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Tips for Visiting Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump: Travel Guide

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Nestled on the rolling plains of southwestern Alberta, Canada, visiting Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump offers more than just a chronicle of history; it’s a journey that connects visitors to the land’s intrinsic story and the ancient traditions of the indigenous people.

Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump entrance sign
Entrance of Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

This comprehensive Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump travel guide will walk you through everything you need to know to make the most of your visit to this world heritage site, from understanding its significance to planning your trip and making the most of the experience.

Visiting Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump: Travel Guide & Tips

Visiting Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump pin
Visiting Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump: Travel Guide

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The Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a unique place to learn about the hunting practices of the indigenous Blackfoot people.

This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was recognized in 1981. It has been designated a National Historic Site since 1968 and a Provincial Heritage Site since 1979. 

History of Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is located on the traditional land of the Blackfoot People. We respect the way of life of the people who have walked this land for centuries.

The site has profound evidence – from well-marked trails and a camp to considerable remains of buffalo (American Bison) skeletons – of practices followed by Aboriginal peoples of the North American plains for nearly 6 000 years.

Head smashed in buffalo jump

With an exceptional understanding of the terrain and buffalo behavior, they expertly hunted their prey by driving them over a precipice. 

The educational video on the Blackfoot people and the visuals at the Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre show how bison were lured to the edge and pushed down. It was very enlightening. 

The term “Blackfoot – Plains People” encompasses three distinct tribes: the Blackfoot proper (Siksika), the Bloods (Kainai), and the Peigan (Piikani). While each tribe maintained their independence, they shared a common language.

Visiting Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump exhibits
At the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

These tribes possessed remarkable proficiency as warriors, exerting control over an expansive territory spanning the North Saskatchewan River in Alberta to the Yellowstone River in Montana. Their dominion extended from the majestic Rocky Mountains to the Cypress Hills on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.

While the Blackfoot were nomadic, their movements adhered to a well-structured pattern, often dictated by the whereabouts of bison herds, prevailing weather conditions, and seasonal variations.

The site has diligently preserved this historical practice, and the interpretive exhibits vividly showcase the skillful butchering of the carcasses at the camp.

Various exhibits at the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
Various exhibits at the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

You will walk on trails (Upper and Lower Trails) and viewing areas to see where it all happened. These paths are equipped with informative exhibits that you can refer to as you take photographs and enjoy the view of the plains. 

Blackfoot people continue to have a deep connection to this site; we also respect their culture and heritage by preserving it.

Things to see in Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

Once at the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump, you will be welcomed to a large parking lot (overnight parking is prohibited). You can also park your campervan here. 

At the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump  viewing areas
At the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

The visitor centre is located past the welcome sign and housed inside the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump complex. 

We bought our tickets at the centre (and it is a cheaper ticket when traveling in a group), and the lovely lady at the counter provided a quick overview of the site. 

During our visit, group tours were not operational. 

Key Attractions and Activities at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre/ Visitor Information Centre: 

This is where we spent most of our time. 

entering the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
Entering the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump Interpretative Centre

The visitor centre is a multi-level facility packed with a museum of interactive exhibits, film presentations, and curated displays, providing visitors with a holistic understanding of the Buffalo Jump and the Blackfoot way of life.

We went through the various exhibits and followed signs to explore all the floors. 

exhibits at the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

The highlight of the visit was a 15-minute presentation that showcased how the ‘jump’ process took place, including its preparation, practicalities, nature-related struggles, and community building. 

It indeed shows how the Blackfoot People were connected to the land and how the bison were more than just a game or source of food for them. 

Tipi and exhibits at the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
Exhibits at the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

We highly recommend visiting and spending 1+ hour here to understand and delve into the incredible history and culture of the region. 

Note that the facility is wheelchair accessible. There are elevators onsite, too. Certified Service Animals are allowed onsite.

Hiking Trails

Adventurous spirits are welcome to explore the landscape around the jump. The trails offer beautiful views of the surrounding plains and a chance to see local wildlife if you’re keen. 

Each path is well-maintained, perfect for a relaxing stroll or an ambitious hike. 

Hiking trails at the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
Hiking trails at the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

You can grab the Lower Trail map and hit the route. Or choose the accessible Upper Trail with the viewpoint and informational exhibits. 

Either way, you can see the gorgeous plains and stunning panorama and learn about its history. 

Viewing platform at the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
View of Plains at the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

Be sure to carry water, as the prairie climate can be unpredictable.

Guided Tours

Different types of guided tours are available at the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump. Knowledgeable interpreters lead these tours, providing deep insights into Blackfoot culture, the buffalo hunting techniques, and the significance of the jump. 

During our visit, tours were not conducted (same for 2024). One popular program here, the Hike To The Drive Lanes, is canceled for this season. 

You can use the self-guided trail map to navigate the complex and visit the Lower, Upper Trail, and Viewpoint. 

Live Demonstrations and Special Events

Watch out for special events and live demonstrations throughout the year to enrich your visit. These could include traditional dances, crafts, storytelling, and more, highlighting the living culture of today’s Blackfoot Nation.

Guided programs, including bus tours for all ages, youth, and school groups, are organized regularly. More details here

Animal exhibits at the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
Animal exhibits

Note: We recommend checking the hours of operation before you start for Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump. They operate on a seasonal schedule.

As mentioned above, group tours are canceled for 2024. A cafeteria (Buffalo Jump Café) is available onsite but closed for 2024. Bring food and drinks if you plan to stay for long hours. 

The gift shop is currently open.

Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump Tips

This address of the heritage site is secondary Highway#785, Fort MacLeod, AB (in southern Alberta).

Visitor Tips and Practical Information

Getting There: The closest airport to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is Calgary International Airport, approximately a two-and-a-half-hour drive south. 

  • When you leave the city, take the AB-2 / Deerfoot south and follow signs for Fort Macleod and Lethbridge
  • Follow AB-2 south until you reach AB-785 W, and then turn right at the marker for Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
  • Next, follow AB-785 W until you see the entrance sign for Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump on your right

The drive from Calgary to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump typically takes about two hours, depending on traffic and road conditions.

Parking area at the Jump site
Parking area at the Jump site

Traveling from Edmonton is about 5 hours by car. 

You can visit the site by public transportation. Buses are available from Calgary to Fort Macleod; it is a short taxi ride to the site.

Hours of Operation: The site’s opening hours change according to the season (winter and summer hours). They are open daily from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM (typical hours), except Mondays and Tuesdays.

The facility may be closed on major holidays—it is always best to check ahead.

Tours Available: Guided tours are available year-round. Reservations are recommended, especially during the high season.

Animal exhibits at the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

Facilities: The site features a café, gift shop, elevator, picnic area, and parking. The interpretive center and the path to the jump site are wheelchair accessible, ensuring everyone can enjoy the visit.

Admission Fees: The entry fee is $15 for adults, and entry is free on Family Day.

Other Tips:

  • Remember to wear comfortable walking shoes, as there are several trails to explore
  • Although the site is open all year round, be prepared for the weather
  • Respect any cultural artifacts or sites, such as the First Nation camp, by not touching or disturbing them
  • Be mindful of responsible tourism practices while visiting the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site. Never no trace when you return.

Sample Itinerary for a Day Trip to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Morning:

Starting early from Calgary, hit the road by 7:00 AM to make the most of your day and avoid traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway.

Upon arrival at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, begin your day with a visit to the Interpretive Center. Spend 1-2 hours immersing yourself in the exhibits and gaining a richer understanding of the area’s significance.

Midday:

Join a guided tour to the cliff base (if available). Tours usually last around 2 hours, including transit time to the jump’s launching area.

Viewing platform at the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

After the tour, enjoy a picnic or relax at the on-site café for lunch (when open). The center’s outdoor areas provide stunning backdrops for your meal.

Afternoon:

With your afternoon free, explore the hiking trails within the site. A shorter, easy trail will still reward you with great views, but longer hikes can lead to less explored corners.

Time your visit with any live demonstrations or scheduled cultural activities happening later in the afternoon.

Evening:

Depart from Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and head to Fort Macleod. You can also stop here for dinner.

Where to Go After Visiting Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump?

We visited the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump on our way to Waterton Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site with shimmering lakes, a view of the Rocky Mountains, and abundant wildlife. 

Red Rock Canyon

We also stopped at Pincher Creek and the Red Rock Canyon before arriving at the Waterton townsite.

Both destinations promise a continuation of your journey through Alberta’s rich natural and historical landscapes, offering experiences that are as magical as they are unique.

Girl in Pincher Creek
In Pincher Creek: Rocky Mountain views

Pincher Creek was stunning on our visit, and we also stayed overnight on one of our trips. This town is filled with windmills and is almost like a mini Switzerland!

Conclusion

The Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is an extraordinary destination deeply rooted in Canada’s native culture and history, offering visitors a rare glimpse into ancient traditions. 

As you plan your visit, keep this guide close, with your camera, a keen curiosity, and a hearty spirit of adventure. Immerse yourself in this remarkable place’s landscape, stories, and experiences, and you’ll leave with memories to treasure forever.

The site is pretty impressive, and the Blackfoot people continue to have a deep connection to this site; by preserving it, we also respect their culture and heritage.

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Visiting Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

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