Burning Sulphur (PNT) Natural Area

This NA, 90 km south of Fort Vermilion, looks like a scene from Dante’s Inferno, with bitter-smelling steam and smoke billowing from rock debris along the Muddy River.

Topographical map of Burning Sulphur (PNT) and SAPAA. Image courtesy of https://atlas.gc.ca/toporama.
Topographical map of Burning Sulphur (PNT) and SAPAA. Image courtesy of https://atlas.gc.ca/toporama.

Map of the Area

Any maps and map views are for general information only. Do not rely on them for navigation or to determine legal boundaries.

Other Information

On the east slopes of the Buffalo Head Hills, about 90 kilometres south of Fort Vermillion, bitter-smelling steam and smoke billows from rock debris that has slumped down the hillside. The steam is formed as the underlying bedrock of iron sulphide-rich marine shales oxidizes and produces great heat. Although not a common phenomenon, evidence of this process can also be seen along the Smoky and Peace rivers as well as in the “Smoking Hills” of the Arctic coast.

The local bedrock is Cretaceous marine shale, which normally is impermeable, but slumping along the river banks continues to produce a number of fractures in the shale. Once exposed to air along these fractures, the iron-sulphide minerals, such as pyrite, quickly oxidize and create temperatures of over 300ºC. This heat bakes the nearby shale to a bright brick-red. Any groundwater that trickles down through fractures is quickly heated and turned into steam. Around the vents of escaping steam, native sulphur seeps through the fractured shale to solidify on the surface. Some of these sulphur seeps are currently burning and produce a very strong sour smell – a regular witch’s brew!

In cooler weather, the smoke and steam lie in the river valleys as a heavy haze which early French Canadian fur traders called “boucanne” meaning clouds of smoke. [1]!

Site Statistics

Site NameBurning Sulphur (PNT)
Site TypeNatural Area
SubtypeProtective Notation (PNT)
Natural Region(s)Central Mixedwood; Lower Boreal Highlands
O.C. No. (Land Ref. Manual)N/A
PASite ID (Map Ref #)548
Site # (Parks Website)N/A
Total Area127.91 ha. (316.08 ac.)
Recreation Activities
Operated By
Notes and Comments
Statistics and Details for Burning Sulphur (PNT) Natural Area


The following links are provided as a courtesy but are not verified or endorsed by SAPAA. Clicking on the link will cause you to leave the SAPAA website. Primary source of information is the Government of Alberta.

  1. Mussieux, Ron, and Marilyn Nelson. A Traveller’s Guide to Geological Wonders in Alberta. Repr. Edmonton: Provincial Museum of Alberta, 2005, p. 38.

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