Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Hiking Alberta

 

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is a photographer's paradise near Milk River, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is an Áísínai’ National Historic Site located in South-central Alberta, Canada about 20 miles north of the Montana, USA border. 

On the drive south from Calgary through perpetual prairie,the drive continues east from Fort MacLeod to a rest and information stop at the Lethbridge Visitor Centre adjacent to the High Level Bridge.

 

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada

 

This impressive railroad bridge took 10 months to build and was completed in 1909 by the Canadian Pacific RailwayHigh Level Bridge, at 96 meters (314 ft) high and 1,623 meters (1 mile and 47 ft) in length, is the longest and highest trussel bridge in the world using 12,436 tonnes of steel; 328,000 rivets; and 7,600 gallons of paint.  

High Level Bridge spans the Oldman River Valley where headwaters of the South Saskatchewan Basin drain water from the eastern Slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains into Hudson Bay,  2, 285 KM (1,420 miles) to the east. 

From this location near the Lethbridge Visitor Centre there are 62 KM (39 miles) of hiking, cycling and equestrian trails which lead to a number of local historical attractions and into the spectacular Oldman River Valley.  

Continuing south on Hwy 4 through constant prairie under big sky, arrival at the town of Milk River is showcased by the Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park Visitor Centre.

 

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada

 

Following a short informational tour of the Visitor Centre the drive continues through the small, rural town of Milk River onto a series of secondary, paved roads heading east until, 44 KM (27½ miles) later arrival occurs near the middle of nowhere at the short, gravel entrance road to the Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park with parking near the well-appointed Interpretive Centre.

 

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on Stone Provincial Park is a collaborative effort between the Alberta Provincial Government and the Blackfoot People. 

 

From the campground near the Interpretive Centre, the Hoodoo Interpretive Trail is a 4.4 KM (2¾ mile) return hike to exhibits within the valley.  Just a few steps from the Interpretive Centre it becomes immediately apparent why this valley paradise of hoodoos, clay mounds, and coulees continues to be a spiritual center for the Blackfoot People

The Native Indians have considered this incredible valley and  major archaeological site in Southern Alberta as a spiritual center for several thousand years.

 

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada

 

The drive has been longer than anticipated so afternoon activities must be prioritized and chosen carefully.  The staff at the Interpretive Centre are very helpful and the popular Hoodoo Interpretive Trail will be left for another day. 

After lunch the drive west on road above the valley bordering Milk River leads to a trail-head for the Battle Scene.  Some of the ancient carvings, called petroglyphs, in the sandstone cliffs, recognize significant incidents in history. 

The Battle Scene is believed to represent the 'Retreat up the Hill' battle fought along the Milk River in 1866.  What remains is a marginally visible, very faint carving in the direct, bright sunlight.  Sadly, it is surrounded by a metal cage to discourage further vandalism.

 

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada

 

Fascinating trail provides ample opportunity to absorb grand views on the return over the 0.8 KM (½ mile return) Battle Scene trail before the short drive back to the Interpretive Centre for the 2 PM tour of the admittance-restricted Archaeological Preserve.

 

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada

 

In the off-season, only four people attend the tour conducted by the very competent and knowledgeable guide, Bonnie.  With Bonnie at the helm, an air-conditioned bus takes us through the locked gate, into the protected area, and onto the valley floor to park at the far end of a long sandstone cliff face.

 

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada

 

From the bus parking spot there is a long view of table rock near the Van Cleeve Coulee.  Table Rock is a unique hoodoo with two supporting pedestals.

 

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada

 

A short trail leads to the cliff face and the trail along the bottom for several exhibits of petroglyphs (carvings) and pictographs (primitive paintings).  At each stop, Bonnie interprets the art and the history of the location with vast knowledge and entertaining repartee.  The temperature reaches 48° C  (118.4 ° F)  so protective hats and fluids become very important.

 

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada

 

At one stop, the cliff profile displays images in relief.  Can you spot the buffalo head and the beaver?

 

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada

 

Proceeding along the path, Bonnie provides interpretation for the wide variety of carvings.  The faint images have been diminished over time by erosion of the soft sandstone.  Pictographs, created with paint made from red ochre, have been compromised by the degradation of some cliff surfaces.  Still, they are many excellent examples of ancient art, and new graffiti has been virtually eliminated by creation of the Preserve, video surveillance and stiff fines for offenders.

 

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada

 

Near the middle of our tour along the bottom of the cliff face, the trail position is across from a reconstruction of the North West Mounted Police Post on the other side of the Milk River at the north entrance to Police Coulee linking Alberta, Canada to Montana, USA

This coulee traveling south across the U.S. border into Montana was used for illegal activity until the N.W.M.P. installation, resident from 1887 to 1918, was established.   In 1889, a small and comfortable two-room log building was constructed for the princely sum of $291.90.  Within the following year a barn, corral, blacksmith shop and two officers' rooms were added to the post. 

In May of 1918, Writing-on-Stone Post was no longer needed and all personnel were reallocated to other responsibilities.  The original buildings were destroyed by fire shortly afterwards.

 

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada

 

 Mule deer, oblivious to our presence, feeding in the lush brush on the other side of the road.

 

 . Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada

 

Near the end of the interpretive site there are remnants of nests made by cliff swallows and final petroglyphs before the tour ends and the bus returns to the Writing-on-Stone Interpretive Centre at 4:30 PM.

 

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - Milk River, Alberta, Canada

 

In hindsight, the return driving time between Calgary and Milk River creates a very long day trip and it would have been nice to explore the Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park more thoroughly at a more leisurely pace. 

An excellent two-day trip could include a visit to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump on the drive south, an overnight in the historic town of Milk River and a hike and tour of Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park the following day prior to the 4-hour return drive to Calgary

Another accommodation alternative could be the campground at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

Thank you for your kind words. Milk River and Writing-on-Stone remain sufficiently remote to be less crowded. Thanks for the info re camping accommodation and a recommended meal. Ours was a long day trip. When I get a chance to return that way I would like to stay a few days and explore the area more thoroughly.

GREAT post Barry. Besides camping at Writing-on-Stone, there's a great little campground right in Milk River called 8 Flags (the flags represent all the countries and fur trading co. that have flown over this part of Alberta over the last couple of hundred years). The Milk River Golf Course serves a good meal if you're looking for a place to eat.

Checked out your website and it looks like a very unique and beautiful campground. Since I personally do not tent or trailer anymore, I will make your message available for those who may be interested. Thank you for making me aware of your facility in reasonably close proximity to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. I encourage people who are interested in hiking stunningly beautiful terrain and learning more about the roots of Canadian history to visit.

For those wishing to make it a 2 or 3 day trip Gold Springs Park has ample room for trailers and/or tenting. It is located 8km south and 4km east of Milk River and is only a 45 minute drive to Writing on Stone.

It is a magical place with a variety of discovery opportunities. One of the best educational experiences in a long time. Photographic paradise. Warning: it really is a remote location so less people but longer access. Absolutely a great place for young people.

I've done the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump trip and this country looks reminiscent of the buffalo country but a tad more interesting with all the hoodoos. Good depth of colour in many of the photos too. I've added it to my list of places to explore.

It is awe inspiring at first glance. Morning and evening light would create endless photographic opportunity. To be fair, it is a remote location. I was not kidding when I said it was near the middle of nowhere. On the plus side, the pak entertains about 70,000 visitors each year with most of those in the summer months. It is growing in popularity but it is a long valley and privacy is achievable. Really enjoyed your September Reflection. The floating yellow leaf is a nice touch.

Such a cool location. I am adding this onto my list of places in Alberta to visit :) Thanks.

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