Introducing Red Rock Coulee, Natural Area
If you’ve ever driven through Canada, you know that it starts to get real boring if you’re taking the main highway out of Calgary, and doesn’t stop being boring for quite a while. This is something that we accept as Canadians, and do our best to download as many podcasts, audiobooks, and playlists as possible to help with the long drive.
Finding free places to camp can also be a little bit tricky in these parts. Have you noticed how expensive camping has gotten over the years? Some RV parks have the gall to charge $90/night for a gravel driveway and an outlet – but I digress.
I like to use an app called iOverlander, which is an incredible forum based app where campers from around the globe will add GPS locations, photos, and details about the paid, wild, and roadside camping that they’ve found. iOverlander is exactly how I happened upon the Red Rock Coulee Natural Area in Alberta.
I feel like Red Rock Coulee deserves a little shout out both because it is free and wild camping, but also because it is such an unusual area for a place like Alberta. This article is going to go through everything you need to know about the Red Rock Coulee area, so buckle up, and let’s get going!
How do I Get There?
First thing’s first: if you are a person who likes sticking to the main roads and not getting to far out there, this isn’t exactly going to be the place for you. If you’re coming from the southwest, you’ll be travelling down a wide gravel road for about 24 minutes before reaching your destination, so ensure that you have the appropriate vehicle before heading down this type of road.
The Red Rock Coulee natural area is a day us park that is in southeastern Alberta. It is 30 miles (54km) south southwest of Medicine Hat, and 20 miles (26km) south of the hamlet of Seven Persons off of highway 887.
What’s to Love about Red Rock Coulee Natural Area?
Now for the fun stuff! The reason why I wanted to share my experience at Red Rock Coulee natural area is because it is simply such an unusual sight that you’d never expect to see in a place like Alberta. It is the closest thing I’ve seen to Utah (which is similar to what I imagine Mars would look like) in Canada, which is pretty cool!
Red Rock Coulee natural is a day park that hosts an unusual set of geological formations. The main feature of the park are these spherical, red boulders, which are actually sandstone concretions. These concretions are interesting because they formed underground first and hardened up completely.
What we see today is the result of the surrounding, softer bedrock eroding away to reveal these interesting and striking spherical red stones. The largest sphere there is 2.5 metres across, which may not sound like a lot, but these are among the largest on the planet!
Aside from the red rocks, the area is gorgeous. It is very western scene and a great place to watch the sunset, and we weren’t the only people doing so! The surrounding area boasts a small upland of fescue-needle grass, juniper bushes, sagebrush, prickly pear cactuses, prairie crocus, broomweed, and gumbo primrose.
The area is also wonderful for wildlife viewing, so make sure to keep your dogs on their leashes! The sign driving into the area states “You are in rattlesnake country“, and though we didn’t hear any, we were certainly grateful for the warning.
What Can I Do at Red Rock Coulee?
Now if you’ve made it this far into the article, I think that means you’re pretty keen on visiting this place, but there are a few other important details we should go through. To be clear this is a Day-Use park. It has no facilities whatsoever, so that means no toilets, no water, no garbage cans, nada.
This also means that the park is entirely free! There are no signs indicating that camping is prohibited, but there are also no established camping spots. There is a ton of flat ground to lay out a tent, or you could easily car camp in the natural area.
Some may call this walking, but because it’s in the wild, I like to call it hiking – especially since I’m wearing hiking boots! (But that’s also just because of the rattlers). The Red Rock Coulee natural area is a great place to go on a nature walk.
There isn’t a super clear path, so it’s rather easy to go off trail. All that I ask is to take care where you’re stepping, and try to avoid crushing as much of the plant life as possible.
It is also highly advised to keep your dog on a leash if you’re going to be hiking through the area. This is not only because of the rattlesnakes, lizards, and other wildlife in the area, but the place is completely riddled with prickly pear cacti that could stab their little paws!
Don’t feel worried about getting lost just because there isn’t a well maintained trail. The parking lot area itself is on higher ground and can easily be seen from the flat natural area down below. There is not much in the way of your line of sight, and you can easily find your way back.
This isn’t an area that you travel to for a long hike, but it’s a great area to stretch your legs, have a picnic (there’s one picnic bench overlooking the red rocks) or just relax and watch the sunset.
As we were packing up in the morning, a couple of trucks with hunters drove up to the parking area and started scouting out the area. I was told that they were on the hunt for mule deer in the area. Before you engage in hunting, make sure you have the proper licensing and it’s the allowed time of year as well.
If you’re into the desert landscape, the Red Rock Coulee natural area would be a great place for you to visit. There is known to be all sorts of animals in the area, including white tailed jackrabbits, mule deer, bull snakes, short horned lizards, western rattlesnakes, pronghorns (which are like antelope) and scorpions (which are incredibly rare in Canada).
Also be advised that like many other areas in Canada, this area is riddled with coyotes that can be heard throughout the night. Along with all of these incredible species you’ll see a ton of bird and insect species as well, so don’t forget your binoculars!
Though this isn’t exactly a mountain biking destination, if you just so happen to have your mountain bike loaded on the back of your truck, it would be a lovely little ride that any skill level biker could enjoy. Just try your best to avoid destroying the plant life.
As I mentioned before, this is not a destination that is designed for you to go and camp, but you are allowed to camp there. It’s a great place to stop along the way, since there are almost no other camping areas along this long highway.
If you’re going to be camping here for the night, make sure that you have everything that you need before heading out there. This includes enough gas to get you there and back, enough water for you and whoever you’re travelling with, food to cook, and make sure you’re prepared to pack out whatever you pack in.
There are absolutely no services here, meaning no water, no light, no electricity, no waste management, and only one picnic table on the grounds. But that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a wonderful place to camp!
My favorite way to camp is in areas that are really intended for camping. I do my best to not leave an imprint on the area, but my idea of real camping is where there is almost no indication of human life, which is what this area offers.
One More Thing..
The last thing that I will leave you with is this: please please please, whether you are going to the Red Rock Coulee natural area or elsewhere, please, LEAVE-NO-TRACE. In my opinion, practicing leave no trace is the single and only way that a person can interact with nature in a respectful way.
Leave-no-trace means that whatever you bring into an area, you better be ready to bring it out. That means no toilet paper, no single use water bottles, no floss, no nothing! You already know that littering is bad, but it’s extra bad if you do it in nature.
Leave-no-trace means that you try your absolute best to make it seem like you were never there, or better yet, leaving a place better than you found. This could mean picking up something that another person left behind, or going above and beyond and kicking away your boot prints.
It is an absolute treat and a privilege that we have access to the outdoors, and it’s an absolute shame that sometimes folks don’t understand how to treat nature with respect. If we want to continue having access to these areas, the best we can do is act like we were never there.
Does it cost money to visit Red Rock Coulee natural area?
It’s always such a treat to discover that a natural area doesn’t require a cover charge! (I recently went to Lake Louise – I hadn’t been since I was a kid – and they were charging $12 just for parking! Nuts!)
Red Rock Coulee is a natural area and doesn’t actually have anything that needs maintaining, so there is no fee when visiting the park. It is free to visit and free to camp as well. This means that there are pretty much no grounds rules, other than watch your step and don’t leave anything behind.
Are pets allowed at Red Rock Coulee?
Pets are totally allowed to visit with you at Red Rock Coulee. It is well advised to keep your pets on their leashes when exploring the grounds. This is because the area is known to be riddled with rattlesnakes (varying in population depending on the time of year) and the grounds are also covered with prickly pear cacti. There are tons of hazards around for your pets.
Is there water at Red Rock Coulee?
There is no running water at Red Rock Coulee, and there are also no services close to the surrounding area. So make sure to pack all of the water that you could need for your visit, and maybe some snacks too.
Is it hard to find the Red Rock Coulee Nature Area?
As long as you have a maps app on your phone, you’ll have no problem finding the Red Rock Coulee natural area. Be advised that finding the area just by land markers is too easy as there is only a single sign indicating the park once you are on the specific road it is on.
Additionally, if you are travelling from the southwest, you’ll be driving along a wide gravel road for about 24 minutes. It was not particularly dicey when I went, but that can change depending on the time of year. Ensure you have the appropriate vehicle to go down these types of roads.
Can you camp at Red Rock Coulee?
Though Red Rock Coulee doesn’t have a specific camping area, but there are also no signs indicating that camping is prohibited. There are a couple of flat areas where you could pitch a tent, and a couple of flat areas where you could park a car to car camp as well.
Just remember that there are no services here. No bathrooms, no water, no lighting, no electricity, no garbage cans. You adventure is totally yours, but it’s also up to you to clean up after yourself before you leave.
Is Red Rock Coulee busy?
I don’t believe that Red Rock Coulee is a particularly popular area to travellers or locals alike. It is probably quite busy during hunting season, but chances are that you’ll be alone when visiting the park.
Can you go to Red Rock Coulee in the winter?
Red Rock Coulee could be a lovely place to go snowshoeing in the winter! If the snow is very heavy, there is a chance that it may cover up the red sandstone spheres entirely, but it would still be a beautiful place for a winter stroll. Cross country skiing could be an option too!
What types of things are there to do at the Red Rock Coulee Natural Area?
The Red Rock Coulee natural area is very much a choose your own adventure type of place. You could drive up just to have a picnic or watch the sunset and play cards. You could go on a short hike, a bike ride, or take the opportunity to get quite and see how many animals and insects that you can see.
Not everyone enjoys this type of landscape, but if you’re a desert lover stranded in Canada, Red Rock Coulee is the place for you.