Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Warner County No. 5, AB, Canada
Driving time from Calgary
Set up base camp
Pitch your tent in Writing-on-Stone Campground along the Milk River. This will be your home base camp for roasting marshmallows and sleeping under the stars – and there will be a lot of stars, thanks to that huge badland sky. Keep your ears open for owls after sundown. Some sites have power hook-ups and nearby there are even three luxury campsites, complete with canvas tents and queen beds, for those more inclined to camp comforts.
Hoodoos and rock art
The must-do activity in the park is hiking the Hoodoo Trail. The narrow path will bring you through grasslands, coulees and galleries of towering hoodoos and up to some of the park’s famous petroglyphs and pictographs. Keep an eye out for the side trail to the Battle Scene, the park’s most treasured petroglyph. The trail is 2.2km (one way) and can get very hot in the summer, so bring lots of water along with your day hike gear.
If you’re hoping to get a little farther afield, Writing-on-Stone does have a backcountry hiking zone. To get there, hikers must cross the Milk River, a little obstacle that keeps the crowds away.
Live a history lesson
Writing-on-Stone boasts the largest concentration of rock art on the Great Plains of North America, so trying to make sense of it all yourself can be overwhelming. To get the most out of your visit, join one of the two-hour guided walking tours offered by the park. Your guide will take you to a restricted area of the park and provide context and history while leading you to various pictographs and petroglyphs. Reservations are required.
Hiking in desert conditions is tiring, so once you’re back at base camp, swap out your gear and make the short walk over to the Milk River to relax. Lounge on the sand or cool off in the water. If you’re not there in the heat of summer, the beach is still worth checking out for the peaceful scenery and opportunities to spot wildlife, like the pronghorn antelope that occasionally come to the river for a drink.