Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park contains a unique collection of natural and historic splendor northeast of Milk River, Alberta.
The Town of Milk River, located in a historic area which was part of the Louisiana Purchase, has a storied existence under the flags of Spain, France, England, the United States, the Hudson Bay Company, and three different Canadian flags. This small Alberta town is located about 50 KM (31¼ miles) of good paved road northwest from the small and isolated, but unique and fascinating, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park and Áísínai’pi National Historic Site. This is a sacred place for the Blackfoot People.
Hiking trail east from parking beyond the Visitor Center leads a short way through grassland into a maze of hoodoos. Virtually endless photographic opportunities include periodic long views across the picturesque Milk River to coulees, grassland and major hoodoo structures in the Backcountry Hiking Zone on the south side of Milk River. Snow-capped Sweetgrass Hills in Montana dominate the far view south.
The turquoise and silt-laden Milk River is the only river in this very dry area of Alberta which enters Canada from the United States before leaving Canada to return into the United States as a tributary of the mighty Missouri River watershed. There is long and deep history here.
Many trail options wind their way through a small but complex myriad of hoodoos with visual identification of position intermittently available at higher and larger clear spots. Becoming temporarily lost is easily achievable, but quick remedy makes the hiking opportunity through erosion-formed hoodoos an artful and mysterious endeavor. Stone statues change shape by direction and the route chosen is a free form collection of fascinating alternatives. It is common to mysteriously and unintentionally find oneself in the same spot visited several minutes prior. GPS might be a spoiler.
Long views from higher or open spots on the hill provide more comprehensive vistas across surrounding hoodoos to fields of hoodoo structures on the opposite, south side of the Milk River. Trail options can be chosen where the maze will lead to elevated views straight down sandstone banks to precarious views of the colorful and tranquil waters of the Milk River directly below.
The demarcation line between Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park and private land is defined by barbed wire fence. Inviting longer views past fencing to manicured private land creates beautiful vistas along and across the picturesque Milk River.
Near the fence a small herd of deer scatter among nearby hoodoos to avoid detection. One young deer stays in a protected gully to watch me. The mutual person / deer staring contest lasts for several minutes. Deer seem more comfortable with me than with most people. I believe this is because their ears are about the same size as mine.
All of the Badlands is rattlesnake country which is important and worthy of respect. It is unlikely a snake will be encountered and they tend to announce their location with a distinctive rattle from an elevated tail but knowing what to do is sensible and keeping a close eye on the young people would be sensible. The Visitor Center can and will provide helpful information.
The greatest threat here is graffiti which ruins the natural experience for those who follow. The obnoxious carvings and marks in the sandstone will be a blight on the natural experience for many decades.
Achieving higher ground for trail along the perimeter fence provides a more direct return route embellished with long views across the bend in the Milk River to the features of the Humphrey Coulee and the Davis Coulee which offer backcountry hiking opportunities within the Backcountry Hiking Zone on the other side of the Milk River. A topographical map is available from the Visitor Center. This is not for everyone and more experienced hikers will be more comfortable and less prone to mishap.
The infamous Police Coulee slightly further west is an important and restricted Archaeological Preserve.
Trail higher above the hoodoos provides spectacular views across the Milk River with visual reference and security for expeditious return to the Visitor Information Center perched above the Campground.
Hiking through the hoodoos along the Milk River is a quintessential hiking experience at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park near Milk River in south central Alberta, Canada a short distance north of the border with Montana in the United States.
Photographs for this hike were captured on Sunday, September 17, 2017.