While the focus of my blog thus far has been on hikes, primarily in the Rockies, I wanted to write a little about an area of Alberta that is wildly different from Banff or Kananaskis. Heading east from Calgary into the prairies takes you towards a flatter, “more boring” landscape. But hidden in the river valleys in Alberta’s prairies are unique geographical areas known commonly as the Badlands.
Many Albertans seen the Badlands, while visiting the Royal Tyrrell Musuem or driving by the Red Deer River. However, there is an assumption from most that Dinosaur Provincial Park is near Drumheller and therefore our famous dinosaur museum. It wasn’t until we decided to make the trip that we realized the park is actually two hours from Drumheller, about 30 minutes from Brooks, AB.
But what are badlands exactly? They are by definition dramatic landforms characterized by a network of deep, narrow and winding gullies, along with oc- casional hoodoo rocks. Their steep, barren slopes provide striking evidence of the force of erosion by wind and water — a source of continual change in their terrain. The name “Badlands” came from early French explorers who found these areas difficult to navigate. They became an ultimate stop in my 2020 list to explore my own backyard while international travel was banned.
Dinosaur Provincial Park does not loom before you in the distance as the Rocky Mountains do when you drive towards them. Instead they sneak up, with the ground seeming to fall away into the coulee below. We stopped at the upper parking lot before entering the park to get an aerial view of the landscape. It was incredible! I cannot recommend this trip more, if you’re not convinced yet, keep reading!
In a province mostly filled with the grasslands of the prairies and the mountainous vegetation to the west, seeing cacti growing in nature seems impossible. But the Badlands regions are known for their more arid climate, with distinct plant and animal species from the rest of Alberta. This includes prairie rattlesnakes, northern scorpions, black widow spiders, short-horned lizard and the western small-footed bat. While some of these creatures are dangerous, most visitors won’t encounter them. Just stay alert! The weather in these regions is also often hotter than the rest of Alberta, with temperatures reaching 47°C in the shade during the summer months.
Dinosaur Provincial Park is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, so remember that everything in the park is protected by law. Removing or intentionally harming any plant, animal, fossil, or non-living object is against the law.
The name for the park is not simply because the region looks like something out of a dinosaur film. Fossils from at least 35 different dinosaur species have been found in the area. In an effort to live up to its name, there are fossil exhibits around the park. Follow the park’s ring road to find them (I recommend driving unless the weather is mild and you have lots of time).
Our day consisted of exploring the park and all its trails. There are a number of short trails all around the park, taking you in and amongst the different hoodoo formations. The Alberta Parks website has a list of the different trails here. Try to stay on the path to preserve the area. If you are interested in a longer stay, there is a campground near the river. We spent a day here, but easily could have stayed longer. We waited until the sun set over the park, streaking the sky purple and giving dramatic definition to the hoodoos in the fading light.