Aerial view of the Elbow River and the bridge at the end of Balsam Ave.

The hamlet of Bragg Creek is located where Bragg Creek meets the Elbow River. The Elbow is a popular place to cool off in the summer. You can wade into the icy water by crossing the Balsam Ave. bridge and clambering down the bank about 50 metres to the right. Other access points are located across from the Trading Post on White Ave. and in Bragg Creek Provincial Park.

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The Elbow River, part of the Bow River Basin, is an important resource for Bragg Creek as a source of potable water, recreation, irrigation, and household use. It also supplies people downstream including Calgary where it merges with the Bow River.

The river flows through the Elbow Valley district of Kananaskis, that starts about 8 km west of Bragg Creek along highway 66 and runs some 25 kilometres from the Kananaskis gate to the Little Elbow Recreation Area – from the foothills to the towering Rockies. There are many campgrounds, hiking, horseback and cycling trails set among extraordinary scenery. The highlights are Allen Bill Pond, Forgetmenot Pond and Elbow Falls where a paved interpretive trail leads to a lookout over the falls.

View of the falls in summer (left) and winter (right)

The source of the Elbow River is Elbow Lake, located 2,130 m (7000 ft) above sea level in the Elbow-Sheep Wildland Area of Kananaskis Country. The lake is a 1.3 km (.8 mi) hike up 150 m (500 ft.) from Hwy. 40 at the Elbow Pass. The pass is about 127 km (79 mi) from Bragg Creek. Take Hwy. 22 north to Hwy 1 west to Hwy 40, go south to Elbow Pass. Hwy 40 is closed between Dec. 1 – June 15 south of the winter gate at the Kananaskis Lakes turnoff. The lake is a popular destination for campers, skiers, fishermen and horseback riders.

This is probably why they call it the Elbow River. Elbow Falls is in the upper left. Photo taken from the Prairie Mountain trail.
Canoeing and rafting are popular activities on the Elbow River. You can canoe or kayak several parts of the river, but watch out for rapids, rocks and sweepers – trees that have fallen across the river. The upper stretch from Beaver Flats campground to Elbow Falls is the easiest, but watch out for the Elbow Falls. There is a boat launch at Canyon Creek which gives access to a more difficult run with a number of rapids and a Class 3 ledge.

River discharge – cubic metres per second (m3/sec)
Name of river Watershed area (sq. km) Daily Mean Min (Month) Max (June)
Bow at Banff 2210 39.7 7.64 (Mar.) 127
Bow at Calgary 7860 90.9 44.2 (Mar.) 231
Elbow above
Elbow Falls
437 7 1.8 (Mar.) 17.2
Elbow at
Bragg Creek
791 7.1 2.6 (Feb.) 24.2
Kananaskis near Seebe 933 15.4 7.2 (Apr.) 40.6
Sheep at Black Diamond 595 4.6 0.9 (Feb.) 18.2
Source: Water Survey of Canada, Environment Canada

The Elbow River Watershed

The watershed is the area of land that drains into the Elbow River. The Elbow River Watershed Partnership was established to increase the awareness of water issues and encourage cooperation, coordination and knowledge sharing among stakeholders including: Alberta Stewardship Network (, Government of Alberta – Environment, City of Calgary – Waterworks and Rocky View County.

For more info about the Elbow River Watershed Partnership, call 403-685-5580 or visit their web site.

Elbow River Watershed Partnership