Just 15 minutes outside of Drumheller you can find this stunning u-shaped valley in the Canadian Badlands known as the Horseshoe Canyon!

The Horseshoe Canyon hike near Drumheller takes you through this incredible canyon where you get to enjoy the mystery and beauty of the Badlands and one of many fun things to do in Drumheller!

It’s quite different hiking here compared to the Canadian Rockies…

Here you’re actually below the prairies in one of the coulees found in Alberta! It really feels like it takes you back in time to the age of dinosaurs and it’s the coolest feeling ever.

You’ll see things you can’t see anywhere else in the country – including dinosaur fossils if you’re lucky!

Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any dinosaur fossils (only a few cacti which was still pretty cool and unexpected in Canada). The Badlands are famous for fossils though and it’s not uncommon for people to spot them, so keep your eyes open.

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What you need to know about the Horseshoe Canyon hike

In this post, we dive into our experience of hiking Horseshoe Canyon near Drumheller and what you can expect when you embark on this beautiful trail.

We also share some information about how to get to the trailhead from Calgary and Drumheller and where to stay in Drumheller if you’re planning on spending the night here (you totally should by the way).

This post explains in detail how to hike the full Horseshoe Canyon Trail. There are quite a few different lookout points and even smaller trails but we recommend doing the full loop if you can. 

It’s such a unique little area in the Canadian Badlands that it’s worth more than just the 5-minute viewpoint. You’ll get a chance to go deep into the canyon and feel like you’re in a completely different world!

Fun Fact: Dinosaurs roamed a lush subtropical habitat in the area over 70 million years ago! 🦖🦕

Practical information about the Horseshoe Canyon loop trail

Distance: 4.7 km return / 2.92 miles return
Elevation: 110 m / 360 ft. elevation gain
Type: Loop trail
Length: 1-1.5 hours return (time for photos along the way)
Difficulty: Moderate
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Click here to see a trail map for the Horseshoe Canyon loop trail

Here’s a picture of the beginning of Horseshoe Canyon

We want to acknowledge that the Horseshoe Canyon Trail is on the traditional territory of Ĩyãħé Nakón mąkóce, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Niitsítpiis-stahkoii, Tsuut’ina, and Michif Piyii.

Starting at the Horseshoe Canyon parking lot

Unless you plan to camp at Horseshoe Canyon, you’ll most likely start the hike at the parking lot (that’s what we recommend).

You can find out everything you need to know about this spot in Kneehill County on their website here.

On the Kneehill County site, you can see if Horseshoe Canyon is open before you go as it does vary throughout the year.

You’ll also see that there is a $2 parking fee which I think is quite reasonable to help maintain everything in the area. 

There are a few awesome viewpoints right next to the parking lot which also makes the parking lot a rather crowded place from time to time.

This area is no different than most hikes in Alberta in the sense that it seems super touristy and crazy busy but once you get 100-200 meters away from the parking lot, 90% of the people are no longer there. 

From your first impression, it may seem like a pretty touristy spot but once you get deep into the coulee you’ll barely see people on the trail besides maybe a few other adventurers like yourself. 

One thing we highly recommend on this hike is to have your Alltrails map for Horseshoe Canyon loaded on your phone.

The trail isn’t the easiest to follow as there are lots of small side trails and there is no cell service down there. So it’s good to be prepared by pre-downloading the trail map.

Once you’re ready you can start making your way down into the coulee. That’s where the fun starts! 

Hiking Tip: Look up the trail on AllTrails before starting your hike 🗺️. You can find important trail information such as recent wildlife sights and trail closures. Check out the free version here or get a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+ here.

Down into the coulees of Horseshoe Canyon 

The first section down into the canyon (or coulee) you can see is quite popular. They’ve put in a nice staircase and even a beautiful viewpoint area that gives you an awesome view of the coulees. 

We grabbed a few pictures there because the view really is magical! You can see so far into the coulee and it’ll give you a bit of an idea of how far you can actually hike into the coulee.

Maybe it’s not your first time hiking in this kind of environment in Alberta or Canada but we were so surprised to see this massive coulee/canyon smack in the middle of the prairies with farmers fields and flat land all around!

Once you get more familiar with the area you’ll realize there’s a bunch of these coulees in Alberta that were formed thousands of years ago.

In case you aren’t familiar with the term, a coulee is a canyon or valley that has been shaped by water erosion (such as ice age floods) and is often characterized by steep sides like the ones you see here.

Once you’ve taken in one of the best views of the area you can continue down the stairs to where the fun really starts!

Starting the Horseshoe Canyon loop trail

We really want to emphasize that it’s good to look at the Alltrails map every so often to make sure you’re on the right track.

Especially once you get a bit further into the coulee you’ll notice there are tons and tons of trails that lead to who knows where! 

You can see the Horseshoe Canyon Loop here if you need. 

The area isn’t that big so it’s not like you will get completely lost but it is nice to stay on the right track and follow the loop!  

We almost got lost a few times but then we just looked at the map to get a bit of a sense of direction. 

Especially since people are walking from all sorts of different trails and most people have no idea where they’re coming from, haha. 

We also would like to mention it’s best to try to stay on the actual trails. Lots of people go off trail and start running all over the landscape. As fun as it looks it destroys the environment. 

The Horseshoe Canyon is such a unique place that it’s worth preserving for as long as we can.

The 7 Leave No Trace principles go a long way in preserving the area! We’ll share a bit more information about this later in the post.

Continue along the Horseshoe Canyon loop

Once you’ve taken in all the views, snapped some pictures of the beautiful landscape, and enjoyed the moment there’s a bit of uphill waiting for you!

Since you hiked down into the coulee you’ll have to get back up to the parking lot. Don’t let this scare you, though, it’s just a short stretch.

This last section of the trail is definitely the least explored. You can tell most people go into the coulee and then come back out the same way.

When you do the loop trail that’s not the case though…

You’ll start to find yourself making your way on a bit of a narrow trail with a bit of bush on each side. You’re on the right track and this narrow trail only continues for a few minutes.

If in doubt, check your trail map.

This stretch of the hike is actually where we saw some cacti and felt like we were 15,000 years back in time. 

The earth here is so so dry that it has cracked and it just looks so ancient!

As you walk here, just watch your step… It wouldn’t be hard to roll your ankle here and since you are in the desert of Canada, you can encounter wildlife such as rattlesnakes.

For those reasons, hiking shoes (with ankle support) are definitely recommended.

Don’t let that scare you though! In no time you’ll be back up near where you started and you won’t have much further to go until you reach the parking lot.

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Through the prairies and back to the Horseshoe Canyon parking lot

Finally! The last stretch of the hike!

Once you’re out of the coulee and back to “civilization” you’ll only have one last stretch of hike and you’re back to where you started.

It actually feels quite strange being in what feels like a completely different world one minute and then you walk a few hundred meters and you’re back in the flat prairies like nothing’s changed. 

You still have some incredible viewpoints from up here though where you can see the entire Horseshoe Canyon. We actually found one of the coolest viewpoints up here on our way back to the car…

Once we walked through what felt like private land (it wasn’t) and back towards the car park one of the coolest viewpoints popped out! 

This is one of the last viewpoints before the parking lot and there’s even a little bench so you could have a little picnic here. Unless you’re already planning to go to one of the many delicious restaurants in Drumheller after, of course!

After taking in the last views of Horseshoe Canyon you can make your way back to the parking lot where you can take off your hiking shoes before continuing your trip back to Drumheller, home, the campsite right next to the hike, or wherever you go!

What to bring to Horseshoe Canyon

You’ll definitely want to come prepared if you’re planning on doing the whole loop trail…

It’s not a crazy long hike but over 4 kilometres in the heated desert needs a bit of preparation.  

We definitely recommend not hiking during the hottest part of the day, especially during the summer months.

This hike is located super close to Drumheller so you can easily go early in the morning or later in the afternoon.

Besides that, if you bring lots of water and everything you’d take on a regular hike you should be all set!

Packing list for Horseshoe Canyon:

  • Water! We always fill up our LifeStraw bottles when hiking. On this trail, we recommend bringing at least two water bottles.
  • Sunscreen! Please pack and wear sunscreen for this hike. It was super hot when we did this hike (we did it in early August). Plus you’re exposed to the sun for most of the hike! Don’t get fooled by Jo’s sweater – she wore it as sun protection!
  • A power bank is nice to bring because you don’t want to run out of battery on this hike – especially when you need the trail map on your phone as guidance and you’re out of the city in the middle of the Badlands.
  • As we mentioned before, wearing proper hiking shoes with ankle protection is good on this hike.
  • Hiking poles are always good to have! It’s a short hike but there’s a bit of elevation and it’s always nice to have your hiking poles with you. Plus they can be a great aid against snakes.
  • You can also bring some food or a snack to enjoy during the hike. You can even have a picnic at the viewpoint near the end if you haven’t eaten all your food by then!

You can check out this great list of hiking gear to get some more inspiration!

The best affordable camera for beginners

The Sony Alpha a6000 mirrorless camera

If you’re looking for the best and most affordable camera for beginners, check out the Sony Alpha a6000 Camera.

This is the camera we’ve been using for years and still use to this day.

It’s perfect for travelling and super easy to use – even if you’re a beginner.

Before you go to Horseshoe Canyon

Check the weather

As a rule of thumb, you should always check the weather before you go hiking. It’s always good to be prepared even though the weather is pretty consistent in the canyon!

You can see the weather for Horseshoe Canyon here.

The summer months get quite hot so come prepared! Bring water, sunscreen, a hat, and anything else you may need to protect yourself from the heat.

Wear hiking shoes

We always recommend wearing hiking shoes or trail shoes on almost every outdoor adventure we do.

The beginning of the trail is well maintained but there are a lot of loose rocks. Near the end of the hike, the trail also gets a little loose so it’s nice to wear proper shoes! 

If you’re looking for inspiration, we can highly recommend the Newton Ridge Plus Waterproof Amped Hiking Boot from Columbia!

Leave no trace

When you go hiking (and do other outdoor adventure activities), always remember to follow the 7 principles of leaving no trace.

This means:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts.
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of others.

When is the best time to explore the Horseshoe Canyon?

In general, it’s best to visit the canyon during late spring through early fall. The summer season is a great time to visit as Drumheller and the nearby area generally has pretty good, consistent weather with lots of sunny days.

In terms of the time of day, it’s a good idea to do the hike earlier in the day or later in the afternoon because of the heat.

Of course, if you do it early in the season or later in the season that won’t be so much of a factor! 

The weather is probably the biggest factor you need to take into consideration when planning this hike.

You want to go on a nice sunny day to be able to enjoy the area and make the most of the hike and being outdoors – but you don’t want it to be too hot either!

Winter is also a beautiful time to visit the canyon after a snowfall. Just make sure you check if the canyon is open before going.

Where to stay near Horseshoe Canyon

There are quite a few good options for accommodation in Drumheller and close to Horseshoe Canyon.

Below we have included a campground, a glamping experience, and a hotel all within a reasonable distance from the trail. Hopefully one of these options suits your needs.

Horseshoe Canyon Campground

This campground has everything you need to enjoy your stay with clean washrooms, wifi, ice cream, coin showers, mini golf, and much more!

You can easily drive down to Drumheller as well if you want to explore the town, check out the dinosaurs, and enjoy some good food for a bit.

The campground is only about a 20-minute drive from Drumheller.

You can find everything you need to know about Horseshoe Campground here

Bridgeview Hideaway near Drumheller

We stayed in one of Bridgeview’s yurts for 3 nights while we explored Drumheller and absolutely loved it!

Bridgeview Hideaway is located a little past Drumheller in Rosedale so it’s about an extra 10-minute drive from the Horseshoe Canyon trail but it’s absolutely worth it!

The campsite is super nice with beautiful views of the Drumheller landscape and it has great, clean facilities.

Bridgeview is close to the famous 11 bridge road and The Last Chance Saloon in Wayne. It’s also closer than Drumheller to the famous Hoodoos, Sunny Spot cafe & mini golf, and the Atlas Coal Mine.

If you’re looking for a proper glamping experience and want to stay in one of the most beautiful areas in the Badlands then Bridgeview Hideaway is the place!

Ramada by Wyndham Drumheller

The last place of accommodation on this list is the Ramada Hotel right in Drumheller.

If you’re not into camping on glamping and just looking for a nice comfortable place to stay in Drumheller, Ramada is perfect. 

Ramada is a well-known hotel chain in Canada and you can find their hotels all around the country. It’s by no means a fancy hotel but it’s a nice and affordable one. 

It’s also a great place to stay if you’re looking to visit The Royal Tyrrell Museum, try out delicious restaurants in Drumheller, and all the other fun things you can do in the area! (There’s a lot!)

If you’re a couple or a family, it’s a great place to stay. For the price you can’t go wrong with the Ramada by Wyndham!

→ Check out Ramada’s prices & availability here

How to get to Horseshoe Canyon near Drumheller

Drumheller to Horseshoe Canyon

From Calgary to Horseshoe Canyon

From Edmonton to Horseshoe Canyon

Other related questions about Horseshoe Canyon

How long does it take to hike the Horseshoe Canyon?

We’d consider this a moderate trail that takes anywhere from 1-1.5 hours to complete.

You can always add a bit more time if you want to spend more time admiring the beautiful landscape and this unique part of Alberta.

How much does it cost to go to Horseshoe Canyon?

You do not need a Parks Canada Pass to enter Horseshoe Canyon. The only payment you will need to make is the $2 parking fee at the entrance.

What is the Horseshoe Canyon formation in Canada?

The formations of Horseshoe Canyon go back thousands and thousands of years when running rivers cut through the lands and created these unique formations.

How long do you need at Horseshoe Canyon?

We’d recommend giving yourself at least 2 hours if you plan to hike the Horseshoe Canyon trail along with maybe eating your lunch at one of the viewpoints of picnic tables. 

If you only plan to take in the views and walk to one of the viewpoints near the parking lot you only need about 10-15 minutes. That is depending on how many photos you take 😉.

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Recap of hiking the Horseshoe Canyon Loop trail near Drumheller

This is our first hike in the Badlands area of Canada but it’s for sure not our last! Horseshoe Canyon is a perfect trail if you want to head out east and explore this unique part of Canada. 

It’s also a great activity to do for a few hours’ hike if you’re already in Drumheller and want to get out and be active for a few hours!

You can easily have breakfast or lunch at one of the delicious restaurants or diners in Drumheller and then make your way to Horseshoe Canyon.

Horseshoe Canyon and the Drumheller area is an amazing little part of Alberta that has so much history in its landscape that is just waiting to be explored!

If you have any questions about the hike or things to do in Drumheller just send us a DM on Instagram or leave a comment on this blog post. We’re always happy to help and love giving tips about the area. 

We hope you have an amazing time exploring Drumheller and the Badlands of Canada – and we hope you enjoy this epic hike!

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