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Alberta’s Dinosaurs: Your Guide to a Weekend in Canada’s Badlands

By Meghan J. Ward

Alberta's Dinosaurs—Royal Tyrrell Museum

Alberta’s dinosaurs on display at the Royal Tyrell Museum (Photo: Royal Tyrell Museum)

Alberta’s dinosaurs may be extinct, but they live on in the Canadian Badlands. The region, which takes up of the southeast corner of the province, has one of the richest dinosaur fossil deposits in the world and makes for an excellent getaway for visitors or locals. Using Calgary as a base, we offer this weekend trip that follows the path of Alberta’s dinosaurs from the region where most species were discovered in Dinosaur Provincial Park to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, where many of the fossils are now on display.

When to go: To get a snow-free experience, try from May through October.

What to bring: Water bottles, a hat, sunscreen, sturdy footwear, snacks, camera and, if you’re camping, food for dinner and your cooking gear.

 Get started on your tour of Alberta’s Dinosaurs »

Day One—Alberta’s Dinosaurs in the Badlands

Alberta's Dinosaurs—Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta

Dinosaur Provincial Park: where to find most of Alberta’s dinosaurs (Photo: Meghan J. Ward)

Drive from Calgary, Alberta to Dinosaur Provincial Park
Distance: 222 km
Driving time: 3 hours
Full directions: click here

Take Highway 1 out of Calgary towards Brooks. After 90 minutes on the Trans-Canada Highway, you’ll zigzag along smaller highways lined with farmers’ fields before entering the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park. Don’t miss the rest stop just prior to descending into the park. It offers a perfect bird’s-eye view of the whole region.

Over forty species of dinosaurs have been discovered in this park. More than 500 specimens have been removed and exhibited around the world, making this rich fossil bed worthy of its UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

Dinosaur Provincial Park is a great place to explore on your own or to join an interpretive program (adult $12-$165; book in advance). Start by stopping at the Visitors Centre (adult $3) for an introduction to the park. From there, five easy, self-guided trails take you amongst hoodoos (spires of rock), to high viewpoints, and through forests of cottonwood trees on the edge of the Red Deer River. They will also bring you to two fossil beds where you can see paleontologists in action, digging for Alberta’s dinosaurs. All trailheads can be accessed by car.

Where to stay: Camp overnight in a shaded campground in Dinosaur Provincial Park or try the park’s Comfort Camping experience (phone 403-378-4344). For a more luxurious stay, you can drive 48 kilometers south to Brooks, where you’ll find a Ramada and the Lakeshore Bed & Breakfast on Lake Newell.

Where to eat: Pack a lunch for Day One (there aren’t many options en route other than a concession stand in Dinosaur Provincial Park). For dinner, cook at your campsite or if you’re staying the night in Brooks, go to Ace’s Café for some comfort food.

 

Day Two—Alberta’s Dinosaurs on Display

Alberta's Dinosaurs Getaway—Last Chance Saloon

The last stop on our Alberta’s dinosaurs tour is the Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne, AB (Photo: Meghan J. Ward)

Drive from Dinosaur Provincial Park to Drumheller, Alberta
Distance: 177 km
Driving time: 2.5 hours
Full directions: click here

There are a few options for routes to Drumheller. You can go back onto the Trans-Canada before venturing north on Highway 56, or you can take an entirely different route along Highway 36, through Duchess and then west on Highway 570. From Drumheller, make your way out to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Midland Provincial Park.

Before the Royal Tyrrell Museum (adult $11) was built in 1985, dinosaur fossils had to be shipped to museums around the world for analysis and display. Now Alberta’s dinosaurs are examined in a world-class paleontology museum that prepares and exhibits dino-bones and other fossils. The resulting displays are consistently stunning.

You can explore the museum on your own or join one of the public programs, which include opportunities to prospect, excavate and cast fossils. Don’t miss Dinosaur Hall where you’ll find life-size reconstructions of dinosaurs and watch technicians working in the Preparation Lab. You’ll learn about Alberta’s dinosaurs from all eras, what they ate, where they lived and what may have led to their extinction.

Where to eat: For lunch, grab a bite to eat at the Royal Tyrrell Museum cafeteria. For dinner, take the 20-minute journey down to the Last Chance Saloon at the Rosedeer Hotel (built in 1913) in the ghost town of Wayne. They only serve pub-style food, but the memorabilia in there will keep you entertained for hours.

 

Day Three (Optional)—Leaving Alberta’s Dinosaurs

Alberta's Dinosaurs—Trans-Canada Highway

The Trans-Canada highway in Alberta (Photo: Just a Prairie Boy)

Drive from Drumheller to Calgary
Distance: 135 km
Driving time: 2 hours
Full directions: click here

You may not need a third day. Calgary is close enough to Drumheller to tackle the drive at the end of Day Two—Highway 9 will take you most of the way there. If you prefer to head back to Calgary the next morning, though, there are many places to stay in Drumheller.

Where to stay: If you like the hotel scene, check out the Ramada Inn and Suites. If you’re looking for something smaller and more intimate, try the Heartwood Inn & Spa

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