When going on a daytrip from Calgary, you can spin the compass in any direction and find adventure. The most popular options are mountains to the west, or badlands to the east. It’s a coin flip for me, really. and that’s why Expedia.ca asked me to share my day trip recommendations.
The mountains are a no brainer, but the badlands have a draw I never expected. The land is spontaneously rugged, deep with history, and filled with adventure. The badlands stretch from Stettler to Milk River and there’s something to do everywhere in between, but the most popular and easiest destination is right in the middle: the Drumheller Valley.
Less than 90 minutes northeast of Calgary lies Drumheller, home to dinosaurs, cowboys, ghost towns, hoodoos, and more. Here’s a list of 13 things you can do when you visit the Drumheller Valley, just don’t expect to get them all done in a day. Pick 3 or 4, and you’ll have a fully rewarding daytrip from Calgary.
1. In between the dinosaur history and the coal mining history you will find in this valley, lies the history of its native peoples. The Cree people called this valley home and Dry Island Buffalo Jump is where they would drive bison over cliffs to process. It is also home to 150 species of birds and an important dinosaur find; the largest Albertosaurus bone bed in the world.
2. The Bleriot Ferry is what you’ll take to cross the Red Deer River to visit Drumheller from the northwest. It’s a free cable powered ferry that will bring a smile to the kids.
3. Just down from the Bleriot Ferry is Horsethief Canyon, on the north side of the Drumheller Valley. It is not to be confused with Horseshoe Canyon of the south side (as some did when this was a pit stop on the Amazing Race Canada). The views here are astounding and you can explore the wild west history of this valley where it is said smugglers used to rest en route to Montana.
4. Geocaching is a wonderful adventurous game of treasure hunting, and there are hundreds of caches up and down the Drumheller Valley.
5. Midland Provincial Park is home to the Royal Tyrrell Museum (see below) but is also home to hiking trails, the Midland Coal Mine, and the McMullen Island Day Use Area. Go for a fossil hunting hike, enjoy the view of the Red Deer River and more.
6. The Royal Tyrrell Museum is the jewel of the crown in this valley. This dinosaur museum is why most people come to this area. You can explore the dawn of life on the planet from the nearby Burgess Shale to recently revealed Hellboy specimen (below). Oh, and lots of T Rex, raptors, and other popular dinos too.
7. Horsehoe Canyon is a small canyon just west of Drumheller. Here’s where you can grab a helicopter tour of the badlands, or go on a hike and hunt for fossils in this small canyon as an appetizer for what you will find in the valley ahead.
8. Chasing dinosaurs in downtown Drumheller is a wonderful activity. The town has fully embraced their dino roots. You can climb the World’s Largest Dinosaur and peer from its jaws, or wander the downtown looking for quirky dinosaurs posed in fun positions, like driving motorcycles.
9. Coal mining choked this valley with soot long ago. The Star Mine Suspension bridge is a 117m long bridge spanning the Red Deer River that was built for the Star Mine Coal Workers in 1931. It’s now maintained by the province to “commemorate part of the colourful mining history of the Drumheller Valley.”
10. Hoodoos are wonderfully stoic geological formations that look like mushrooms dotting the valley. This valley is layers of clay and sandstone which erode at different rates giving them this unique appearance.
11. Rosebud isn’t exactly “in” the Drumheller Valley, but it’s close enough (25 minutes) and popular enough (40 000 people a year visit) that you can include it on your to or fro. The Rosebud Theatre hosts over 200 performances a year in what used to be a grain annex and is now known as the Rosebud Opera House.
12. The Atlas Coal Mine is home to the last standing wooden tipple in Canada (below). While dinosaurs are the attraction now, coal was the heartbeat of this valley in the late 19th Century. This is where the fuel to settle western Canada was harvested and without the coal industry in this valley, the country as we know it wouldn’t have survived.
13. After all your driving up and down the valley, cross the 11 bridges and make your way to the ghost town of Wayne, Alberta. Here, at the Last Chance Saloon, you can relive the glory days of the coal rush, bbq your own steak, and really drift back in time.
Even at 13, this list of things to do on a daytrip from Calgary to the Drumheller Valley is incomplete.
My boys and I go a couple of times a year to this place. We always go to the Royal Tyrrell and then mix in a handful of the other things from this list.