The Great Canadian Hoodoo Tour

Har, Billie…have ya ever seen a hoodoo? (spoken in your best pirate voice…)

On our recent family Spring Break vacation, we had a chance to go see us some hoodoos. Awesome! What’s a hoodoo? Well if you’ve never seen or heard of a hoodoo, let me show you a couple of pictures.

Hoodoos in their natural environment
Hoodoos in their natural environment

Our little 2 week vacation took us through the BC Rockies and the Rocky Mountain Trench, where Radium, Invermere and Fairmont Hot Springs are located, Banff and Calgary, Alberta, and Drumheller, home of the amazing Royal Tyrell Museum.

We got to see and do a whole whack of things while gallivanting about this great country of ours. One of the coolest things was hiking among hoodoos in three different locales. The hoodoos of the Alberta Badlands are internationally recognized icons of the province’s fascinating geologic history. This area of Alberta is one of the richest repositories of dinosaur fossils in the world. The Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller is a world-class facility that has more fossils than it can possibly display. It is also a fully functioning laboratory that attracts paleontologists and other scientists from around the world. If you are in the area, this museum is a must. Your kids will love it!

Zachary and his pet at the Royal Tyrell Museum
Zachary and his pet at the Royal Tyrell Museum

The hoodoos themselves are scattered throughout this area, formed millions of years ago as part of the so-called Horseshoe Canyon formation. They consist mostly of a mix of sand and clay, with a harder capstone on the top that wears much slower and protects the softer underlying material from eroding completely.

Overlooking Horsethief Canyon, near Drumheller, Alberta. Fossil country!
Overlooking Horsethief Canyon, near Drumheller, Alberta. Fossil country!

But not all hoodoos have these particular features. We also saw hoodoos in Banff National Park and near Fairmont Hot Springs, and they were all quite different from each other. And while the trail to the hoodoos in Banff is a nice little hike, the hoodoos themselves are nothing to write home about.

See those sandy coloured spires? Yeah, hoodoos.
See those sandy coloured spires? Yeah, hoodoos.

Hiking the Fairmont Hoodoos

My favourite hoodoos were the formations near Fairmont Hot Springs. These are quite different from the hoodoos of Banff or the Badlands. They consist of spires of sandstone that have deep, precipitous spaces between each one, with very few hard capstones. Wind and water have worked their long, slow magic on cliff faces, creating these other-worldly formations. We hiked for about 20 minutes from the parking area that took us up above the hoodoos. The trail wound up to the tops and allows the visitor to get out on a skinny little trail on the top of the hoodoos. Definitely not for the faint-of-heart! If you are hiking with children, make sure they keep back from the trail edges and understand the danger of slipping off the trail and down a near-vertical plunge.

The stunning hoodoos of Fairmont Hot Springs, BC
The stunning hoodoos of Fairmont Hot Springs, BC
Fairmont Hoodoos looking west from above
Fairmont Hoodoos looking west from above

If you’re visiting the area, check out this excellent and easy family hike. Drive south of Fairmont Hot Springs on Hwy 95. You’ll pass the little airport on the right, and shortly after you’ll come to Westside Road, also on the right. If you come to a small gas station on the left, you’ve missed the turnoff by about 200 meters. Take Westside Road for a little more than 500 meters and turn into a small parking area on the left. There is a large information board and maps at the trail entrance in the parking area. The parking lot is well-marked (though we somehow missed it anyway, and drove an extra five minutes out of our way.  No biggie!). The trail from the parking area is on an old dirt access road, very easy to follow. After 15 or 20 minutes the trail branches off a few times, but I’m pretty sure all routes lead to the hoodoos.

Looking south on Hwy 95 below the hoodoos
Looking south on Hwy 95 below the hoodoos

The kids were grumbling a little about going on this hike, but they ended up having a great time. I think all of us were pleasantly surprised and impressed by the eerie formations and expansive views from above. And really, there’s nothing like being in among the world’s biggest sand castles!

Having fun on the trail above the hoodoos
Having fun on the trail above the hoodoos

Bring your camera, water, a hat and some sunscreen. It can get hot in the summer, and even springtime is often sunny and warm here.

Have you ever seen hoodoos? Hoodoos are found all over the world. Drop me a comment below and share your hoodoo sightings. I’d love to hear about it! And stay tuned for my Fairmont Hoodoo video, coming in a few days.

2 thoughts on “The Great Canadian Hoodoo Tour

  1. I’ve seen the Drumheller hoodoos too. It was a long time ago. Dinosaurs were still roaming the area at the time.

    1. Haha! You look better preserved than some of the specimens at the Royal Tyrell Museum! Must be the strict daily regimen you follow.

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