Province/Territory: Alberta

On the Hunt for 6,000 years of Great Plains History

  • 6000 years of chasing bison off the cliff
  • 50 km/hr stampeding herd of bison
  • 11 metres of archaeological finds

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre is purposely hard to locate in the sandstone bluffs of the Porcupine Hills in Southern Alberta. It’s to respect the landscape and to give visitors the same element of surprise as the bison experienced so many times in the past. Imagine being a big bison out on the prairie on a hot summer day. The grass is tall enough to tickle your belly. But suddenly the bison at the back of the herd start to stampede! You quickly join in and run but you can’t change direction. You are being forced in one direction to abruptly tumble off a cliff. It’s a sad ending for the bison but it means there is food, clothing, tools and shelter for the long cold winter for the Native Americans who chased them over the cliff.

For close to 6000 years Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump was used by countless nomadic tribes and now it is renowned for being among the oldest and best-preserved communal buffalo hunting sites in North America and is classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visiting the award-winning interpretive centre is a highlight of any trip to the windswept Alberta landscape. Move through the timeline of the legendary buffalo jump to see how the Native Americans learned to adapt the landscape to assist in the kills. See how they changed with the times and how it all ended with the introduction of the horse and the gun. The First Nations guides recount life on the plains and demonstrate how the tribes worked together to use every part of the animal. During the summer months, watch and join in as First Nations dancers and drummers perform or take a hike to the drive lanes to see how the bison were manoeuvred and outwitted.

Why you should visit
  • Learn the story as to how the site became known as Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.
  • Discover the technique used to maneuver the bison without the aid of horses, guns or arrows for close to 6000 years.
  • Visit with members of the Blackfoot Nation to hear the stories that have been passed on through generations.
  • Challenge yourself to figure out what tools could be made from bones, leather and horns.
  • Enjoy the five levels of discovery to learn about the land, the lore, the lifestyle and of course the hunt.
  • Stand at the bottom of a life-size diorama where bison seem tragically close to falling on your head.
  • During the summer months, taste a bison burger or authentic pemmican at the cafe.
  • Enjoy the stunning landscape as it shifts from prairie to foothills to mountains.
  • Hike the 2 kilometres of trails to see how the sites were laid out to process the kills in efficient ways.

Weather

  • This region of Alberta experiences more sunshine than any other part of Canada, making sunglasses a must no matter what time of year you visit. The strong wind from the west called the Chinook, can be extremely strong, especially in winter.
  • Summer days (June to August) are long with daytime temperatures reaching 26°C but cooling off in the evening. So always bring sun protection and a sweater.
  • Fall (September through October) is a wonderful time to avoid the crowds and the heat. Day time average temperature is 12°C in September and 7°C in October.
  • Winters (December to March) are blanketed in a light layer of snow but still sunny with a daily average temperature of -8°C.
  • Fort MacLeod gets most of its precipitation in Spring (April – May) seeing the majority of it as either snow or rain so always bring a warm jacket. Daily average temperature is 6°C in April, rising to 11°C in May.
  • Discover local weather information. Research local weather patterns at Environment Canada's Canadian Climate Website.
Visitor information
  • Hours and Admission Prices.
  • On-site food and beverage available late May through early October.
  • On-site gift shop.
  • Interpretive Centre is wheelchair accessible.
  • Special programs occur during the summer season only.
When to go
  • July and August bring the warmest weather and the biggest crowds.
  • Beat the crowds by arriving early during the summer or avoid weekends.
  • Visits during the winter offer opportunities to interact with the Blackfoot Interpreters at a leisurely pace.
Need to know
  • Call ahead to reserve space on special hikes and tours.
  • Arrive early and plan at least three hours for a thorough visit through the galleries.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and bring sun protection and water for the trails surrounding the centre.
  • Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre is wheelchair accessible. Most trails include rolling terrain and may not be suited for wheelchair travel.
  • During the quiet seasons the coffee shop is not open. Consider packing a light lunch or visiting the town of Fort MacLeod only 18 km south.
  • Camping facilities are nearby.
  • The nearest towns of Fort MacLeod and Claresholm offer motel rooms and all facilities.
Getting Here
  • Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is hidden in the outcrops of the Porcupine Hills of Southwestern Alberta, a short 18 km drive north and west from Fort MacLeod.
  • Approximately 1.5 hours south of Calgary on paved roads.
  • Coach tours operate from Calgary all year long.
  • Rental cars are available in Calgary.
  • On-site parking for cars and RVs.