Several weeks ago, I made a day trip to Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park. The park is located near the Alberta-Montana border, 42 km southeast of the town of Milk River. I grew up less than an hour and a half drive from the park but had never visited it until now.
Writing-On-Stone was designated a Provincial Park in 1957 and has been an Archeological Preserve since 1977. In 2019, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This place holds special significance to First Nations people, specifically the Blackfoot, who hunted and camped here for generations.
The park is best known for its amazing sandstone rock formations (hoodoos), and rock art – petroglyphs and pictographs. There are over 50 petroglyph sites and thousands of works at Writing-On-Stone.
In 1887, the North-West Mounted Police opened an outpost at Writing-On-Stone. The outpost remained open until 1918. Sometime after this, it was burned down by arsonists. Between 1972-1973, a replica of the NWMP outpost was constructed on the original site.
As you approach the park, you are provided with scenic views of the Sweetgrass Hills, rising above the prairies, across the border in Montana. If you are fortunate, you will also see pronghorn antelope along the way. I saw about a dozen. They were much too wary and bolted as soon as I stopped the car along the side of the road to take pictures. Blurred photos are better than no photos.
Unfortunately, the visitor center was closed the day I visited. The campground was open and provided a good view of some of the hoodoos. The Battle Scene and Hoodo hiking trails were closed for maintenance, so I was not able to see any rock art. Still, I managed to find some interesting things to photograph.
While growing up in Coaldale, I had a friend who used to go camping at Writing-On-Stone with his family during the summer months. I remember some of his stories of swimming in the Milk River and exploring around the hoodoos while watching out for rattlesnakes.
It was about a six-hour round trip to Writing-On-Stone Park from Crowsnest Pass, which made for a long day. I would like to return sometime to take more pictures. This time, I’ll bring my tent and spend a few days.
Pine Coulee Pictographs
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to photograph pictographs at Pine Coulee, near Stavely, Alberta. It was an interesting experience and I enjoyed it very much. At one time, the coulee may have been used by the Blackfoot people as a place to find water and shelter and to hunt.
There is a possibility bison were killed by these people by driving them off the cliffs at the top of the coulee. While taking photos, I tried to imagine what it would have been like to see teepees erected at the site, while listening to the beating of drums and the sound of the hooves of bison running across the prairie, toward the edge of the coulee.
I remember seeing hoodoos around Banff when we visited your beautiful country. They were very different to anything I had seen before. Thanks for reminding me of them. Must write to you soon. Hope you are both well and being safe. We are in Queensland at the moment.
There are other places here that have hoodoos, including Dinosaur Provincial Park, east of Calgary. I have yet to visit this park, but it’s on my bucket list. We are safe and doing well. Hope you and Len are keeping safe. Thanks for visiting. Talk soon!
Vic: Nice photos of a special place and region. When I lived in Lethbridge for a couple of years I would drive to Writing-On-Stone and hike the hoodoos and river valley on a sunny mild winter day. Like your deer hide drum. Neat post.
I don’t know why it took me all these years to visit this park. It would be a neat place to visit in winter. It was a lot of fun making the drum. I need to play it more often. Hope you are getting out on the river. Thanks for commenting!
Good afternoon Vic. Thanks for sharing Writing-On-Stone, as well as Pine Coulee. I have been there once but plan on taking my wife and nephew down. Awesome info and photos as always. Thank You.
I hope to return to Writing-On-Stone. Hopefully, soon. There are no shortage of photo ops there. I don’t know why it took me all these years to visit the park. Thanks for visiting!
Such a beautiful article and fantastic photos. I did camp at that site years ago when the RCMP were doing a commemorative ride along the original trail. It was a thrill to see.
Seeing your photos reminded me that this might be a good year to get down there and explore the area some more.
I was not aware that there were pictographs in Pine Coulee…how do you find them? Is there a guiding/interpretive service?
Hope to see yo soon as we head down to do some early season fishing and exploring.
Happy Easter to you and your family.
The campground at Writing-On-Stone looks like it would be a great place to stay. Very close to everything. Some of my blog photos were taken near the campground. The Pine Coulee pictographs are very interesting to look at. To reach them, you have to cross private property. I will send you some info. Thanks for commenting. Happy Easter!
Angler, writer, photographer and now drum maker! You are talented man! Keep up the great work! I look forward to every one of your posts!
I had a lot of help making the drum. My brother-in-law, Paul, is Métis and has made hundreds of them. He was a school teacher in Manitoba and would often make drums with his students in class. I’m glad you enjoy my posts. I always appreciate these types of comments. Thanks!
Nice Vic. I haven’t been out to Writing On Stone in many years so thanks for the revisit. It truly is a fascinating landscape with an interesting history. Nice drum too. You’re a multi-talented guy for sure!
I would like to return to Writing-On-Stone. It’s a cool place, that’s for sure. Next time, I’ll stay longer than a couple of hours. I had a lot of help from Paul when making the drum. I (we) also made a drum stick and rattle. They look nice on top of my fly-tying material drawer. Thanks for commenting!