Taking a trip to the Drumheller Valley is a great way to do something different. If you’ve seen the Canadian Rockies, it’s time to take in the Canadian Badlands!
My favourite part of the Drumheller Valley, is how the prairie parts seamlessly into an otherworldly landscape.
The steep drive into the town of Drumheller is a twisty road that hints of what is to come.
Spend a day, a weekend, or longer, enjoying nature in a very unique (even prehistoric) way.
Town of Drumheller
A lot of us head to the Canadian badlands for the natural landscapes, hiking, camping, and of course the Royal Tyrrell Museum (the big dinosaur museum.)
The town of Drumheller itself, is actually a pleasant surprise.
While most of Alberta is historic in a mid to late 1900’s kind of way, Drumheller has a charming “wild west” looking downtown.
I wasn’t able to find the actual age of the buildings, but according to the town’s website, the first store went up in 1909.
Drumheller actually became a town in 1916, so the oldest downtown buildings should be a little over 100 years old.
I have to admit that I have been to Drumheller a few times without actually visiting the downtown. It’s pretty easy to skirt around the outside to see the big tourist attractions, but the downtown is not to be missed!
The cute shops and cozy restaurants beat the aesthetic of downtown Jasper or Banff anyday!
It’s worth spending some time just seeing where the day takes you.
If you are travelling with kids, they will love the 20+ dinosaur figures scattered around the area.
World’s Largest Dinosaur
“Tyra” stands proudly in front of the Drumheller Visitor Centre and is the “World’s Largest Dinosaur“
Something I did not know: You can pay at the visitor centre to climb all 86 feet of her (106 stairs) and look out her mouth!
Here are the rates for the climb:
That’s a great deal for a big family!
TWELVE people can fit in Tyra’s mouth.
The Rotary Spray Park
Another downtown gem, the Rotary Spray Park lies in the shadow of Drumheller’s famous dinosaur statue. It’s completely free to bring your kids for a splash!
The spray park operates from Victoria Day to Labour Day (approx third week of May to first week of September.)
There is really no shade to be had, so if you plan to stay for the afternoon, bring a beach umbrella or pop up tent.
Being that Drumheller is mostly a summer tourist destination, there are also ice cream shops on every street.
Where to Eat
For it’s size, Drumheller has a surprising number of restaurants serving all types of cuisine. We had some of the best Pho ever at Vietnamese Noodle House.
On our last visit we spotted this charming outdoor eating area.
The downtown is super walkable, so you could mix and match takeout options for your family.
For the utra-picky crew, there are the standard fast food options outside of downtown.
Basically, unlike a lot of other small towns, you won’t be lacking for restaurant options. Outside of summer tourist season some places will be closed, but there will still be several places to eat.
Getting to Drumheller and Around
For a proper visit to Drumheller you will definitely need a car. Like a lot of Canada, it sprawls, and isn’t set up properly with public transit.
The must-see sights and activities are scattered around within a 30 minute drive of the town.
If you are coming to Drumheller by air, your easiest airport is Calgary. From Calgary it is about an hour and 20 minutes drive on an easy-going prairie highway.
To drive from Edmonton is about three hours.
Where to Stay
There is enough to do in and around Drumheller that one day is not quite enough, so you could stay at one of several hotels or air bnb’s in the area.
In summer, Drumheller hotels can be quite expensive, so it hasn’t been in the budget for us.
We opted to stay in Calgary and take advantage of some great rates out by the airport. For us, an hour and 20 minutes in the morning is not a bad drive, and we can go home to Edmonton after the visit.
Of course we have the luxury of returning any weekend, so for efficiency’s sake you may want to splurge and stay close.
If you are on a budget, you could look for a hotel in Three Hills (40 minutes Northwest) Hanna (50 minutes Northeast,) Strathmore (1 hour Southwest,) or go further afield to Airdrie, Balzac, or the Calgary Airport (like we did.)
The good news is that you can find a budget place to stay, the bad news is that it will likely involve a lot of driving.
If you are into camping, the Drumheller Area has a lot of camping options.
Just be warned that Alberta is windy, so try to find a campground with some cover. Take a good look at online reviews and photos to see if there are at least a few trees and a bit of privacy.
Royal Tyrrell Museum
The big ticket attraction for the Drumheller Valley must be the dinosaur museum. Unlike a lot of other museums that are a quick in and out, you really can take your time in the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
We loved that the dinosaur bones on display are real!
I don’t know if you’ve ever gone to a museum with “fossils” only to find that they are all replicas, but I have, and it’s pretty lame. Somehow it does not seem like the same thing.
Admission & Hours
Here are the latest admission prices for the Drumheller museum. If you do live within driving distance and would visit more than twice in a year, then the family membership would be worth the price.
It’s not the cheapest activity, but for a world class museum it is really not bad. The family rate is amazing!
Even with just one child you will already save $0.50.
Hours change seasonally, so be sure to check the museum’s website for the latest.
You definitely want to purchase your tickets online ahead of time to skip the huge line. If you forget and the wait is long, you can even do it on your phone when you arrive!
The museum parking lot is HUGE, and spread over a few levels, so it is a bit chaotic. It took some time on a busy summer day to find a parking spot.
There is a shuttle down to the overflow areas, so if you need help getting around, it is available.
The museum is fully accessible and has accessible restrooms. We took our stroller through the whole thing without issue.
Food and Drinks
The Royal Tyrrell Museum has a great cafeteria area with lots of indoor and patio seating.
If you are bringing kids they will want to sit outside and watch the cheeky prairie dogs that frequent the patio.
Like most museums the food and beverage prices are higher, but we didn’t find it too bad.
You are also welcome to bring your own lunch and eat it in the cafeteria seating area, or outside in the picnic area.
You can store your lunch or extra belongings in a locker for $1. (Which you will definitely want to do if you have to park far away!)
Outside there is a playground with a fun sandbox and some things for kids to dig up.
Exploring the Museum
The museum suggests taking two hours for your visit, and I would say that’s about right.
We are not especially big museum people and tend to browse and not read every sign, and we took about that long.
When we visited we were able to take a break halfway through to go have a snack at the cafeteria, which was perfect for us.
I would inquire at the entrance if that’s okay, just in case they no longer allow re-entry.
There are lots of (clean!) washrooms along the way, so no need to plan your breaks that way.
Without giving too much away, I will say that there is plenty to see for everyone, not just hardcore dinosaur buffs.
I really enjoyed the aquarium area and our daughter loved an art installation of coloured lights.
The museum is big enough that even on a crowded day the traffic inside was manageable.
Overall the Royal Tyrrell Museum is well worth the drive and the price of admission. We had a great time and it was a nice way to spend the afternoon.
With meal breaks and playing outside afterwards, we were easily there for 4 hours.
The Little Church
Conveniently located near the Royal Tyrrell Museum is Drumheller’s Little Church. It is a to-scale construction of an old fashioned church building, complete with bell tower.
It even has a couple of stained glass windows! The inside seats 6 on tiny little pews.
As far as we could tell the church is always open. Our daughter loved it and quickly staged both a wedding and a long sermon.
The Little Church is said to proudly seat 1,000 people – six at a time.
Not too far from the Little Church is Horsethief Canyon. Not to be confused with another prime specimen of the Drumheller badlands – Horseshoe Canyon.
The best part of both canyons is that they come out of nowhere. You can look straight across the top from your side to the other and it is completely level.
From even a short distance, you would never even know that the canyon was there. The prairies seemingly roll on without notice.
Horsethief Canyon is expansive and beautiful. You could easily spend a whole day hiking up and down the many striped hills. It’s the closest thing we have in Alberta to an Icelandic scene.
I’m really surprised it’s not more famous to be honest. It’s a little something different, if you want to escape both the prairies and the crowds of the Rockies.
Wayne Ghost Town
The town of Wayne Alberta was once a thriving coal town of 2500. Today only about 29 remain.
I love a good ghost town and I have seen Wayne on a few lists, so I was excited to check it out.
Wayne is a quick detour off the highway on the way to the famous Drumheller Hoodoos. It’s less than a 10 minute drive, during which you will cross 11 bridges! (Most of them single lane.)
Here’s the lowdown:
That’s ALL Wayne is. A nice little drive over some bridges in the badlands.
Wayne is a ghost town in a very literal sense. Everything has vanished.
The seven room Rosedeer Hotel and adjoining Last Chance Saloon (a family friendly restaurant) are really the only historic buildings left. Certainly the only ones that you can enter.
A couple of small homes look like they might be original, but it’s impossible to tell, and they are tucked in amongst regular residential.
This is not a ghost town that you can walk around and peep in windows. It is a restaurant with some antiques, and a campground.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but it isn’t what you think of when you hear “ghost town.”
Wayne is still worth the visit just for the drive. Now that you know there’s not any exploring to do, plan to visit for a meal, so that you have something to do out there.
The Hoodoos are one of the most famous things to see in the Canadian badlands (if not THE most famous.)
The drive is a pleasant 15 minutes from Drumheller and the Hoodoos are right beside the highway.
Parking is free in the lot across the road and there are port-o-potties out there if you need to use one. I did, and thankfully they were extremely clean and not stinky. (That was low season however.)
During the summer months there is what appears to be an ice cream stand in the parking lot as well. It was closed when we visited so I’m not sure what is usually on offer.
Don’t let the term “hike” scare you. It is actually an easy set of stairs up and around the hoodoos and back down. In all that part would take you less than 10 minutes.
This is an easy stop for even the smallest kids!
If you want to stay longer the hills behind the stairs are free for exploring and make for great pictures.
The more famous fraternal twin of Horsethief Canyon, is about a 15 minute drive southwest of Drumheller.
If you are coming from the Calgary area or Strathmore, it’s a great place to stop for a hike on your way to Drumheller.
I’m not sure why Horseshoe Canyon is so much more popular than Horsethief. It’s possibly because it’s on a busier highway.
It could also be that it’s an easier hike. There is a main gravel path with steps to one side that leads you down into the canyon. From there, the path (which is totally flat) brings you into the hills and back out again.
The hills here are similar to Horsethief, but a little sandier looking. I think they were smaller as well, but it’s hard to get perspective.
Recently they have implemented a $2 charge for parking, which is fair enough to maintain the path and facilities. They do have a machine to take the payment, so you don’t need to pack your toonies.
There are outhouses on site, and a treed picnic area.
Across the road there is a small campground, and a little store with – you guessed it – more ice cream!
Besides the climb back up the stairs or hill to get out, this hike is an easy one for tots, and the better of the two Horse canyons in that respect.
Atlas Coal Mine
Other than the Royal Tyrrell Museum, the Atlas Coal Mine is the only stop that you really need to plan ahead for.
(That’s one of the things I like best about the area, you can travel without a plan because most of the activities are free and outdoors)
You can choose to explore with general admission, but that probably won’t be the access that you are looking for.
If you want to go into the mine and explore, climb the tipple, or ride the historic train, you will need to book a tour.
Tours range in price from $18 – $27 per adult and $15 – $24 for youths/seniors. There is no family rate.
Kids must be 6+ to join the underground tour, so I would skip the mine until everyone is old enough to go.
Tours range in difficulty from easy to hard and some require closed toe shoes.
If you want to visit the mine, definitely book from home so that you can be prepared, and also so that you know they are both open and have space for you.
For a full list of tours with their prices and difficulties, visit their website.
That’s it for my roundup of things to do and see in the Drumheller Badlands! While the valley is especially family friendly, there are plenty of options even if you don’t have kids.
The hiking scene can be as low or high difficulty as you choose, and it really is a nice change of pace from almost anywhere else.
Is a trip to the Badlands on your Summer list?