It’s May. It’s nearly time for camping season, warm weather, staycations, and exploring Alberta. A few posts back I listed my Favourite Campground for exploring with kids, and Writing-On-Stone made the list. My next several blog posts will be giving more detailed personal experiences of each location and why we think you should add them to your bucket list for summer.
Writing-On-Stone is one of my very favourite places in Alberta. I love hoodoos, I love hiking with my kids and I love cultural exploring. This Provincial Park offers all three. It’s a little over a hour drive from Lethbridge and the nearest town is Milk River . Or if you would prefer to do your exploring from a hotel or Bed and Breakfast there’s some in the Milk River area as well. The park is about a 6 hour drive from Edmonton, but well worth the effort- my girls still talk about our last trip there.
The best part about Writing-On-Stone is the hiking. There are easy walks for any age with so many trails to explore. The hoodoos border along the edge of the campground for easy access. There are a few marked trails (We hiked the Hoodoo Trail along with Visitor Centre Trail and both are easy for any age) but my girls mostly liked just running around though the different rock formations and looking for new ways to get the top of each. Be forewarned- it can be SO hot in the hoodoos. And I mean like 40+ degrees hot. Exploring is better done in the early morning or before sunset.
During the heat of the day there’s a playground and day use area with lots of shade-giving trees. There is also a great little camp store on location that has lots of cool treats. Their slurpee machines works overtime- and if you save your cup your next slurpee is half off (we might have drank half a dozen one day!). But the best way to cool off is to swim in the Milk River. The sand is powdery soft and the current is slow enough to play in. Make sure you pack shade umbrellas and a blankets for sitting on because is no shade or picnic tables on the beach. We also brought large tubes to float down the river in- there’s multiple river entry points along the campground- so you can float down and exit out at the beach. The current is gentle- so it’s relaxing for adults and slow enough that I let my kids ride their own tubes. The beach and river were definitely a highlight of our trip to WOS, and it was a perfect place to spend the afternoon. (Be sure to check the water quality before heading out. On our visit in 2014 the water quality was considered very poor- but that seemed to make no difference to those still swimming in it)
There is a modern (and air-conditioned) visitors centre at top of the valley. It is free admission and there are a lot of hands-on activities, exhibits and short movies. Budget at least hour for the centre, especially if your kids are like mine and enjoy playing the interactive games and reading every single infographic. They had some really unique First Nations children’s games, dolls and toys which was fun for them to experience. There is also free wifi at the visitors centre- which is important to note as there is no cell phone service at the bottom of the valley in the campground. You can also book your tours at the visitors centre, or online ahead of time. If you are travelling on a weekend, it’s probably best to book your programming ahead of time. We did the “Rock Art Tour” and while Violet at 5 was (sorta) entertained, Maeve at age 3 was not interested at all. However, if you are interested in First Nations history, I would totally recommend making a point of taking one of the tours though- most of rock art isn’t accessible unless with a guide. However, the “Battle Scene”, which is one of the most elaborate rock carvings, is open to the public and located on The Hoodoo Trail. It’s about 2.5 km, which in the heat is a very long walk, but on a cooler day I would say it is still worth the effort. There are also interpretive programs nightly in the campground during the busy season. There are posters throughout the park with times and dates- the Snake Program is particularly exciting for the kiddos. The Writing-On-Stone website is continually updated with the current programming, so be sure to check it out before you leave.
It’s important to note that the campground is small (44 sites) so you need to book in advance- they offer a 90 day booking window with Alberta Parks. There are also 3 comfort camping canvas tents if you don’t have the gear or just want to try something new. The campground offers all the basics- fresh drinking water, showers, a playground, interpretive trail markers and a amphitheatre for the nightly shows. I would consider it an attraction in Alberta to not be missed- it’s just so different from anywhere else.
Look Forward to
-Mexico type temperatures at the beach
-Teaching your children about First Nation’s History and Culture
-Climbing and exploring
But be Prepared For
-Mexico type temperatures. Bring a hat, sunscreen, water bottles, ice. Be sure to stay out of the sun in peak hours.
-Bugs and Wasps. Make sure you pack ample Bug Spray.
-Hearing the sounds of Rattlers. While I haven’t seen a snake in the Hoodoos yet, I have definitely heard them. If snakes scare you, know there is possibility of seeing one.
Our Insider Tips
-Stop in Milk River to purchase cold drinks and ice before heading out to WOS. The little grocery store had all the basics and by purchasing a few perishables there it made packing easier in Edmonton.
-The town of Milk River also has a spray park and a outdoor pool if you are looking to get cool and the river water quality isn’t good.
-If your kids are a bit older and can portage across the Milk River, there’s way more hiking in the backcountry area, you just need to check in with the Park staff before departing.