Cougar Mountain (not to be confused with Cougar Canyon) is on the front range in Kananaskis Country which is a maze of provincial parks encompassing over 4,000 square kilometers of foothills and mountains bordering Banff National Park to the east and south in the central Canadian Rockies. Cougar Mountain is more specifically located in Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park. Its official name is a direct result of the large cats who hunt its northern slopes. I saw fresh cougar tracks in the snow on my bike approach in mid-October. I also saw coyote, white tailed deer, mountain sheep, weasel tracks and three golden eagles, one screaming past me on the summit ridge. The front range always offers its share of wildlife, particularly late in the fall.
The only published route on Cougar Mountain is the moderately rated scramble up its northeastern ridge. Alan Kane’s Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies is pretty easy to follow on this one. The crux is the final summit ridge involving several hundred meters of hands on scrambling. With snow conditions, this portion becomes more of a difficult scramble. The approach involves a hardy bike ride, particularly in snow, along the Big Elbow Trail for approximately 12kms. In snow conditions it took me two hours to complete this bike approach and only one hour return as the trail became dryer.
The view that dominates most of your ascent is Banded Peak. As you reach the false north summit, you start to take in Tombstone Mountain along with other mountains to the west and south in Kananaskis Country. Of course on a very clear day, you can also make out Calgary to the northeast.
Getting ThereThe Bragg Creek and the Elbow-Sheep Valley area of Kananaskis Country can be accessed from Calgary via a number of roads. The simplest is to take the Trans-Canada exit for Bragg Creek, Highway 22. Travel south through Bragg Creek on Highway 22 until it dead ends into Highway 66. Turn right on Highway 66 and follow it until a dead end into the Little Elbow Campground. Park on the right at the sign for trailhead parking. When the gates are closed in October, you will be forced to park at the first parking area on the left near the river. There are restrooms at this location.
Watch for cattle and deer on the road as you will be driving through open range land. Highway 66 is closed from December 1 through May 14. If the gates are open, do not park in the camping spots. Provincial park enforcement does take the time to issue tickets.
Red TapeThere are no permit requirements to enter, climb and/or park in Kananaskis Country. The Elbow Valley Information Center is located on your right after you turn right on Highway 66. Any recent notices will be posted on the bulletin board at that location.
This is active grizzly country, therefore, you should always have bear spray on your person. I found the remains of an elk kill along side the Little Elbow River when ascending Mount Remus in 2005. I do advise checking with the park website link provided above for possible wildlife trail closures.