Take a trip 300 million years back to when the dinosaurs roamed
By Amanda Edmond
A 90 minute drive from Calgary, Drumheller is the self-proclaimed dinosaur capital of the world. A vast landscape of hoodoos and badlands, the Drumheller Valley is filled with a diverse collection of dinosaur bones and fossils. It’s a history that has been embraced by the town: everywhere you look are scattered dinosaur images and statues. Even the majority of the streets and businesses have names involving dinosaurs.
The region’s prehistoric connection began in the 1880s, when J.B. Tyrrell found the skull of Canada’s first known meat-eating dinosaur, the Albertosaurus, while surveying for coal deposits along the Red Deer River. This discovery brought a wave of fossil hunters to the area creating a period in Drumheller’s history called the “Great Dinosaur Rush,” from 1910 to 1917. Today, with a population of over 8,000 people and even more dinosaur bones, Drumheller has become a destination for family entertainment, educational resources and badlands adventures.
1. Royal Tyrrell Museum
The Royal Tyrrell Museum is Canada’s only museum dedicated to palaeontology. Walk through exhibits spanning 300 million years from the Carboniferous period to the present day Quaternary period. Visitors can visualize the badlands being covered in a tropical sea during the Devonian Period, or the “Age of Fishes,” with thousands of life-like models found in the Drumheller Valley.
See 25 of the museum’s most significant findings in their new Alberta Unearthed exhibit that includes a rare dark-hued T. Rex skeleton nicknamed “Black Beauty”— the smallest T. Rex ever found in the world. On Friday and Saturday nights in their low season, kids ages 5 – 13 can sleep over in the museum. In addition to camp-ins, exhibits and bones, the Royal Tyrrell Museum offers a variety of public and school programs, audio guides, fossil casting science camps and an on-site cafeteria (Hwy 838 Midland Provincial Park, 403-823-7707).
2. World’s Largest Dinosaur
Towering high above Drumheller, this 86-foot-tall T. Rex is four times larger than the size a real one would have been. On your way up, stop to look at murals done by a local artist, as well as fossils and dinosaur bones that are on display. Once at the top, take in the panoramic view of the badlands of the Drumheller Valley from the dinosaur’s mouth (60 – 1 Ave W, 1-866-823-8100).
Visual wonders of nature, hoodoos are towering rock columns with bulbous heads and spindly bodies. Their strange appearance is a result of weather and erosion: during periods of heavy rain, the soft rocks were eroded at lightening speed, unimpeded by protective vegetation. They can be seen throughout the badlands, or visitors can get an up-close experience at a protected hoodoo site 16 kilometres from Drumheller on Hoodoo Trail (Hwy 10 S).
4. Fossil World Discovery Centre
Take a hands-on approach to dinosaurs with an animatronic T. Rex, fossil exhibits, dino cinema, and activity stations. The centre also features a palaeontology station where you can learn about how fossils are prepared, a dig station where kids can unearth dinosaur bones and a mineral mining station (1381 North Dinosaur Tr, 403-823-6666).
5. Reptile World
This live reptile exhibit displays over 100 reptiles and amphibians, including Fred the 600-lb alligator, blue poison dart frogs, anacondas and Nile crocodiles. On site are knowledgeable staff members to answer questions and even bring out some of the reptiles and amphibians to pet and hang around your neck (95 – 3 Ave E, 403-823-8623).
6. Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site
Before Drumheller became known as the dinosaur capital of the world, it was a mining town. Explore the history of the coal industry at one of Canada’s largest functional coal mines and learn how Drumheller and other small towns in Alberta were settled. Visitors can climb the last remaining wooden coal tipple in Canada, ride a mine locomotive, explore underground and hear stories from former coal miners. Brave visitors can join an on-site ghost walk on Saturdays (110 Century Ave, 403-822-2220).
7. Horseshoe and Horsethief Canyons
Both canyons provide spectacular views of the badlands, with coulees and sedimentary layers. Horseshoe Canyon is the busiest of the two canyons because it is accessible from Highway 9. Take a helicopter tour and hike trails in Horseshoe Canyon. There are a lot of easy walking trails with multiple plants and animals including cacti, sage, wild prairie roses, bluebirds, garter snakes and mule deer (17 km west from Drumheller on Hwy 9).
Only more experienced hikers should head to Horsethief Canyon as there is no signage so one can easily get lost. This canyon offers a close look at sedimentary layers and coal seams while surrounded by yellow canola fields and pump jacks working away at oil. It is said that horses used to disappear in this canyon during the region’s ranching years. The disappearances are blamed on American horse thieves and spirits (16 km west of Hwy 838).
Jun 18 – 20 Richard Cosgrave Badlands Dinosaur Derby (WPCA Chuckwagons)
Jul 1 Canada Day Festivities and Parade
Jul 3 Quilt Show
Jul 9 – 11, 16 – 18 Badlands Passion Play
Jul 10 Motorcycle Madness
Aug 21 – 22 27th Annual Drumheller Demolition Derby
Sep 4 – 5 Alberta Outlaw Modifieds Dirt Track Racing
Oct 24, 30 The Haunted Atlas Coal Mine Presents: Big Boo
Oct 24, 31 The Haunted Atlas Coal Mine Presents: Little Boo
Oct 31 Downtown Drumheller Halloween
Nov 26 Moonlight Madness
Dec 5 Santa Claus Parade
Wild West Badlands Tours (1-888-823-3118)
Alberta Badlands Top-Down Tour (403-823-4787)
Mountain View Helicopter Tours (403-334-4354)
You can also print off self-guided tours from www.traveldrumheller.com
WHERE TO EAT
O’Shea’s Eatery and Ale House
With both a dining room and lounge you can go out for an evening with friends or for a family meal with the kids. Choose from a wide variety of western and traditional food, including sandwiches and burgers served with home cut fries, or a chicken dinner with all the fixings (600B, 680 – 2 St SE, 403-823-2460).
Stavros Family Restaurant
Serving western style food, diners can get a sirloin steak with salad or soup and mashed potatoes, or a pasta dish. They have large portions and are a favourite among locals. Flames fans can enjoy 25-cent wings during the games (1103 Hwy 9 S, 403-823-6362).
Whifs Flapjack House
Whifs serves up waffles, hamburgers, ice cream, flapjacks and salads. This is a popular brunch spot where you are sure to get large portions, but be prepared for a lineup. The restaurant opens at 6 am and closes at 2 pm, so get up early (801 Dinosaur Tr, 403-823-7595).
If you happen to be in the area on the last Saturday of the month (with the exception of December), take a drive to the ghost town of Rowley and stop by for a homemade pizza night with live entertainment. Get there early or you wont get in!