[COMPLEX] Kennedy Coulee ER and Milk River NA

Abutting the Canada/United States border, these two sites are adjoined and are located about 160 km southeast of Lethbridge.


Kennedy Coulee Ecological Reserve, Alberta Parks - Flickr
Kennedy Coulee Ecological Reserve, Alberta Parks – Flickr

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

These two sites are adjoined. A portion of Onefour Heritage Rangeland NA [LINK] forms the western border of the Kennedy Coulee Ecological Reserve.

ER and NA Combined Notes

Biodiversity Hotspot. AWA’s Milk River-Sage Creek area of concern is a biodiversity hotspot in the grasslands of southeastern Alberta. Its uplands, wetlands, and valleys constitute one of the largest undisturbed grasslands in Canada. This landscape is well-known for the unique geomorphology surrounding the Milk River, and the resulting biological communities that reside there; these include the northernmost range of short-horned lizard and reintroduced populations of swift fox. Crown land makes up the majority of the area with most of these lands given over to long term grazing leases [1].

Prior to 1875, these sites were part of a much larger contiguous area supporting sizable populations of large mammals including the bison. Treaty #7 saw the First Nations relinquish their traditional lands and the lands were used for large ranching operations. Untouched by settlers, the sites remained under a grazing lease until 1978 and then were incorporated into the ER and NA in 1987 [2].

Kennedy Coulee

The ER contains rolling terrain and the Kennedy Creek valley. Springs and wetlands along the creek are ecologically rich environments that support several wildlife species, including brown thrasher, black-billed cuckoo, grey catbird, golden eagle, ferruginous hawk, prairie falcon, bull snake, prairie rattlesnake, short-horned lizard, pronghorn antelope, mule deer. and Weidmeyer’s Admiral butterfly.

Plant communities are dominated by a variety of species, including blue grama, June & northern wheat grasses, lichens, deep rooted shrubs, white & purple prairie-clovers, aspen & hybrid poplars, water birch, saskatoon, wild rose, and gooseberry. Access within the reserve is by foot only.

A Dry Gorge or Valley, the Kennedy Coulee is in northern Montana and southern Alberta. Its exposed rocks of the Judith River Formation are a rich source of fossils. The coulee starts in Alberta and continues southeastwards for several miles into Hill County, Montana, before turning north and joining the Milk River valley near the US–Canadian border. The name “Kennedy’s Coulee” dates back at least to 1891, when a coal mine was under development there.[3]

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 [4].

Milk River

This NA contains expanses of gently rolling grassland dissected by deeply-cut stream valleys, coulees and rugged badlands. Permanent streams, springs and oxbow lakes are found throughout the area. This array of habitats supports hundreds of species of native plants & animals, some of which are very rare in Canada. The site also contains many geological features, including one of only five igneous rock dykes known on the Canadian plains, as well as several fossil and archaeological sites

Milk River Natural Area includes part of Milk River Canyon, the deepest canyon on the Canadian prairies. Its grasslands are some of the most diverse and least disturbed in the country.

Small, isolated populations of short-horned lizards, the only lizard native to Alberta, are found along the coulee rim where grassland meets exposed bedrock; sleeping beneath the sand at night and basking in the morning sun, this bizarre creature has adapted to life in the hot, dry environment of the area.

Access, Good and Bad News. Access requires permission from the grazing lease owner and roads are impassable after wet weather – the bad news. The good news is that this has helped to maintain relatively undisturbed conditions for the area [5].

Milk, Lewis, and Clark. The Milk River was named by Lewis and Clark in 1805 as the river had the colour of tea with milk [6]. The river is unique of all Canadian rivers in that it is the only one flows into the Mississippi river basin [7].

Site Statistics

Site NameKennedy Coulee
Site TypeEcological Reserve
SubtypeOrder-in-council (OC)
Natural Region(s)Dry Mixedgrass
O.C. No. (Land Ref. Manual)690/87
PASite ID (Map Ref #)413
Site # (Parks Website)2639.94
Total Area1068.37 ha. (2640.00 ac.)
Recreation ActivitiesHiking – backcountry
Operated ByParks Division
Notes and Comments
Statistics and Details for Kennedy Coulee
Kennedy Coulee ER Site Map (Government of Alberta)
Kennedy Coulee ER Site Map (Government of Alberta)
Site NameMilk River
Site TypeNatural Area
SubtypeOrder-in-council (OC)
Natural Region(s)Dry Mixedgrass
O.C. No. (Land Ref. Manual)327/90
PASite ID (Map Ref #)412
Site # (Parks Website)505
Total Area5537.70 ha. (13683.81 ac.)
Recreation Activitieshiking – backcountry
Operated ByParks Division
Notes and Comments
Statistics and Details for Milk River Natural Area
Milk River Site Map (Government of Alberta)
Milk River Site Map (Government of Alberta)


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 – Kennedy Coulee Ecological Area | Alberta Parks and Information & Facilities – Milk River Natural Area | Alberta Parks (All links accessed on 2023-02-05).

  1. Milk River – Sage Creek – Alberta Wilderness Association
  2. [HT or PC, I am going to leave figuring out the reference to you guys!] p. 5 — Applying geographic information systems (GIS) to protected areas management in the Milk River natural area and the Kennedy Coulee Ecological Reserve, Alberta, Canada. Applying geographic information systems (GIS) to protected areas management in the Milk River natural area and the Kennedy Coulee Ecological Reserve, Alberta, Canada (ucalgary.ca)
  3. Kennedy Coulee – Wikipedia
  4. History of Natural Areas and Ecological Reserves 1977-1994, SAPAA Newsletter No. 41 January 2022 pp. 3-4.
  5. Milk River Natural Area – Wikipedia.
  6. Aubrey, Merrily K., ed. Concise Place Names of Alberta. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2006; p. 213.
  7. Geography Facts About the Mississippi Watershed – Geography Realm

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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