Ready to step back in time and discover the age of dinosaurs? Then head to Drumheller, Alberta, Canada to get up close and personal with the gentle and ferocious beasts that roamed our planet millions of years ago. Explore and learn about the Triassic, Cretaceous, and Jurassic periods of dinosaurs in the Royal Tyrrell Museum, then venture out for your own expedition to search for fossils left from the Age of Reptiles.
The Dinosaurs of Drumheller
What is it about these funny-looking reptilian beasts that attract kids generation after generation? While dinosaurs are massive and ferocious, children are not afraid but instead fascinated. Just look at all the children’s books and products featuring dinosaurs.
Do you suppose it’s their unique looks? Or perhaps kids are drawn to the unknown and mythical idea of dinosaurs. Whatever it is, a visit to Drumheller, Alberta should definitely be on your to-do vacation list for adults and kids alike.
Hot Bed of Fossils
Drumheller is situated in the Red Deer River Valley in southern Alberta, affectionately known as Dinosaur Valley, and about 3.5 hours north of the Montana US/Canada border. Drumheller is often considered the dinosaur capital of the world because of its high concentration of fossils found in the area, as well as more than a century of excavation history.
Millions of years ago, dinosaurs flourished in the tropical environment of the area before being wiped out from a cataclysmic event. The river valley was then formed in the ice age and allowed an insight into those deep layers of history, and the discovery of the past life of dinosaurs in the area.
Royal Tyrrell Museum
If you’re looking to learn about dinosaurs, you must visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum. It’s one of the top dinosaur museums in the world thanks to its situation in a fossil goldmine and its collection of approximately 160,000 individual fossil specimens. In addition to its 47,000 square feet of exhibits, it is also a leading center of paleontological research for Canada and the world.
The museum was named after Joseph Burr Tyrrell, a geologist who discovered the first reported dinosaur fossil in the valley by accident while searching for coal seams in the area. When we visited in 2015, admission was just $40 for a family for one day, $60 for two. That fee admits two adults and up to six children ages 7-17. The museum also helps guide your plans with their family itineraries for full or half day visits.
Walking through the museum, you’ll move chronologically through the 3.9 billion year history of life on earth. My kids loved seeing the models of the prehistoric animals, as well as participating in special entertainment programs like story time, fossil casting and raptor assembly.
While standing next to a 12-foot leg of a Camarasaurus, a medium-sizes dinosaur, the girls remarked that it was “massive” and they “weren’t even as tall as half its leg.” Both girls were ready to do battle with the Euoplocephalus, a dinosaur about the size of a small elephant whose name means well-armored head.
We adults were drawn into the stories told with each exhibit, increasing our knowledge of this unknown age of life. I was surprised at how much I learned about the different dinosaur time periods during our visit. Did you know that the Tyrannosaurus rex made famous by the Jurassic Park books and movies actually lived in the Cretaceous Period, not Jurassic?
Lastly, the whole family loved walking through Dinosaur Hall, one of the world’s largest showcases of dinosaur remains.
Digging for Dinosaur Fossils
Once the kids have had their fill of museum exhibits, it’s time to head outdoors and take part in one of the public programs to search for dinosaur fossils. Our family took part in the Dinosite! hike ($10 fee), and we actually had to come back the following day for it since our visit day was already sold out. Be sure to book in advance so you don’t have the same issue!
On the hike, we walked a fairly easy trail to a dig site where our guide told us about the park and shared tips about discovering dinosaur fossils. It’s important to note that the park is a provincial (government) park. That means that even if you find a fossils, you can’t take it home. The fun is having the chance to discover and identify what you find in the rocks (we found some petrified wood) and to enjoy the environment with your family.
If you don’t want to pay extra or don’t have an interest in searching for fossils, you can take a self-guided tour along the Badlands Trail to enjoy the sights and sounds of the valley.
World’s Largest Dinosaur
For your final piece of Drumheller dinosaur delight, take a walk into the belly of the “World’s Largest Dinosaur,” an 86-foot-tall Tyrannosaur
us rex. The dinosaur is actually four and a half times larger than the actual T-Rex and paying the $3 admission fee (children under 5 are free) will not only give you a great story for friends back home, but also an encompassing view of the surrounding badlands area from the toothy mouth. The family can also cool off at a nearby water splash fountain after their trek to the top of T-Rex.