Stand amidst twisted pinnacles of rock. Gaze at the wind-scraped landscape of the badlands where the Red Deer River cuts deeply into the ancient river delta. It is almost impossible to picture the place now known as Dinosaur Provincial Park as a subtropical paradise filled with towering redwoods, palm trees and giant ferns. It’s even harder to imagine the giant beasts that flourished here some 75 million years ago.
Today Dinosaur Provincial Park is world famous for its dinosaur fossil finds. So much so that UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site in 1979. A mind-boggling number of species have been found here – 40 and counting – but what really puts it over the top is that the bonebeds have yielded more than 300 specimens, which grace museums around the world. The park has also been designated a Natural Preserve to protect the extensive fossil fields and the valley’s fragile environment, a complex mix of badlands and cottonwood river habitat.
Access to much of the park is restricted to the palaeontologists who converge every year for the ten-week bone digging season. It’s against the rules for the rest of us to collect or dig for bones anywhere in the park without a guide. But the Royal Tyrrell Museum’s Field Station and the folks who run the park have put together a ton of cool things to do.
Dinosaur Provincial Park is 200 km (124 mi) east of Calgary or 48 km (30 mi) northeast of the city of Brooks and is open year round.
Badlands. Big. Bones. Beds. Here’s your Dinosaur Provincial Park Checklist!
Explorer’s Bus Tour
A great way to start your dino day is to take the two hour bus tour of the park. You can get a good idea of the places you want to come back to explore, either on your own or on a guided activity. Definitely book ahead for this one.
Family Fossil Safari
This family friendly program is a hands-on discovery of the secrets of fossil finding. The bus takes you to a site in the Natural Preserve where you’ll learn techniques for identifying the remains of turtles, fish, mammals and, of course, dinosaurs.
Learn some tips and tricks for photographing the badlands on this unique evening tour, which takes advantage of the cooler temperatures and wonderful evening light. Explore some of the secret areas of the park. Get the perfect shot or just soak up the natural beauty.
Have you ever stayed in a tent that was already pitched, had a wood floor, heating, real beds, not to mention a gas bbq and pots and pans? Throw in a private deck with a view and welcome to comfort camping. Alberta Parks, at your service. The campsites at the park fill up fast so you’re wise to reserve in advance. But not to worry, there’s usually lots of room at Kinbrook Island Provincial Park just 45 minutes away, or try Tillebrook Provincial Park, 35 minutes to the southwest.
Set out on your own on a number of trails, from 15 minutes to an hour in length. Climb to ridge tops for stunning views, explore grasslands, badlands and wander beneath towering cottonwood trees along the banks of the Red Deer River.
Brooks Aqueduct National and Provincial Historic Site
Take a side trip to visit a feat of engineering unparalleled in its time. Built a hundred years ago to provide much needed irrigation water, the centipede like structure cradles a concrete sling that spans a 3.2 km (almost 2 mi) long valley. Interpretive guides offer site tours throughout the summer. Find it 8 km (5 mi) southeast of the city of Brooks, off the Trans-Canada Hwy (Hwy 1) close to Tillebrook Provincial Park.
Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology
If the Royal Tyrrell Field Station is the child, then you have to come home to papa with a visit to the renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, 100 km (62 mi) “upstream.” You can easily spend a whole day exploring this magnificent facility, which houses the most extensive collection of cretaceous fossils on the planet, including dozens of reconstructed skeletons. Now calling the museum home is a brand new species of horned dinosaur, Regaliceratops peterhewsi. Find him in the Fossils in Focus exhibit.