Alberta’s Dinosaur Trail is known around the world. You can’t come to Alberta without getting in on some dinosaur action and this driving tour of the Drumheller Valley is a great introduction to the Canadian Badlands that hits all the major points of interest on the Dinosaur and Hoodoo Trails. It was one of the highlights of the trip for me, even in the rain and the rather refreshing temperatures.
The Official Alberta Travel Planner is excellent and has some great day trip itineraries for sight seeing. Before heading to Calgary last month, I had the good sense to order a printed copy of the guide and it was a great help. I zeroed in on dinosaur country and we spent the day exploring this 170-km loop.
To begin with, we changed the itinerary slightly and used backroads to avoid backtracking to Drumheller. After some creative GPS use, we found our way to the Orkney Hills viewpoint, where I had my first encounter with slippery clay and near-death experiences. They really don’t baby you here, so if you want to fall off a cliff edge, there won’t be a fence stopping you. Watch your step and tread carefully! Slipping and sliding notwithstanding, Orkney Hills gives you a great view of a wall of badlands cliffs on the other side of the river.
From there, we followed the Dinosaur Trail north to the ferry crossing, then on to the Horse Thief Canyon. This was like the Grand Canyon in miniature and I really wish we had dry sunny weather to explore the hiking trails. As it was, everything was slippery and wet, so we couldn’t venture far from the viewing plateau. If you are lucky enough to visit in good weather, bring your hiking shoes – there is a lot to explore!
From the Horse Thief Canyon, we picked up the Dinosaur Trail to Drumheller, passing by the Littlest Church and past a rather spectacular golf course winding its way right through the Badlands. If you play golf, this would be a pretty unique experience. We didn’t have time to check out the Royal Tyrrell Museum on this trip but I hear it’s excellent.
In Drumheller, we took the time to climb the World’s Largest Dinosaur. It’s so spacious inside that the staircase has enough room for a couple of benches. As a bonus, there is a gift shop at ground level and public washrooms.
From Drumheller, we picked up the Hoodoo Trail to the Rosedale Suspension Bridge, where we went on another muddy hike in the hills and somehow managed to emerge intact. Again, in good weather, this would be a fantastic spot for a walkabout.
Back on the Hoodoo Trail, we pulled off the road to visit the Hoodoos, which was one of the most exciting parts for me. It’s a small site but they’re just that cool. There are viewing platforms built all around them, so it was a lot easier to navigate in the rain than our earlier exploits. This is a quick stop but one not to miss.
Once again back on the Hoodoo Trail, we headed to the Atlas Coal Mine. You’ll want to budget a lot of time here, particularly during the busier times. We spent a good couple of hours at the mine (if not more!) and could have stayed longer to tour the tunnels, but saved that additional exploration for another day. The regular tour is well worth the price of admission and covers a lot of territory. You can read all about it in a separate post coming next week.
There was only one stop left on the tour – the 11 single-lane bridges to the hamlet of Wayne and its historic Last Chance Saloon. The travel guide had us stay on the same loop and follow it to Wayne. That’s when things got a little hairy, as the paved road ended pretty quickly in that direction and there weren’t really any signs pointing to Wayne, which also failed to appear on the GPS. We followed the dirt roads as best we could (let’s just say you might want to skip the car wash before attempting this drive in the rain), and eventually ended up on the paved Hoodoo Trail back towards Drumheller. A little further up the road was a sign for a turn-off to Wayne. We could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble if instead of trying to follow the loop in the travel guide, we had backtracked on the paved road instead. Lessons learned.
The 11 bridges were pretty neat but the hamlet of Wayne came and went so quickly that I actually missed the Last Chance Saloon. We weren’t actually planning on going in for a bite anyway, but I would have liked to at least have gotten a picture. Guess I missed that chance and it looks like it was my last one! As irony would have it, after following the road to its end, we ended up at the crossroads we passed earlier when trying to figure out how to get to Wayne.
Still, even with the bad weather and the navigational misadventures, it was a great day trip and I would highly recommend it.