Exploring Ancient Landscapes In Drumheller & The Badlands
One of the greatest pleasures of parenting two young kids is seeing how captivated they are by the things that we, as adults, overlook in the madness of our day-to-day lives.
Whether it is slowing down and zooming in to look at things in nature, enjoying the pace of city transit or staying in a hotel with a pool, kids have this unfiltered curiosity as they move through the world that is totally infectious. Often, their curiosity makes me reflect on my own childhood.
The most recent passion for my sons is dinosaurs. What started with my 5-year-old sleeping with his beloved stuffy “stegi” and asking to read bedtime stories about dinosaur digs, has now moved into palaeontology kits and working on pronouncing dinosaur names like Pachycephalosaurus (my 3-year old has that one down pat).
This current dinosaur phrase has me reminiscing about the Alberta landscape of my childhood and has inspired me to plan a family trip to the Badlands this summer. I can’t wait to show them the Drumheller region and see it fresh through their eyes.
Although well known by Albertans, the Badlands are sadly often overlooked by visitors, most of whom land in Calgary or Edmonton and head west to the mountains.
If you’re planning a visit to Alberta, I strongly suggest you take at least a day or two to visit the Drumheller region and discover the wonders of this landscape for yourself.
What are the Canadian Badlands?
When people think about Alberta’s landscapes, most imagine the Rocky Mountains or perhaps vast Prairies and Big Sky Country. But stretching from Drumheller east to Saskatchewan and south to the United States is arguably one of Canada’s most unique landscapes: the Canadian Badlands, a land of multi-hued canyons and land formations sculpted by water and wind.
Named by explorers who called these parts “bad lands to cross”, the Badlands were once a subtropical paradise that served as the home of dinosaurs. Today, fertile plains drop away to an otherworldly landscape that not only contains the remnants of its past — with the largest deposits of dinosaur bones in the world — but is also filled with unusual plants and animals of today.
Drumheller is a small town located about 90 minutes northeast of Calgary. Known as the Dinosaur Capital of the World, it is a great starting point for exploring the Badlands. As a kid growing up in Calgary, Drumheller was the destination of many family road trips and elementary school day trips.
If you’re visiting the Drumheller Valley for the day, you’ll find the town to be a convenient spot to stop for lunch and dinner. The Last Chance Saloon is a popular spot to grab a locally sourced bison burger, or you can try your hand at finishing the massive 24-ounce mammoth burger at Bernie & The Boys. Don’t worry, if you’re not into burgers, there are plenty of great dining spots to pick from in town. Café Olé, for example, serves up paninis and soup, and Black Mountain Coffee Roasters is the go-to spot for coffee.
Royal Tyrrell Museum:
In my opinion, the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology is a must stop on your visit to the Badlands region. It is the only museum dedicated exclusively to prehistoric life and its dinosaur displays are beyond what you’d find anywhere else in the world.
Apart from anything else, a visit to the museum will frame for you the significance of the landscape you’re visiting. Inside are displays and interactive exhibits that showcase prehistoric life and the full scale of the dinosaurs found in the region.
Outside the museum there is an interpretive hiking trail through the scenic badlands in Midland Provincial Park.
Hiking near Drumheller:
The best way to get a sense of the Badlands is to walk through the many hiking trails in the region. Here are a few popular trails worth checking out:
- The Hoodoos Trail: located southeast of Drumheller, the Hoodoos Trail is a short walk through valley that houses some of the area’s most striking hoodoo formations. Hoodoos — tall spires of rock — take millions of years to form. To keep the hoodoos protected, some areas of the trail have been fenced off but you can still get really close to the hoodoos and see them from every angle. The trail is just off the main road, so it is easy to access and makes for a quick stop.
- Horseshoe Canyon: located less than 20 km west of Drumheller on Highway 9 is Horseshoe Canyon — a U-shaped canyon with a variety of hiking trails. You can head down into the canyon for a scenic day hike or walk up a few of the platforms at the top of the canyon for amazing vistas over the marbled landscape.
- Red Deer River: leaving from the downtown area in Drumheller, you can access 18 km of pathways that run alongside the Red Deer River. These are great for walking or cycling. Park at the Visitor Information Centre and grab a map before heading out.
Dinosaur Provincial Park:
Located about 2 hours outside of Calgary, it is well worth the drive to visit Dinosaur Provincial Park. The park is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the huge abundance of dinosaur bones found within its boundaries. Some of the world’s most significant fossil discoveries have taken place here and if you love geology or palaeontology, you’ll enjoy the interactive activities and walks throughout the park. You can also camp at the park if this is of interest.
One last incredibly cool place I wanted to draw your attention to is the Badlands Amphitheatre, which is located just outside of Drumheller. This 2500-seat outdoor theatre set among the stark scenery of the Badlands is a non-profit arts and culture venue that hosts live theatre shows, concerts and outdoor movies. It famously shows the Passion Play each summer (currently beginning its 28th season).
If you’re looking for an itinerary that takes in the Canadian Badlands, try our Ranches & Rockies, The Pioneer Trail package. This 14-day itinerary starts and ends in Calgary, with visits to the Rocky Mountains, the Badlands and has some great stops in Saskatchewan.