Dear reader: This article contains links to products and services that I may be compensated for, at no extra cost to you.
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.
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!)
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.
Dinosaur Provincial Park: A Quick Intro
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.
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
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Our Dinosaur Provincial Park Interpretive Tour
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!