Drumheller is a small city located in Alberta, Canada and is at the heart of the Canadian Badlands and very popular with dinosaur lovers of all ages. There are many great things to do in Drumheller such that you can easily fill a weekend of adventure. Drumheller, Alberta, is one of the top Canadian travel destinations to add to your bucket list and here is why!
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Why Is It Called the Canadian Badlands?
The Canadian Badlands may also be referred to as the Alberta Badlands, or even the Drumheller Badlands, after the small city that is most synonymous with Badlands in Canada. However, there are other Canadian Badlands areas in Ontario and Saskatchewan, so we’ll refer to this particular area as the Drumheller Badlands.
Generally speaking, badlands are an area that has a very dry climate and has softer rocks and soil that have been extensively eroded by wind and water to form valleys, canyons, hoodoos, and other unique rock formations. Another common feature of badlands are a multitude of colorful hues and stripes in the rock formations which can range from dark blacks and blues to bright yellow and reds.
Is Drumheller Worth Visiting?
Drumheller is absolutely worth visiting for a unique trip exploring some of Canada’s lesser known attractions and geographical oddities. Not only is Drumheller the “Dinosaur Capital of the World” but they also have the world’s largest dinosaur in case you didn’t believe them.
Almost all international travelers arriving in Alberta head straight for the Canadian Rockies, exploring Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. While those are both probably the top areas worth exploring in Alberta, that doesn’t mean you should overlook the Drumheller Badlands as unworthy. In fact, the Drumheller Badlands have an incredibly unique geography that is not often associated with Canada. Expect to see typical Canadian Badlands geography with eroded sandstone cliffs, hoodoos, and an abundance of dinosaur fossils and historical buildings.
An added benefit is that there are fewer tourists compared to Banff so you won’t be fighting for your own space when taking in all of the things to do in the Drumheller Badlands. On top of having fewer tourists, the cost of hotels, eating out, and everything else is more affordable.
Directions to Drumheller
To reach Drumheller and the Canadian Badlands area, there are a number of different routes and directions to Drumheller that you can choose; however given the location of Drumheller and it’s relative popularity, independent travel is likely the best option for your trip.
Calgary to Drumheller
Calgary has the closest international airport to Drumheller, and is likely the most popular starting point for people visiting Drumheller and the Drumheller Badlands. The drive is only 84 miles (135 km) which takes about an hour and a half.
Our recommendation is to drive yourself to the Drumheller Badlands because this allows you complete freedom to visit all of the Drumheller attractions in the area, which are fairly spread out in the Red Deer River Valley area. If you do not have your own car to complete the trip, check out RentalCars.com for some of the cheapest rates on rental cars from Calgary International Airport. You can book with your favorite rental car company, or try out a new one for your visit to the Drumheller Badlands.
There is currently no bus service from Calgary to Drumheller, and taking a taxi or Uber would be cost prohibitive. There are also tours available if you really didn’t want to drive yourself, however be prepared to pay for them – renting a car is definitely the best option cost-wise and for freedom to see and do what you please. Don’t worry about not knowing what to see, as we’ve got that covered for you below!
Edmonton to Drumheller
Edmonton is the next closest large city to Drumheller, and is about 174 miles (280 km) away. The drive from Edmonton to Drumheller will take about three hours, and there are multiple routes to select whether you prefer to drive the main highway, or sightsee through some farmland.
Again, we highly recommend that you drive yourself from Edmonton to Drumheller to get the most out of your trip. If you do not have your own car to complete the trip, check out RentalCars.com for some of the cheapest rates on rental cars from Edmonton. You can book with your favorite rental car company, or try out a new one for your visit to the Drumheller Badlands.
There is currently no bus service from Edmonton to Drumheller, and taking a taxi or Uber would be cost prohibitive.
Best Things to Do in the Drumheller Badlands – Alberta, Canada
We have created a list of the best things to do in the Drumheller Badlands to help you plan and make the most out of your trip. Drumheller is a great weekend destination from Edmonton or Calgary, but can also be extended to a longer trip, encompassing more area and unique sights along the way.
Map of the Best Things to Do in the Drumheller Badlands
We put together a map for you with the best things to do in the Drumheller Badlands to help you plan your trip and see which places you can easily see in the same day!
Before you get your hopes too high in visiting Horseshoe Canyon, it does not have quite the dramatic appeal of the famous Horsehoe Bend in Arizona, however it is still an interesting stop. Horseshoe Canyon is located along Highway 9, about 15 minutes outside of Drumheller. It will be on your way into the city if you are driving from Calgary to Drumheller, however it will be a slight detour if you are driving from Edmonton to Drumheller. It is a great “first taste” of the Drumheller Badlands with it’s eroded formations of colorful sandstone.
There is a trail leading down into the canyon so that you can further explore this area of the Drumheller Badlands. It is one of the more popular areas to go hiking near Drumheller. There are also a number of viewpoints that you can walk to with platforms high above the canyon.
Hours: Open 24 hours a day.
Facilities: There is an outhouse at the Horseshoe Canyon parking lot.
Cost: Visiting Horseshoe Canyon is free!
Location: Horsehoe Canyon
Drumheller, Alberta – The Dinosaur Capital of the World
After visiting Horseshoe Canyon, it is just a short 15 minute drive into Drumheller. You’ll know you’re there as the road rather abruptly begins descending into the Red Deer River Valley from the prairie plains above.
Drumheller is a small city, which relies heavily on its tourism industry. There is a small downtown area with some shops and restaurants for exploring, as well as larger chain restaurants and major stores so that if you do forget anything on your trip to Drumheller, you should be able to pick it up here without an issue.
Drumheller has fully embraced the dinosaur theme, from street names to store names, to dinosaur statues everywhere you turn. The main draw in the city of Drumheller is the world’s largest dinosaur, a T-Rex standing 86 feet (25 m) tall. You get the feeling that it’s a bit of a tourist attraction trap, but it’s pretty unique and one of those things in the Drumheller Badlands that you probably should see. You can even climb the 106 stairs up to the mouth of the dinosaur for a view out over the city of Drumheller.
Drumheller will likely be your base for your few days traveling the Drumheller Badlands, as it has almost all of the hotels, restaurants, and stores in the immediate area.
The World’s Largest Dinosaur:
Hours: Open daily from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM.
Facilities: There is a giftshop with washrooms and large parking lot.
Cost: $4.00 CAD ($3.15 USD) per person, or $10.50 CAD ($8.30 USD) for a family
Location: World’s Largest Dinosaur
Drive the Dinosaur Trail
The Dinosaur Trail is a loop route that leads from Drumheller north out of the city on one side of the Red Deer River, and returns on the other. You can do the loop in either direction, but we’ve described it here as leaving Drumheller on Highway 838 (known as the North Dinosaur Trail) and returning to Drumheller on Highway 575 (known as the South Dinosaur Trail).
The Royal Tyrrell Museum
The first attraction you will come across, is one of the main draws to Drumheller and is definitely worth a visit. The Royal Tyrrell Museum is one of the preeminent museums in the world focusing on paleontology. They have an impressive 800 fossils on permanent display, but even more impressive is that the displayed fossils only represent 0.5% of the museum’s total fossil collection! If you are a dinosaur lover you could easily spend a good part of a day just at the museum.
There is a ton of information to take in, as well as educational programs that are run by the museum. This is not just one of the best things to do in the Drumheller Badlands, but a worthy world-class paleontology museum for all ages.
Hours: Opening hours change seasonally, check their website for the latest information.
Facilities: The museum has multiple washrooms, a gift shop, and cafeteria. There are also picnic facilities outdoors if you choose to pack your own lunch.
Cost: $21.00 CAD ($16.50 USD) per adult, with senior, youth, children, and family discount available.
Location: The Royal Tyrrell Museum
The Little Church
Just a little bit further north from the museum is The Little Church, which really is little. It seats just six people at a time and has been here for over 50 years. The church is free to visit, and a good quick photo stop if you’re interested.
Continuing your drive along the Dinosaur Trail, you will come across the beautiful Horsethief Canyon. There are a couple of urban legends as to where this canyon got its name, but nobody really knows for sure! It may have been a location where horses smuggled between the United States and Canada were hidden, or where horses were secretly rebranded with a new symbol, thereby having a new owner.
In addition to the beautiful views, Horsethief Canyon is a great place to go hiking near Drumheller as it has a few short hiking trails, some of which can take you down to the Red Deer River.
Hours: Open 24 hours a day.
Facilities: No facilities.
Cost: Visiting Horsethief Canyon is free!
Location: Horsethief Canyon
After you’ve finished snapping some beautiful photos of Horsethief Canyon, you will drive a little bit further north before getting on the small Bleriot Ferry to take you across the Red Deer River. The ferry only holds 13 cars, and has been in operation for over 100 years! While the Bleriot Ferry is free, it does have limited hours, and does not operate year-round. For the latest hours of operation check out the Alberta Transportation website.
You’re now on the western (or southern) side of the Red Deer River, and will drive back towards Drumheller. The main attraction on this side of the river is the Orkney Viewpoint. It’s a great view, as it combines the Drumheller Badlands type of geography with the winding Red Deer River. It’s free to visit with lots of parking and an outhouse.
Keep driving for another 15 minutes and you’ll be right back in Drumheller, ready to explore even more of the best things to do in the Drumheller Badlands.
Drive the Hoodoo Trail
The Hoodoo Trail is the other main driving route in the Drumheller Badlands. It starts in the city of Drumheller and heads south on Highway 56. It’s not long before you reach the small town of Rosedale.
The Last Chance Saloon
Here you can turn right on Highway 10X for a small detour, that is definitely worth it! The detour is to the historic ghost town of Wayne. There’s not much going on here except the Last Chance Saloon and the Rosedeer Hotel.
The Last Chance Saloon has been serving food and drinks around these parts for over 100 years, and looks like it was plucked right out of an old western movie. It’s interior décor features memorabilia from the early 1900’s and a great spot to visit for any western movie or history lovers. It can be very popular in the summer months.
Star Mine Suspension Bridge
Once you’ve retraced your steps back to Rosedale, you’ll find the Star Mine Suspension Bridge. It’s not overly tall, but does span the Red Deer River, and can be a good place to stretch your legs, get some fresh air, and marvel as the water flows by.
Further south along the Hoodoo Trail is the most popular stop, the Hoodoos! If you haven’t seen one before, you might be wondering what a hoodoo is. Hoodoos are formed by wind and water erosion and are pillars of sandstone that have been protected from the elements with a stone top. The hard stone top stops the sandstone underneath form being worn away at the same rate as the sandstone nearby, and over time a hoodoo will form.
There is a short loop trail which gets you close to the largest hoodoos near the parking lot, but the main draw here is the ability to hike out on some of the surrounding trails to get some great views of the Drumheller Badlands. This is one of the best things to do in the Drumheller Badlands, and was our favorite from our trip!
As you walk amongst the hoodoos and through the Canadian Badlands geography, make sure to stick to the established trails and not climb on top of any unstable hoodoos or rocks. This dry environment is very fragile.
Hours: Open 24 hours a day.
Facilities: There is an outhouse, and food truck in the summer months.
Cost: Visiting the Hoodoos is free!
Location: The Hoodoos
East Coulee and The Atlas Coal Mine
Driving a little bit further south along the Hoodoo Trail, you will come across the small hamlet of East Coulee. There is a small School Museum here which documents some of the history of the area and the nearby mines. When the mines were functioning, this school was where all of the children studied, however once the mines closed, so did the school.
Speaking of those nearby mines, just around the corner is the Atlas Coal Mine. The mine was active for just shy of 50 years, and was shuttered in 1984. The Atlas Coal Mine has a number of historic mining tools and machinery on display and also offers tours of not only the old mining buildings, but a mining tunnel as well!
Hours: Open Thursday to Monday from 11:00AM to 4:00 PM.
Facilities: There is a washroom and gift shop.
Cost: Visiting the Atlas Coal Mine on a self-guided tour is $10.00 CAD ($7.90 USD).
Location: The Atlas Coal Mine
Last, but certainly not least on The Hoodoo Trail is the small hamlet of Dorothy. The main draw for visitors to Dorothy is to see the Dorothy grain elevator and two historic churches. The Canadian prairies used to be dotted with grain elevators all over the place, with over 5,700 at their peak in 1933. Changes in grain yields and grain farming as well as railways abandoning certain lines has meant that many of these grain elevators sit in disrepair.
The Dorothy grain elevator formerly belonged to Alberta Pacific Grain and was functional from the 1920’s to 1950’s. This may be one of the more famous of Canada’s grain elevators because this one made a brief appearance in Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway” music video. In fact, we highly recommend you take a few minutes to watch this famous Canadian’s music video as it appears to be fully filmed in the Alberta Badlands around Drumheller, with Dorothy, the Drumheller Badlands and the Hoodoos making star appearances.
Once you’ve taken in the historic beauty of this area, head back north towards Drumheller, which will take just under half an hour. After this, you’ve now seen all of the best things to do in the Drumheller Badlands area! Although, we have one more bonus destination in the greater Canadian Badlands that is worth checking out if you have an extra day or two.
Bonus: Dinosaur Provincial Park
This bonus destination when visiting the Drumheller Badlands is a bit further away, but definitely worth a visit. If you haven’t gotten enough of the beautiful Canadian Badlands, then head 1 hour and 45 minutes southeast towards Dinosaur Provincial Park.
Dinosaur Provincial Park is one of the richest fossil areas in the world, with 58 dinosaur species having been discovered here amongst the more than 500 specimens that have been found. That’s because 75 million years ago, this area was a lush subtropical forest, which had the perfect conditions to preserve dinosaur bones as fossils.
The entrance to the park is high above the river valley, and offers great views of the badlands and main section of the park.
Once in the park, there are a number of hiking trails to explore the unique geography of the badlands. Even more amazing is they have partially excavated dinosaur fossils that you can view. The fossils are still in the exact location where they were found, and have been partially exposed and covered by a building to preserve the fossil as well as educate everyone that stops by.
If you enjoy camping, Dinosaur Provincial Park has a great campground, which allows you to spend more time exploring the park and enjoying the night sky here. As there are no large cities nearby, it is a great area for stargazing.
Hours: Open year-round. The visitor center has limited hours and the Cretaceous Café is only open seasonally.
Facilities: During peak season there is a visitor center, cafeteria with free wi-fi, and washrooms. The campground is open year-round.
Cost: There is no cost to visit Dinosaur Provincial Park.
Location: Dinosaur Provincial Park
Where to Stay in Drumheller?
Drumheller is a fairly small city and so has limited hotels and lodging available. During the peak summer months, it definitely pays to book your favorite Drumheller hotel well in advance, as the whole city may sell out.
The three best hotels in Drumheller are the Canalta Jurassic Hotel, which receives our top recommendation due to their dinosaur theme, the SureStay Plus by Best Western, great for families with it’s indoor pool and waterslide, and the Ramada by Wyndham, also with a great waterslide and free breakfast.
How Many Days Do You Need in Drumheller?
While Drumheller itself is a small city and can easily be explored in less than a day, to fully experience the full Drumheller Badlands area, you will need at least a weekend. You could probably do most of it in one very long day, however that kind of takes the fun out of it, so we would recommend spending two days to explore all of the best things to do in the Drumheller Badlands at your leisure and to take it all in.
If you are planning to add on the beautiful Dinosaur Provincial Park, you would need at least 1-2 extra days for that given that the drive from Drumheller to Dinosaur Provincial Park is about one and a half to two hours and the park itself is worth at least a half day of exploring.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Drumheller?
The best time to visit the Drumheller Badlands is between mid-June and October. Be aware that summers in the Drumheller Badlands of Alberta can get really hot and dry, with temperatures often above 85 F (30 C) with little shade. Be sure to pack enough water for your road trip as well as proper sunglasses, sunscreen, etc. to protect yourself from the sun.
In the fall, it’s not uncommon for evening temperatures to dip close to 32 F (0 C) so you need to be prepared! We visited well outside the typical tourist season at the beginning of November, and had great weather which made it very enjoyable. Because we traveled during the offseason, we enjoyed all of the best things to do in the Drumheller Badlands almost to ourselves, however we missed out on some locations as they either closed earlier in the day or were closed for the offseason.
How Much Does It Cost to Go to Drumheller?
Spending a weekend or long weekend in Drumheller can be a very affordable vacation. Your lodging costs will likely be the biggest cost of your trip. If you missed them above, we put together a list of our favorite hotels in Drumheller as well as our favorite airbnbs. Staying at an airbnb can be great as it allows you to cook some of your own meals to save on eating out. If you do choose to eat at restaurants, they are mostly all very reasonably priced as are groceries.
Many of the top things to do in the Drumheller Badlands are totally free, or worth the small price of admission. If you didn’t want to spend any money on admission, you could still explore Horseshoe Canyon, Horsethief Canyon and the Dinosaur Trail, as well as The Hoodoo Trail with the amazing Hoodoos, Last Chance Saloon, and hamlet of Dorothy.
Best Things to Do in the Drumheller Badlands
Have you been to the Drumheller Badlands and experienced something that we didn’t mention above? Let us know in the comments below!
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