Canadian Badlands Trail

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Written by Madison Valois posted on Thursday, August 20th, 2009

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Dinasour remains are burried deep in the mountains of the Canadian Rockies.

Dinasour remains are buried deep in the mountains of the Canadian Rockies.

This is a great drive where you can visit some of the best dinosaur sites in the Canadian Rockies.  I did it in four days, and can give you the itinerary that I took, as given to me by several vacation travelers I’d met beforehand who wanted to get a sense of the territory. 

Start out by driving from Calgary to Drumheller, which is a short 88 miles.  Here you head north on Highway 2 to Crossfield and then go east on Highway 72, which then turns into Highway 9.  Stop at Horseshoe Canyon for the spectacular view.  Then continue on to Drumheller where you’ll see the incredible dinosaur murals that have been created on the sides of many historic buildings in town.  Hop over to Main Street where you can see the world’s largest fiberglass Tyrannosaurus Rex, with 106 stairs leading to the mouth.

Next, drive from Drumheller to Medicine Hat, another relatively short trip of 155 miles.  Take the North Dinosaur Trail just west of Drumheller to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, which is the most complete dinosaur museum in the world.  Joseph Tyrrell, its namesake, was famous for discovering an Albertosaurus skeleton in 1884 right here in the Alberta Badlands.  With over 120,000 specimens and 35 entire skeletons (not everything is on exhibit), this museum is a must, especially if you’re traveling with kids.  There are many interactive programs that the museum offers in the summer, including Dinosite and Fossil Casting (ages 4 and older), a summer day camp (ages 7 to 12) and Excavate It (ages 10 and up.)  There is also the EnCana Badlands Science Camp, which allows kids to learn about biology, paleontology and geology with a night of sleeping in a real teepee. 

Once you’ve had your fill of the museum, point yourself west on Highway 838 where you’ll follow the Red Deer River Valley.  Here you’ll see the Little Church, famous for seating thousands, but “only six at a time!”  You’ll then climb a steep road out of the valley where you’ll take the first access road to your left, doubling back to Horsethief Canyon Lookout.  Here you have to take out that camera for the most breathtaking pictures of the Badlands and the striated canyon walls, comparable to those at the famed Grand Canyon.  Take the Bleriot Ferry and go on to the South Dinosaur Trail, which takes you to Orkney Hill Lookout where you can take more photos of the spectacular surroundings.  Along this trail you’ll see a natural amphitheatre where every year a reenactment of the resurrection of Christ is staged in the Canadian Badlands Passion Play site.

From here the best thing to do is to head east on Hoodoo Drive Trail (Highway 10), which is named for the rock outcroppings that look like strange mushrooms.  Then go east to East Coulee where you will find the Big School Museum.  Two miles from here you will arrive at the Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site, which is one of the best mining museums in Canada. 

I suggest that from here you extend your vacation trip over to Horseshoe Canyon, which extends from Highway 9 to Kneehill Creek.  This area holds more than 70 million years of natural history, and you can really feel the energy in the air.  Go further west along Highway 9 to Secondary Road 840 and then south to Rosebud where you’ll enjoy some really good dinner theater

If you want to take another really worthwhile side trip, go to Dinosaur Provincial Park, heading south on Highway 56 and then east on Highway 1.  Here you’ll find many dinosaur bone beds.  Take a guided walk to hear about all the different specimens.  This makes a really great vacation trip for the kids as well as for those of you interested in dinosaur history.

Once you’re back on Highway 1, continue east to visit Medicine Hat.  This town was described in 1907 by Rudyard Kipling as a city “with all hell for a basement” because of the enormous gas fields all around.  Here you’ll see the world’s highest teepee.  Make sure you also visit the Clay Products Interpretive Centre as well as the Medalta Historic Site. 

Stay southwest and stop along the way at Red Rock Coulee, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, the Warner Dinosaur and Heritage Museum and the city of Lethbridge.  Here you can visit the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens, the Sir Alexander Galt Museum and Fort Whoop up.  Just ten minutes from downtown Lethbridge, you can visit the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre in the town of Coaldale.

Wind your way back to Calgary as I did, having made a four day trip filled with amazing points of interest.

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