Experience Alberta’s Badlands
My family has been planning annual trips to explore Alberta’s badlands for several years and we’ve come up with creative ways to get out and explore on foot, on bikes, and on the water. An adventure awaits you around every corner of your journey. Below are the five best experiences we’ve had exploring the Alberta Badlands:
Explore Dinosaur Provincial Park by Bike
If you’re camping at Dinosaur Provincial Park Campground try hopping on your bikes and touring around the 3.5 km Public Loop Road – a multi-use gravel road open to driving, hiking, or biking. While riding the loop, stop at the Badlands Trailhead for an amazing 1.3 km hike through a landscape of hoodoos and sandstone ridges.
After the hike continue on your bikes to reach two fossil display houses. The second house is also the start of the Trail of the Fossil Hunters, a short interpretive 0.9 km, out and back, hike to a historic quarry site.
The Public Loop Road ends with one final trail to explore on foot, the Cottonwood Flats Trail, a 1.4 km hike along the Red Deer River. There are bike racks at all trailheads so bring a lock with you, and don’t forget your water and snacks because this tour can take a few hours if you stop often.
Go Fossil Hunting in Dinosaur Provincial Park
On a recent trip, we wanted to do some “off the beaten path” exploring through the badlands. We chose the Centrosaurus Quarry Hike because it promised to be the most adventurous half-day tour we could undertake as a family.
It proved to be an incredible experience, a 2.5-hour tour to see fossils in the “wild” rather than behind glass. Hundreds of bones scattered the quarry site we hiked to, and we enjoyed the accompanying interpretive lessons.
I recommend booking tours in advance and suggest choosing a morning tour when it’s cooler outside.
Paddle the Milk River
We have used canoes, kayaks, and stand up paddleboards on an 18 km stretch of the Milk River through Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.
If you’re camping in the Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park Campground, you can float two different sections of the Milk River from camp, both very easy and family-friendly without rapids or any difficult navigation required.
The first stretch we paddle runs from camp to the Deer Creek Bridge, a short 8 km float. The second stretch the next day is from Weir Bridge back down to camp in a slightly longer 10 km float trip. Both trips are half-day outings and require a vehicle shuttle that you’ll have to set up yourself.
There are no boat rentals available in the park, so bring your own with you. Plan your trip for earlier in the season if you want river levels to be high enough to float. By August the river is usually too low for boat passage.
Hike to View First Nations Rock Art in Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park
We have always enjoyed exploring the Hoodoo Trail in this park, a 2.2 km out and back hike to visit the Battle Scene, a large rock tableau carved with aboriginal rock art. This park contains the largest concentration of rock art on the North American Plains, and is always a huge learning opportunity.
On our most recent trip we opted for an interpretive tour, which gave us a more detailed history lesson, by explaining how the paintings were created.
We signed up for a guided rock art tour, where we were taken inside the private reserve with an Alberta Parks Interpretive guide. We got up close to view ancient petroglyphs and pictographs without fences around them (something you won’t experience on the public trails).
I would recommend you make your booking in advance and suggest you choose a morning tour when it’s cooler.
Try Overnight Canoe Tripping down the Red Deer River
Paddlers can enjoy over 200 km of canoeing or kayaking down the Red Deer River Corridor from Content Bridge (121 km north of Drumheller by road) all the way down to Dinosaur Provincial Park in Southern Alberta.
While my family hasn’t done the entire journey yet, we’ve enjoyed several weekends floating leisurely down this gentle river, spending our nights in riverside campgrounds.
Our favourite stretch, so far, has been from Tolman Bridge in Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park down to the town of Drumheller, in a two-day trip. We enjoyed 34 km of paddling, broken down into two easy days, with numerous stops to explore the badlands and hoodoos along the Red Deer River Valley.