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Dinosaur Provincial Park is one of the most compelling and family-friendly attractions in southern Alberta. Besides the incredible badlands landscapes, a great campground, and the chance to find dinosaur fossils, there are also some great hikes and tours available in the park.
In this article, I’m going to introduce the five main Dinosaur Provincial Park trails, all of which are fairly easy and can be done with kids, as well as the six Dinosaur Provincial Park tours that you can take to access the park’s vast nature reserve. We did all five of the hikes when we visited, and carefully chose one of the tours.
Make sure you don’t confuse Dinosaur Provincial Park with Drumheller, the “dinosaur capital of the world,” which is almost two hours away by car!
Dinosaur Provincial Park is on my list of the the best things to do in Alberta!
Table of Contents
Things to Know about Hiking in Dinosaur Provincial Park
Dinosaur Provincial Park is characterized by classic badlands scenery. What this means is that it is very dry and desert-like. It can get very hot in summer, and there are virtually no trees to offer shade. It can also get quite windy at times.
For these reasons, it’s important to protect yourself from the sun and bring lots of water to drink. You also need to watch out for rattlesnakes, which are common in the area. If you hear one, stop, locate it visually, and then slowly move away from it. Do not panic or run. Another thing to watch out for is cacti found throughout the park. Don’t sit on one! Also note that dogs are allowed on all of the hikes, but must be on a leash.
All five of the trails below are quite easy. A few of them involve a small amount of elevation gain, but it wasn’t anything that our 6- and 5-year-olds couldn’t handle. Although we didn’t complete every single one of the hikes, as that would have been too long for them, we were able to finish a few of them and walk at least part of the others.
You’ll see lots of beautiful sandstone and mudstone hills along the way. While it’s fine to go off the trails in the park and climb some of these hills, you should avoid scrambling up (or sliding down) them. They have been shaped by years or wind & water erosion, and doing this ruins them for other visitors.
While you are likely to find dinosaur bones in the park, it is totally illegal to remove them, and if you get caught, there’s a huge fine. The nature reserve, which can only be accessed on interpretive tours (see the final section of the article), has an especially high concentration of them.
Last but not least, before you hit the trails, here are some hiking quotes to inspire you before you hit the trails!
The 5 Dinosaur Provincial Park Hikes
There are five main hiking trails in Dinosaur Provincial Park. These trails are numbered from 1-5 in the below map.
1. Prairie Trail 0.3 km/ 15 min / super easy
The 0.3 kilometer Prairie Trail is the least exciting in the park, and the first one you will encounter upon arriving. It starts from the parking lot right beside the Dinosaur Provincial Park entrance sign when you first arrive at the park, before descending into the valley.
This walk is just a flat trail that has been cut through some tall grass, with a few informative signs about prairies flora and fauna, and views into a neighboring farm. One highlight of the trail is a glyphstone that is sacred to area’s original indigenous people. Mainly the trail serves to highlight the stark contrast between the surrounding prairies and the immense badlands landscape that you are about to drive down into.
The sign says the loop trail takes 20 minutes, but it easily can be done faster.
Even if you don’t walk the Prairie Trail, though, it’s essential to stop here for the dramatic bird’s eye view looking down on Dinosaur Provincial Park. This is the best viewpoint in the whole park, and absolutely can’t be missed. The viewpoint shares the same parking lot with the hiking trail.
2. Coulee Viewpoint Trail 0.9km/ 30-45 min / medium / 32m elevation gain
Next up, the Coulee Viewpoint Trails starts from the Dinosaur Visitor Information Centre & Museum (called “Field Station” on some park maps). The trail features characteristically surreal badlands scenery and ascends to a ridge overlooking Little Sandhill Coulee and the park’s campground.
While our children (age 5 & 6) were able to handle this hike with some help from us, there are some steep ascents and parts of it that require a bit of scrambling. Thus it is not recommended to do this hike in poor weather or after rain. There are some clifftop lookout points as well, so you’ll definitely want to be careful and keep an eye on your kids.
This is a loop trail, and there are a few parts where you can connect to side trails leading down to the campground. So if you’re camping at Dinosaur Provincial Park, you can also access this hike from the campground. It’s also fine to go off the trail and explore the surrounding badlands.
Note that the Visitor’s Center only has a few parking spots. If they’re full, you need to park at the main parking lot beside Cretaceous Café (the campground check-in building), which is about 100 meters downhill from the Visitor’s Center on the main road into the park.
3. Badlands Interpretive Trail 1.3 km / 45min / easy-medium / 31m elevation gain
The Badlands Interpretive Trail is the first of three hiking trails one encounters on the 4 km scenic driving loop in Dinosaur Provincial Park. The trail is special in that it is the only one that provides access to the park’s huge nature reserve, which can otherwise only be visited on paid interpretive tours.
The hike ascends gradually on an out-and-back trail, passing some impressive hoodoos and pinnacles along the way. Halfway in, it does a large loop before returning. From the highest sections of the trail, there are panoramic views looking down on the park’s campground and towards the ridge of Coulee Viewpoint Trail. This is also a good place to take in the sunset.
Signs along the way introduce the badlands environment and dinosaurs found in the area.
Note that you can easily walk to this hike from the campground. In fact, you could walk or cycle the whole scenic driving loop, which is a gravel road about 4 km in length, but if you have limited time or energy or are visiting with your kids, it’s better to drive and park at each of the three hiking trails found along it.
4. Trail of the Fossil Hunters 0.9 km / 40 min / easy
This out-and-back trail begins from the second of two fossil houses, which contain real dino fossils in the ground, on the scenic loop around the park. You can park at either fossil house and walk through the badlands between them.
The trail leads to a 1913 fossil quarry site. Signs along the way introduce important paleontologists from the past, including Joseph Burr Tyrrell, who the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller is named after. The signs intend to take you back to the excitement of the early days of the dinosaur fossil boom in Alberta.
The scenery along the trail is fantastic. Because of the easy nature of the walk and in situ dinosaur fossils at the start, our kids especially loved this trail. They actually preferred going off the trail and climbing the various sandstone hills around it.
We even found a little dinosaur bone on this trail, so we became true fossil hunters (and yes, we left it behind!)
5. Cottonwood Flats Trail 1.4km / 1hr loop / easy
The last hike on the scenic driving loop in the park, and the final entry on this list, is the Cottonwood Flats Trail. This one provides access to a completely different environment of the park: the lush, green riverside.
It is here that most of the park’s 165 bird species can be spotted. This riparian habitat also features numerous wildflowers, shrubs, and its namesake: beautifully decaying cottonwood trees.
The trail is totally flat, but it’s a bit longer than the others, so save it for the end and see if you still have energy for it. Indeed it provides a pleasant contrast to the other hikes in Dinosaur Provincial Park, with shade from trees, bird songs, and incredibly fresh air.
Note that the trailhead is fairly close to the end of the scenic loop, so it is easy to walk here from the campground.
The 6 Dinosaur Provincial Park Tours (Interpretive/Guided Hikes)
There are also six interpretive tours offered at Dinosaur Provincial Park. You can book any of them online before your visit (space limited). They range from 2-4 hours, and they are the only way visitors can access the park’s immense nature reserve.
In our opinion, the tours are a little pricey but worth it. Although the scenery is similar to what you can see on the five hikes I introduced above, it is still spectacular. But what really made the tour special for us was seeing real (and quite large) dinosaur fossils still half stuck in the ground.
We also found multiple dinosaur bones on our walk, which was really special. The concentration of them in the nature reserve seems to be much higher, perhaps because they haven’t been picked over by tourists.
These are the six interpretive tours offered, and they fall on different days and times, so not every tour is offered every day. Ours was on the last day of our camping trip, so we were able to do it (10 a.m. to noon) and still have plenty of time to check out of the campsite before the checkout time of 4 p.m.
1. Family Dino Stomp
We did this and would highly recommend it for anyone with young kids. Without young kids, though, definitely choose one of the other ones. The tour is 2 hours and includes an easy hike, scavenger hunt, and other children’s activities, but it is also informative for adults and the scenery is awesome.
2. Badlands Explorer Hike
This would be a similar hike to the above, but a little more difficult and minus the young children’s activities. It’s good for an all-around introduction, and you get to see the same hadrosaur femur that we saw on our tour. It would be a good choice for older kids, and is also 2 hours.
3. Centrosaurus Bonebed Hike
This is a more difficult, 3-hour hike, involving four kilometers of hiking. You get to visit a bonebed that has the remains of hundreds of centrosauruses! Age 10+
4. Golden Hour Hike
As the same suggests, this 2-hour hike takes place at Golden Hour, those precious couple hours before sunset when the setting sun casts golden rays that paint everything beautifully. Photographers will love this one. Although it could be called the “sunset tour”, you don’t necessarily watch the sunset. Age 14+
5. Great Badlands Hike
This is the longest hike, at 8 km, and last four hours. More serious hikers will enjoy this one. Age 10+
6. Dinosaur Preserve Walk
This 3.5-hour, 7.5 km walk follows the main road through the nature preserve. Personally, I wouldn’t go for this one because I prefer to get onto the trails. Age 7+
Final Thoughts on Dinosaur Park Tours & Hiking
Dinosaur Provincial Park is the perfect place to go hiking with kids, or for those who prefer shorter by scenically rewarding hikes. The chance to find real dinosaur fossils along the way makes it all the more exciting. The Dinosaur Provincial Park tours available offer the chance to get even more intimate with the park’s landscape, as well as some more challenging options for serious hikers.