When you’re in Calgary, hop in your car and within an hour and a half you can be exploring paleontological history in Midland Provincial Park – home of the Alberta Badlands and the town of Drumheller.
When my sisters recently came to visit with three of my nieces, we took a little day-trip out to Drumheller and had a fabulous time exploring Horsethief Canyon, the Tyrrell Museum, the Hoodoos, and the Suspension Bridge. I highly recommend this little excursion if you’re spending time in Calgary or driving through on your way out to the prairies.
During our spontaneous hike through Horsethief Canyon, our group got separated and a few people were left down in the hot canyon with no water and still had to make the hike back up to the parking lot. They were a little bedraggled when they reached the top but no worse for wear. This made me keenly aware of how crucial it is to be prepared when exploring new areas. Bring extra water, layers of clothing in case the weather changes quickly (or you end up lost in there!), and keep your bearings so you know how to get back to your car. I would also think twice before navigating this hike on a rainy day as the edges of the canyon are steep and the ground can get quite slippery.
That being said, this is a fabulous place to explore and we even saw people tenting in the canyon. I wouldn’t recommend this unless you’re experienced in backcountry camping. There are caves, trails, and lots of rocks with fossils in them to find and photograph.
is different than Horsethief Canyon in it’s location and popularity. If you drive from Calgary, through Beiseker, and along highway 9 toward Drumheller, Horseshoe Canyon will be on your left but it’s easy to miss from the highway so watch for signs and definitely stop here for a great photo and maybe a hike down into the canyon and back. There are often vendors here selling interesting rocks and gems. I’ve also seen helicopter tours over this whole Badlands area so check online to research that option if you’d rather see this geological phenomena from the sky than in a pair of hiking boots.
Royal Tyrrell Museum
I’ve never seen a museum quite like this one with real dinosaur structures created out of fossil bones, a walk through the history of Alberta’s geological anomalies, hands-on experiences, botanical gardens, and the comforts of a full-service cafeteria. This place holds the interest of every age level and be sure to bring your camera – where else can you get your photo taken with a life-size t-rex?! The museum is always adding new exhibits and they are more than willing to answer any questions you have about dinosaurs, fossils, and paleontology.
The Tyrrell Museum is a ten-minute drive from Horsethief Canyon so it’s definitely worth stopping in. My recommendation is to give yourself about 3 hours to explore the museum and have time to read the plaques and ask questions. If you want to participate in a Dig Experience, you’ll need to allow more time for that.
Star Mine Suspension Bridge
Or, otherwise known as the Rosedale Suspension Bridge, this is a fun walk across the Red Deer River. We didn’t actually spend a lot of time here as it was hot out and we were plum tuckered out – and probably in need of coffee, which you can get at the Tim Horton’s in Drumheller.
The hoo-what?! Yup, that’s what they’re officially called and they remind me of giant camel humps. If you’re already in the area, you don’t want to miss a photo-op with these impressive sandstone pillars. You can park in the gravel lot and the hoodoos are just a short walk away so I wouldn’t consider this a hike but more of a place to explore and let the kids run around and have fun. There are pit toilets here and sometimes vendors selling ice-cream. It will take about 20 minutes to drive directly from the Tyrrell Museum to the Hoodoos.