What comes to mind when you think of a Provincial Park? Probably scenery and history that looks nothing like the Dinosaur Provincial Park in the Badlands of Alberta. The area’s unique, almost alien landscape provides the perfect backdrop to learn more about the dinosaurs that roamed the area. The park has been home to 58 dinosaur species making it one of the richest dinosaur fossil locales in the world!
Not only that, but you’ll be able to view hoodoos, a sandstone pillar resting on a base of shale, capped with a large stone. Millions of years old, they are made of soft rock and are very delicate. You may see cacti in the park, as the Badlands area of Alberta is one of the hottest and driest regions of the province. The Park is also the old home to Alberta’s most beloved black cowboy, John Ware.
While the park is open year-round, the best time to go is the summertime between May and September.
Dinosaur Provincial Park vs Drumheller
The Dinosaur Provincial Park is not to be confused with Drumheller and the surrounding area. The park is located just twenty minutes north of Brooks and southeast of Calgary. Whereas Drumheller is an hour and forty minutes drive from Calgary.
The Dinosaur Provincial Park is undoubtedly more remote than its competitor, Drumheller, with fewer accommodation options. However, while Drumheller boasts the dinosaur museum, the Provincial Park lets you get closer to where the fossils were actually found. You might even get to find your own dinosaur artifacts while you’re there.
Both destinations are located in the Alberta Badlands and provide stunning visuals of the unique landscape. Suppose you want to walk in the footsteps of the first fossil finders and see preserved excavation sites, then Dinosaur Provincial Park is a must-see.
Things to do in the Dinosaur Provincial Park
Visitor’s Centre and Museum
Get a complete overview of the park by visiting the small museum on site. It’ll take about thirty minutes to tour the space, featuring some local dinosaur skeletons and fossils you can touch. Don’t forget to grab some memorabilia at the gift shop before heading to the actual park.
Outdoor Fossil Display
One of the most interesting attractions look at during your trip to the Provincial Park are of course, the fossils. The dig sites are preserved which allows tourists to experience what archaeologists did when the remains were discovered. You can actually see dinosaur fossils in-situ, poking out from the ground!
There are two outdoor displays in the park. The first house contains an almost complete skeleton of a duck-billed dinosaur, still partially encased in 75-million-year-old sediment. The second is a recreation of an actual dig site. This Paleontological quarry is a great place to discover dinosaur bones as it was modelled from an existing quarry in the park, the Centrosaurus Bond-Bed.
Paddle the Red Deer River
Looking for another way to visit the park? The Red Deer River calmly loops through Dinosaur Provincial Park and is a relaxing way to view the area. Start at Stenville campground and float 13 kilometers downstream to Dinosaur Provincial Park. Kayak, canoe, or float the river, it’s your choice! You can also fish in the river if you have a permit. No matter how you choose to enjoy the water, you will enjoy the scenic countryside and relaxation of the water.
Drive the Scenic Loop
This road takes you all around the famous Hoodoos of Dinosaur Provincial Park. Drive, bike, or walk this scenic loop road to get views of the odd-shaped sandstone pillars that rise delicately upwards. Unfortunately, the road is only 4-kilometers long and does not allow cars to stop along the way.
Hike an Interpretive Trail
There are five self-guided, interpretive trails in Dinosaur Provincial Park. Being less than two kilometers long, the trails are ideal for families or those who do not want to over-exert themselves.
The Badlands Trail is a must-do hike on your trip to the Dinosaur Provincial Park. This 1.3 kilometer trail off the public loop road winds and loops through hoodoos and pinnacles, sandstone ridges, tiny streams, and bentonite clay. You’ll get a feel for the park’s unique landscapes on this trail and marvel at the natural wonders of the Badlands.
A 1.4 kilometer loop takes you near the Red Deer River, where you will find yourself enveloped by a sea of cottonwood trees and lush riverside. This trail is excellent for bird watching; up to 165 different species of birds frequent the area.
The Coulee Viewpoint Trail is a short loop trail with breathtaking views of the landscape of Dinosaur Provincial Park. Start at the Cretaceous Cafe, and you’ll hike to Little Sandhill Coulee for views of the stark landscape of the area and then continue the loop down to the visitor centre.
This 15-minute loop features a lookout over the prairie grassland and explores how animals and plants survive in the desert-like climate of the Badlands. The trail landscape provides a stark contrast to the varying badlands viewed below.
Trail of the Fossil Hunters
The Trail of the Fossil Hunters can be completed in 40 minutes and follows in the footsteps of fossil hunters of the early 20th century. The trail ends at a preserved 1913 quarry site.
John Ware Cabin
John Ware was born into slavery on a South Carolina plantation in around 1845. He was known to be a brilliant horseman and moved to the Dinosaur Provincial five years before Alberta became a province.
John had previously worked moving cattle from Montana to Bar U Ranch just outside of Calgary. He met, and married, his wife in Calgary and built the small cabin on the Red Deer River where he would eventually pass away in 1905. His house has been restored and can be visited during your trip to the Dinosaur Provincial Park.
Hero Image: Mia Von Steinkirch