Explore Southern Alberta
Southern Alberta means rolling hills, endless wide open prairies, stunning badlands, dinosaur bones and First Nations history. You will find two of Alberta’s five Heritage sites here in the southern part of the province, Dinosaur Provincial Park and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.
The national parks of the Rockies and the cities of Calgary and Edmonton are the focus of most Alberta itineraries, leaving the expansive south largely forgotten. Natural wonders are plentiful in this corner of the province.
The dusty dry badlands around Drumheller and the wide open prairies of Southern Alberta stretch all the way to the Cyprus Hills of western Saskatchewan. The land is full of natural wonders and dotted with unique small towns, waiting to be explored.
Explore Southern Alberta
Dinosaur Provincial Park
Dinosaur Provincial Park is one of the gems of Southern Alberta you don’t want to miss. It is Canada’s largest badlands area with some of the most impressive landscapes beyond the Rockies. Visit the colourful canyons and chimneys of weathered rock known as hoodoos.
Dinosaur Provincial Park was designated as a World Heritage Site and is home to the world’s largest deposit of dinosaur bones. Dozens of dinosaur species have been discovered here and more than 300 specimens are displayed in museums around the world.
How to visit
Dinosaur Provincial Park is located in the Red River Valley a two-hour drive east of Calgary. Do not confuse Dinosaur Provincial Park with the town of Drumheller, which is located 164 km by car to the northwest and it’s where the Royal Tyrrell Museum is located.
Ghosts of Drumheller: a Smartphone Audio Ghost Tour
Head out on a haunted self-guided walking tour of Drumheller’s spookiest locations. Hear all about the spirits that lurk around the Drumheller Cemetery and the local legend of Star Mine Bridge. Having a guide on your phone is the cheapest way to experience Drumheller and the surrounding area. Learn more about it HERE.
Tours from Calgary
If you’re in Calgary without a vehicle or you just don’t want to drive, consider visiting Dinosaur land near Drumheller on a full-day guided excursion from Calgary. Explore rugged canyonlands and get up close with fossils and monolithic hoodoo rock formations.
- Visit the Dinosaur Provincial Park Interpretive Centre & Museum to learn about the geology & wildlife of the badlands and see fossils uncovered in the area.
- Visit John Ware Cabin, the residence of a former African American slave, from 1900 to 1905
- Take one of the interpretive tours offered by parks headquarters.
- Have a campfire overlooking the Red Deer River
- Go on a fossil hunt.
- Hike where massive herds of buffalo once covered the land as far as the eye could see.
- Go on a canoe trip down the rivers and across sparkling lakes.
- Look for wildlife as you explore the area’s trails on foot, on your mountain bike or on cross-country skis.
- Drive the scenic loup – Just past the campground, you’ll reach the start of a 4 km driving loop through Dinosaur Provincial Park.
The Royal Tyrrell Museum Field Station is the park’s starting point for five self-guided trails, the Badlands Trail and the Cottonwood Flats Trail being the best ones. Find the best hiking trails for the area on AllTrails. The centre also houses a small museum.
Camping at Dinosaur Provincial Park campground in the midst of the badlands and maybe finding a real dinosaur fossil is something you shouldn’t miss. Nestled in a valley by the Red Dee River, shaded by cottonwood trees, the park’s campground is pretty much the only accommodation option near the park. Reserving a campsite in advance is highly recommended during the busy summer months. For more information check out Alberta Parks.
Royal Tyrrell Museum
This is another place in Southern Alberta you don’t want to miss. The whole museum is interesting for all age groups. It is informative, interactive, educational and fun with great displays and excellent information. The Royal Tyrrell Museum is the world’s best dinosaur museum and houses one of the largest displays of complete dinosaur skeletons on the planet.
The World’s Largest Dinosaur is one of the most famous of Alberta’s roadside attractions. Go to the Visitor’s Center, pay $2.00, and climb the dinosaur’s inside stairs for a view out his mouth.
Plan to spend at least a day, better two, at this great facility, located only 10 minutes from Drumheller. . Learn about T-Reck and all the other species. Stay for a sleepover and spend the night with the dinosaurs in Dinosaur Hall.
Travelling with kids? A visit to the Royal Terryll Museum will be the highlight of their trip, guaranteed!
- Watch scientists painstakingly scratch, blow and vacuum dirt from fossils.
- Check for hands-on activities like fossil casting.
- Go on a 1.4 km walking trail dotted with information boards.
- Go on a real guided archaeological dig. You will be coming back for more.
Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park
An hour’s drive southeast of Calgary on the Siksika Nation reserve you get to see a complex of historic sites that preserve this traditional wintering ground and gathering place of the Blackfoot. If you’re in the area, make sure to check this out.
A Siksika guide will tour you through the stunning large exhibit hall and you will get a deep insight into the culture of the people who used to own this land. Afterwards, take a self-guided trail and visit the site of Chief Crowfiit’s grave and learn about the cultural significance of this place.
Bar U Ranch Historic Site
The Cowboy culture is still a big part of Southern Alberta and you feel it driving south through the province’s rolling foothills on Highway 22, aka the Cowboy Trail. These rolling foothills are still punctuated by giant ranches, one of which is Bar U Ranch. The ranch has been converted into a historic site by Parks Canada.
Established in the 1800s, the large Bar U Ranch is a living testimonial to ranching in Alberta. Bar U Ranch was once one of the largest commercial ranches in the world.
Two dozen buildings, including a cookhouse, post office, corrals, blacksmith and slaughterhouse, have been preserved in their Sundance Kid-era glory.
How to visit
Bar U Ranch is located an hour south of Calgary. just off Highway 22, 13 km south of the town of Longview.
- Hop on for a wagon ride pulled by mighty Percheron horses.
- Step inside a tipi and hear Indigenous interpreters share traditional stories.
- Watch a master saddlemaker at work.
- Stay for a cowboy lunch and pick up local western crafts.
- Learn basic roping skills and afterwards show off
- Pekisko Creek Trail – a 3 km trail that is accessible both on foot and by bicycle. Discover the Bar U rangelands and less-visited areas of the site. Take a break under the trees near the cool waters of Pekisko Creek to cool off.
- The Viewpoint Trail – A stroll that begins at the Visitor Centre, and follows a ridge above Pekisko Creek.
- Riparian Trail loop – starts near Roundup Camp and circles around the Stoney Nakoda Camp.
Sign up for AllTrails App for Free and find the best trails.
Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park
Writing-On Stone is the newest UNESCO World Heritage Site in Alberta, added in 1919. The area has been a sacred place to First Nations for thousands of years. This stunning place contains the largest collection of rock art on the North American plains. Petroglyphs and pictographs carved and painted on sandstone walls record the history of the Black foot and Shoshone.
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is one of the largest areas of protected prairie in the Alberta Parks system. It serves as a nature preserve and protection for many at-risk animal species. It’s a good chance to see wildlife at the park. This part of the province is also home to prairie rattlesnakes. Wearing good shoes is advised.
How to visit
Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park Writing-on-Stone is located in southeastern Alberta, close to the United States borderline in the Milk River Valley, 100 km southeast of Lethbridge, or 44 km east of the community of Milk River.
- Stop in at the excellent Provincial Park Visitor Centre to enjoy the large display telling the stories of the area.
- Book a Rock Art Tour with a First Nations interpreter to see the largest collection of pictographs and petroglyphs, otherwise not open to the public.
- Camp near the river for a night and take in the surroundings.
Climb and explore the hoodoos and enjoy the spectacular backdrop.
There are some marked pathways that you can follow such as the Hoodoo Trail where you can see rock art that is open to the public and a reconstructed North-West Mounted Police (NWMP). Check out the Information Centre for information and maps.
For experienced backcountry hikers, there are great hiking options available at Writing-on-Stone Park. Maps and information are available at the Visitor Centre to ensure that you stay within the park boundaries. These trails are unmarked and need to be planned well.
Sign up for AllTrails for Free and find the best trails.
Make the best of your visit and spend a night at the beautiful campground located within the park. This campground is maintained by Alberta Parks and includes amenities such as a small grocery/supply camp store, flush toilets, showers, a playground, sewage disposal, fire pits, and more. The campground is open all year round.
Cypress Hills Provincial Park
Sharing the park boundary with Saskatchewan is Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, the only one of this kind in Canada. The park is also known as Elkwater Park, known to have the tallest hill between the Canadian Rockies and Labrador, a distinct climate, and a varied landscape from grassland, wetland and large lodgepole pine forest.
Elkwater Lake is the largest body of water in the park with a marina at the edge of the lake where you can rent everything from canoes and kayaks to paddle boards and paddle boats. Enjoy the sandy beach and great swimming during the heat of summer. The park is open all year round
The park has an extensive mountain biking and hiking trail system and is especially popular with people from Medicine Hat. Watch out for wildlife.
In winter, head to Hidden Valley Ski Resort and have fun at the terrain park.
How to visit
Cypress Hills Provincial Park is located approximately 65 km southeast of Medicine Hat. The main access route is via Alberta Highway 41, which leads south of Trans-Canada Highway 1.
- Stop in at the Visitor Centre at Elkwater.
- Pick up a fishing licence and try your luck at Elkwater, Spruce Coulee or Reesor Lake.
- Bring your horse and make use of the equestrian-friendly park.
- Get on your bike and ride through the stunning open forest in Cypress Hills Provincial Park.
- Stop in for some grub at the Camp Cookhouse and General Store, right next to the Visitor Centre.
- Go wildlife viewing at dusk.
Cypress Hills has a large selection of trails to choose from. Drop in at the Visitor Centre for a map or download AllTrails for free.
Elkwater has several campgrounds to choose from. Some are centrally located in the townsite of Elkwater with the convenience of being closer to the Visitor Centre, beach and amenities while others are a little more secluded such as Spruce Coulee, Reesor Lake or Battle Creek.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
In Alberta’s Porcupine Hills, Head-smashed-In-Buffalo Jump is the oldest and best preserved of its kind in North America and is a Unesco World Heritage Site. This park with the strangest name of any attraction in Alberta stands as a remembrance of the way of life of the Plains People, who for thousands of years drove the buffalo off the high cliffs to sustain their tribes. When the buffalos came across the open prairie, the braves from the tribe would gather and herd them toward the towering cliffs and funnel them to the edge and into their dreadful deaths.
To the Blackfoot, the buffalo was sacred and to honour their prey, every part of the animal was used.
The well-presented display at the interpretive center is built into a hillside and is worth an excursion from Calgary or Lethbridge.
Make sure to tour the interpretive centre, hike with a Blackfoot guide, and experience First Nations culture through stories, drumming and dancing.
How to visit
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is located 18 km west of Fort Macleod, in Southern Alberta, on Highway 785.
- Spend time at this UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site that preserves and interprets over 6,000 years of Plains Buffalo culture.
- Enjoy the vast landscapes, exhibits, and diverse programs and learn about the cultural significance of this cliff to the Plains People.
Head out on this 2.4-km out-and-back trail. This is an easy route that takes an average of 43 min to complete. Download AllTrails for free to get details of this route.
There are several campgrounds in the surrounding areas. A recommended one is Rivers Edge RV Park & Campground at Fort Macleod (14 km away).
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