The Milk River runs through Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is 2,689 hectares, or just slightly larger than the nearby town of Fort MacLeod. Located in Canada’s interior plains physiographic region, the Milk River cuts through the northern end of the park. The area is characterized by grassland, riverside cottonwood forests and hoodoos.
Wildlife and Vegetation
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is characterized by hoodoos — pedestal and pillar-shaped rocks created by wind, rain and water.
Over 100 species of birds have been recorded in Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. Golden eagles, Canada geese and prairie falcons nest on cliff ledges. Cottonwood forests and thickets of willow, buffaloberry, rose and dogwood grow along the Milk River and in coulee (valley) bottoms, creating some of the most productive songbird habitat in southern Alberta. Commonly-sighted birds include the sage thrasher, lazuli bunting and rufous-sided towhee.
Stonecat fish as well as brassy and silvery minnows are among the more than 20 species of fish found in the Milk River. Reptiles include rattlesnake, bullsnake and plains and wandering garter snakes.
Of the 22 species of mammals found in the park, mule deer, white-tailed deer, pronghorn, yellow-bellied marmot, white-tailed jack rabbit and Nuttall’s cottontail are frequently seen. Two species of cacti (plains prickly pear and pincushion) and a species of yucca (Spanish bayonet) are among the park’s 265 species of plants.
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park features thousands of pictographs and petroglyphs on sandstone cliffs.
Thousands of pictographs (rock paintings) and petroglyphs (rock carvings) mark the sandstone cliffs in Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park (see Pictographs and Petroglyphs). Taken together, these images represent the largest concentration of Indigenous rock art in the North American plains. While researchers believe the majority of the art was created by the Siksikaitsitapi (Blackfoot Nation), other groups passing through the area, including the Cree, A’aninin (Gros Ventre), Assiniboine, Apsáalooke (Crow), Ktunaxa (Kootenay) and Shoshone, may also have made some of the images. Before metal tools, the art was carved using antlers and bones, or painted using red ochre, a mixture of iron ore and water or bison fat.
The site is a sacred place for the Siksikaitsitapi and is called Áísínai’pi in their language (meaning “it is pictured” or “it is written”). At Áísínai’pi the Siksikaitsitapi sought guidance from the spirits who live among the cliffs and hoodoos. Many of the rock images describe the power of the spirit world as well as the messages given to the Siksikaitsitapi by spirit beings. Young warriors on vision quests — days spent fasting and praying at a sacred place — may have recorded the dreams they had during these journeys. Other images record important events in human history, including Indigenous peoples’ first contact with Europeans, the arrival of horses and the first car seen in the area.
Visitors to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park can camp, swim, hike, canoe and kayak. Interpretive programs and guided walks are conducted in the summer.