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An Alberta Road Trip To Visit Dry Island Buffalo Jump

An Alberta Road Trip to Visit Dry Island Buffalo Jump

For an Alberta road trip that doesn’t involve mountains, head east to Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park where you can find birds, stunning badlands scenery and a buffalo jump used over the past 3,000 years by the Plains Cree. 

While similar in some aspects to Dinosaur Provincial Park, Dry Island Buffalo Jump is far quieter and less developed. It’s not as rich in dinosaur bones as Dinosaur Provincial Park either, but it is famous because of the discovery of dinosaur fossils and bonebeds of the Albertosaurus.

Updated April 2020.

Big prairie skies on the drive to Dry Island Buffalo Jump
Big prairie skies on the drive to Dry Island Buffalo Jump

Getting to Dry Island Buffalo Jump

The backroads are quite pretty on the way to the park, especially when you descend or ascend from the Red Deer River. The roads we took were through places I’d never heard of before – Rumsey, Trochu and Huxley. All offered scenes of big skies, and in some sections the road ran beside ponds filled with birds.

From Calgary it’s a 1.75 hour, 180 kilometre drive via Highway 2, 27 and 21 to Trochu and Huxley. The final approach to Dry Island Buffalo Jump is via 17 kilometres of good gravel road off of Highway 21, just south of Elnora, another hamlet whose name was new to me.

From Edmonton it’s about a 2.5 hour, 245 kilometre drive via Highway 2, 42 and 21. 

Grain elevator in the town of Trochu
Grain elevator in the town of Trochu
The entrance to Dry Island Buffalo Jump
The entrance to Dry Island Buffalo Jump

The most northern buffalo jump

Visit the park with a picnic basket in hand and a plan to enjoy the scenery, especially in the fall when the park is awash in yellow, orange and even red.

From the overlook the scene below unfolds offering big drama. This buffalo jump is the most northern of the ones around – chiefly because if you go further north, local geography favoured other methods for hunting buffalo.

The most famous buffalo jump – Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump – a UNESCO site several hours south of Calgary – isn’t nearly as high. Most jumps are in the range of 8-15 metres. This one is huge in comparison at 45 metres.

Exceptional scenery in the fall
Exceptional scenery in the fall in the park

Dry Island Buffalo Jump was used at least four times between 700 and 2,800 years ago. Remnants of tools, fire pits and pottery have been found at the site.

The Red Deer River flows through the park
The Red Deer River flows through the park
Looking over the 45 metre buffalo jump
Looking over the 45 metre buffalo jump
A palette of colours in Dry Island Provincial Park
A palette of colours in Dry Island Provincial Park

Hiking trails in the park

There are no formal hiking trails in the park but you can wander off-trail, basically walking where the wind and the mood blows you. It’s not always easy walking but it is pretty. Mostly you’ll be hiking through coulees and native grasslands. Avoid the rugged badlands (they get slick when wet) and be wary of the sheer cliffs!

Keep your eyes peeled for the 150 species of birds that have been identified in the park. In particular the badlands provide habitat for birds of prey like the prairie falcon, golden eagle and ferruginous hawk.

No signed hiking trails in Dry Island Buffalo Jump
No signed hiking trails in Dry Island Buffalo Jump

The Red Deer River runs through the park

You can drive down to the Red Deer River from the overlook on a very steep gravel road. It’s not recommended in wet weather and trailers are forbidden.

The river is a great spot to launch a canoe and one of the most common put-ins for the two day paddle down the Red Deer River to Drumheller. We did the easy paddle one summer and I can assure you it’s perfect for novice canoeists and families. 

We met two women who had paddled all day – actually paddled and walked their canoe since water levels were low in the fall – and were spending the night in the park as it is possible to camp by the river. This would be one of the better campsites along the Red Deer River!

Break time canoeing the Red Deer River
Break time canoeing the Red Deer River
Looking up the Red Deer River in the direction of Red Deer
Looking up the Red Deer River in the direction of Red Deer

Further reading on things to do in Alberta

For more information about Dry Island Provincial Park visit their website.

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

A visit to Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park in Alberta

 

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 33 Comments
  1. You really captured the season in these shots. My favourite place for an Alberta road trip is heading South of Calgary on the Cowboy Trail – HWY 22. I take it almost all the way down to Waterton National Park.

  2. What an awesome part of the world Leigh, and the different seasons must be wonderful, particularly I would imagine Fall. I love the picture of the hay fields, and also the horses – their eager expressions, the symmetry and composition all work together so well.

  3. It is a good thing you kept going because the Buffalo Jump Park is the prettiest. Not the most sensational scenery compared to mountains but the farm fields and prairies have a comforting affect.

  4. I know most visitors come to Alberta to go to the Rocky Mountains, and granted they’re pretty spectacular, but I really enjoy visiting the badlands area of the province. For me it’s the big skies, wide open spaces, and lonely stretches of highway that I love best about Alberta.

  5. I keep hearing great things about Alberta. I’m hoping to visit in the summer of next year, but these pictures closer to fall look beautiful!

  6. Wonderful images. I dream of going to Canada one day, and your tour has certainly increased my desire to visit.
    We have been away ourselves travelling for 6 weeks It’s good to be back catching up with Travel Photo Thursday. Have a wonderful week.

  7. I enjoyed this little peek at fall in your part of the world. The contrast between the rock layers and the colorful autumn foliage of Horseshoe Canyon is my favorite. I had never heard the term “buffalo jump.” Once I looked it up, it made perfect sense to call it that.

    1. @Michele I guess I blew it with no description of a buffalo jump. They were common hundreds of years ago when the buffalo roamed the prairies. The natives had designed systems to funnel the buffalo to the edge – as a running herd – and then they would fall to their deaths. The one at Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump is a UNESCO site and it portrays very well exactly what happens.

  8. Just gorgeous, Leigh! Love the wide open spaces and all that color and texture. Even the grain elevator is beautiful. I’m ready for a trip to the badlands of Alberta.

  9. I am loving all the fall colors and hay in your pictures. This is such a beautiful part of Alberta that really should get more attention. Those horses are adorable. Gorgeous photos, Leigh.

  10. Lovely photos! I love all your pictures especially your picture with a caption of “walking the trails at the bottom of Horseshoe Canyon” I love the colors!

  11. We loved Dry Island Buffalo Jump and when we were there in late June, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Nearby TL Bar Ranch rents canoes and will deliver your canoe and pick it up from the park. It has a cabin, rustic cabin and camping. We’ve also stayed in Trochu at St. Ann Country Inn. Great spot. Your pix are terrific, Leigh. They really do justice to one of our favourite Canadian places.

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