If you’re looking for things to do in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada, look no further.
Nestled in the heart of the Canadian Badlands in central Alberta, Drumheller is the ideal day trip from Calgary. It’s rugged, desert landscape and rich history—which dates back to prehistoric times—provide a unique backdrop for an exciting adventure.
With a population of fewer than 8,000 people, the community is small, but it has some very big attractions. Also known as Dinosaur Valley, the Drumheller region is known as a hotbed for archaeological activity due to its abundant fossil finds. In fact, thousands of people flock here each year to spend a day walking where the dinosaurs once roamed.
There are a lot of sites to visit in Drumheller, so if you’re planning a day trip to the area, you may want to spend the night in town rather than make the drive from Calgary. There are a handful of chain hotels, like the Ramada, Travelodge, and Quality Inn, that offer a decent place to rest your head for the night. You can also find a selection of bed and breakfasts in town if you like a cozier experience that lets you get to know the locals. It can also be fun to spend the night camping under the stars.
There are several campgrounds right in town, including Dinosaur RV Park and River Grove Campground and Cabins. The sites are located within walking distance of some of the main attractions, but they’re small. If you don’t mind a bit of a trek, Handhills High Country Hideaway offers spacious, well-treed sites, mini golf, fishing, and more. It’s located in Delia, just a 25-minute drive from Drumheller.
From the moment you enter the area, you’ll feel like you’ve taken a time machine to the Jurassic period. With the rocky cliffs rising up around you, you can almost envision a time when towering reptilians roamed the land.
Start your day with a visit to the World’s Largest Dinosaur. Standing nearly 90 feet tall, the Tyrannosaurus Rex looms over the Red Deer River valley like something out of a 1950s horror flick. You literally can’t miss it. For a fee of $4, you can walk the 106 stairs to the top of the T-rex to take in the views of the vast expanse of the surrounding badlands.
When you’re done, head back downstairs to check out the souvenir shop and pick up some brochures at the tourist information center. When you’re done, be sure to relax a while in the adjoining park and check out the fossil shop across the street.
Downtown Drumheller is just a five-minute walk from the dinosaur, and it seems to have been frozen in time. The houses, shops, and restaurants all have a mid-century vibe that’s reminiscent of the Twilight Zone. Keeping with the town’s theme, every business has at least one concrete dinosaur on the front lot—perfectly posed for a prehistoric selfie.
If you’re into antiques, you’ll find several shops to suit your fancy. There are also a few clothing stores and gift shops, as well as at least four tattoo parlors. If you’re thinking of getting some ink, this might be the time to do it. A triceratops, perhaps?
Grab a bite to eat in town or wait until your back on the road headed toward your next pit stop, the suspension bridge, to dine at one of the greasy spoons along the way, like Asteroid or Rosedale Cafe & Market.
When you’re exiting the parking lot of the World’s Largest Dinosaur, you’ll notice a street sign indicating the direction and distance to all of the areas major attractions. Make a left, and drive along South Dinosaur Trail toward the Star Mine Suspension Bridge.
Built in 1931 for local coal miners to get to work, the nearly 400-foot-long bridge is only a 10-minute drive from the T-Rex. Walk from one side to the other and back, if you dare, and enjoy the scenery as you cross over the Red Deer River.
Next, continue in the same direction along Dinosaur Trail for about 10 minutes, until you reach the Hoodoos Trail. Hoodoos are tall, thin rock spires that rise out of the rocky badlands terrain. Made of soft rock and ranging in size from 5 to 150 feet tall, hoodoos are typically capped by a harder rock that balances at the peak and helps protect the spire from erosion. Park your vehicle, and spend some time wandering around the unique rock formations. Climb up the man-made platforms to check out the area from a different angle. You can be in and out in 10 minutes, but it’s also a great place to relax and have a picnic if you’ve got the time.
Once you’re done hiking through history at the hoodoos, head south on Dinosaur Trail for another five minutes, and you’ll find the Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site. Here, you can take a guided tour that gives you the opportunity to climb up the wooden tipple—the last of its kind in Alberta—and learn all about the history of the mine. There are a variety of tours you can take, and each one lasts about an hour.
By now, it will be late afternoon, and though you’ve already put in a full day, you’ve yet to visit the pièce de résistance, the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Head north on Dinosaur Trail for about 25 minutes, and you’ll reach the highly esteemed home of countless amazing archeological finds. Drumheller is said to be the dinosaur capital of the world, and it’s at the museum that you’ll find out why.
Housing one of the world’s largest collections of dinosaur bones, the Royal Tyrrell Museum is a premier destination for paleontology enthusiasts. Even if you’re not a fan of museums, check this one out. The creative exhibits are fun, educational, and interactive. You won’t be disappointed.
The museum is open until 9 p.m. in the summer and 5 p.m. in the off season. If you’re just breezing through, you’ll need about one to one and a half hours to walk through the entire museum. There’s also a cafeteria—and Starbucks—on site if you’re feeling a bit peckish. The food is actually really good.
It will be five or six o’clock by the time you’re done taking a trip back in time at the Royal Tyrrell. Drumheller is a pretty sleepy little town, so there’s not much to do after the sun goes down. If you’re camping, tune into one of those old-time radio shows while you roast marshmallows around the campfire. Or if you’re staying at one of the local hotels, now might be a good time to relax in the hot tub after a long day of walking. Then, if you’re up for something a little more, maybe check out a movie at the Napier Theatre in the heart of downtown. It may look like something from a bygone era, but it shows all the latest blockbuster hits.
If you happen to be in Drumheller in July, you may want to consider buying tickets to the Canadian Badlands Passion Play. Considered one of the top 100 shows in North America, it tells the story of Jesus’ life. The stage and surrounding seats are built into the surrounding Badlands, helping to immerse the audience into the story and lending it a greater sense of authenticity. Even if you’re not a Christian, it’s a unique experience you won’t find anyplace else on Earth.
Pro Tip: If you opt to take in the Passion Play, it shows at 4 p.m. or 6 p.m. Opt for the earlier showing and go there right after the coal mine tour. You’ll have time to take in the museum after the play instead.
What are your favorite things to do in Drumheller? Leave a comment to let us know how you would spend a day with the dinosaurs. To catch a glimpse of my perfect day in Drumheller, check out my Facebook Live video from the base of the World’s Largest Dinosaur, and be sure to “like” my page to experience more of my adventures live.