Family Travel: A Short Guide to Drumheller, Land of Dinosaurs

There’s nothing that quite captures the mind of a five-year-old like dinosaurs.

And when you live under three hours away from one of the world’s richest dinosaur fossil deposits, and a world-class palaeontology museum, you’d be crazy not to make a trip out of it.

Located in the Red Deer River valley, 1.5 hours northeast of Calgary, Drumheller provides families with the perfect base for exploring the badlands. We recently went on a two-night whirlwind trip from Banff with a five-year-old and two-month-old (more on the new addition in a future post!), with just one full day of exploring. And while a few more days would have of course given us more time to explore the region, one day was ample time to hit the main attractions.

The World's Largest Dinosaur, photo by Meghan J. Ward.
The World’s Largest Dinosaur, photo by Meghan J. Ward.

It turns out it was the perfect family trip, and here’s why: you’ve got dinosaurs at every turn (what kid wouldn’t be stoked on that?), a world-class museum that everyone enjoyed,  kid-friendly attractions, short driving times, just enough variety, good food, an outdoor splash pad, a great B&B, and at least one decent coffee shop for the adults (thanks Café Olé, this was essential when you’re travelling on the somewhat sleep-deprived side).

Our Itinerary

Day 1: Drive to Drumheller; walk up inside the World’s Largest Dinosaur; dinner at Vietnamese Noodle House (202 2 St W, Drumheller); stay at MacDougall Lane Bed & Breakfast.

Day 2: Breakfast; morning at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology; hike through the Badlands Interpretive Trail; lunch at Bernie & the Boys Bistro; fun times on the Rotary Spray Park near the World’s Largest Dinosaur; downtime at the B&B; dinner at Sublime Food & Wine (109 Centre Street, Drumheller); stay at MacDougall Lane Bed & Breakfast.

Day 3: Breakfast; check out; lattes at Café Olé (11 Railway Ave E, Drumheller); back to Banff.

Hiking the Badlands Interpretive Trail. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
Hiking the Badlands Interpretive Trail. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.

Highlights

Drumheller

For a mountain girl, the topography of this town is pretty cool. As you approach from the prairies, you descend into the badlands and swerve your way through eroded hillsides banded with various colours and layers of rock. You’ve got dinosaur “statues” on every street corner, so your kids will enjoy looking for them and counting them! This is a small town and everything is close. The longest we had to drive between activities or locations was just 10 minutes. The terrain around the town and in Midland Provincial Park, where the Royal Tyrrell Museum is situated, is beautiful.

World’s Largest Dinosaur

I’m skeptical when it comes to tourist attractions. When I saw “World’s Largest Dinosaur” on the map, I figured it was big, but not that big. Boy, was I wrong! While my five-year-old’s jaw dropped to the floor, I kept cranking my neck to see the top of this thing. At 86 feet high, and 4.5 times bigger than a real T-Rex, it really is that massive! For a fee, you can climb the 106 steps inside into the head of the dino and look out its mouth at a beautiful view. On a hot day, don’t miss the Rotary Spray Park (free!) next door.

Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

Even if you’re not the musem type, this one will get your imagination running wild, no matter your age. Being in there with a small child, I felt like I was running past displays that I wish I could have been reading and spending more time on. But the Royal Tyrrell Museum appealed to me in two ways: to that side of me that generally geeks out at museums, and as a mother, seeing it through the eyes of my kid.

Entrance to the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
Entrance to the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.

Our favourite parts were the Preparation Lab, where technicians works on fossils (unfortunately not the day we were there, but it was neat to look at their equipment); the Cretaceous Garden, a simulation of an ancient Alberta landscape; and Dinosaur Hall, where various large skeletons are on display. My daughter enjoyed the Gift Shop, where she chose some hatching dinosaur eggs as her souvenir. And we all enjoyed the nearby Badlands Interpretive Trail for a short hike through a landscape that looks very different to the one back home.

Gorgosaurus at the Royal Tyrrell. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
Gorgosaurus at the Royal Tyrrell. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
The Preparation Lab at the Royal Tyrrell. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
The Preparation Lab at the Royal Tyrrell. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
Dinosaur Hall at the Royal Tyrrell. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
Dinosaur Hall at the Royal Tyrrell. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
That's a lot of big bones. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
That’s a lot of big bones. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
The Cretaceous Garden. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
The Cretaceous Garden. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
More from Dinosaur Hall. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
More from Dinosaur Hall. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.

Local Restaurants

I didn’t expect to find an eatery in Drumheller as awesome as Sublime Food & Wine, but it deserves that #1 spot on TripAdvisor. With a kids menu and a dinosaur nearby to play on, the little one was amused, and my husband and I could enjoy a fantastic meal while the baby hung out in the car seat (or bounced on my lap). We both orderd the Portobello Sirloin, a 10-oz grilled Alberta sirloin topped with mushrooms and served with a garlic and wine demi-glaze and, that night, potatoes garnished with bacon and asiago. The service was fantastic.

We weren’t disappointed by the other restaurants we ended up at, including the Vietnamese Noodle House (you can’t go wrong with pho), and Bernie & the Boys Bistro, a burger joint with fun vibes you can tell the locals love. Don’t judge these restaurants by their exteriors – many Drumheller restaurants are converted from homes and sit somewhat randomly on the street corner. Inside, it’s a whole other world.

Cool tables at Bernie & The Boys. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
Cool tables at Bernie & The Boys. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.

On the search for a good cup of coffee? I have a thing about bad drip coffee, and a good caffeine fix makes any trip that much better. Café Olé did the trick. It’s adjacent to The Brick (a bit strange on the interior that way), but we were on a grab-and-go mission anyways.

We heard that WHIFS Flapjack House was another local staple. Unfortunately we didn’t get there since our B&B included an amazing breakfast.

Tips for Travelling to Drumheller with Kids

  • If you’re there in the summer, prepare for hot weather and sun exposure. There isn’t a lot of shade in the badlands.
  • You’ll see dinosaurs everywhere. Prepare a sheet in advance where kids can track how many dinosaurs they can see!
  • Plan on some time at the Rotary Spray Park in town as a way of getting some zoomies out and/or cooling down.
  • Bring a stroller or carrier (if it’s not too hot) for walking.  A few restaurants can be accessed from the Drumheller Visitor Information Centre (next to the World’s Largest Dinosaur). The path by the Red Deer River is closeby there too.
  • Your admission to the museum is good for the whole day. It’s close enough that you could go back and revisit some of your kids’ favourite exhibits, if they’re keen. They also offer kids programming, including a Dig Experience. It wasn’t running while we were there, but it looked really cool.

Dinosaur humour. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.

There is much more to do: camping, hoodoos, ghost towns, arts and culture, hiking, a 6-person church, mini golf – the list goes on. For more information, ideas and other attractions, visit Canadian Badlands and Travel Drumheller.

Note: Portions of this trip were paid for with the assistance of Canadian Badlands and Brookline Public Relations. The article was not reviewed by any such company or organization prior to publishing. 

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Author: Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Alberta, and the co-founder/editor at Crowfoot Media. Her work has been published by a variety of magazines throughout North America, including IMPACT Magazine, Where.ca, Kootenay Mountain Culture and Alpinist.com. She specializes in creating marketing materials and web content for the tourism industry and beyond.

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