Drumheller – Centre of The Alberta Badlands

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 drumheller valley
Drumheller Valley
Photo: Bob Cromwell

Article By: Bob Kenyon

Where can you find:

  • One of the world’s best museums of paleontology
  • A World Heritage Site for paleontology
  • Arid badlands, canyons and hoodoos you can explore
  • A deserted coal mine you can tour
  • One of the Top 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association
  • A giant T-tex you can climb inside and view the area
  • A road you can drive that has 11 one-lane bridges and ends at haunted hotel and old west saloon
  • A footbridge and a river ferry

…Only in the Drumheller area!

The first thing to remember when you tour the Alberta badlands is that this will not be a one day stop on your itinerary!

From a small prairie coal mining town, in the valley of the Red Deer River, Drumheller has become a major centre for tourism, especially related to exploring for dinosaur remains and existence of prehistoric life. This whole area is a marvelous place to trek around looking for the next big discovery! The area in summer is hot and arid, please carry water and have suitable footwear. It also very important to know the rules of collecting fossils, in Alberta!

All around the Town of Drumheller, visitors will find fiberglass figures of dinosaurs. At the Drumheller Visitor Information Centre (60 1st Avenue West), in addition getting brochures, using their WiFi, washrooms, etc…You can climb up inside the World’s Biggest Tyrannosaurus Rex, made of fiberglass and steel, for a dinosaur eye’s view of Drumheller!

giant trex and mouth

Giant T-Rex and View From Inside the Mouth
Photo: Travel Alberta

Located northeast of Calgary on Hwy 9. Depending where you come from, this unique area of prairie geology and history, can’t be seen from the road until you drive down into the valley. This is very true if you come from the north (Hwy 837 & 838) or from the west (Hwy 575), from the QEII Hwy. It’s quite an experience, when you drive down through history and see the layers of eroded sediments. You may think you’re in another country. A note to cyclists, the hills into the valley are very steep and can have rocks and other material, that have slid of the eroded sediments.

T Rex at Tyrrelll Museum

Tyrannosaurus Rex – Royal Tyrrell Museum
Photo: Travel Alberta

The main attraction of Drumheller is the world famous Royal Tyrrell Museum. With its interactive learning stations and fine collection fossils and both models and real fossilized skeletons the displays are amazing…especially the Tyrannosaurus Tex (above) in the Hall of Dinosaurs. Depending on how intense your interest in paleontology is, a tour of the museum can take at least a day.

Taking the Dinosaur Trail, that begins begins at the 2 Street SW / South Railway Avenue intersection (Highway 9 / 56) in Drumheller and travels west along South Railway Avenue (Highway 575). On the western outskirts of the Drumheller, at Rosedale  you’ll find The Canadian Badlands Passion Play, which is produced in a 2500 seat outdoor amphitheater, carved out of a badlands coulée. The event runs annually, during the summer months, and attracts many tourists because it has been designated Alberta’s Top Cultural Attractions by Attractions Canada. Many bus tours, of southern Alberta also include this event on their itinerary.

star mine footbridge

Star Mine Suspension Bridge
Photo: Travel Alberta

Also in the Rosedale area you can visit the Star Mine Suspension Bridge. It’s a 117 meters long pedestrian suspension bridge across the Red Deer River. It was constructed in 1931, it was built for the coal workers of Star Mine.

The Dinosaur Trail continues northwest along the Red Deer River to the intersection of Highway 837/838 intersection, where it turns east onto Highway 838. It crosses the Red Deer River on the free, cable-operated Bleriot Ferry, which has been running since 1913 and operates from late April to November

last chance saloon and rosedeer hotel

Last Chance Saloon & Rosedeer Hotel
Photo: Y&Y Photography and Studio

On a four mile stretch of road, between Rosedale and Wayne, you will travel over (reportedly), the shortest road (6 km/4 mi), with the most (11) one-lane bridges, to reach what’s left of the ghost town of Wayne. On the road, try keeping time between bridges…They’re almost the same distances apart!

When you reach the almost deserted town of Wayne, you’ll find the, supposedly haunted Rosedeer Hotel and the Last Chance Saloon. Both are left over from late 19th and early 20th century.

Ya’Gotta Bob has stayed in the hotel and didn’t see any ghosts. If  you plan to stay there, you should reserve a room. You can have a room with, or without…a sink. The bathtub and toilet is down the hall.

Pop into the Last Chance Saloon and see their unique antique juke Box. It has a mechanical band, on the top, that plays the tunes!

Atlas Coal Mine

Atlas Coal Mine
Photo: Y&Y Photography and Studio

Going east of Drumheller, in the East Coulee, you can view a bit of prairie coal mining history a the Atlas Coal Mine, complete with an an 8-story high wooden tipple mine (the only one left in Canada) and a simulated trip though an underground shaft. The same area also see the East Coulee School Museum, where roots music fans can take in the annual East Coulee Spring Festival.

Also in respect to arts and because of it’s terrain, abandoned mines, ghost towns and building architecture; the Drumheller Valley has been used in several well known movies. One award winning movie, was Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven”. There have also been TV shows shot in the Valley. Here’s a list of the valley’s movies and TV shows.

Also going east, take a trip east, on the Hoodoo Trail driving tour to see the Hoodoos, which are sandstone mushroom shaped objects, that are well worth the visit! West of Drumheller is one of the amazing views and also an opportunity to experience the mixture of ruggedness and beauty in the badlands. Horseshoe Canyon, is a preservation project of the Nature Conservancy Canada and well worth the trip.

Southwest of Horseshoe Canyon, you should visit charming Rosebud, with it’s famous live theatre, music festivals and museums.

 

Badlands - Dinosaur Provincial ParkBadlands, Dinosaur Provincial Park
Photo: Travel Alberta

To the southeast of Drumheller, in the valley of the Red Deer River and north of the Trans Canada #1 Highway travelers will find Dinosaur Provincial Park. Much of the park is a World Heritage Site, where many of the exhibits at the Royal Tyrrell Museum have been unearthed. This is a very popular spot with tourists, primarily camping and reservations are encouraged.

The Drumheller area is great for camping and there are ample hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfast accommodations, but in peak season (June – August) reservations are suggested. The roads are great for cycling, but carry water. The Red Deer River offers excellent canoeing opportunities.

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