Stand in silence on ground sacred to First Nations for more than 8,000 years. This is Áísínai´pi, known in English as writing on stone. A protected place and National Historic Site, it contains the largest concentration of rock art on the Great Plains. Petroglyphs and pictographs were carved and painted on sandstone rock walls by the Blackfoot and Shoshone tribes. Towering cliffs and wind-blasted rock formations known as Hoodoos were thought to be the homes of powerful spirits. Thus, there was an understanding among tribes that no battles could be waged here. This was a place for recording stories on stone and a spiritual sanctuary for all who passed through.
Tucked away in the southeast corner of the province in the valley of the Milk River, the land is scored with deep ravines known as coulees which provided shelter for human and animal alike. The abundance of game and berries – chokecherry, juniper, saskatoon – and easy access to water made it a natural place to restock and rest before the harsh winters set in.
Today, First Nations interpreters take you on a guided tour of the past and honour their ancestors through drum and dance. The new visitors centre is built in the shape of a traditional tipi and is filled with stories and artifacts showcasing a way of life that changed very little over thousands of years. The park is part of the Canadian Badlands and is located 100 km (62 mi) southeast of Lethbridge or 44 km (27 mi) east of the town of Milk River.
Ancient art. Archaeology. Ancestors. Adventure. Here’s your Writing-On-Stone checklist!
Hiking the Hoodoo Trail
Not for the unprepared, this popular 2.5 km (1.5 mi) hike can be a cooker in the summer, when temperatures can reach 45ºC (113ºF). Hats, sunscreen, water and good footwear are a must. The views are so worth it.
The only way you can see the rock art up close and personal is to book a tour. The most sensitive sites are now protected to preserve the eroding artwork and to prevent vandalism.
Book a spot in the campground and canoe the lazy Milk River. Eye-popping badlands scenery and ice cream are waiting for you back at the general store. If you prefer to travel light, try the park’s Comfort Camping. Everything you need is here and ready to go – from pots and pans to coffee maker and queen sized bed.
Devil’s Coulee Dinosaur Heritage Museum
Take a trip to nearby Devil’s Coulee Dinosaur Heritage Museum and learn about the discovery of a huge Hadrosaur (Duckbill dinosaur) nesting ground. Go on a guided dig and you might find your own petrified egg.
Travelling from Montana
Coming from Montana? Cross the border at Coutts – the only 24 hour port of entry in Alberta – and you’re only an hour away from Writing-On-Stone. The low volcanic mountains of the Sweet Grass Hills can be seen as far away as Medicine Hat.