Our Awesome Dinosaur Provincial Park Camping Experience

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Dinosaur Provincial Park is one of the gems of Southern Alberta. It is Canada’s largest badlands area and features some the most surreal and impressive landscapes beyond the Rockies.

Dinosaur Provincial Park is often overshadowed by its touristier cousin, Drumheller. While Drumheller has the better museum, Dinosaur Park offers a far better opportunity to see (and even find!) real dinosaur fossils in situ.

The Dinosaur Provincial Park campsite gives visitors the chance to camp in the midst of the badlands. As the park is rather remote and there are so many things to do there, and the campground is pretty much the only accommodation option anywhere near the park, it only makes sense to stay for a few nights.

 

Campsite at Dinosaur Provincial Park
One of the campsites at Dino Provincial Park Campground

 

Our two kids (Sage, 6 and Lavender, 5) have been dino lovers for several years running. We’ve already been to Drumheller, but this time we decided to travel the extra distance from Edmonton and go camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park. To round out our dino tour, we even stopped in Drumheller on the way there (and again on the way back…we just can’t get enough of dinos!)

 

A girl sitting beside of real dinosaur leg bone on a Dinosaur Provincial Park Interpretive tour
Real dino leg bone on our interpretive tour (see the final section of the article for all the details)

 

Camping at Dinosaur Provincial Park was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, not just for the kids but even for us.If you’re in the midst of planning your visit, you will almost find my list of things to do in Dinosaur Provincial Park useful. In it, I arrange the park’s best attractions into the logical order that you would visit them upon arrival, perfect for planning your visiting schedule.

What follows is my unbiased Dinosaur Provincial Park Campground review, with all the info you might need for planning a similar visit.

Find more fun ideas for exploring the province in my Alberta bucket list.

 

A girl running in the badlands of Dinosaur Park
Lavender running around Dino Provincial Park

 

Dinosaur Provincial Park: A Quick Intro

Entrance sign of Dinosaur Provincial Park

 

Dinosaur Provincial Park is one of nearly 500 parks managed by the province of Alberta in Canada. The 20,000-acre park in southeastern Alberta was established in 1955 and received UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1979.

What lends the park its name is the fact that around 50 species of dinosaur have been discovered there, roughly 4% of the total known dinosaur species in the world. The most common dinosaur fossils found there include lambeosaurus, corythosaurus, centrosaurus, chasmosaurus, and the mighty meat-eater gorgosaurus.

 

Chasmosaurus skeleton, Dinosaur Provincial Park Interpretive Centre Museum
Chasmosaurus skeleton on display in the Interpretive Centre Museum

 

Dinosaur Provincial Park should not be confused with the town of Drumheller, which is located 164 kilometers (1 hr 45 min) by car to the northwest.

Drumheller is more well-known internationally and even among Albertans due to its dino-related attractions like the Royal Tyrell Museum (the world’s best dinosaur museum) and the World’s Largest T-Rex, but more fossils in fact come from Dinosaur Provincial Park.

Also like Drumheller, Dinosaur Provincial Park sits in the Red Deer River Basin, which was created by a glacial flood some 18,000 years ago, and the badlands scenery in the tour areas is quite similar. Drumheller is definitely a few steps tackier than Dinosaur Park, though; you definitely won’t see any Flinstones dinosaur statues or fake fossil souvenir shops in Dinosaur Provincial Park!

 

How to Get to Dinosaur Provincial Park Campground

A boy on top of a hill in the badlands
Sage loved exploring the park

 

The Dinosaur Park campsite is located at the western end of the provincial park, and accessed from the west on Township Rd 210A. The nearest town with facilities is Brooks, a 30-minute drive to the southwest.

Here are the distances (by road) and driving times from other major cities in Alberta:

Medicine Hat: 139 km / 1.5 hr
Lethbridge: 195 km / 2 hr
Calgary: 220 km / 2 hr 15 min
Edmonton: 430 km / 4 hr 30 min

If coming from Edmonton like we did, you can stop in Drumheller either on the way there or the way back (or both like we did!) We were able to spend a few hours in Drumheller on the way to Dinosaur Park and still get there for the 4 pm check-in time. Going via Drumheller only makes the drive about 15-20 minutes longer than on other routes from Edmonton to Dinosaur PP.

 

Dinosaur Provincial Park Campsite Review

Campsite at Dinosaur Provincial Park, with a young girl walking on the rocky hill in the foreground
Lavender at the base of the hills right beside the campground

 

The Dinosaur Provincial Park Campground offers 122 campsites surrounded by the awesome badlands scenery of the park. The sites are tent-friendly, and most (but not all) come with 15/30 amp power for RVs. 65 of the sites are even open year round.

The campground is very popular, and we got one of the last remaining spots for a weekend at the end of September when we reserved nearly two months in advance. If you want to book a spot for summertime, you’ll have to try the moment reservations open in spring, and even then, you’ll probably need some luck to get one, especially for a summer weekend.

 

Camping Tip: If you find the Dinosaur Park Campground is full, you could try the Steveville Bridge Campground, which is 20 minutes away from Dino Provincial Park. I’ve heard people even go tubing on the Red Deer River between the campgrounds!

 

Dinosaur Provincial Park Map
Super useful map of Dinosaur Provincial Park. Numbers 1-5 show the five hikes in the park (see below section)

 

When you drive into Dinosaur Provincial Park, you’ll first pass the park sign, with a parking lot and incredible viewpoint and short hiking trail beside it (#1 on the map above).

Next, you’ll pass the Dinosaur Provincial Park Interpretive Centre & Museum (#2 on the map), which is also the start of a great hiking trail beside it. There is, however, almost no parking at the centre, so you’ll have to drive a little further down to reach the main parking lot then walk up to the museum.

The Cretaceous Café is located at the main parking lot. This is where you check in for camping. They have meals, cold drinks, ice, camping supplies, and firewood for sale. The campground’s only showers (loonie-operated) are also located here, as well as some laundry machines.

 

Cretaceous Cafe, the place to check in for camping at Dinosaur Provincial Park
Head here for check in, meals, showers, laundry, and firewood.

 

Food menu at Dinosaur Provincial Park campground restaurant cafe
No major surprises here…

 

Second picture of food menu at Dinosaur Provincial Park campground restaurant cafe
Board 2 of the menu

 

Our lunch at the Cretaceous Cafe, the restaurant at Dinosaur Provincial Park campground
A “raptor wrap”, poutine & burger we had for lunch

 

Showers at Dinosaur Provincial Park campground
Shower facilities at Cretaceous Cafe

 

The campground’s outhouses were some of the cleanest we’ve ever seen, and there were taps with potable (safe to drink) water. Note that no fireworks are allowed.

If you look at the map again, you can see the two main areas of campsites: a long thin loop stretching from north to south, and a smaller section with two walking bridges leading to it at the north end of the campground. There’s also a small loop to the boat launch on the river. #3, 4, and 5 on the map indicate the three hiking trails on the scenic driving loop around the park (more on those below).

If you’re trying to decide which section to stay in, I would personally recommend the long, thin loop, especially the sites on the left (west) side of it. This is because these sites literally hug the slopes of a line of steep, arid hills that all kids there (including our own) LOVED climbing and playing on. You also really get the feeling that you are immersed in the badlands, with the hills are towering right beside you.

 

One of the best campsites in Dinosaur Provincial Park
One of the prime spots in the campground (spot S-21 on the reservations map)

 

We lucked out and got a site in this section. Although it was on the other (eastern) side of the road, it was still on the side of the loop closest to the hills, so they were only 30 steps away and in clear view from our site.

 

Boy looking out of a tent in Dinosaur Provincial Park campsite
Our humble accommodation (site S-20)

 

This is not to say that the other section of the campground is a bad one. The northern section seemed to have slightly more trees, offering more shade, plus views of the creek (see photo below).

 

View across a creek to a section of the campground at Dinosaur Provincial Park
The northern section of the campground

 

Campsite overlooking a creek at Dinosaur Provincial Park campground
A few prime spots in the northern section overlook the creek

 

In the northern section, you would also have closer access to the playground, which is a short walk over the bridge across the creek, as well as the Cretacious Café, where most of the campground’s facilities are located. From the southern reaches of the campground, it would take about 10 minutes on foot to reach those facilities.

 

Kids playing in playground at Dinosaur Provincial Park
The kids enjoyed the large playground on site

 

No matter which site you’re staying in, it’s only a few minutes’ drive to the start of the scenic Dinosaur Provincial Park driving loop, where most of the park’s hikes and attractions that are accessible by the public are located.

Most of Dinosaur Provincial Park is a Nature Reserve that is inaccessible to the public, unless you take one of the guided interpretive tours like we did. Our Family Dino Stomp Tour was definitely a highlight of our visit; I’ll cover that in more detail in the final section of the article.

 

What We Loved about Dinosaur Park Campground

The biggest draw of this campsite is the scenery that surrounds it. You really feel like you are camping amidst the badlands. Our kids were obsessed with climbing the sandstone hills right in front of our site, and we didn’t even have to leave the campfire-side to keep an eye on them. At night, the sky was filled with stars, as there is almost no light pollution in the area.

 

Two kids climbing dry, arid hills
Our kids couldn’t get enough of climbing the hills right beside our campsite!

 

Access to the hiking trails and other attractions of the park is of course also a major plus. You could surely visit the park as a day trip if you happen to live close enough (we don’t!), but I don’t think only one part of a single day would be enough to do the park justice. We camped for two nights, which gave us a whole Saturday to explore and go hiking, plus half a day on Sunday to do an interpretive tour.

I would say that was the perfect amount of time, but you could easily add a third night or more and not get bored.

 

A teepee in a campsite at Dinosaur Provincial Campground
Cool teepee tent across from us in S-19

 

Besides the surroundings, the campground itself was well maintained, including very clean outhouses. Having showers, free drinking water, and hot meals available was also a plus. The campground has amenities that can make a family trip more comfortable, without going overboard with tacky activities like some family-oriented privately-run campgrounds do.

On that note, Dinosaur Park by nature attracts more families and visitors with young kids. Therefore, the park was very quiet at night. Your chances of getting disrupted by late-night partiers is definitely lower than at other campgrounds.

 

What We Didn’t Love about the Campsite

Compared to campgrounds that we are more used to around Edmonton, which tend to be forested and have a lot of trees between individual sites, there isn’t as much privacy at Dinosaur Campground.

 

View of our campsite, car, and tent in Dinosaur Park Camground
Not much space or trees between sites, but luckily we had quiet neighbors

 

Some sites are slightly separated from each other, but ours was connected to our neighbor’s with no trees between. Still, our neighbor’s large RV created a wall between their site and ours, so we barely noticed them. I think we lucked out and couldn’t even hear other campers at night despite being in a tent, but that may not always be the case for people who tent like we do.

The only other complaint I could think of is that the $11 bags of firewood for sale were quite small for the price. One bag was just enough for us to get a decent fire going and cook dinner on. The second night, we had to buy two bags just to maintain a fire from dinner until we went to bed. That’s $33 worth of wood for one weekend! Definitely bring your own wood if you can.

 

Dinosaur Provincial Park Comfort Camping

Dinosaur Provincial Park comfort camping
Now-closed comfort campsites

 

Unfortunately, the comfort camping at Dinosaur Provincial Park was one of the services that was axed when Alberta’s UCP government ungraciously decided to fully or partially close around 20 provincial parks in early 2020.

I had a look at the luxury campsites, some of which are still standing but not being maintained. They feature large, covered canvas tents looking out on a grassy field next to the playground, somewhat between the Cretacious Café and boat launch on the river.

Hopefully these are brought back someday, for reasons well explained in this article.

 

Dinosaur Provincial Park Group Camping

Group campsite at Dinosaur Provincial Park campground
The whole area in the foreground and background is the huge group campsite.

 

Dinosaur Provincial Park has one large group site that can accommodate 10 units. It is located at the southern end of the campground’s north-south loop, as far away from the Cretaceous Café/check-in/showers as you could get.

We looked down on the group site from the our hike on the Coulee Viewpoint Trail. It looks very big and private, with a picnic shelter and its own outhouse. If you’re booking a regular site, I’d personally avoid the ones closest to the group campsite, though, because larger groups could be noisier.

 

What We Did Besides Camping

For an itemized and more detailed version of what follows, see my list of the best things to do in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Gray clouds above Dinosaur Campground
Unusually cloudy weather when we first arrived.

 

Since check-in wasn’t until 4 p.m., we didn’t do anything on the first evening besides arrive, eat, and go to bed. I think a smart thing to do would be to arrive a little earlier and visit the small museum at the Dinosaur Provincial Park Interpretive Centre before it closes at 4 PM, then you can focus on other attractions in the park the next day.

 

View looking down on Dinosaur Provincial Park from the entrance sign viewpoint
Incredible view looking down on the park from the entrance sign area

 

When you first arrive at the Park, park your car in the parking lot right beside the park’s welcome sign before driving down into the park. There you can take in the incredible view looking down on the entire park.

Next, drive downhill into the park, and park in the (only a couple available) parking spots at the Interpretive Centre, or in the huge parking lot a little further downhill, and walk back up to visit the centre.

Budget 30 minutes to see the museum, and add another hour if you want to hike the Coulee Viewpoint Trail, which starts right beside the museum.

 

Dinosaur skeleton hanging from roof of Dinosaur Provincial Park Interpretive Centre
Dino skeleton in the foyer of the Interpretive Centre

 

The museum entrance fee is reasonable ($5 adults, $2 kids, under 6 free). The displays introduce the park’s geology, wildlife, and of course dinos. There are about a dozen impressive fossils on display.

 

An interactive dinosaur fossil display inside the Dinosaur Park Museum with two kids touching it
There were some good interactive displays for the kids

 

On our second (and only full) day, we were determined explore everything the park had to offer. Unfortunately, though, we woke up to an incredibly windy morning, and even a patch of pelty rain. As a result, we lost a few hours in the morning, and felt a little rushed to squeeze everything in once the weather improved significantly in late morning and early afternoon.

 

Hikes in Dinosaur Provincial Park

In total, there are five hiking trails to enjoy in the park. All are easy, and the longest one takes less than 1.5 hours. Here there are:

 

Prairie Trail: This very short trail is nothing special. It’s located at the parking lot beside the entrance sign, where you’ll be more focused on the amazing view.

Coulee Viewpoint Trail: This 0.9-km (30-minute) trail begins behind the Interpretive Centre and takes you to multiple incredible viewpoints looking down on the area where the campground is located and over the park. You can even follow trails right down to the southern loop of the campground (or walk up to the trail if you’re staying in the campground).

The cover photo of this article was shot from the Coulee Viewpoint Trail.

 

Two kids walking on Coulee Viewpoint Trail in Dinosaur PP
Coulee Viewpoint Trail

 

Badlands Trail: This 1.3-km (45-minute) walk is the first of three trails located on the driving loop in the park. It features impressive hoodoos and signs introducing the area.

 

Boy walking between two tall hoodoos on the Badlands Trail
Impressive hoodoos on Badlands Trail (with Sage for scale)

 

Trail of the Fossil Hunters: Dino lovers prioritize this one! The trail begins from the second of two “fossils houses” containing impressive dinosaur skeletons still in the ground. You can park at either of the two shelters and walk or drive between them. The in-and-out trail is 0.9-km (40-min), and the scenery along it is fantastic.

 

Dinosaur fossil house #2
Fossil house #2, set up to look like a dino excavation site (but with a real fossil in the ground!)

 

Badlands scenery and two kids walking on the Trail of the Fossil Hunters, Dinosaur Park
Trail of the Fossil Hunters

 

Signs along the trail also introduce the early paleontologists of the area, including Joseph Tyrrell, whom the famous museum in Drumheller is named after. What our kids loved most, though, was going off the trail and simply exploring the badlands area.

 

Kids running around the badlands
Our kids loved getting off the trail

 

Cottonwood Flats Trail: This 1.4-km (1-hour) loop trail provides access to a totally unique section of the park, the lush riverside. Most of the park’s 165 bird species can be found here, as well as impressively decaying cottonwood trees.

 

Autumn foliage on the Cottonwood Flats Trail
Cottonwood Flats Trail

 

With our two young kids, we didn’t complete every single one of the hikes, but we were actually able to do at least part of each one, more than enough to get a good taste of them. If you’re a biking family, you could easily bike the driving loop to walk the three trails on it. By car, it would only take about 10 minutes to drive if you didn’t stop.

Besides hiking and visiting the museum, other things we managed to squeeze in were playing in the playground beside the Cretaceous Café, taking a peek at the historic John Ware Cabin (also beside the café), and seeing the river at the Boat Launch, which also has some excellent campfire/picnic day use spots looking over the river if you happen to visiting for the day.

I would imagine that in summer you could also take a dip in the river, but watch the current!

 

Day use area and boat launch at Dinosaur Campground
Day use and boat launch area on the Red Deer River

 

Our Dinosaur Provincial Park Interpretive Tour

Box of equipment for guided tour of Dinosaur Provincial Park

 

For our final day, we had signed up for a Family Dino Stomp tour. This is one of the six interpretive tours offered by park headquarters, and the only one that was listed as suitable for very young kids like ours. I was initially uncertain about doing this, as the guided tours are not cheap, but in the end it was definitely worth it and was a major highlight of our visit.

 

My hand holding a dinosaur bone with badlands scenery in the background
A real dinosaur bone we found on our interpretive tour

 

The Family Dino Stomp tour is definitely aimed at young children. Kid-focused activities included digging in sandboxes for (real) fossils, plastering large dino bones for safe transportation, and a scavenger hunt. The interpreter was excellent and really good at making the tour both informative but also fun for kids.

 

Kid's hand holding a dinosaur fossil above a box of sand
Digging up real fossils in boxes of sand

 

For us parents, though, the tour was still enjoyable. It is only on one of these tours that you can access the park’s vast nature reserve. We got to see a beautiful area that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to (although the scenery on the hiking trails in the public area is just as beautiful). If you don’t have young kids, though, definitely choose one of the other tours.

 

My son standing amongst the amazing bandlands during our Dinosaur Provincial Park camping trip
Beautiful scenery of the Dinosaur Nature Reserve

 

But the real highlight, even for us, was seeing real dinosaur bones in the ground. We found several small ones during the short hike (note: taking any of these is illegal and comes with an enormous fine!) Then at the end, as a grand finale, we got to see a huge hadrosaur leg bone still half buried in the ground. Amazing!

 

Me and my son sitting beside a dinosaur bone half buried in the ground
Sage and I with a real dinosaur leg bone

 

Final Thoughts on Dinosaur Provincial Park Camping

Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park, seeing, and even finding real dinosaur fossils is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For dino-loving kids, it is surely one of the best dinosaur experiences to be had in the world. Even for adults, the experience and landscapes of the park are awe-inspiring.

Camping in the park only enhances the experience, plus it only makes sense to stay overnight unless you happen to live really close to the park. There is more to offer in this park than you can squeeze into a single day.

The campground itself is very good, and staying there is surely something my kids and I will fondly recall for the rest of our lives. It’s no wonder the campground is so popular, and it definitely gets our two thumbs (or dino claws) up!

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