Outdoor Report: Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park tops family hike list

If the Calgary Stampede has given you a taste for exploring Alberta's western heritage, this week's Outdoor Report has a recommendation for your next outing.

'You're driving through the prairie and suddenly it drops away,' Paul Karchut says

Calgary Eyeopener director Paul Karchut's family and friends had fun hiking at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park/Áísínai'pi National Historic Site for this week's Outdoor Report. (Paul Karchut/CBC)

If the Calgary Stampede has given you a taste for exploring Alberta's western heritage, this week's Outdoor Report has a recommendation for your next outing.

The Calgary Eyeopener's outdoor reporter, Paul Karchut, suggests heading south to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park/Áísínai'pi National Historic Site, which features earth pyramids, known as hoodoos, extensively covered with Indigenous art.

"It's a bit of a drive, not exactly in Calgary's backyard," he said Friday, adding it's more than worth it.

"You're driving through the prairie and suddenly it drops away into this beautiful river valley."

You can hike through the hoodoos at the park. (Paul Karchut/CBC)

Writing-on-Stone is about 1,780 hectares and offers unique hiking and birding opportunities, plus a modestly-sized campground. 

It's a place of extreme cultural importance to the Blackfoot people and has the greatest concentration of Indigenous rock art anywhere on the plains of North America.

You can see petrogylphs along the trail at Writing-on-Stone. (Paul Karchut/CBC)

The ranchers in the area knew it was special, too, and successfully lobbied the Alberta government in the 1950s to turn it into a provincial park.

'Second to none'

Calgary Eyeopener listener Jay Martens invited Karchut to the park.

"It's very different than what you get when you go west of Calgary, for sure," Martens said.

"And it's really quiet. It's like there's not a lot of people here. It's second to none — like, it's amazing. It's really cool."

Calgary Eyeopener listener Jay Martens recommended Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. (Paul Karchut/CBC)

The Milk River can be tricky to paddle most years, but this summer, park staff say, the water is high enough for a good trip.

The high water also means the river makes for a nice swim to cool off, which you may need, as the temperatures can get into the low 40s C.

The Milk River is good for a swim to cool off. (Paul Karchut/CBC)

Karchut recommends trying the short, 4.5-kilometre hike through the hoodoos, which even his three-year-old son Roger enjoyed. 

The trail includes 12 interpretive stops showcasing geology, wildlife and Indigenous petroglyphs carved into the hoodoos.

Paul Karchut's three-year-old son Roger enjoyed the hike through the hoodoos. (Paul Karchut/CBC)

Writing-on-Stone is a national historic site, and archeologists estimate the Blackfoot people have travelled through the region for 3,500 years. Staff at the site, which also is being considered for UNESCO World Heritage site designation, are trained each year by Indigenous elders.

A big portion of the area is closed as an archeological reserve, but the public portion is free to visit all year round.

Paul Karchut publishes the Outdoor Report throughout the summer. You can send in suggestions for new hiking adventures by emailing

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


Paul Karchut

CBC Calgary

Paul has been with CBC since 2005. He's the director of the Calgary Eyeopener, CBC Radio's national car columnist with a weekly feature called Karchut on Cars, and CBC Calgary's ski and outdoor lifestyle reporter.