be on your “list.” And the best part? It’s literally in Bragg Creek, which just happens to be an awesome little town to putter around in after your playtime. 

Advertisement 2

Article content

Located just half an hour west of Calgary, the hamlet of Bragg Creek is a great little get-outta-dodge getaway for multiple reasons. And short-and-snappy hikes on its doorstep is certainly one of them. This is, truly, the “Gateway to Kananaskis Country.” 

Article content

Bragg Creek
Dawn Penner cross-country skiing at West Bragg. Photo, Andrew Penner cal

Like many Calgarians who love to recreate in the mountains, Bragg Creek, for me, is familiar territory. Over the past four decades, give or take, I’ve been there dozens of times. Be it a fat-biking ride at the popular West Bragg Creek Provincial Recreation Area (the loop around Braggin’ Rights to Merlin View and back is a personal favourite), a picnic at Elbow Falls, a thigh-burning hike up White Buddha, a thrilling round of golf at Wintergreen (it’s highly underrated), a horseback riding experience at Moose Mountain Adventures (this is, after all, cowboy country), a cross-country glide around the Moose Loop (just one of many popular groomed Nordic ski trails at West Bragg), I’ve definitely bagged many adventures in these parts. It just makes sense. You can do all your death-defying deeds in the morning and still be back in the city before noon.  

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Of course, after my adventures, I typically stop in Bragg Creek because, well, I’m a sucker for rewarding myself for the exertion. And, whether it’s coffee or craft beer, there are many options. This is, after all, a “mountain town” with plenty of character.  

“All of the business owners in Bragg Creek rely on visitors, especially Calgarians,” says Moritz Kniebel, an outdoor adventure guide and the owner of Handle-Bar, one of the go-to spots in Bragg Creek for not just great food and drink, but outdoor gear rentals, guided adventures, cross-country skiing lessons, and much more. “There is a friendly and relaxed vibe here. Unlike some other mountain destinations that are ‘performance’ based, here it’s all about family-friendly recreation. Nothing too extreme. This is a destination for everyone.” 

Bragg Creek
The Handle-Bar in Bragg Creek has food and drinks but also outdoor rental gear. Photo, Andrew Penner cal

Not surprisingly, nearly every type of outdoor activity – in every season – is doable in and around “Bragg.” And, certainly, there are many “hidden gems” in the area as well. 

“The Hostel Loop at West Bragg is a short two-km trail that takes you near the site of the first youth hostel in North America,” says Kniebel. “The hostel burnt down, however the Barclay sisters of Calgary started the North American hostel movement here in Bragg Creek in 1934. In those days, they charged 25 cents a night.” 

Advertisement 4

Article content

And there are many other ‘secrets’ that amateur explorers can discover in the area. Kniebel, who immigrated to Canada from Germany when he was 11, was happy to point out a few more. (I chatted with Kniebel in his store after my wife and I recently rented Nordic skis at his shop enroute to the beginner-friendly West Crystal Line at West Bragg). “The Canyon Creek Ice Cave Trail [Ing’s Mine] is a very cool adventure. But it also requires an 8-kilometre stroll down the road to get to the steep, 45-minute scramble to the cave. And, in the warmer months, the Forgetmenot Ridge North Summit, while not for the faint of heart, is an incredibly beautiful five-hour hike that is situated right in the path of the spring eagle migration.” 

Of course, if you’re more inclined to pursue “indoor” adventures, Bragg Creek can accommodate. For example, the non-profit, volunteer-driven Bragg Creek Performing Arts organization features several live concerts in various venues around town each year. (Check out upcoming performances at www.braggcreekperformingarts.com). Also, numerous retail stores – such as the historic Moose Mountain General Store, Bragg Creek Trading Post, and The Best Little Wordhouse in the West – all merit a visit. 

Advertisement 5

Article content

Great restaurants? Don’t know where to start. The Italian Farmhouse is tough to beat. 

And if you’re interested in sipping a spirit to cap off your trip, Bragg Creek Distillers – their tasting room and sales centre is located in an old cabin near the town’s entrance – is one of the new kids on the block. Interestingly, this hut was the setting for a scene in Fargo (season one) that starred Billy Bob Thornton and Colin Hanks.  

Not surprisingly, many movies and TV shows have been shot in this area. For example, nearby Moose Mountain was prominently featured in the 2005 blockbuster Brokeback Mountain, which starred Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. 

For the record, I do have a hike to the top of Moose Mountain on my “list.” The only time I attempted it (with my wife, Dawn, in 2018), we had to turn around half an hour, or so, from the summit due to inclement weather and insufficient gear. Should have hired a Sherpa.   

Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary. You can follow him on Instagram @andrewpennerphotography   

Article content