This past summer I went on an epic 2 week road trip across Canada, driving from Vancouver to my home in Ottawa. I knew there were a few places along the way that I’d have to stop and spend a bit of extra time exploring, and the badlands of Alberta was one of those places.
Known around the world as one of the richest places in the world to find dinosaur fossils, visiting the crazy landscape definitely makes you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time a few million years. Located approximately 110 kms northeast of Calgary, the whole area is a geological wonder filled with oddly shaped rock formations with equally as odd names, like hoodoo’s. Deep striated canyons that look like a cake with 100 layers, hide the remains of dinosaurs that walked the earth over 65 million years ago. Alberta’s badlands are simply stunning and have many areas to explore. Here are 7 highlights of the area that will give you the full badlands experience!
Famously known as the dinosaur capital of the world, the small town of Drumheller is home to the worlds largest dinosaur!
As you drive through town you’ll notice numerous home made dino statutes in front of many businesses, in parks and on street corners. The Drumheller Visitors Center will be easy to spot by the 86 foot tall t-rex standing over it. I highly recommend stopping by to get a complete list of all the activities you can do and sites to see in the area. Drumheller is the place to start exploring!
2. Drive the Dinosaur Trail
Starting in Drumheller, Dinosaur Trail is a 48 km long loop that takes you past many sites that are included in this post. The scenery is out of this world and offers an up close look at what makes up Alberta’s badlands.
You can drive this loop in either direction but I chose to head out counter clockwise beginning with the north section. North Dinosaur Trail follows the northern banks of the Red Deer River heading northwest out of Drumheller. Eventually you take a free, cable operated ferry crossing (Belriot Ferry) across the Red Deer River and then follow highway 838 to 837 south along the river before it joins up with South Dinosaur Trail. This will lead you right back into Drumheller.
I suggest driving the Dinosaur Trail and then continuing on to the Hoodoos and Dinosaur Provincial Park.
3. Midland Provincial Park
This park is the first place you’ll come across on North Dinosaur Trail, just outside of Drumheller. Although its a fairly small park (just 6.3 km²), there are some hiking trails through the unique badlands landscape and there’s also in interpretive center to visit. This park was once the site of the Midlands Coal Mine and the main attraction here today is the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology.
4. Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology
Located right on the Dinosaur Trail North in Midland Provincial Park, this incredible museum is home to Canada’s largest collection of dinosaur fossils.
The museum was built right on the very badlands where dinosaurs once roamed and has numerous exhibits displaying the 3.9 billion year history of our planet. Prepare to be wowed by more than 40 fully constructed dino skeletons, including favorites such as the ever popular Tyrannosaurus Rex, Stegosaurus and Triceratops!
5. Horsethief Canyon
This stunning canyon is worth the stop just for the view alone but if you want to get a bit of exercise, there are hiking trails throughout the canyon.
Legend goes that during the early settler years, horse ranching was the main industry. Horses would roam the badlands in this area and its said that some would enter the canyon and “disappear”. Later on, the same horses would reappear but they would have different brands on their bodies, thus leading to the name “Horsetheif Canyon”.
For hiking, there are no actual marked trails but rather many cross crossing foot paths weaving up and down the canyon walls and along the floor of the valley. The rock formations and vegetation is quite unique to this area and hiking allows you to view the geological make up of the area close up.
6. The Hoodoo’s
No, this is not a spelling mistake! Hoodoo’s are very real, geological rock formations. Hoodoo’s refer to groups of layered stone columns with flat rock tops that make Albert’s Badlands world famous.
Formed over years and years by the eroding effects of the elements, these one to three meter high statutes stand together in a group just outside Drumheller along Hoodoo Drive (a 25 km stretch located 18 km outside of Drumheller. Hoodoo drive is an out and back drive that usually turns around at Wayne).
The hoodoos are made up of mostly sand and clay and are therefore, very fragile and susceptible to damage from the elements as well as people. Their top cap rocks actually help protect the columns from further erosion and unfortunately, some hoodoos have been destroyed forever due to people hitting these protective caps off the top. The hoodoos don’t take very long to explore but they are worth a visit.
7. Dinosaur Provincial Park
A bit of a drive from dinosaur mecca of Drumheller, Dinosaur Provincial Park is located further southeast near the town of Brooks, Alberta and is definitely worth the drive.
The drive into this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a grand one. As you approach, the ground seems to open up and there’s the feeling that your about to drive into a large gaping hole in the earths surface.
As you get closer, you’ll see a huge canyon opening up, filled with hills of oddly shaped, striped rock. At the park entrance there is a stunning look out with information boards and starting point of a few trails. With no trees and low lying vegetation there’s nothing to obstruct this incredible view.
Continuing on into the park, you descend on a long road into the bottom of the canyon. The visitors center is one of two main buildings in the canyon and also houses a dinosaur museum.
DPP’s is home to one of the richest deposits of dinosaur fossils in the world and supplies the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller with its dinosaur displays. This park has full service campsites for both tents and RV’s, runs tours, children’s programs, has a plethora of hiking trails and you can even go on a dinosaur dig. Oh and, be sure to watch out for dinosaurs!
If your ever traveling across Canada or find yourself in Calgary, be sure to head into the badlands of Alberta. There’s so much to explore in this incredible place! From hiking among hoodoo’s to museums to going on a dino dig, there’s a lot to see and do in this stunning region. The landscape is unlike anything else on earth and lets face it, everyone likes dinosaurs!