One of the most moving places I’ve ever been, this gorgeous provincial park is nestled along the Milk River in southern Alberta.
The drive from Calgary to Writing-on-Stone takes approximately 3.5 hours and travels south down highways 2, 3, and 4 through Lethbridge. The park is just north of the US border, and you can see the mountains of Montana looming in the distance.
The closest gas station to the park is in Milk River, half an hour out. Get all your supplies before you arrive; the only shop in the park houses a mere three shelves of overpriced emergency items (tiny bottles of shampoo, etc.) and is only open from 11am-4pm!
The land of the Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park houses evidence of First Nations people from almost 9000 years ago. Bone, rock carvings and paint drawings, stone fragments; these all have lead archaeologists to tell the story of a vibrant history in a luscious landscape.
According to our trail book, the earliest groups that used this land are unidentifiable, but in the 1700s, there is evidence that the Blackfoot People called the area of Writing-on-Stone theirs. The Blackfoot were in tune with the earth and were experts in how to give and take.
The most famous symbols of this area are the hoodos which are sandstone structures that climb their way upwards in a triangular shape and fan out with a platform-like formation on top. Erosion caused these magnificent wonders and sand has softened the edges to create this intriguing valley.
This land was so sought-after for the First Nations as it provided shelter, access to water, fertile land, flat areas for growing and living upon, and an abundance of hunting ground and buffalo jumps.
You can either book in advance by phone or online through Parks Alberta, or you can show up and nab a remaining unreserved spot from the Hoodoo Hut. If the hut is closed by the time you arrive, a volunteer host will have an RV parked right outside and they’ll get you sorted.
The lots are large and full of cottonwood trees. The best lots are those right on the riverbank, where you can catch red sunsets and deer meandering for a meal.
The main trail here is the Hoodoo Interpretive Trail which you can take with a guide (daily tours for approx. $15 per person) or you can pick up a Self-Guided Tour Pamphlet and read about all your stops as you pick your way through the rocks on your own. 12 epic rest stops detail the intriguing history of the land and the people that used it.
From the eroded hoodoos, to the warm and buzzing fertile land on the banks of the Milk River, to the faded red paintings of horses and suns telling tales of long ago, this is a trek you don’t want to miss.
The trail starts at the campground and is 2.2km one way along the river. You can then head back the way you came, or walk 20 minutes back along the road towards camp and the visitors centre. Bring water – it gets ridiculously hot in the hoodoos.
Milk River is a lazy, milky, cool place to spend an afternoon. Especially delightful after a hot hike through the hoodoos, there is a fenced off little beach where you can swim literally under the incredible rock formations.
Protecting the Park
From the Alberta Parks website: “The environment of Writing-On-Stone / Áísínai’pi is extremely fragile. Please stay on trails at all times to prevent soil erosion and damage to plants and landforms. Do not deface rock art or landforms. Damaging any cultural resource, including rock art, may result in a $50,000 fine and a one-year jail sentence. If you see artifacts, please leave them in place and contact park staff.”
*Including photos by Sam