Just about 1.5 hours from Calgary, Horseshoes Canyon Alberta offers a completely different experience from the nearby mountains of the Canadian Rockies. Similar to Badlands National Park in the US, the Canadian Badlands (and Horseshoe Canyon) offer similar rock formations at a smaller scale.
Horseshoe Canyon is a geological wonder located in the Badlands of Alberta, Canada. The canyon showcases stunning, horseshoe-shaped eroded cliffs that reveal layers of colorful sedimentary rock, including rich shades of red, orange, and beige.
Visitors to Horseshoe Canyon can explore a network of hiking trails that wind through the dramatic landscape, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding prairies and badlands. The Horseshoe Canyon trail winds through thse rock formations and you have plenty of options for how to explore the canyon.
We visited Horseshoe Canyon Alberta during the summer of 2023 and will share what we did and learned during our visit. After spending several days in Banff and Calgary, the Badlands of Canada and Horseshoe Canyon Drumheller offer a fascinating alternative and completely different experience. In our opinion these trails are some of the best Drumheller hikes.
What to Expect in Horseshoe Canyon Alberta
When you arrive at Drumheller Horseshoe Canyon, you will enter through a welcome gate. There is a small fee to enter (it cost $2 when we visited). There is a parking lot here with some basic information on signs. You will find plenty of parking. We were there is early July mid-morning.
There were basic bathroom facilities, some maps and some signage describing the canyon. It is just a short walk from here to the canyon. Since the canyon was created through erosion, you will be standing at the top of the canyon with views out across and down into the canyon. Some of the most stunning views are from here directly down into Horseshoe Canyon.
A paved path goes across the edge of the canyon. This is the easiest Horseshoe Canyon hike but you won’t get the views down into the canyon. From here you are on your own to explore the canyon. Scroll down for suggestions on the best things to do in Horseshoe Canyon Alberta as well as the best Horseshoe Canyon hiking.
You can see more information on the offical page for Horseshoe Canyon.
How to get to Horseshoe Canyon Alberta
Location of Horseshoe Canyon: Horseshoe Canyon is located within the Badlands region of Alberta, Canada. Situated about 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) west of Drumheller.
Directions from Major Cities and Airports: If you’re planning a visit, here are directions from two major cities and their respective airports:
- From Calgary: Horseshoe Canyon is approximately a 1.5 to 2-hour drive northeast of Calgary. Start by taking the AB-2 N highway and then merge onto AB-9 E via Exit 223 toward Drumheller. Continue on AB-9 E until you reach Drumheller, and from there, follow the signs west to Horseshoe Canyon.
- From Edmonton: If you’re coming from Edmonton, the drive to Horseshoe Canyon takes about 3 hours. Head south on the AB-2 S highway and then take the AB-72 exit toward Hanna. Follow AB-72 S until you reach Drumheller, and once there, follow the directions to Horseshoe Canyon.
Nearby Towns and Accommodations for Visitors: Drumheller, often referred to as the “Dinosaur Capital of the World,” is the closest town to Horseshoe Canyon. This is the best place to stay if you are spending an overnight in the area. Staying in Drumheller not only provides proximity to Horseshoe Canyon but also allows you to explore other local attractions such as the Royal Tyrrell Museum and the fascinating dinosaur exhibits throughout the area.
While Horseshoe Canyon is popular, it rarely gets too crowded, but if you are spending the night it’s best to book your accomodations in advance.
What to do at Horseshoe Canyon
Below you can see suggestions of some of the ways to explore Horseshoe Canyon Alberta and how to hike the canyon.
Best Viewpoint at Horseshoe Canyon
The best viewpoint at Horseshoe Canyon in Alberta from the main viewing platform. From here you have a sweeping view down into the canyon with an unobstructed view of the dramatic landscape.
You can also walk along the rim of the Canyon to th right for additional views along the canyon narrows a bit here.
Best Horseshoe Canyon Hike
Hiking down into the canyon is the best way to explore Horseshoe Canyon. This is one of the best hikes in Drumheller.
The get to the start of the trail, turn right from the main viewing platform and walk along the rim of the canyon for a few minutes. It will almost feel like you are leaving the canyon. You will see a well marked and obvious trail descending with a series of stairs down into the canyon. This is the correct trail.
There are many smaller trails down into the canyon that people have made going off trail. It’s best to avoid these trails and stick to the more established routes.
While the Horsehoe Canyon Trail is well established at the beginning, the canyon floor is really a maze of trails. After walking about 10 minutes, the trails become less well marked and established. We initially followed the trail to the right and tried to roughly follow the route on All Trails.
We strongly recommend staying only on established trails when hiking, however, it is almost impossible to tell what trails are established and when you are off trail. We spent about 2 hours hiking in the canyon and got off trail several times. Because the canyons twists and turn, often the trail will simple end and you will need to retrace your steps
Give yourself additional time and water in case you end up spending more time wandering through the canyon than expected.
Horseshoe Canyon is a dramatic place for photography. Sunrise and sunset are the best times as you get a full spectrum of colors on the rocks. Winter can also be a very pretty time in the canyon.
Learn about the fascinating geological history of the canyon. These layers, formed over millions of years, reveal a rich history of ancient seas, rivers, and prehistoric landscapes, providing a unique window into the Earth’s geological evolution.
You can find some signage that discusses the geogology of the region or if you want to really dig into it, this survey gets into the details.
This is a great place for a picnic. Pack a snack or a lunch and enjoy yourself at one of the picnic tables in the area.
If you visit at night, Horseshoe Canyon offers excellent opportunities for stargazing due to its remote location away from city lights. Use caution if visiting the area at night, especially near the rim.
If you want to extend your stay, there are campgrounds nearby where you can set up a tent or park your RV. Enjoy the tranquility of camping under the starlit sky. The closest place to park is Horseshoe Canyon Campground right near the parking lot.
Camping gives you the best opportunity to see the canyon at sunset, sunrise and at night.
Things to Know about Visiting Horseshoe Canyon
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Horseshoe Canyon is in the spring or fall when temperatures are the most comfortable. Summer is also a great time to visit the Badlands of Canada, but it can be hot. There is no shade in Horseshoe Canyon, so be prepared with sunscreen and a hat.
You can also visit Horseshoe Canyon in the winter. This can be a beautiful time to see the canyon in the snow, but you should plan for winter conditions with snow and ice. A good pair of microspikes will help on the slippery parts.
How long do you Need at Horseshoe Canyon?
There are a few ways to enjoy Horseshoe Canyon Alberta.
If you are short on time, you can stop, walk along the rim for some incredible views down into the canyon, and then head on your way.
If you have more time, we recommend one of the the Horseshoe Canyon hiking trails that wind through the bottom of the canyon. If you are going to do a Horseshoe Canyon Hike, you should plan to spend 2-4 hours at the canyon.
This area is generally well maintainted and fun to visit. Here are some safety tips to help you make the most of your visit:
- Stay on Marked Trails: Stick to designated trails and paths. Venturing off-trail can be dangerous due to the unstable terrain and risk of getting lost. It is actually VERY easy to get off trail accidently – be prepared to turn around if you unexpectedly get off track.
- Wear Appropriate Footwear: Choose sturdy, comfortable, and closed-toe shoes or hiking boots with good traction to prevent slips and protect your feet.
- Weather Awareness: Check the weather forecast before heading out and be prepared for changing conditions. Dress in layers to stay warm and bring rain gear if necessary.
- Hydration: Carry an adequate supply of water, especially during hot weather. Dehydration can be a risk, even in cooler seasons. There is no water once you get into the canyon.
- Sun Protection: Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat to shield yourself from the sun’s rays, which can be intense in the open landscape.
- Emergency Kit: Pack a basic first aid kit, a map or GPS device, a flashlight, and extra batteries in case of emergencies. See what we bring on a day hike.
- Stay Back from Edges: Exercise caution when near the canyon’s edges. The cliffs can be steep, and loose rocks may pose a falling hazard. This is most important around the rim but should also be considered if you are hiking in the canyon.
- Cell Phone Reception: We did not have reliable cell serve in the canyon. It’s best to download a map of the area before heading into the canyon.
Leave No Trace
Just like any natural area, it’s important to follow leave no trace principles in the canyon. In addition to hiking out your trash, it’s important to helpreduce erosion in this area as every step off the trail increased reosion in this sensitive area.
Other Local Attractions
Here is a list of some of the other attractions around Drumheller.
- Royal Tyrrell Museum: Dinosaur exhibits
- Drumheller Hoodoos: Unique rock formations
- Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site: Coal mining history
- Dinosaur Trail Golf & Country Club: Scenic golf course
- Little Church: Tiny chapel
- Homestead Antique Museum: Antique collections
- Midland Provincial Park: Picnic and hiking
- World’s Largest Dinosaur: Big T-Rex statue
- Star Mine Suspension Bridge: Scenic bridge
- Fossil World Dinosaur Discovery Centre: Dinosaur fossils
- Bleriot Ferry: Historic cable ferry
- Wayne Historic Hotel: Ghost town history
- Hoodoos Viewpoint: Scenic vistas
- East Coulee School Museum: Historic school exhibit
- Rosebud Theatre: Live theater productions
- Orkney Viewpoint: Panoramic views
- Last Chance Saloon: Fun place for lunch
Looking for other things to do in the area?