Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Exhibit depicting the hunt at Southern Alberta’s Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre.

While you are staying with us here at Riverbend there are many day trips that will immerse you in history, bring you closer to nature or perhaps offer a day of family fun. Situated as we are, with the vast prairies of the east rising to meet our Foothills and then on to the majestic Rocky Mountains to the west, we have much for you to choose from. Today’s post looks at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. This historical site is a one hour and 20 minute drive south from the campground.

Your time visiting this outstanding attraction will give you amazing insight into the history of First Nations people here in the west. Head-Smashed-In is the world’s largest, oldest and best preserved buffalo jump and has been designated a World Heritage Site by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This is a prestigious recognition of the historical and cultural significance of this site. UNESCO World Heritage Sites from around the world include India’s Taj Mahal, Britain’s Stonehenge and Egypt’s pyramids.

Historically our Indigenous people were hunters and relied on the buffalo. For nearly 6,000 years, long before guns and horse were introduced to North America, the hunt saw buffalo stampeded over a cliff. This required much planning, favorable weather, timing and great skill. “Buffalo runners” disguised in animal hides were dispatched to locate and herd buffalo into position. This required a deep understanding of the animal’s behavior. When the herd was in position they were then driven into V-shaped drive lanes which had been established and remnants of these are still visible today. The annual hunt provided food, tools fashioned from bones and hides for shelter and clothing. This primitive culture experienced years of plenty with good hunts and some years of shortage. Archeologists studying the site have determined the first sign of human activity in the area goes back 9,000 years. Its first use as a buffalo jump was 5,700 years ago which places its origin in time before the pyramids and before Stonehenge.

The history and story is well told at the interpretive centre. During your tour, learn how the geography, climate and vegetation influenced the lifestyle of the Plains people by examining the many exhibits. A small theatre presents a ten minute film “In Search of the Buffalo” which features local Blackfoot actors re-enacting activities around the hunt.

The interpretive centre is built into the side of the hill. You enter at the lowest level and start by advancing to the upper level and progress through the exhibits on various terraces which take you back to ground level. At the top an upper trail leads to a viewpoint overlooking the entire site and offers an excellent vantage point with prairie to the east and mountains to the west.

During the summer season food service is available in the Buffalo Jump Café featuring native-themed fare.  The gift shop features a wide range of souvenirs ranging from post cards to hand-crafted pieces created by First Nations artisans. Every Wednesday in summer, there are drumming and dancing demonstrations at 11:00am and 1:30pm. There are also more immersive experiences and interpretive walks which you can research by visiting the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump website here. Your day trip to Head-Smashed-In will be a day full of history, culture, and nature.