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Visit the Buffalo Jumps Near Calgary, Alberta

Posted on Feb 3, 2013 by in Canada | 0 comments


In order to kill masses of bison simultaneously, Native American people used a technique called the “buffalo jump.” They would herd the unsuspecting bison towards a cliff face and pursue them until they fell meters onto the plain below. Many bison would die on impact, and those that survived were usually rendered immobile by broken bones. In co-ordination with the herders, other Native Americans, sitting in wait, would then finish off the suffering animals with traditional killing weapons – spears and bows.


Areas once used as buffalo jumps are now considered to be sites of immense historical significance. Archaeologists and historians study them to expand their knowledge of Native American culture, customs and ways of living.

The city of Calgary, situated in Alberta’s Grassland area, about eighty kilometers in an eastern direction from the Rocky Mountains, is an important place for the study of buffalo jumps and Native American traditions.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Old Man River dam in Southern Alberta, Near Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump

Wild Grass by MyklR, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  MyklR 



Visitors Welcome at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Welcome at the Head Smashed In Buffalo J by RTPeat, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  RTPeat 


The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, commonly known as UNESCO, recognized the historical and cultural importance of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in 1981, when it made the decision to label the area a World Heritage Site. This brought the jump to global attention and it now receives a steady stream of visitors all year round.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump was used by the Blackfoot people, who lived in an area bordered by the North Saskatchewan River in Alberta, the Yellowstone River in Montana, and the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, between the Rocky Mountains and the Cypress Hills. The Blackfoot had a reputation for being strong and powerful fighters and remained living in their pre-Contact state until the 1880s, when they eventually became undermined by famine and health problems caused by a severe decline in buffalo numbers.

UNESCO has invested $10 million in building an interpretative center at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Skillfully built to merge with the sandstone cliff that forms its backdrop, the center offers visitors a wealth of information regarding the Blackfoot people, from both Native American and European perspectives.

Throughout the year, the interpretative center hosts special events. Family Days offer a range of stimulating activities designed to arouse interest in Native American culture in both children and adults. Concert series and arts days showcase Native American dance, music, traditional dress and artistic pursuits. Hiking days give visitors the chance to spend hours in the company of experts, both archaeologists and Blackfoot guides, learning the intricacies of how Native Americans used their geographical knowledge to conduct buffalo jumps.

The center also offers a comprehensive education program. Teachers can take groups of students for seminars covering such topics as making weapons and using native plants for medicine. There is also the option of an overnight stay, which gives students the exciting opportunity to spend the night in a Blackfoot tipi.

The trip to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump from Calgary takes about two hours. You should drive south on Highway 2 for about 160 kilometers and then take Highway 785 West for about 18 kilometers. The jump is located eighteen kilometers northwest of Fort Macleod. The site is open between 10am and 5pm, seven days a week, and closes only during severely bad weather and on major public vacations – Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Easter Sunday. Admission fees are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $5 for youth aged between 7 and 17 and free for those under 7. A family can gain entrance for $22.

Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park

Pictures Of Red Deer Valley, Dry Island Buffalo Jump




The Dry Island Buffalo Jump was used by the Cree people to kill bison and maintain a reliable food supply, as well as gain essential materials, such as leather. The Cree were the biggest group of First Nations people in Canada. They lived in a vast area north and west of modern-day Lake Superior and their home turf included modern-day Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, the Northwest Territories and even Quebec.

The Dry Island Buffalo Jump towers at a height of 200 meters above the Red Deer River. It is an immense plateau covered in prairie grasses. Europeans have never built on the area once used as a jump, so it retains its ancient feel.

While visiting the Dry Island Buffalo Jump, you can also take advantage of some of the other activities available in the park. Its other major area of historical significance is being the location of the largest Albertosaurus bone bed on the face of the Earth. Furthermore, the park has some fantastic bird-watching on offer, with a thriving bird population comprised of more than 150 species. The waterways hold an abundance of fish and the scenery makes canoeing and kayaking worthwhile. You can camp in one of two campgrounds – Tolman East or Tolman West.

The trip from Calgary to Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park takes just over 2 hours. You should drive north along Highway 2 for about 90 kilometers, then east along Highway 27 for about 54 kilometers, then north on Highway 21 for about 16 kilometers and, finally, east along Township Road 344 for about 19 kilometers. Entry to the park is free but camping costs $14 per night.

Old Women’s Buffalo Jump

Old Women’s Buffalo Jump Mural


In 1960, the Old Women’s Buffalo Jump, located near Cayley, about 80 kilometers south of Calgary, was recognized as one of Canada’s national historical sites. In 1952, a powerful flash flood in the ravine below the jump uncovered a surprising collection of bones and artifacts such as arrow heads and stone tools. This led to archaeologist Richard Forbis’s excavation of the area in 1958 and 1959, which was actually the first excavation of a buffalo jump on the Canadian prairies. A combination of archaeology and study of the historical record suggests that the Old Women’s Buffalo Jump was used from at least 100 A.D. up until the 1790s.

Visually, the jump is quite spectacular. It is found on the southern side of High River, Alberta. It is comprised of a prairie, across which the buffalo would have been driven, which ends abruptly at a cliff face that towers eight meters above a coulee. At the bottom of the coulee runs a creek. To the north, there is a small, flat place that would have served as a campsite. The whole area has been left relatively untouched throughout the course of European settlement and so offers a valuable opportunity to research First Nations ways of living.

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