Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This means it has been selected by a specialized agency of the United Nations (UNESCO) as having special cultural or physical significance, the protection of which is of global importance.
Address: 18 kilometres (15 minutes) north and west of Fort Macleod on secondary Highway #785 (paved)
Approximately 2 hours south of Calgary.
Cost: Adults $15, Youth (7-17) $10, Family $40 (to a maximum of 8 people), Children 6 and under are free.
Included with Experience Alberta’s History Pass.
Parking: Free in the parking lots. The parking lots are set back a fair distance from the building but there is a free shuttle that will take you to the front doors.
Age Range: Probably best for kids 7 years old to adult.
Stay Length: expect to stay at least 2.5 hours. If you were pushed for time or had young kids, you could probably get through in 2 hours.
Also in the Area: Frank Slide is about an hour to the West. In Fort Macleod you can find The Fort Museum. Fort Macleod also has a great playground and spray park.
The building itself is really interesting. It is set into the hill side and practically disappears at a distance.
The design of the building does result in a lot of interior stairs. The building is accessible and has ramps and elevators where needed, however, you may find the experience smoother if you are able to leave the stroller in the car.
You can also go on an interpretive trail hike. You can find a map and trailhead just outside the museum entrance. You can get a Trail guide at the museum gift shop. The loop takes about 45 minutes.
The museum is designed for you to begin at the top floor and work your way down.
The first stop is a short walk outside that you access from the top floor. Here you can see the cliffs of the buffalo jump. Please note that it is typically colder and windier here than you would expect.
The Cliff Top Trail is accessible and is just a short walk, only 200 meters long (400 meters round trip).
From the lookout you can see the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, Calderwood Buffalo Jump & Vision Quest Hill to the north.
Even though I was warned to expect cooler, windy weather, I still under dressed.
The first floor you visit inside the museum, is Napi’s World. There is an animated video that is worth watching but it may be a bit slow for some kids. This area provides information about the origin story of the Plain indigeonous people, the environment they lived in and how they learned to hunt the bison (or buffalo).
The first three levels of the museum are lacking a lot of interactive features for kids. My youngest (4) primarily enjoyed seeing the bison. My older kids (7 and 10) were able to engage with the artifacts that were presented and connect it with things they had learned about at school even though they couldn’t actually touch them. It was awesome to see my daughter (7) in particular, asking questions and making connections.
The next floor is Napi’s People. It shows the lifestyle of the Plains people using a lot of artifacts and an reconstructed teepee.
The Buffalo Hunt
The third level you visit is dedicated to the buffalo hunt and the buffalo jumps.
The theatre shows a 15 re-enactment video of a buffalo jump hunt. In my opinion, this is something you should not miss. The video is excellent and really brings the subject matter to life in a really engaging way. Even my 4 year old was captivated.
Cultures in Contact
The 4th level explores the impact of the arrival of European settlers.
Uncovering the Past
The fifth level (ground floor), Uncovering the Past, is the most interactive. It explores the archaeology of the site and the strategies used to learn about the site’s history.
There are microscopes that you can use to examine artifacts, touch screen stations and a panel where you can uncover facts about different bones.
The cafeteria is only open seasonally, so be sure to check ahead if you are going at a non-peak time.
They serve items including bison stew, bison chili, chicken strips, bison burgers and beef burgers. We ordered the bison stew, which comes with a side of bannock, and french fries.
I highly recommend packing some snacks and water bottles at a minimum. There is a water bottle filling station just outside the cafeteria if you need it as well.
If you need to eat somewhere other than the cafeteria, you’re closest options are 20 minutes away in Fort Macleod.
Overall, we really enjoyed our trip to the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump. Although it isn’t the most interactive museum, it was still an educational experience.
The museum offers drop in programs for the public including hikes, tours, and hands-on demonstrations from mid-May to mid-September as well as special events that can further enhance your visit.
We do our best to ensure the information on Calgary Playground Review is accurate, however information and events are subject to change. Please contact the organizations directly to avoid disappointment.
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