Practically dripping with magic, Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park makes for the perfect Southern Alberta day trip.
How do I know this? Because I lived in Medicine Hat, Alberta for a year — just a couple hours away from Writing-On-Stone!
Located near the town of Milk River, Alberta, near the Montana border, Writing-On-Stone is both a nature preserve and sacred area featuring many historical rock carvings and paintings.
In Writing-On-Stone, the hoodoos stretch on for miles, the hikes are awe-inducing, the sound of the Milk River flowing is ever-present, and the magic is abundant.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
- How to get to Writing-On-Stone, Alberta
- The facilities
- When to visit
- The hoodoos and history
- And so much more!
It took me almost a year of living in Medicine Hat before I visited the park, but now that I have, it’s one of my favorite sites in the Canadian prairies.
Here’s what I found on my visit!
Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta Travel Guide
When to Visit Writing-On-Stone
I visited Writing-On-Stone provincial park on a Saturday in late March and found it to be the perfect time of year.
Alberta weather in early spring can be a bit brisk with snow on the ground, but it’s great for hiking. Plus, early spring means that you’ll mostly have the area to yourself, less a couple of families. Given the nature of things, I’d expect the fall to be much the same.
That said, the park does tend to get busy in summer, due to the beautiful weather of Southern Alberta and the facilities being open. If you plan on coming during that season, prepare to share the space with plenty of others and, as mentioned above, definitely book well in advance if you plan on camping.
Read More: 15 Best Day Trips from Calgary, Alberta
How to Get to Writing-On-Stone
Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park is located near the Montana/Alberta border and is about 44km from the Alberta town of Milk River.
I drove into the park from Medicine Hat, which is only about an hour and a half away, and there were signs for Writing-On-Stone almost as soon as I first got on the highway.
Additionally, Writing-On-Stone is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Calgary, Alberta so, while it can be done in a day trip, I’d recommend staying overnight at either a campsite or in a nearby town.
Facilities at Writing-On-Stone
Writing-On-Stone is home to a visitor center, and although I wasn’t able to check it out during my stay, it features information about the area, bathrooms, WiFi, bus tours, and a little gift shop.
However, due to the frigid environment the area experiences in winter, the Visitor Centre opens seasonally from mid-May through late September.
While there are food options at the park come summertime, no matter what time of year you visit, I’d recommend packing enough food and water to last you through the day.
Not only is this cheaper, but it’ll also save you from heading back to the main area every time you get hungry.
Wildlife at Writing-On-Stone
During my early-spring visit, I didn’t see much wildlife whatsoever besides birds.
However, if you visit in the summer pay special attention to the fact that Writing-On-Stone is rattlesnake territory. Due to the hilly, hoodoo-esque landscape, rattlers may be hard to spot, so keep your ears perked and remember to step on top of rocks or fallen trees, not over them, as snakes like to hang out against them.
And, as always, rattlesnakes are probably more scared of you than you are of them (unless you’re terrified of the beasts like me.)
I also noticed signs for bears and cougars, which I would doubly keep in mind if you visit in the off-season or hike farther away from the main recreational area.
As stated above, the culturally historical significance of Writing-On-Stone dates back to 7000 BC, and maintaining the park for others to see and enjoy is super important. Not to mention, the eroded hoodoos are much older than that and are a sight to see in and of themselves. The entire area is fragile, so stick to marked trails and areas.
Be respectful when visiting the area, follow leave-no-trace principles, and definitely notify someone if you see any vandalism occurring.
85 Million years ago, on the location of where the park is today, there was a coastal shelf of a very big inland sea.
Over time, sand deposits from this sea compacted, forming sandstone. Eventually, the sea disappeared, and much later, at the end of the last Ice Age, the sandstone eroded due to water, ice, and wind, leaving us the hoodoos and other intriguing rock formations we see today.
I. Love. Hoodoos.
I don’t know what it is, but walking all around giant towering sandstone rock formations is always such an ethereal experience for me. The hoodoos at Writing-On-Stone go on for miles, and the paths that take you around them are perfectly laid out for an immersive hoodoo experience.
Writing-On-Stone Petroglyphs and Pictographs
The region of Writing-On-Stone has been occupied by Indigenous communities going back as far as 10,000 years.
In particular, the area is sacred to the Blackfoot (Aisinai’pi) people, who created many of the petroglyphs (rock carvings), and pictographs (rock paintings) featured at the site. The scenes created by these carvings and paintings tell stories of what life was like for those who lived here, and of spirits they encountered.
The photos below show a protected area where you’ll find the “battle scene” rock carvings.
Camping at Writing-On-Stone
Camping is bliss at Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park, as the many spots are nestled underneath gorgeous cottonwood trees and are just steps from the hoodoos and the river.
There are both full-service camping spots as well as more basic ones but, whatever you choose, try to book in advance – especially if you plan on visiting in the summer months.
If you don’t book in advance or show up later than you expected, never fear, you’ll be able to find hosts that can sort you out (summertime only).
Hiking at Writing-On-Stone
Aside from simply stumbling around through the hoodoos (which is an enjoyable activity in itself), there are some great legitimate hiking trails in Writing-On-Stone.
Personally, I hiked the 2.2 km (one way) Hoodoo trail and the 0.5km (one way) Battle Scene trail — both of which I had completely to myself — although there are plenty of options for longer hikes in the area.
You can either choose to do these hikes with a guide, or you can trek them solo. Either way, you’ll get an awesome overview of the area due to rest stops with markers along the way. Just remember to pick up a pamphlet for reference before you head out!
Magic at Writing-On-Stone
I found Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park to be the perfect place to just sit and reflect. With thousands of years of sacred history and spiritual significance under its belt, the energy at Writing-On-Stone is immeasurable, and will often have the hairs on your arms sticking straight up.
In addition to taking photos and hiking, I made extra time to just sit on benches, look off into the distance, and write in my journal. If you’re in need of a bit of a mental break or just want to enjoy a change of pace, I highly recommend doing the same.
That’s it for my Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park travel guide!
I hope this gave you a ton of inspiration for your visit, and feel free to drop any questions below in the comments!
Have fun in Writing-On-Stone!