[MEDIUM] Hand Hills Ecological Reserve

Located about 30 km southeast of Drumheller, this ER protects largest remaining fescue grassland in the world.

[FP, Medium due to number of references]

Hand Hills ER Site Map (Government of Alberta)
Hand Hills ER Site Map (Government of Alberta)

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

This ER is part of the largest remaining fescue grassland in the world. Habitats include lush fescue grassland, moist meadows, shrub thickets and aspen woodland. The endangered piping plover nests along Little Fish Lake on the edge of the reserve.

This site is situated on the lower south slopes of the Hand Hills upland. Elevations range from 815 to 970 metres above sea level. Threatened ferruginous hawks and prairie long-tailed weasels occur here and the endangered piping plover nests along Little Fish Lake on the edge of the reserve. Vegetation includes porcupine grass, June grass, spear grass and northern wheat grass on lightly grazed areas. Blue gamma grass and low sedge grow on more heavily grazed sites.

Although motorized vehicles are normally not allowed, motorized access is sometimes permitted for grazing lessees to access their grazing reserves.

Patchwork of Protection. There are two protected areas within the Hand Hills area: Hand Hills Ecological Reserve and Little Fish Lake Provincial Park. These protected areas cover only 7.2% of AWA’s Hand Hills Area of Concern, a relatively small proportion of the total area. Little Fish Lake is found within an Important Bird Area (IBA), and although Little Fish Lake Provincial Park has been established, the lake itself and its shoreline remain unprotected. The remaining area within the Hand Hills consists of a patchwork of public lands and private property [1].

Small Hands or Descriptive? There are two explanations for the name, Hand Hills. The was recorded in 1859 by Palliser as honoring a Blackfoot Leader who was killed on the hills and who had small hands. The second explanation is that they are descriptive, the geography resembling outstretched fingers of a hand [2].

Political Hay in 1987. 1987 was the designated Year of Wildlife Conservation in Canada by provincial and territorial wildlife ministers and their agencies. In Alberta, Wildlife ’87: Gaining Momentum was spearheaded by Cam Finlay, a well-known Alberta naturalist. More than a dozen new Natural Areas and several Ecological Reserves were designated during this period including these two [3].

Site Statistics

Site NameHand Hills
Site TypeEcological Reserve
SubtypeOrder-in-council (OC)
Natural Region(s)Northern Fescue
O.C. No. (Land Ref. Manual)33/88
PASite ID (Map Ref #)486
Site # (Parks Website)403
Total Area2229.02 ha. (5507.80 ac.)
Recreation ActivitiesHiking – backcountry
Operated ByParks Division
Notes and Comments
Statistics and Details for Hand Hills Ecological Reserve


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 Information & Facilities – Hand Hills Ecological Area | Alberta Parks (All links accessed on 2023-02-05).

  1. Hand Hills – Alberta Wilderness Association
  2. History of Natural Areas and Ecological Reserves 1977-1994, SAPAA Newsletter No. 41 January 2022 pp. 3-4.
  3. Aubrey, Merrily K., ed. Concise Place Names of Alberta. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2006; p. 143.

Further Reading

Editing, Review and Silence Procedure

  1. FRANK: Publish page
  2. HUBERT/PATSY: Assign page for editing by update tbd in the Title (4-
  3. Review for readability and alignment to SAPAA organizational reputation.
  4. Best available image
  5. Review for accuracy including:
    1. Correct map and site statistics
    2. Area size is correct
    3. Standards (e.g. use of hyphens, spelling, etc.)
    4. References are accessible and and notes match
  6. Review for formatting, e.g.: Centered captions, No empty blocks
  7. TEAM: Last walk through
    1. Any final discussion or notes
    2. Remove [name] from title
    3. Add to log book for silence procedure
    4. Delete these notes.

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