Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park has been on my bucket list for a while now, although hiking the Haffner Coulee was not on my radar until days before the trip. Upon looking at the Alberta Parks reservation site in the spring of this year, the sites were all booked up over the weekends. While I personally enjoy weekday camping better, it's hard to get family and friends out during the week. Luckily, people cancel trips, and I conveniently went online to peek at the availability at just the right time. With no time to spare, I scored a Comfort Camping Cabin for the upcoming weekend. Yay!! Now to see what Writing-On-Stone has to offer for adventures.
Before I head out on an adventure, I research the area extensively to find what peaks my interest the most and make a list of "Must See" places. I learned from some other bloggers that 1 day in Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park would be enough time to see and do it all. I thought I would knock this park off the list completely with the 2 days I had booked for camping. My experience would have me say otherwise though. 1 day is not nearly enough time to explore this area to the fullest. If you just want to "see it", then yes, 1 day is good. I definitely would have booked a longer stay had I known all the adventures waiting for me at Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park. Just more reason to book a site there again soon!
Haffner Coulee is not actually attached to the main section of Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park, but about a 10 minute drive west. It was acquired in 2011 when a family approached the government as a way to preserve the area. You really have no idea it's right beside you as you drive along, it's just a big well hidden crack in the fields of Alberta's prairies. Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park has a bus that will take you down to the coulee area. It was like a personal tour for us that day with only myself and my brother signed up for it, with 2 extra Alberta Parks staff members joining us. Each staff member brought an additional knowledge feature to the hike which was an extra treat for us. Our main guide, Becky, was great and gave some nice tips of the area along the drive to Haffner Coulee. Such as floating down the Milk River - Start at the Weir Bridge and it will take 2-3 hours to float back to Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park. Just another reason I need to come back here!
We arrive at an old abandoned homestead in a prairie field, and that's when Becky parks the bus and says we have arrived. She gives us a quick but informative safety run down, as well as what to expect on this particular hike. She is also honest to say the beginning of the hike might be a bit boring as we cross the prairie field before we descend into the coulee. It was a good beginning to the hike, like a warm up. With plenty of stories along the way about the area and its history.
At this time, after a moderate walk in the sun over crunchy sun baked prairie grass, we start to see the bright green lush coulee bottom with a small creek still flowing even in mid August. Amazingly, the surrounding rock faces were like something out of a movie. With what looked like columns and pathways to natural coliseums. Additionally, the whitetail deer and mule deer were frolicking about, while the big snakes slithered away in the tall grass. There are no official trails through the coulee, so a bit of bushwacking is required, but only low small shrubs. Nevertheless, the descent to the bottom was near a nice game trail making it pretty easy to get up and down the edges of the coulee.
Once at the bottom of Haffner Coulee in Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park, you're surrounded by lush natural greenery and soaring sandstone cliffs. Of course each cliff exceptionally different than the next with unique characteristics and formations. Furthermore, you can clearly see the fossils of ancient sea creatures. Surprisingly, this was once the bottom of the Western Interior Seaway, an ancient sea that flowed from the Arctic Ocean down to the Gulf of Mexico through Canada and the United States until about 66 Million years ago. Amazing to see these timeworn creatures sticking out of the sandstone in Haffner Coulee. Amongst all the natural beauty and and European settler history, lies the true history of the area.
The land here, and the vast majority around this province as well as neighbouring provinces, and even the states to the south, is considered Blackfoot Territory. The Sweetgrass hills to the south of Haffner Coulee are basically in the heart of Blackfoot Territory, and their history here reach far and wide. These areas are special in more ways than one, but one of the beautiful features in Haffner Coulee are the petroglyphs still visible today. It was a pleasure to see more of these carvings in the stone left long long ago to tell a story of the past. Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park has the highest concentration of petroglyphs and rock art in the North American Great Plains. As a result, that is why it is such a protected place and a pretty restricted area as well. Unfortunately, it is absolutely sad to see the amount of graffiti and vandalism that takes place near these valued historical areas, or any natural area really, but especially near, on, or around something like a petroglyph.
In closing, I would recommend taking this tour of hoodoos, petroglyphs, animals and history if you have the chance. It is very hot here, so dress appropriately, bring lots of water and a hat. This hike is not one of the daily tours offered, as Haffner Coulee hike is only available Sunday mornings at 9:30am MST for the months of July and August (2023). It is also not available for anyone under the age of 12 and not recommended for anyone not up for hot 3 hour hike in and out of a coulee with some elevation differences. For the cost of around $30, have yourself a unique experience with Alberta Parks in Haffner Coulee, a west block of Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta Canada.
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Cary Horning Yes, Cary that was very cool to Nana Seeker babysit with Little Seeker for Daughter Seeker to go on an adventure.
EH Canada Marketing Group Makes sense you would both enjoy that park. And yes, I did a small loop between the campground and the visitors centre. Then went and did the Battlescene and Police Point Outlook trail too. I just couldn't get enough of it. Pretty cool to know their campground is open year round! Snowy icy hoodoos would be neat!
Fantastic blog Andrea, I really enjoyed reading about the history and seeing the amazing photos. What I really liked though is how you shared your approach to researching an area and some of the practical considerations to be made on the fly when finding out different schedules or restrictions. I was wondering in your video if it was Pronghorn antelope or mule deer that were bounding through the prairie.
Thanks! We saw whitetail and mule deer running around at the coulee. I saw a pronghorn on my way home from the park though
What a cool place! I haven't been to Writing on Stone Provincial Park yet, but when I do I am going to add the guided hike to Haffner Coulee to my list and make sure I plan for the Sunday 9:30am tour. Thank you for sharing your adventure and for the informative blog.