Banff and Lake Louise are undoubtedly the Jewels of Alberta, but there's so much more beyond the mountains, where the great plains begin. My family set out on a road trip adventure, over the Rockies and into the prairie heart of Alberta, which is a very different "beautiful" from our home on the West Coast. My son loves dinosaurs so our final destination was Drumheller, with a visit to Calgary on the way.
We arrived into Calgary and immediately dropped my son off at his Grandma's. Really, Drumheller is accessible from Edmonton or Calgary, but we had a good reason to chose Calgary... Off my husband and I went to enjoy a romantic night at the beautiful Fairmont Palliser to celebrate our 10th anniversary, sans child. Fairmont gave us the special welcome we were hoping for.
The night was ours to enjoy. We love food and Calgary enjoys a surprising diverse culinary scene, with a few historic dishes created by hotel chefs. The Caesar was invented in 1969 by restaurant manager Walter Chell of the Calgary Inn (today a Westin Hotel), and has since grown to become one of Canada's most popular drinks - and hangover cures. The most widely accepted origin of Ginger Beef attributes the dish's development to chef George Wong at the Silver Inn, also in Calgary, during the mid-1970s. And let's not forget Alberta's infamous beef, whisky, rye and beer! With a wide variety of restaurants to choose from within an easy walk of the Fairmont, any budget or diet can be accommodated. Covid restrictions are always updating, so it's important to know before you go. Reservations are always recommended.
After an enjoyable stay at the Palliser, our family reunited and hit the road, heading for Drumheller and the famous Royal Tyrrell Museum. A summer drive on the back roads of Alberta always brings me back to the careless days of the 80's when reasonable adults put children in the back of their trucks for any duration of back road driving. The endless sky meeting the canola fields in the warm Alberta sunshine still takes my breath away.
The 90 minute drive to Drumheller is a pleasant one, with a dramatic ending when the landscape changes suddenly as you enter the Badlands. The word "badlands'' originates from the french phrase les mauvaises terres or 'bad lands to traverse'. It's likely they were influenced by the Lakota people who moved to the area in the late 1700s and referred to the terrain as mako sica, meaning 'bad land'. No matter how you say it, it's like driving into another world, a very exciting one for both kids and adults alike!
Drumheller is a fun town, making the most of it's jurrasic fame. Dinosaurs are everywhere. In the streets, on the roofs, in the windows... Even the chicken nuggets at lunch were shaped like dinosaurs.
The Royal Tyrrell Museum itself deserves the bulk of a day, we could have easily returned again for a second day. Covid regulations have currently affected it's operating hours, so do call ahead to ensure it's possible to visit. The museum is very popular and contains many famous artifacts and skeletons, making it very busy in the summer months.
There are fascinating interpretive trails to enjoy around the museum, as well as several other dinosaur themed attractions in town, including the Worlds Largest Dinosaur and Fossil World. Picnics are a popular summer activity with so many Instagram friendly landscapes a short drive from town.
For active families, especially with older children who can walk longer distance, grab a map and head off to the surrounding badlands for unique hiking experiences. Imaginations run wild at Horseshoe Canyon or the Trail of the Fossil Hunters, an easy walk to the site of a 1913 fossil dig. No matter where you adventure, go prepared. Bring lots of water, the landscape offers little shelter and the air is very dry. Sun screen and hats are recommended in summer months.
It's worth spending a night in Drumheller to really get the most of it. Hotels are affordable and family friendly, many offering larger suite style accommodation and indoor swimming pools. Another popular itinerary involves a drive down to Dinosaur Provincial Park for a second or third day of exploration. It's located about 90 minutes southwest of Drumheller.
Also popular for families is a circle trip combining Calgary, Drumheller and Edmonton. West Edmonton Mall offers a world famous water park, shopping, mini golf, Galaxyland theme park and more, all contained within the 48 city block complex.
Interested in road tripping? Contact us for other family friendly road trip ideas.