Alberta really is a special place. It has the Canadian Rockies to the west, the prairies to the south, the boreal forest to the north, and the spectacular badlands somewhat in the middle. Located just 1.5 hours northeast of Calgary, Drumheller is one of the most scenic places in the province and one of the top places in the world for Dinosaurs enthusiasts
That’s right. About 75 million years ago, Drumheller was a hotspot for Dinosaurs. Despite its dry-looking landscapes today, it was once home to an inland lake with a tropical climate and lush vegetation. In 1884, the future of modern Drumheller began, thanks to a discovery by geologist J. B. Tyrrell, who stumbled upon dinosaur bones while searching for coal.
Along with Calgary, Banff, and the Canadian Rockies, Drumheller is one of the top things to do in Alberta. Whether you’re an adult or a kid, Drumheller is bound to satisfy your Dinosaur crush, with epic badland scenery and one of the best Dinosaur museums in the world.
If you happen to make it to this incredible place, here are some ideas for what to do, where to stay, and how to get around.
Table of Contents
- Things to Do in Drumheller
- Getting to Drumheller
- How to Get Around Drumheller
- Weather for Drumheller (Best Time to Visit)
- Tips for Saving Money in Drumheller
- Where to Stay in Drumheller
- Other Things to Do
- Things to Do in Alberta
Things to Do in Drumheller
A tour of the Drumheller region is spectacular in many ways. From the spectacular Grand-Canyon-Esque Horseshoe Canyon and the desertic landscape of sagebrush, greasewood bushes, and cacti, to the incredible Royal Tyrrel Museum and beautiful hoodoo’s, Drumheller will wow you in more ways than one.
The Royal Tyrrell Museum
Without a doubt, the star attraction in Drumheller is the world-famous Royal Tyrrel Museum. It’s home to one of the world’s largest collections of Dinosaur bones, most of which were found not too far away. From witnessing massive dinosaur skeletons to fascinating computer terminals explaining the evolution of life on Earth, you can easily spend anywhere from a half-day to a full day, depending on how in-depth you want to go. You’ll also find a primeval garden showing tropical and subtropical plant species from the Carbonaceous Period along with their modern descendants. There are even interactive workshops, lectures, and guided tours. The entrance fee for the Royal Tyrell Museum is $18 CAD per adult and $10 CAD for children between 7-17.
World’s Largest Dinosaur
Another thing you can’t miss, both figuratively and literally, is the world’s largest dinosaur! This dinosaur is massive and towers over any other building in the area. It’s perfect for kids as it you’re actually able to climb up inside the 25-metre-tall and 46-metre-long T-Rex dinosaur and get wonderful views from inside its mouth. It’s not free, but the cost is only $4 CAD per person.
Located just 17 km (10.5 mi) west of Drumheller, Horseshoe Canyon is like a miniature replica of the Grand Canyon, a jaw-dropping sight to behold. The reddish-pink ribboned canyon walls change their colour with the sun, revealing the many layers of rock that have been here since the Dinosaurs called it home more than 70 million years ago. Whether you just admire the view or take a hike down into the canyon, this is not a place you want to miss. This site, as well as the parking, is free to visit.
Alberta might be famous for its Rocky Mountain vistas, but Horsethief Canyon is also one of the most scenic places in the province. It’s really beautiful. Similar to Horseshoe Canyon, but far from the same, this area is not only scenic but also steeped in history. In fact, the reason why it’s called Horsethief canyon is that it used to be a wild-west type of place where bandits would literally steal horses. Basically, they’d steal them from big ranches in the area and re-brand them as their own. There are lots of stories of horse thievery in Alberta and even in Saskatchewan, such as in the Big Muddy Badlands, where outlaws would smuggle horses from the USA into Canada.
Located just 16 km (10 mi) northwest of Drumheller on the east bank of the Red Deer River, just You can either stop at the car park and just admire the views from the edge or you can go for a variety of hikes in and around the coulees. Footpaths meander their way down into the canyon to fossilized oyster beds, making it a fabulous walk for most people. It is free to visit.
The Little Church
This little church can hold 10,000 people, six at a time. At least that’s what they say. While it may seem like an oversized dollhouse, it is actually a functioning chapel that holds regular services. Built in 1968, and then rebuilt in 1991 by those incarcerated in the nearby Drumheller Institution, this is a popular roadside attraction you don’t want to miss. Visiting the Little Church is free.
This little cable-run ferry (13 cars max) links the two sections of the North Dinosaur Trail (Highway 838) as it crosses the Red Deer River from Kneehill County on the west, to Starland County on the east. Its name comes from its builder – Andre Bleriot – who constructed the ferry in 1913. It runs seasonally and is closed in the winter months, but this 105-metre, 8-minute ride, certainly makes a fun little attraction when it’s open. It’s actually a perfect detour that connects the roads between Horsethief Canyon and the Orkney Viewpoint mentioned below. The Bleriot Ferry is free. For more information check the Transportation Alberta website.
If you’re like us, you’re probably looking for as many awesome views as you can get. Well, one of them is the Orkney Viewpoint, which is a somewhat private natural lookout point high up on the red rock cliffs, just west of Drumheller. From here, you’ll get sweeping views of the Red Deer Valley and the beautiful Red Deer River. It’s totally different from the other viewpoints mentioned above because you get to see the badlands and the river all at once. Orkney Viewpoint is free.
The Hoodoo Trail
One of the most iconic images of Drumheller is the nearby Hoodoo’s. As if nature was playing a game of voodoo, the Hoodoos are beautiful odd-looking pillars of sand with a stone cap. Think of it like mushrooms made of stone, standing tall in the desert. These are natural formations caused by wind and rain over thousands of years and are protected by the cap on top. However, the hoodoos do break, especially if people walk on them and if the cap falls off, the rain will then quickly erode the sand beneath it. You can certainly stay in the car and admire them from the highway, but it’s much better to take a short hike to see them up close. There is a small fee if you’re visiting the Hoodoos during the busy months.
Wayne Ghost Town and the Last Chance Saloon
If you’re looking for a super interesting detour near the Hoodoo Trail, check out Wayne Ghost Town. Located just 6 kilometres away, you’ll cross over 11 one-lane bridges over the Rosebud River before finding yourself in an almost-deserted old town that was once a thriving coal-mining town. The current population is around 28 (yes, 28) and is home to the infamous Last Chance Saloon, a bar that’s been featured in many articles and books for being haunted.
Star Mine Suspension Bridge
If you feel like meandering over a suspension bridge, you might want to consider this one. The Star Mine Suspension Bridge is a 117-metre long pedestrian bridge that crosses over the Red Deer River in Rosedale, not too far from Drumheller. It’s been around since 1931 when it was used for the coal workers of Star Mine. Enjoy the area for some light hiking or just an opportunity for sight-seeing. Visiting the Star Mine Suspension Bridge is free.
East Coulee School Museum
Yet another town that is quickly disappearing is East Coulee is home to a population of about 160. However, it wasn’t always that way. As you’ve probably guessed by now, this area was once a thriving mining community. In the 1940s, it had a population of almost 4,000 and this was the school where the children of the miners went. When the mines closed down, so did the schools. As of 1985, however, it reopened as a museum, where you can learn about the lives of the mining communities from back in the day. The entrance fee for the East Coulee School Museum is $7 CAD per person.
Atlas Coal Mine
One site you shouldn’t miss is the Atlas Coal Mine, which is a National Historic Site. This mine was built in 1936 and was in use all the way up until the early 80s. For a taste of this very difficult job, take a tour into the mine buildings and the last coal tipple in the country. For those that are not claustrophobic, you can even tour into the mine tunnel itself.
Imagine if nature created its own amphitheatre. The Badlands Amphitheatre is a naturally formed outdoor amphitheatre surrounded by the coulees. Seating around 2,500 spectators, this is Canada’s largest outdoor stage and also home to the Badlands Passion Play, which is especially popular with religious folks. It’s also home to the Canadian Icons Series, Blues & Barbeque, Fireworks in the Badlands, and the new Badlands Arts Centre.
If you’re looking for performing arts that are indoors, head on over to the Rosebud Theatre in the little town of Rosebud (population: 100). It’s just 35 kilometres southwest of Drumheller and has five plays each year with shows happening every week. Despite its small size, the Rosebud Theatre is widely-acclaimed and should definitely be high on the bucket list of those who love the performing arts.
Getting to Drumheller
If you’re a visitor looking for different ways of getting to Drumheller, here’s some practical advice on how to get there. Most people come from Calgary, so if you’re visiting Calgary for the first time, you should take at least a couple of days to explore this beautiful city. For more, check out our things to do in Calgary article.
Getting to Drumheller by Car
Drumheller is located along Highway 838 and 837, otherwise known as the North and South Dinosaur Trail. The drive from Calgary to Drumheller is only 135 kilometres, which makes it both an easy day trip or a multi-night adventure. From Edmonton to Drumheller, the drive is a little longer, clocking in at around 280 kilometres, or about twice the distance. It’s a very simple, straightforward drive that includes both flat landscapes and the more rugged badland landscapes as you get closer to Drumheller.
Calgary to Drumheller
For those travelling from Calgary, you’ll want to head to Balzac (home to CrossIron Mills Mall), and then head east on Highway 566, followed by Highway 9, which will then twist and turn until you arrive in the Dinosaur capital of the world. If you’re in south Calgary, you could take Highway 201, followed by Highway 564, and then Highway 9.
Edmonton to Drumheller
We always recommend using Google Maps or something similar, but if you’re coming from Edmonton, you’ll basically want to get on Highway 21 and then Highway 56, which will take you all the way to the town. It’s even more straightforward than going from Calgary to Drumheller but is twice the distance, taking approximately 3 hours by car.
If you’re looking to rent a car in Calgary, there are many options, both at the airport and in the city. For the best rates, we recommend using Priceline.com. Another option is Truro, which is basically Airbnb for vehicles. This service would mainly be useful if you’re looking for a unique car
Getting to Drumheller by Plane
There are no major airports in Drumheller, so the closest major airport would be the Calgary International Airport (YYC). From here, it’s only 1.5 hours to Drumheller, making it an excellent road trip and even a quick day trip if need be. Another option is the Edmonton International Airport (YEG), which is approximately 3-hours away. If you’re flying into Calgary and don’t have a car, Bubba T’s is now offering a shuttle and tour service that can pick you up from YYC.
However, if you have your own plane, Drumheller does have a small airport you could fly into.
Getting to Drumheller by Bus
There is no direct bus from Calgary or from Edmonton. Greyhound has stopped operating in Alberta. However, you could jump on a Drumheller tour, take a taxi, or rideshare. Obviously, a taxi would be a very expensive option, ranging from $200 – $250. You could rent a car for much less and enjoy the visit at your own pace.
One ridesharing app that might help is Poparide.com, which allows you to see if any locals are driving to Drumheller, allowing you to book a seat in their car for as low s $20.
How to Get Around Drumheller
Drumheller is a small town and public transportation does not really exist. To get around Drumheller, you’d want to drive your own car, take a tour, or perhaps, rent a taxi. All the sights around Drumheller are spread out by fairly large distances as well, so unless you’re really into biking, we definitely recommend having your own vehicle or taking a tour.
Weather for Drumheller (Best Time to Visit)
Like many parts of Canada, the ideal time to visit Drumheller would be the summer or the fall. Some of the attractions are open year-round, and the landscape can certainly look cool in a layer of snow, but the absolute best time to visit is between June and October. May and early June can bring more rain but the summer months will be very hot with daytime temperatures reaching as high as 30C. (85F.). There are very few trees in this area as well, so if you’re spending time outdoors, we recommend a hat, sunblock, and plenty of water. Winter in Canada is a very cold time to visit, and there are much better places to visit during the snow-covered months.
Tips for Saving Money in Drumheller
Drumheller Visitor Information Centre: This is a great place to stop to find information about the area, as well as pick up a paper map if you need one.
Badlands Community Facility: If you’re looking for free WiFi or a place to just relax, this is where you’ll find the public library. There are also showers in the recreation centre, which cost just $2 (including a towel).
Tim Horton’s: While Tim Horton’s has become some sort of an icon in Canada, we certainly recommend visiting more local restaurants if you can. However, this is a great spot to grab quick, fairly good, and cheap food such as wraps and sandwiches. Of course, they also have coffee.
Extra Foods: If you’re on a road trip or camping, this is the grocery store where you can find all the food you need.
Where to Stay in Drumheller
Whether you’re on a budget or not, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best places to stay in Drumheller.
Budget: Hotel Dinosaur is probably the cheapest hotel in town and still maintains high reviews, but another option is the Travelodge.
Mid-range: There are no luxurious options in Drumheller, but there’s plenty of very nice hotels that fit the mid-range option, including Canalta Jurassic, Best Western Diamond Inn, the Ramada, and the Super 8. Even better though is the Heartwood Inn & Spa, a locally run guesthouse with a delicious french toast breakfast. Not only was our room beautiful but it was the same room that Jackie Chan stayed in back when he was filming Shanghai Noon. How cool is that!
Camping: If you’re looking to go camping, there are also plenty of options around Drumheller. First, if you have an RV, you could stay in the Wal-Mart parking lot. If you’re looking for free, unserviced camping areas, you could download the iOverlander app, which will help you find them. One free option is the Severn Dam Reservoir. Cozier, paid options, include River Grove Campground, Dinosaur RV Park & Dino’s RV Nest, 11 Bridges Campground, Pinters Campground, Horseshoe Canyon Campground, Dinosaur Trail RV Resort & Cabins, and Hoodoos RV Resort & Campground.
Airbnb: If you want to try something new, check out Airbnb for unique accommodations around the city.
Other Things to Do
If Drumheller just isn’t enough and you’re not done with dinosaurs and badlands just yet, there are many more things to do around Drumheller as well. We’ll list some of the more popular options below.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
If you have the time, you really shouldn’t miss Dinosaur Provincial Park. Located in the Red Deer River Valley just northeast of Brooks, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to rich deposits of dinosaur bones as well as dramatic scenery. You’ll find awesome exhibits at the visitor centre, although the real thrill is going out for guided hikes and hands-on excavations. They even have glamping opportunities for those wanting the camping experience with a little more luxury.
Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park
Once home to a large number of bison, Cree First Nations people would drive animals along the plateau and over the cliffs, a popular hunt that required an entire community. Just 100 kilometres north of Drumheller, Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park offers ancient history, dramatic scenery, camping, bird-watching, fishing, and canoeing. You may even find fossils.
Red Deer and Sylvan Lake
If you’re looking to ditch the badlands for wetter pastures, consider heading to Sylvan Lake, one of Alberta’s most popular lakes. Sylvan Lake is actually a popular vacation community and a big enough lake to get for boating or fishing, as well as relaxing on the beach. There’s also Red Deer, which you’ll actually pass as you head to the lake, making it a great stop if you’re looking to buy some goods, get a wider variety of restaurants, or find a decent hotel.
Things to Do in Alberta
By now, you have a lot to do. But as always, there are many more things to do in Alberta, including big cities and the stunning Canadian Rockies. For more information on what to do around the province, check out these articles below: