While the earth is home to a wealth of fascinating flora and fauna, few animals have captivated the minds of humanity as deeply as the non-avian dinosaurs. Extinct long before Homo sapiens first set foot on the planet, these fearsome beasts dominated the globe until the late Cretaceous era, with species ranging from the Triceratops horridus to the world-famous Tyrannosaurus rex. And while these iconic animals no longer walk this earth, their legacies live on all across the continents, with one tiny Canadian community serving as one of the world’s most dazzling dinosaur tourism destinations.
Located roughly 90 minutes northeast of Calgary, the Albertan town of Drumheller is home to just under 8,000 residents, yet tourists number in the hundreds of thousands each year thanks to one quality in particular: the community’s deep affinity for the prehistoric world. Upon arrival, visitors can marvel at the many colorful dinosaur statues scattered around town, while the beloved World’s Largest Dinosaur serves as one of the area’s most beloved attractions. Standing at a lofty 86 feet tall, this fiberglass T-Rex made its debut in 2001, inviting guests to ascend its inner staircase and bask in the surrounding scenery from the statue’s mouth — and once you’re done gazing at this model Tyrannosaurus rex, the real thing can be found just a few minutes away.
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Established in 1985, the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology serves as one of the planet’s crown jewels within the field of dinosaur studies, with more than 160,000 fossils housed within the institution. In terms of sheer size, some of the most marvelous displays include the museum’s 68-foot-long Shonisaurus sikanniensis and Black Beauty, a towering T-Rex skeleton that’s particularly dark in color — yet one of the most fascinating finds in all of paleontological history exists in the form of Borealopelta markmitchelli. This particular ankylosaur specimen stands out as one of the best-preserved dinosaur fossils ever discovered, with features ranging from intact stomach contents to preserved melanosomes that provide direct evidence of the animal’s reddish skin tone.
The Stegosaurus, Allosaurus and Camarasaurus serve as some of the most majestic megafauna on display across the museum, but the Royal Tyrrell Museum is dedicated to far more than simply dinosaurs. With halls spanning from the very dawn of life on Earth to the early Cenozoic, guests can also gaze at Permian-era synapsids and titanic mastodons, while one particular exhibit highlights the biodiversity of ancient Canada at its most impressive. Adorned with massive sculptures of Cambrian Explosion-era organisms, the museum’s Burgess Shale display highlights the richness of fossilized ancient life found in British Columbia’s Yoho National Park. Rife with specimens dating back more than 500 million years, Canada’s Burgess Shale is renowned for its high concentration of well-preserved soft invertebrates, with ancient worms, sponges and algae all serving as physical reminders of the shallow sea that once covered interior North America.
While the Royal Tyrrell Museum showcases the flora and fauna of prehistoric Canada, visitors to Drumheller should be sure to spend some time exploring the stunning landscapes of contemporary Alberta, with local tour company Bikes and Bites offering the perfect itinerary for first-time visitors. Equipped with a fleet of polished e-bikes, this organization conducts a wide variety of tours suitable for all ages, with options ranging from a leisurely cruise around Drumheller’s most iconic dinosaur statues to an 18-mile voyage through Alberta’s stunning badlands to discover Wayne, a ghost town that was once a hub for the province’s coal mining industry. And to sweeten the deal, the company also excels at crafting delicious post-tour meals, slinging up hearty sandwiches ranging from turkey cranberry rolls to pork bánh mìs.
After a lengthy biking excursion across Drumheller, Valley Brewing is perfect for quenching your thirst. This downtown operation has earned abundant local acclaim for their diverse array of beers, each one crafted using Alberta-grown barley to showcase the province’s lengthy agricultural heritage. Hardcore hop aficionados can snag a tropical fruit-forward Namesake Hazy IPA, while those in search of a crisp and refreshing pour should be sure to sample a Full Steam Copper Lager — and in spite of its small size, Drumheller is home to a couple of other top-tier drinking and dining destinations to check out as well.
In the heart of town, Bernie & The Boys is a top spot for a massive Mammoth Burger and chocolate milkshake served in a cozy vintage diner, but for those who don’t mind a short drive, it’s tough to find a more charming restaurant than Last Chance Saloon. A vestige of the province’s early-1900s coal mining industry, this rugged venue has been operating since 1913, providing visitors with a glimpse into the Alberta of yore. During a visit, guests can marvel at the many antiques lining the walls, play a few rounds of pool and catch a performance from the restaurant’s regularly-rotating live music acts. But of course, no visit is complete without sampling some of the saloon’s classic comfort food, with the poutine and smoked brisket serving as two can’t-miss dishes.
And More Dinosaurs
And of course, Drumheller isn’t Alberta’s only can’t-miss dinosaur tourism destination. Once you’ve fully explored the area, you can head 90 minutes outside of town to discover Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was established in 1955. As the name suggests, this 28-square-mile preserve is a treasure trove for fossilized remains, with visitors flocking to the site to marvel at the remains of hadrosaurs, ankylosaurs and other iconic dinosaurs — and while prehistoric life can be viewed firsthand at the Dinosaur Visitor Centre, the park is no stranger to modern wildlife either. During a hike across its dazzling badlands, guests can spot fascinating fauna ranging from prairie rattlesnakes to woodpeckers to the occasional pronghorn.
Alberta is renowned for its spectacular mountain views along the Rockies, but there’s far more to the province than just Banff. Whether you’re a hardcore dinosaur nerd or just a casual Jurassic Park aficionado, the towering fossils and rich biodiversity on display across Drumheller are a true wonder to behold, with no shortage of scenic landscapes and charming small businesses to explore along the way. As you plan your next foray into the vast interior of Canada, be sure to save some room on the itinerary for this hidden gem of the Alberta badlands.
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