Driving across endless golden prairies, the fertile land suddenly drops away into a strange and stark moonscape of weird striped hills and otherworldly rock formations. The badlands. Even the name is mysterious and maybe that’s why you’re compelled to explore. Knowing the very ground you walk on is rife with the ancient bones of the dinosaurs who once ruled this land somehow keeps you looking over your shoulder.
The badlands cut a swath through southeastern Alberta. The region has been a fossil hotbed since the 19th century and shows no sign of running out of old bones. Some of the most important dinosaur discoveries in the world were unearthed right here.
For a sweeping view of the badlands and the Red Deer River valley, climb up inside the world’s biggest dinosaur and gaze out from its fearsome jaws in Drumheller, the “Dinosaur Capital of the World.” On a smaller scale, the town’s Little Church only seats six. Check out the coulees, kilns and concerts in Medicine Hat. Do dinner and theatre in the tiny town of Rosebud, home of Alberta’s only professional rural theatre company.
Dinosaurs. Blackfoot. Hoodoos. Theatre. Here’s your insider Canadian Badlands checklist!
Hit the road
Experience the best of the badlands on a Canadian Badlands road trip. Follow the Dinosaur Trail (Hwy 838) to Horsethief Canyon and Midland Provincial Park. Cross the Red Deer River on the Bleriot Ferry. The Hoodoo Trail (Hwy 10) takes you to the Hoodoos site and the Rosedale Suspension Bridge. Drive scenic Hwy 10X over 11 bridges to the hamlet of Wayne and the historic Last Chance Saloon.
If you’ve never thought of a skeleton as breathtaking, the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller will change your mind forever. Superbly displayed dinosaur skeletons and other mysterious creatures of the past make Tyrrell one of the best dinosaur museums in the world. Most specimens were found right here in the badlands.
The hills have dinosaurs
You can almost feel the ground rumbling with the footsteps of the mighty beasts that roamed Dinosaur Provincial Park millions of years ago. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park contains one of the richest bonebeds in the world. Hop on the explorer’s bus tour - but book ahead; this is one popular ride. 200 km (124 mi) east of Calgary.
Tales and trails
Experience authentic Blackfoot culture at Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park. Stroll among the remnants of a Blackfoot village from the 1700s. Learn the stories of the exhibits from a local Blackfoot interpreter. Sleep in a tipi, indulge in traditional cuisine and catch the annual World Chicken Dance Championship! 107 km (66 mi) east of Calgary.
The perfect amphitheatre
On the outskirts of Drumheller is a piece of the badlands that doubles for the land where Jesus lived and taught. In this magnificent natural setting, the Canadian Badlands Passion Play has captivated audiences near and far. Only six performances a year so plan ahead!
The back nine of the Dinosaur Trail Golf & Country Club in Drumheller is said to be the most challenging on the continent - be ready to play precision golf! Other badlands courses include the Akokiniskway Golf Course in Rosebud; Hanna Golf and Country Club, the Speargrass Golf Course in Carseland, and Desert Blume Golf Course in Medicine Hat.
Meat and bones
Named for its high plateau, Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park was the site of choice for the local Cree to drive herds of bison over the cliffs. The park is also home of the biggest Albertosaurus bonebed in the world. Yep, we’ve got our very own dinosaur. 103 km (64 mi) southeast of Red Deer.
Grab a miner’s lamp and go underground at the Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site. Jump in a coal car and explore the site above ground. Climb Canada’s last remaining wooden tipple. Check out the East Coulee School Museum nearby for a look at life as a coal miner’s kid. 15 minutes southeast of Drumheller.
Camp by the river in the sacred Blackfoot land of Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. Explore the valley’s bizarre rock formations and ancient paintings and carvings on the sandstone walls. 169 km (105 mi) southwest of Medicine Hat.
600 m (1,970 ft) above the Great Plains lies the high plateau of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, a unique park shared with neighboring Saskatchewan. Hit over 50 km (31 mi) of hiking trails through woods, grasslands and wetlands - a contrast to the badlands nearby. Go into Elkwater townsite to provision for a few days camping at Elkwater Lake. Get cozy in the Dark Sky Preserve and contemplate far away galaxies. 32 km (20 mi) southeast of Medicine Hat.
The milky way
Paddle or float along the gentle, warm and shallow Milk River while admiring the canyons, cliffs and gullies of the Badlands. Sleep under the stars at any of the scenic, serviced campsites in and around Milk River. Before it’s too late, take a picture of Alberta’s very last row of wooden grain elevators in nearby Warner. 45 minutes southeast of Lethbridge.