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Dinosaur Provincial Park in southern Alberta is one of the world’s great dino destinations. It features an otherworldly badlands landscape (the largest of its kind in Canada), and one of the highest concentrations of dinosaur fossils in the world.
Be careful not to confuse Dinosaur Provincial Park with Drumheller, its touristy cousin. Dinosaur Provincial Park is more remote, located 170 km (1 hour 45 min) by car to the southeast of Drumheller. While Drumheller has the Royal Tyrrell Museum and world’s tallest dinosaur, Dinosaur Park has produced more fossil finds, and offers a more natural experience.
One of the most incredible things about Dinosaur Provincial Park is that you can actually find dinosaur bones yourself, especially if you go hiking one of these 5 trails or taking an interpretive tour into the nature reserve, which I would highly recommend.
But keep in mind that it’s totally illegal to take one home, and doing so incurs a huge fine. If you’re visiting Dinosaur Provincial Park with kids like we did, this will be truly amazing for them, but even for us parents, I felt this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Our kids are totally obsessed with dinos, so this park was a not only educational but pretty much a dream come true for them!
I also highly recommend staying overnight; you can read all about our experience camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park Campground.
There is tons of information on the government’s Dinosaur Provincial Park page, but what I’ve done below is compiled all of the best things to do in Dinosaur Provincial Park into the logical order that you would do them upon arriving at the park, so this can serve as an itinerary for visiting the park.
Quick Introduction to Dinosaur Provincial Park
Dinosaur Provincial Park is one of over 400 parks managed by the provincial government of Alberta, arguably Canada’s most beautiful province. The park is 20,000 acres in size and was established in 1955. The park also obtained UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1979 for its high concentration of dino fossils and beautiful badlands landscape. You can learn more by downloading a park fact sheet here.
More than 50 species of dino have been found in Dinosaur Provincial Park. Some of the most common include lambeosaurus, corythosaurus, centrosaurus, chasmosaurus, and the mighty gorgosaurus. You can download a full list of the dinos found in the park here. Our kids loved going over the list before we arrived!
The landscape of the park was created by a glacial flood 18,000 years ago, and sits the Red Deer River Basin, just like Drumheller to the northwest. The river cuts a deep ravine into the surrounding prairies, which is why so many dino bones can be found there.
Getting to Dinosaur Provincial Park
The nearest town to Dino Provincial Park is Brooks, which is 30 minutes away.
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
- Canmore/Kananaskis: 317 km/3 hr 10 min
- Red Deer: 330km / 3 hr 20 min
- Edmonton: 430 km / 4 hr 30 min
If you’re coming from Edmonton like we did, you can drive to Dinosaur Provincial Park via Drumheller, making it into a perfect dino-lovers’ weekend! Due to the distance, though, I wouldn’t consider doing this as a day trip from Edmonton.
I would recommend camping in the park for 1-2 nights, as a single day is just not enough to enjoy all that this park has to offer, especially if you want to take an interpretive tour.
Things to Do in Dinosaur Provincial Park
I arranged the below 15 Dinosaur Provincial Park attractions in the logical order that you would do them upon arriving. Following this list should be super straightforward, and will help you to make your Dinosaur Provincial Park itinerary!
1. Take in the incredible view from the entrance sign
As soon as you arrive at Dinosaur Provincial Park, you’ll spot the entrance sign. Before down the road past it, hang a right into the parking lot. From there, you can enjoy the most incredible view looking down on the entire region. It’s only from here that you can truly appreciate the immense size of this spectacular badlands area.
It’s important to do this first, because if you skip it and just drive down into the park, you’ll only get glimpses of the view from your car, and you’ll really want to stop to admire it (but you can’t!) There’s also a trail from the viewpoint leading down to the Interpretive Centre (#3 below).
2. Walk the Prairie Trail
On the other side of the same parking lot, there’s the short (0.3 km) Prairie Trail. To be completely honest with you, it’s nothing special, especially if you live in the prairies. It’s just a path cleared through some tall grass, with a few informational signs.
I guess the point is to contrast the surrounding prairie landscape with the badlands in the valley below. But since you’ve likely just been driving through the prairies for multiple hours just to get here, you want to get down into the park, right?
Find more information about this and the other hikes in the park below in my guide to Dinosaur Provincial Park’s hiking trails.
3. Visit the Visitor’s Centre & Museum
After driving a few hundred meters down into the park, you’ll pass the entrance to the Dinosaur Provincial Park Interpretive Centre & Museum (also called the “Field Station” on some park maps).
There are only two regular parking spaces (+ two handicapped ones) available and a drop-off loop, so you can drop your passengers off at the door and/or continue on to the park’s main parking lot, a hundred meters further downhill.
The Interpretive Centre has a small gift shop and museum that takes about 30 minutes to visit. Entrance to the museum is a reasonable $5 for adults, $2 for kids, under 6 free ($14 for a family). It’s open 9 am to 4 pm and closed from November to the end of March.
Inside, your kids can learn about the geology & wildlife of the badlands and see about a dozen impressive fossils uncovered in the area, including a large lambeosaurus skeleton being attacked by multiple dromeosauruses, and an impressive chasmosaurus skeleton (see photo above).
4. Walk the Coulee Viewpoint Trail
The Visitor’s Centre is also the starting point of the Coulee Viewpoint Trail. This 0.9km loop trail among the badlands takes in impressive views looking down on the campground and valley below.
This trail does include some uphill, but my kids (aged 6 and 5) were able to handle it. In fact, they loved it! If you’re staying in the campground, which is located in the valley below, you can actually hike up to the Coulee Viewpoint Trail from a few different spots in the campground.
5. Dine at the Cretaceous Café
OK, so it probably won’t be winning any Michelin stars, but the Cretaceous Café offers some standard fare like burgers, poutine, and “raptor wraps.” It’s handy to know it’s there, because there no restaurants or even gas stations anywhere near Dinosaur PP, and campers have a backup option for meals. You can see pictures of the whole menu and what we ate in my Dino Park Campground Review.
The Cretaceous Café is also where you check in for camping, buy firewood & other camping supplies, and it has the campground’s showers & laundry machines. The Cretaceous Café is found at the park’s main parking lot and is labeled “Dinosaur Service Centre” on some of the park maps. I also took the photo of the Dinosaur Provincial Park map above at the café.
6. Visit John Ware Cabin
Right behind Cretaceous Café, you’ll find historic John Ware Cabin. This was the residence of a former African American slave for the last five years of his life, from 1900 to 1905. You can read his full life story here.
The cabin is only open to the public on weekend afternoons in July & August, or by special appointment.
7. Play in the playground
If you’re visiting Dinosaur Provincial Park with kids, you know they always appreciate a good playground (and you appreciate a few moments of peace). The large playground across the main entrance road from Cretaceous Café will keep them occupied for some time.
To pass the time, you can enjoy a lovely view across the nearby creek to the northern section of the campground, or even cross a bridge over the creek to go explore it. The campground’s comfort camping units (closed due to Alberta’s UCP government cuts in early 2020) are also located in a large field next to the playground.
8. Have a campfire overlooking the Red Deer River
Just past the playground, a side road leads to the Dinosaur Provincial Park boat launch. I’ve even heard of people rafting or tubing on the river from Steveville Bridge Campground to this point in summer.
Beside the boat launch, there are a few lovely day use spots with large fire pits overlooking the river.
9. Take an interpretive tour
Most of Dinosaur Provincial Park is actually a nature reserve that is inaccessible to the general public – unless you take an interpretive tour. The park offers six different interpretive tours to choose from, which you can book online before your trip.
The tours are 2-4 hours in length, and most require you to meet at the nature reserve gate then drive in together in convoy. Since we have young kids, we went for the Family Dino Stomp tour. It was excellent! The guide was informative but also good with the kids. There were several activities, including digging for fossils, plastering dino bones, and a scavenger hunt.
But the most impressive part of the tour was seeing a huge hadrosaur leg bone still stuck in the ground! We also found several real dino bones on our walk; the concentration of them was quite incredible.
10. Go camping
The Dinosaur Provincial Park campground is very popular, and you’ll have to book well in advance to get a spot; summer and especially summer weekends usually sell out as soon as they become available in spring. You can read my full review of Dinosaur Provincial Park campsite here.
Our favorite part of the campsite was the chance to bed down amidst the badlands landscape. Our kids loved climbing the hills right beside our spot, and since the park mainly attracts families with young kids, it was very quiet at night.
11. Drive the scenic loop
Just past the campground, you’ll reach the start of a four-kilometer driving loop through Dinosaur Provincial Park. This is the main section of the park that is accessible to the public, and the below final four entries are all located along the loop.
You aren’t supposed to stop anywhere, except for the four small parking lots at each of the following. The loop is one-way (counter-clockwise). It is also possible to cycle along the gravel loop, or even walk it.
12. Walk the Badlands Interpretive Trail
The first stop on the scenic loop is the 1.3-kilometer Badlands Interpretive Trail. This is actually the one place in the park where visitors can access part of the nature reserve without taking an interpretive tour.
The trail features some impressive hoodoos and badlands landscapes characteristic of the park. It also has signs introducing the landscapes and dinosaurs found in the park.
13. See the two dinosaur fossil displays
About half way around the loop, you’ll reach two shelters containing fossil displays; each one has its own parking lot, but they are close enough together that you can also walk between them.
The first shelter contains the famous “headless hadrosaur”, which is still half buried in the ground. The second has another real dino skeleton, with paleontological equipment to make it look like a real dig in progress.
14. Walk the Trail of the Fossil Hunters
This excellent 0.9 km stroll begins and ends at the second fossil shelter. It includes magnificent scenery and signs introducing important figures in Alberta’s paleontological part, such as Joseph Burr Tyrrell, who the famous dinosaur museum in Drumheller is named after.
One of the best parts of this trail is ignoring it altogether; our kids loved racing up and down hills and making their own trails through the surrounding landscape.
15. Walk the Cottonwood Flats Trail
The last of the five hikes in Dinosaur Provincial Park, and the final entry in this list, Cottonwood Flats provides access to a totally different landscape: the lush, forested riverside. It is here that most of the park’s 165 bird species dwell. The cottonwood trees themselves are probably the most impressive feature.
This 1.4-kilometer loop trail takes less than an hour to complete, and can easily be reached on foot from the campground.
I hope this Dinosaur Provincial Park guide helps you out on your trip. If you’ve got any questions or noticed that something has changed, please let me know in the comments below!