Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

By Mayuri

What is the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump?

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Alberta, Canada. It is a spectacular and unique site that offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the hunting practices of the indigenous Blackfoot people.

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Text: Head-smashed-in Buffalo Jump, Alberta, Canada. Images: a viewpoint overlooking a cliff, and a broader view of the terrain.
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The site has well-marked trails, an Aboriginal camp, and vast quantities of buffalo (American Bison) skeletons. These remnants are evidence of a custom practiced by Aboriginal peoples of the North American plains for nearly 6,000 years.

With their exceptional knowledge of the topography and buffalo behavior, they skillfully hunted their prey by driving them over a cliff. The place has been preserved, and the interpretative exhibits show how the carcasses were skillfully carved up in the camp below.

Why is Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump a UNESCO World Heritage site?

The UNESCO website describes it as ‘one of the oldest, most extensive and best preserved sites that illustrate communal hunting techniques and of the way of life of Plains people who, for more than five millennia, subsisted on the vast herds of bison that existed in North America.’

It is truly one of Canada’s oldest and largest sites to learn about Aboriginal cultures and, more specifically, how the Plains people (Blackfoot) once lived.

A very big view over a vast flat landscape.

What can you expect on a visit to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump?

When I visited this UNESCO Heritage site on my way to Waterton National Park, it was a great experience to learn about the Blackfoot people of Canada and how they lived. It is an easy stop on a road trip from Calgary to Waterton.

The site is relatively quiet, and they have space for parking. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump offers visitors a unique educational experience through guided tours, exhibits, and interpretive programs. I highly recommend watching the educational video on the Blackfoot people and the visuals of how the Blackfoot lured bison to the edge and off the cliff.

There are clifftop trails with observation platforms, all equipped with informative exhibits that you can refer to as you take photographs and enjoy the view of the plains. The site is pretty amazing, and the Blackfoot people continue to have a deep connection to this site; by preserving it, we also respect their culture and heritage.

An illustration on a wall shows tepees in a cluster.

Is Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump worth visiting?

Absolutely! This is one of the unique places to visit in Canada. It offers a one-of-a-kind experience that combines history, culture, and stunning natural landscapes. In addition to its cultural significance, it is also an important ecological site. The vast grasslands surrounding the jump provide essential habitat for various plants and animals.

This one-day tour from Calgary includes a stop at Head-Smashed-In. So does this complete 9-day tour from Vancouver to Calgary.

What sorts of travelers would like Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump?

Travelers interested in learning about indigenous history and culture will truly love visiting Head-Smashed-In. Outdoor lovers will also enjoy it here.

A view point with a fence, overlooking a rough cliff.

Tips for visiting Head-Smashed-In

Wear comfortable walking shoes, as there are several trails to explore. Prepare for the weather, as the site is open year-round and can experience extreme temperatures.

Respect any cultural artifacts or sites, such as the Aboriginal camp, by not touching or disturbing them. Take time to reflect on the significance of this site and its impact on indigenous communities past and present.

Take advantage of the guided tours or audio tours to get a deeper understanding of the site and its history.

In addition to these tips, one must be mindful of responsible tourism practices while visiting Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. This includes respecting the land and its resources, properly disposing of waste, and leaving the site as you found it.

Don’t miss visiting Dinosaur Provincial Park, another UNESCO site also in southern Alberta, as well as Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, a transnational UNESCO site.

Find accommodations in Calgary, Waterton Park, or near Head-Smashed-In.

Where is Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump?

This heritage site is located in southern Alberta, Canada. The address is secondary Highway #785, Fort MacLeod, AB.

By car: The best way to reach the site is by car. It takes about 2 hours from Calgary, and it is close to 5 hours from Edmonton, Alberta’s capital city.

Compare rental car prices here.

By public transportation: Buses are available from Calgary to Fort Macleod, and from there, it is a short taxi ride to the site.

For more information about Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, its opening hours and admission fees, see its official website.

Text and photos provided by Mayuri of Canada Crossroads. She runs a Canadian destination and expat site and lives in Alberta with her husband.

Have you been to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!

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