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When I was a kid, I loved all things Earth science – rocks and minerals (ask me about my rock collection), space (I wanted to go to space camp!), dinosaurs (SO cool) – you name it and I definitely went through a phase of loving it. While I’ve had the fortune to explore Cape Canaveral in Florida and checked out the cool rocks and minerals of Yellowstone National Park as a kid, my parents never took me to see dinosaurs in Drumheller despite it being only a province away.
Drumheller is located in the middle of the Canadian Badlands. During the drive from Calgary to Drumheller, I had expected to see a lot of flat prairies. My assumptions were not wrong, but when I got closer to Drumheller, the landscape started changing. Driving into Drumheller and into the Badlands is such a surreal experience filled with formations that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world. Don’t want to do the drive yourself? There are great day trip tour options available as well.
Named the Dinosaur Capital of the World by its tourism board, Drumheller, Alberta has fully embraced all things from the Mesozoic Era. Today Alberta has becoming a hotbed for paleontology (you can even take a free Dinosaur 101 class from the University of Alberta!). Further south, there is also Dinosaur Provincial Park which shouldn’t be confused with Drumheller.
Here is how to make the most of your dinosaur experience in Drumheller, but first, a little history lesson.
Why are there dinosaurs in Drumheller?
Millions of years ago, the area that is Alberta today was a warmer and wetter climate which allowed dinosaurs to thrive. North America was actually split in two with the Western Interior Seaway running north-south through what is now the Northwest Territories and Alberta, connecting to the Gulf of Mexico through Texas. Runoff from what would become the Rocky Mountains covered the remains of animals and plants, pushing them into the lakes and rivers of the valleys below allowing them to be well preserved.
Royal Tyrrell Museum
The highlight of any visit to Drumheller is a visit to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to paleontology. Within its walls are over 160,000 fossils with specimens from the Alberta badlands, nearby Dinosaur Provincial Park and the Devil’s Coulee Dinosaur Egg site.
With 13 galleries throughout the museum, you can see full displays of fossils and bones through the ages. My favourite room is the Dinosaur Hall which is full of full sized reconstructed dinosaurs. From Triceratops to Stegosaurus to the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex, there are so many cool bones to look at.
Another one of my favourite galleries is their “Grounds for Discovery” which detail the background story of how some of the museum’s most significant fossils came to be discovered in Alberta through industrial. Imagine going to work one day and then accidentally unearthing a giant bone and possibly discovering a new species of dinosaur!
Throughout the museum you can also find areas where you can watch museum technicians preparing fossils for research and display. It was a weekend when I was visiting so I missed out on watching them work, but seeing all the machinery and tools they used was still fascinating.
During the summer months they offer programs to the public which allow you to experience what it would be like to dig for dinosaur bones. I was visiting during the off season and missed out on this but it sounds like it would be a cool experience to learn the tools and techniques of paleontology in the field.
I had no problems walking in and getting a ticket, but in the summer months, you may want to purchase your ticket ahead of time online to avoid lines.
World’s Largest Dinosaur
This one is hard to miss given its height and proximity to the visitor center. This Tyrannosaurus Rex, made of fiberglass and steel, looms 25 metres above your head and 46 meters long. But don’t fret, it is 4.5 larger than the a real T-Rex.
For a small fee, you can climb to the top of the dinosaur and look out of its mouth for a good view of Drumheller and surrounding land.
Drive the Dinosaur Trail
The Dinosaur Trail is a scenic 48 km loop through the Alberta badlands that runs along the Red Deer River. The drive takes you around where the dinosaurs in Drumheller would have roamed all those years ago. You pass through Midland Provincial Park where you can go hiking, past Horsethief Canyon before you cross the Red Deer River using the Bleriot Ferry. Once on the south side of the river, head up to the Orkney Viewpoint which offers great views of the valley before heading back to Drumheller.
Do you love dinosaurs? Have you been to Drumheller or elsewhere that is full of fossils? Tell me about it!