Planning to visit Drumheller and Canadian Badlands in Alberta? Here are the must see attractions in the graveyard of the dinosaurs and the moonlike landscape carved by the Red Deer River. As you traverse the land, you will travel through the lands that preserved dinosaur bones for the World’s biggest paleontological discovery and learn how “progress” reduced booming cities to ghost towns.
The article is arranged from North to South. See map at the end.
1. Dinosaur Trail
You can visit most of the attractions included in this article when you drive the Dinosaur Trial. The 48 km scenic drive follows the south and north side of Red Deer River along Highway 575, 837, and 838. From Calgary, you can reach the trail via Highway 9. Before you take the drive on the Dinosaur Trial, stop at the Drumheller visitor centre to pick up maps and brochures about the trail. If time permits climb to the top of the world’s largest dinosaur. It stands 25metres tall, and offers you a chance to climb the stairs and take a look out of its jaws. From there you can start on the 48km drive that is a loop just north of the town.
Millions of years ago this area was covered in subtropical forests, which was home to over 50 dinosaur species. Today, it is a forgotten land. The subtropical climate made the area the perfect spot to preserve dinosaur fossils, that was once roaming the area. Bring a picnic basket along, as there are numerous picnic stops along the way. This drive will takes you through canyons, hoodoos and a cable ferry and along the north and south side of the Red Deer river.
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2. Horsethief Canyon.
Horsethief Canyon is just as eluding as the origin of its name. Located on the Dinosaur Trail, this canyon offers a glimpse into the past. If you are up for it, you can venture beyond the safety of your car and take the hiking trail to the bottom of the canyon. The trek is quite steep, remember to bring your hiking boots. The canyon is a kaleidoscope into the past with coal residual seen alongside the outcrops. In summer you will be rewarded with great grasslands and some water trickling in the river bed. You will be surprised to see all the green lush if you take one of the hiking trails into the canyon. It is a fantastic spot for a picnic. The name of the canyon is also a bit of a mystery, but locals believe it was named for the smuggling route of cattle and horses to Montana. Whatever the history of the name is, it brings just as much mystery as the canyon itself.
3. Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology.
If you are more into arts and crafts, you can make your own fossil replica. The museum has special programs for kids such as a 10minute story time. You will be able to see fossils first hand and learn exactly what the process is form the finding the fossil to exhibiting it in the museum. The museum focus on first hand experiences, so be prepared to get down and dirty. The great thing about the museum is that most of the staff have actually been on a professional dig, and will be able to answer all your questions! More about the museum.
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4. Midland Provincial Park
The site of the Royal Tyrell Museum, Midland Provincial park offers great spots for hiking and wildlife viewing. It is a day park only, with no camping facilities. It is the site to the former Midland Coal mine and has been a provincial park since 1979. Be sure to visit the fossil beds and the old mine site. The mine is known for the horrible tragedy of the mid 1920’s. A lot of men lost their lives during an explosion in the mine. The mine history is exhibited with an interpretive display in the park.More about the Park
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5. The Canadian Badlands Passion Play
The Canadian Badlands Passion Play takes you back 2000 years to an event that changed history. Staged in a natural amphitheatre during mid of July, the passion play tells the story of Jesus Christ. Started in the 1960’s, the play is a portrayal of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The play has won numerous prices over the years and really is worth a visit. It is a very sound sensitive amphitheatre, and it is not recommended to bring babies and children under 6. Remember that it is an outdoor venue, thus preparing for the onslaught of nature is a good idea. The play is on, no matter the weather. Plan accordingly and pack something for hot, cold and rainy weather. Bring cash as the kiosk is cash only. More about the Play
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6. Horseshoe Canyon
The site offers day trails as well as fantastic picnic spots. Bring your binoculars along as the canyon is home to a wide variety of bird species as well as wild prairie flowers. The canyon also offers a protected area for the native grass. The inaccessible plateaus ensure that the historical importance is protected. You will find some evidence that there were once communities who lived in this Northern Fescue Sub region. The canyon was once used as grazing field for the owner’s cattle and has been passed down from generation to generation since 1946. In 2016 it was sold to the county, ensuring that the heritage is protected and shared with all those who come for a visit. More about Horseshoe Canyon
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7. Rosedale Suspension Bridge
The Rosedale Suspension Bridge is a 117meter long bridge across the Red Deer River in Rosedale.. It was originally built to allow the miners on the north side of the river to get across to the Rosedale community. The bridge was constructed in 1931, before then the miners crossed the bridge in row boats. During a mud slide in 1957 the bridge and mine was destroyed. In 1958 the bridge was reconstructed, and is still used today. It is open to public and you can take the walk by yourself and enjoy the scenery. The bridge commemorates the mining history of the area. More about the Bridge.
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Stop at this little town, situated along Rosebud Creek that was in its heyday, when the Rosedeer Mine was in operation. Rosebud Creek crosses the land 11 times, so you will have to cross 11 wooden base bridges to get to the town whose old dilapidated buildings that have been the backdrop for many a movies. Make sure you visit Last Chance Saloon, built in 1913 for a cold beer, live band and a late lunch. The walls are covered with mining memorabilia and the photographs of Wayne in its hey day! If only the walls could talk……
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9. Hoodoos Trail.
Located on Highway 10, enroute to Dorothy from Drumheller, Hoodoos Trail is the best way to explore the Hoodoos of Dinosaur Valley upclose. A hoodoo, also known as a tent rock, fairy chimney and earth pyramid is basically a thin rock that protrudes from an arid rock basin or Badlands. On top of the hoodoo is a soft rock with softer, eroded stone as the column. If the rock topper is dislodged the hoodoo can erode completely, so remember no climbing when you visit the Hoodoo Trail.
The trail is a great spot to stop and appreciate the wonder that of these rocks that took millions of years to form. In the Hoodoo Trail, they are protected but you can spot smaller hoodoos in the area when you drive to your destination. It is worth a stop to see the hoodoos, that can be up to 7metres tall.
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10. Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site
Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site was once a working mine established in early 1900s,and was part of the erstwhile booming coal industry that covered the region of Drumheller. Wander through the original historic surface plant buildings at your own pace. See the wash house, lamp house, supply house, mine office, miner’s shack and interpretive building. Walk the footsteps of the miners around the tipple trail and read the interpretive panels.
Make sure you pack some good walking shoes, as the terrain is somewhat rugged in some places. There are various tours on offer, some will take you into the dark and dangerous live of the miners, while others are on the surface. You can spend an hour with one of the archivist and see exactly what type of artefacts they used. There is even the option to take a tour with a fifth generation miner. Make sure to bring the family along as they offer special entrance fees for families! More about the Museum
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11. Dinosaur Provincial park
Located 165 kms from Drumheller (~2 hours drive), Dinosaur Provincial park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that offers a variety of activities for day visitors as well as overnight visitors. The park is home to one of the biggest fossil deposit sites in the world, and there has been more than 50 different dinosaur species found at this site. The fossils include some of the smallest microscopic fern spores, to the largest carnivorous dinosaurs. There are excellent camping grounds as well as guided tours and hikes. If you want to explore on your own, there are self-guided hiking trails on offer that show you the history of the park and the area. The park offers a visitors centre with the necessary information. Remember that the cell phone coverage in the area is limited, making it a great break from your busy daily life. More about the Park.
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12. Brooks Aquaduct
The Brooks Aquaduct is a 3.2km long glimpse of the important value it once held. It is suspended 20meter above the ground and was filled to over flowing capacity to give water to the southwest croplands of Alberta. The Aquaduct represents something like a huge centipede and is really an engineering wonder, if you consider it being built in the 1910’s and is today the largest structure of its kind in the world. There are guided tours on offer, it is really worth taking one to understand the wonder of how this Aquaduct came about. The Canadian Pacific Railway built the aquaduct as part of their extensive irrigation network, stretching the engineering and construction design of the time. More about the Aquaduct.
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13. Bassano Dam
The Bassano Dam is a reservoir for the local communities and is part of the irrigation system for the surrounding farmlands. The Dam forms part of the main Canadian Pacific Railway’s main line. Some see the building of the dam as such a huge project that it overshadows the Brooks Aquaduct. The highest point of the dam is 150 metres wide at the base. It is a magnificent sight to see vast amount of water the dam holds. You can bring a picnic basket and enjoy a leisurely time on the banks. The dam was refurbished in 1984 and today it offers irrigation water to more than 1500 farmers that are part of the irrigation system. More about the Dam.
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14. Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park
Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park preserves the site of the signing of Treaty No.7 and showcases culture, traditions and history of Siksika Nation Peoples. Take a indoor tour of the exhibit hall with a local Siksika guide, hike the land, see traditional dances, and stay in the Tipi Village.