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Driving from Brooks to Waterton Lakes

Scunthorpe, United...
Level Contributor
1,734 posts
77 reviews
Driving from Brooks to Waterton Lakes

We will be driving from Drumheller to Waterton Lakes in one day in early/mid June. (We will have done Brooks and Dinosaur PP on the way to Drumheller and will be doing the dinosaur and hoodoo trails while we are there.) After Waterton Lakes we then head for Crowsnest Pass via Pincher Creek.

I am trying to decide what is the best route between Brooks and Waterton.

Straight driving, direct route with no stops - how long will the journey take us?

Having found that out, gives me some idea of how much time we have for stops on the way. We have a 2WD hire car so need to bear in mind what the roads are like - no very rough surfaces which could damage the car.

We are quite happy to get off the direct tourist route and to take our time driving. We like to have plenty of breaks with time to stop and stare. We like scenery and would welcome a chance to stretch our legs. We are also interested in history and archaeology. We are not bothered about a stop for lunch. And definitely NO SHOPPING OR HIGH ENERGY ACTIVITIES!

What route would people recommend and what about stops?

I have been reading about Writing on Stone PP. I know this is the long way round - but is it too far? How long would it take to drive from Drumheller to Writing on Stone and then to Waterton Lakes? This would mean taking Highway 501. Is this a reasonable road to drive in 2WD or is it not recommended?

Thanks

Eleanor

Calgary, Canada
Destination Expert
for Calgary
Level Contributor
27,161 posts
94 reviews
1. Re: Driving from Brooks to Waterton Lakes

From Brooks to Waterton via the shortest route is 273km and 3h 19min of driving, according to Mapquest, which is pretty reliable: http://www.mapquest.com/maps?1c=Brooks&1s=AB&2c=Waterton+Park&2s=AB

To get to Writing-on-Stone PP, you will have to go via Coutts; the park is roughly 25km east of Coutts on Secondary Hwy 500. Here's the route (except for Writing-on-Stone) on Mapquest: http://preview.tinyurl.com/7cchck

I haven't been to Writing-on-Stone lately (although it's a great destination!), so I can't comment knowledgeably about the roads. But the rule of thumb is that paved highways are always designated with 1- and 2-digit numbers (e.g. Hwy 1, Hwy 22) while the gravel highways have three-digit designations and are called secondary highways (e.g. Hwy 500, Hwy 501). Unfortunately, many car rental companies don't allow you to drive on gravel roads, even though they may be perfectly navigable, because you might get the paint chipped or something. However, some secondary highways may be paved in sections; the rural township road (even less important than a secondary highway) that goes past my house is fully paved. If Camping_Girl can't tell you about Sec Hwy 500 (between Coutts and Writing-on-Stone), I would suggest contacting the village of Coutts to see if they can tell you:

www3.telus.net/public/vcoutts/contact.htm

I should warn you that the Milk River valley and Writing-on-Stone area are one of the few places in Alberta that you can reliably find rattlesnakes. But they are little risk to someone who is alert (listening for rattles) and not sticking their hands under rocks and in holes.

By the way, when you're going south of Brooks, make sure to stop in the Lake Newell/Kinbrook Island Provincial Park area to have a look at the impressive American White Pelicans in that area. These huge birds are positively Jurassic in appearance. The Brooks Aqueduct (a Depression-era project) is also worth a quick look: http://www.eidnet.org/local/aqueduct/

Calgary, Canada
Destination Expert
for Waterton Lakes National Park, Nelson
Level Contributor
2,705 posts
103 reviews
2. Re: Driving from Brooks to Waterton Lakes

The portion of 501 from the #4 highway to Writing on Stone PP WAS a secondary paved road the last time I was out there.... which was quite a few years ago. I can't imagine it not still being paved.

One thing to keep in mind when thinking about Writing on Stone is the timing of your visit. The pictoglyphs are centuries old and are barely visible anymore. The best time for viewing them is early morning or dusk, when the sun is not shining directly down on the pictures. Also, I believe you need to be on a guided tour to see them now, this is to curb vandalism. (Sad, but true!) So, the timelines during which you could visit the petroglyphs may not fit into your schedule.

I would recommend that when you make your way between Brooks and Drumheller you consider taking highway #570 which runs from Drumheller east to #36. This is a very scenic drive through the badlands and will give you the opportunity to tour the Atlas Coal Mine, if that interests you.

To be brutally honest, there is not a pile of interesting landscape between Brooks and Lethbridge! One possible out of the way route which has a couple of points of interest would be to take #539 south of Brooks to Lomond and 531/534 from there to Vulcan. On the way, you will pass the southern end of Lake McGregor, and there is a scientific point of interest at the lake - a natural whirlpool which swirls here year round. It would be a diversion worthy of about 5 minutes of your time, but may be of interest. From Vulcan, if you were to continue south on #23 highway, you could stop just north of Carmangay and see the tipi rings at the park which are centuries old as well. At the intersection with hwy #3 you could either drive east 30 miles to Lethbridge and then go south on highway #5 to Waterton, or proceed west on #3 to Fort McLeod and drive south on #2 through Standoff to Cardston and pick up the #5 highway there.

If you'd like some information on the Crowsnest Pass, check out my webpage:

members.virtualtourist.com/m/adecc/de341/

I hope that helps.

- CG

Scunthorpe, United...
Level Contributor
1,734 posts
77 reviews
3. Re: Driving from Brooks to Waterton Lakes

Thanks for all the help and suggestions. I am beginning to think that Writing on Stone may not be such a good idea after all in view of your comments about guided tours. These can 'waste' a lot of time if you arrive at the wrong moment! . It might be better to spend the morning pottering round the Badlands to see a bit more of that area or go to Atlas Coal Mine if we haven't done that earlier. We want to see the Brooks aqueduct and it would give us chance to look at Kinbrook Island PP. The whirlpool sounds different. Then drive straight to Waterton Lakes accepting that it may not be a very exciting.

I take your point about hire companies and gravel roads. We eventually managed to find one that not only lets us drive on gravel but also covers us for damage. Most don't. We don't intend doing anything hairy or foolish but I am aware that several of the out of the way places I want to get to do mean driving on gravel.

Cheers

Eleanor

Calgary, Canada
Destination Expert
for Calgary
Level Contributor
27,161 posts
94 reviews
4. Re: Driving from Brooks to Waterton Lakes

Yes, the last time I was in that area, you could only access the petroglyphs as part of a guided tour, and I very much doubt that policy has changed.

Calgary, Canada
Level Contributor
1,474 posts
1 review
5. Re: Driving from Brooks to Waterton Lakes

Another worthwhile stop on your way would be Head-Smashed-in buffalo jump, which is NW of Fort Macleod. This museum and archaeological site describes the history and hunting practices of the local indigenous people.

Scunthorpe, United...
Level Contributor
1,734 posts
77 reviews
6. Re: Driving from Brooks to Waterton Lakes

Hi Jerm,

Thanks for the suggestion. I had wondered about it. How long would a visit need?

Eleanor

Calgary, Canada
Destination Expert
for Waterton Lakes National Park, Nelson
Level Contributor
2,705 posts
103 reviews
7. Re: Driving from Brooks to Waterton Lakes

Excellent suggestion jerm! I completely overlooked that. Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump could take from 2 to 4 hours to tour, depending on how much wandering around you do outside. I would allow 2 hours just to tour the inside displays. My only recommendation for HSIBJ is that you don't plan on eating lunch there. While they do have a cafeteria, it is really expensive and, IMO, quite forgettable.

Calgary, Canada
Level Contributor
1,474 posts
1 review
8. Re: Driving from Brooks to Waterton Lakes

It took us about 3 hours to visit Head-Smashed-In last year. However, our visit was during the winter so we didn't spend a lot of time outside. Also, I think they sometimes have some special events during the summer; their website might have some more information.

http://www.head-smashed-in.com

Vancouver, Canada
Level Contributor
32,304 posts
62 reviews
9. Re: Driving from Brooks to Waterton Lakes

Yes, as I started reading this thread I'm thinking about Head Smashed In as an obvious destination. We stopped in there on our way back from Regina in 07. Arrived just as they were gearing up for some top notch First Nations Dancing. My kids were enthralled. Only left ourselves with about an hour to rush through the museum, as we had a dinner obligation in Cranbrook. Really enjoyed it and will plan on going back one day to spend more time in the museum. I thought the vista across the prairie from the top of the jump was spectacular! As I'm a west coast girl, wide open vistas impress me so much.

Vancouver, Canada
Level Contributor
32,304 posts
62 reviews
10. Re: Driving from Brooks to Waterton Lakes

Another tip for visiting the Royal Tyrell Museum: go on the website and check out the educational walks and programs they offer. We visited the museum in the afternoon/evening, then went back in the morning for a Dinosite Hike before leaving Drumheller. Well worth it. Really added a dimension to the whole Drumheller experience.

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