No dinosaur-loving family’s trip to Alberta would be complete without a visit to Alberta’s Badlands. If you are up for an exciting day at a museum to see dinosaur exhibits, visiting the world-renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller is also a must. However, if your family is up for a little more adventure and wants to explore real fossil beds like paleontologists, then put on your hiking boots, load up the extra bug spray, and go two hours South-East of Drumheller, to Dinosaur Provincial Park.
Dinosaur Provincial Park is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site because it is home to one of the richest dinosaur fossil concentrations in the world. It is still an active paleontologist field site, and home to the Field Office of the Royal Tyrrell Museum – so real paleontologists work here!
Explorers Tips for Adventures in Dinosaur Provincial Park:
Do check the tours and book in advance
In the summer, the Park offers a chance for members of the public to visit real dino dig sites, and many tours are bookable in advance. Some of these tours cater to an older visitor, capable not only of being out in the summer badlands heat for longer periods but also for handling different tools and following instructions, so make sure you check the age limits allowed on your tour.
If you are not sure what you’d like but want just a taste of the fun, take the all-ages ‘Fossil Safari’ adventure. While you are not allowed to literally ‘dig’ for a fossil on this tour, you go to dinosaur beds where you can ‘hunt’ for relics and examine remains that are still in the ground.
Do keep a lookout for non-fossils
Depending on the location of the fossil bed, the bus ride into these areas can take up to 15 minutes, but remember, Dinosaur Provincial Park is also home to many species of wild animals. Keep a lookout for the wildlife that you might see along the way! There are snakes, deer, hare and even the odd cougar – so eyes peeled everyone!
Do the lick test
Yes, this is a thing. At the dig site, there will be loads of rock debris and fossil bits, and to tell the difference, the curious paleontologist can do a simple wet finger test. All you have to do is lick your finger just a little bit and place it on the specimen. Real bones will stick to the above mentioned wet finger.
(Just remember to wash afterwards!)
Do protect our heritage
As your guide will tell you, no one is allowed to bring any of the fossils home with you (some guides make you take an oath that you will not remove anything). Leave the specimens where you found them because they are an amazing part of our heritage.
Be super gentle with these prehistoric objects. Use your one-finger to touch as much as possible. And others will be able to enjoy the delights of these fossils as much as you when they visit too!
Do stick to your guide
The Badlands are not as easy to navigate as you think! Well into your tour, the landscape starts to look dauntingly similar. But your guide will know where he or she is going, so follow them, don’t wander off away from the dig site, and watch the wee kids!
But take a moment to look up from the ground and take in the beautiful view, unique to this area of our province, the hoodoos and grasslands are truly magnificent.
Do prepare for the conditions
The Badlands are dry, almost desert-like, but there are loads of bugs here. High on the ‘things to bring list’ is bug spray to help ward against the itchy bites.
This is Alberta, and the weather is very likely to change – from very sunny, to very cloudy in a matter of minutes! So take that sweater AND the sunscreen. Just in case.
Also, bring water to stay hydrated in what can be a hot, dry climate. The Field Station sells water if you for get or need more.
The Field Station is close to the park’s campground site where there is a little cafe. Here you will find some light snacks – but the location itself is very far off from any eateries, so make sure you are prepared with maybe a picnic lunch to feed hungry paleontologists after your exploits!
Sue Mylde is a world-traveler, originally from Singapore but calls Calgary, Alberta home. She has lived in many countries across Europe, Asia and North America and enjoys adventures which involve wildlife the most. She loves good food, scuba-diving, hot yoga, being creative, and having time to write about her experiences with her loving family.