My family loves planning annual trips to explore Alberta’s Badlands, and we’ve come up with creative ways to get out and explore on foot, on bikes, and on the water.
Below are the five best experiences we’ve had exploring the Alberta Badlands from Drumheller to Dinosaur and Writing-on-Stone Provincial Parks.
Biking in Drumheller
Bike the paved River Parks trail system from the Visitor Information Centre and world’s largest dinosaur out to the Royal Tyrrell Museum and back (stopping to visit the museum and play at the awesome outdoor playground there.) The ride is approximately 14km and is largely flat until the final hill leading to the museum. Cool off at the end with a visit to the town spray park.
Stop in at the Visitor Information Centre for route guidance before you start your ride. You’ll also pass by a couple of beautiful parks en route to the museum if you pack a lunch.
Biking in Dinosaur Provincial Park
If you’re camping at the Dinosaur Provincial Park Campground in Southern Alberta, you can easily hop on your bikes, and take a tour around the 3.5km long Public Loop Road, a multi-use gravel road open to driving, hiking, or biking.
While riding around the loop you can stop at the Badlands Trailhead where there is an amazing 1.3km hike through a landscape of hoodoos and sandstone ridges.
After hiking the Badlands Trail, you’ll continue on your bikes to reach two fossil display houses. The second house is also the start of the Trail of the Fossil Hunters, a short interpretive 0.9km out-and-back hike that takes you to a historic quarry site.
The Public Loop Road ends with one final trail to explore on foot, the Cottonwood Flats Trail, a 1.4km hike along the Red Deer River.
There are bike racks at all trailheads so bring a lock with you, and don’t forget your water and snacks because this tour can take a few hours if you stop often.
On a recent trip, we wanted to access the private natural reserve for some "off the beaten path" exploring through the badlands. We chose the Centrosaurus Quarry Hike because it promised to be the most adventurous half-day tour we could undertake as a family.
We loved our three-hour tour and it was an incredible experience to see fossils in the “wild” rather than behind glass in a museum. There were hundreds of bones scattered around the quarry site that we hiked to, and we enjoyed the interpretive lessons that accompanied the experience.
The Quarry Hike is aimed at families with children ages ten and over, but there are other tours for younger children including the Family Dino Stomp, open to all ages.
I recommend booking tours in advance on the Alberta Parks website and suggest choosing a morning tour when it’s cooler outside.
We’ve used canoes, kayaks, and standup paddleboards on an 18km stretch of the Milk River through Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.
If you’re camping in the Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park Campground, you can float two different sections of the Milk River from camp, both very easy and family-friendly without rapids or any difficult navigation required.
The first stretch that we paddle is from camp to the Deer Creek Bridge in a short 8km float. The second stretch we paddle is from Weir Bridge back down to camp in a slightly longer 10km float trip. Both trips are half-day outings and require a vehicle shuttle that you’ll have to set up yourself.
There are no boat rentals available in the park, so you’ll want to bring your own with you.
Note that you’ll want to plan your trip earlier in the season if you want river levels to be high enough to float. By August the river is usually too low to use boats on.
We’ve always enjoyed exploring the Hoodoo Trail in this park, a 2.2km out-and-back hike to visit the Battle Scene, a large rock tableau carved with Indigenous rock art.
This park contains the largest concentration of rock art on the North American Plains, so for us, it is always a huge learning opportunity to be able to learn more about this ancient art.
On our most recent trip we signed up for a guided rock art tour where we got to go inside the private reserve with a parks guide. Inside the reserve we were able to get up close to view ancient petroglyphs and pictographs without fences around them (something you won’t experience on the public trails).
I’d recommend making bookings in advance on the Alberta Park website and suggest choosing a morning tour when it’s cooler.
Paddlers can enjoy over 200km of canoeing or kayaking down the Red Deer River Corridor from Content Bridge (121km north of Drumheller by road) all the way down to Dinosaur Provincial Park in Southern Alberta.
While my family hasn’t done the entire journey yet, we’ve enjoyed several weekends floating leisurely down this gentle river, spending our nights in riverside campgrounds.
Our favorite stretch so far has been from Tolman Bridge in Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park down to the Town of Drumheller in a two-day trip. We enjoyed 34km of paddling broken down into two easy days with numerous stops to explore the badlands and hoodoos along the Red Deer River Valley.
For a day trip, we’ve also enjoyed floating from the Steveville Campground down to the Dinosaur Provincial Park Campground at a distance of 13km. This half-day float makes for a great activity while camping in the area.
Explore Alberta’s Badlands this summer on foot, by bike, or by boat. An adventure will be waiting for you around every corner of your journey.
Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to a spunky boy. She loves hiking, camping, skiing, and all things mountain-related. She is the author of the blog Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, rockiesfamilyadventures.com. You can find her on Instagram @MountainMomYYC.
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