Drumheller, Alberta is one of the most popular summer stops in Western Canada, famous for its amazing Badlands terrain. Along with a photogenic collection of valleys, coulees and ravines, the Drumheller hoodoos draw awestruck visitors from all over North America. If you’re planning a Canadian road trip you need to try walking the Hoodoos trail to enjoy these fascinating geological marvels.
Check out all the best hiking trails in Drumheller or our complete planning guide:
What are Drumheller hoodoos?
A hoodoo is a tall, thin sandstone spire that is soft and sandy along the sides but hard and solid on top. Often this rocky top will look like a cap or hat, protecting the eroded pillar below. Not a fashionable hat, but a hat, nonetheless.
How old are the Drumheller hoodoos?
Most hoodoos date back to the Cretaceous Period roughly 70 to 75 million years ago. So, I guess you could say, pretty old. But they still look fairly good for their age (if you’re into that whole weathered look).
Of course, the material itself may be that old but by the time they reach the hoodoo stage – when they look like fairy chimneys and spend their days posing for tourist selfies – they are really at the tail end of their life span. Some estimates suggest they erode about 1 centimetre per year, or a full metre every 100 years.
Why do they call them hoodoos?
They go by many names in different places. While hoodoo is the most common name, they are also referred to as “fairy chimneys”, “sand mushrooms” or even, rather absurdly, “goblins”.
The word “hoodoo”, however, actually comes from West Africa. In the Hausa language it means “to arouse resentment and practice retribution”. Which seems to be asking a lot of a spire of soft rock, but what do I know? The word was also used to describe a type of magic connected to evil, supernatural forces. So there’s that.
While the name may have come from across the world, hoodoos have existed in North America since long before human habitation. Indigenous Blackfoot and Cree lore claim the Drumheller hoodoos were petrified giants who protected the land by coming to life at night to hurl stones at intruders. Sort of like an old man protecting his Saskatoon berries from magpies.
What do hoodoos look like?
They are usually between 5 and 7 metres high (15-20 feet), although there are exceptions. Usually by the time they get smaller than that the cap has eroded to the point where they soon become just a slightly pointy hill.
How were Drumheller hoodoos formed?
They started with a layer of hard rock on top of a softer layer of sandstone below. This cap of rock is typically around 40% calcite cement, which holds up extremely well against the elements and is very slow to erode. So, while the vulnerable sandstone erodes at a relatively fast pace, the portion directly below the calcite is protected from the brunt of the rain, snow and sun.
It takes hundreds of years for hoodoos to form through a repetitive process of freezing and melting, plus the constant effect of wind. Eventually you are left with a narrow chimney-shaped formation directly below the protective rock cap.
Even though the hoodoos began forming early in Earth’s history and will conceivably remain long after humans have once again disappeared from the planet, they are surprisingly fragile. It is important that we protect our Badlands against human damage to ensure they stick around for the enjoyment of future generations.
Where are the best hoodoos?
The best Drumheller hoodoos are found on the Hoodoos Trail (interchangeably called the Hoodoo Trail), which features a carefully mapped out walking path and fencing to keep people out of the most fragile areas. However, there are many other places in the Drumheller area where you can see terrific hoodoos, including Horseshoe Canyon, Horsethief Canyon and sometimes just randomly along the highway (possibly with no specific connection to horses, although we can’t rule it out).
Hoodoos are most common in North America but can also be found in a variety of scenic locations around the world. We saw plenty of amazing hoodoos while hiking through the moonscape terrain of Teide National Park on Tenerife in the Spanish Canary Islands. And maybe the most incredible set of hoodoos in the world can be found in the Goreme Valley in Cappadocia, Turkey.
Things to Do in Drumheller Video
We’ve made a video of the best things to do in Drumheller – which naturally includes seeing the hoodoos.
Hoodoos Trail Drumheller
1.4 km / 30 min / 80 metres elevation gain
AllTrails: Hoodoos Trail
This easy, scenic trail offers the perfect chance to get up close and personal with some of the most impressive Drumheller hoodoos. This fantastic cluster of fascinating hoodoos is protected by a small barrier to keep people from damaging them by walking or climbing.
Even though you can’t touch them, you can get very close and see them from every angle. And you can continue to follow the unmarked trail up and around the ridge to see more Badlands formations and enjoy better views of the area.
Of course, the highway is literally right next to the parking lot so don’t expect it to feel remote or untouched. However, it is easy and scenic, perfect for a short break from a long road trip, or a quick jaunt out from Drumheller.
Besides keeping your distance from the actual hoodoos, there really aren’t any other rules – you can walk or climb pretty much anywhere that strikes your fancy. If you want to get to the top (and you should, the views are worth it), the southeast slope (on your right facing away from the highway) is much more gradual. You could go both up and down there or go up the steeper left side and come down on the right.
Even though it is a very short hike, bring water as there is no shade and it can get smoking hot on the open slopes. And, whichever route you choose, be careful as the sandy surface can be slippery.
We would recommend wearing proper shoes and avoid any climbing during or following rain. Luckily, we’ve only had perfect weather during our visits to Drumheller but we’ve experience wet sandstone in other places. It gets thick and slippery, sort of like a really good chocolate milkshake. Great as a road trip snack, terrible to walk in.
And good luck getting those clothes clean if you fall (and the sand can wreak havoc on washing machines).
After Exploring: A Sweet Treat
After climbing around the hoodoos and to the top and back you will probably be ready to cool down. The conveniently located Hydration Station in the parking lot has drinks/sweet treats that will be very tempting. Slightly overpriced but still refreshing.
How to Get to the Drumheller Hoodoos?
It is located just off Highway 10 about a 15-minute drive southeast of Drumheller.
You have to pay $2 per vehicle to park but there is no entrance fee to the hoodoos themselves.
There is a set of portable toilets (worth the $2 alone if you happen to be at the tail end of a long day on the road) and a souvenir booth.
Where to See Other Alberta Hoodoos
Hoodoos near Drumheller
While the Hoodoo Trail features the most convenient and condensed group of hoodoos in Drumheller, there are random hoodoos scattered throughout the area. As we mentioned earlier, both Horseshoe and Horsethief Canyon have lots of fascinating terrain and wild hoodoos.
Horseshoe Canyon is much more organized and structured, with a picnic area, viewpoints, marked trail and stairs leading down into the canyon.
Horsethief Canyon, on the other hand, is a choose your own adventure area, where you can find your own way down the slopes and wander to your heart’s content among the wild hills and hidden coulees.
Other excellent choices are Midland Provincial Park and Orkney Viewpoint, as well as, you know, just about anywhere along the highways leading into and out of Drumheller.
Hoodoos around Alberta
Both Banff and Canmore have specific Hoodoo Trails that offer nice walks with sections of, you guessed it, hoodoos.
The Badlands Trail in Dinosaur Provincial Park, near Brooks, is a terrific place to see hoodoos and it is usually much quieter than those other tourist hotspots.
And if you really want to get off the beaten path in your search for the ultimate hoodoo experience, check out the Battle Scene trail in Writing on Stone Provincial Park, the Wild Sculpture Trail in Sundance Provincial Park or River Flats Trail in Big Knife Provincial Park.
Hoodoo Campground Drumheller
Located basically right across the highway from the Drumheller Hoodoo Trail, this is a comfortable, spacious campground perfectly located for exploring the area.
One of the big benefits of camping here would be the opportunity to watch the sunset from the top of the Hoodoo Trail. Of course, you don’t have to camp there to do this, but it is a lot more convenient.
If you’re planning to camp in Drumheller we discuss all the options in Drumheller Camping: The Best and Worst of Drumheller Campgrounds.
Are the Hoodoos of Drumheller Worth Stopping For?
They are definitely fun, scenic attractions along the road to Drumheller. Adults will enjoy the impressive scenery and (potentially) the fascinating geology behind the hoodoos, while kids are usually thrilled to be given the freedom to roam in some fun hills among a lot of crazy sand pillars.
And, while the Drumheller Hoodoo Trail is the most convenient place to experience Badlands topography, try to make time for the other great hoodoos in the Drumheller area.
Outstanding Mountain Hiking Within Driving Distance of Drumheller
Many people visit Drumheller on their way to or from the magnificent Rocky Mountains. If that happens to describe your situation, there is a lot of incredible hiking we can recommend (and describe in detail) in the Canmore and Banff areas.
A good place to start is with our Best Hikes Near Canmore post. In addition, phenomenal Lake O’Hara is tough to access but if you can get a spot on the bus or in the campground you can enjoy some of the best hiking in Canada.
Some of our other favourites in the area are Smutwood Peak, Tent Ridge and Big Beehive. For something a little more leisurely, check out 15 Easy Hikes Near Canmore and if you find yourself in the mountains in September you should definitely look into the Best Larch Hikes Near Canmore.
Of course, not everyone wants to spend their days sweaty and exhausted (your loss), but thankfully there are other options:
You really can’t go wrong, wherever you choose.
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