( and 3 things to do in Drumheller besides the Royal Tyrrell Museum )
There are 3 things to do in Drumheller besides Royal Tyrrell Museum; that I think should be the pinnacle of your trip. If you are limited to one day, you may want to choose one or 2 other choices. You could cram it all in one day, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The 3 activities I recommend are Horseshoe Canyon, Hoodoos Trail and Atlas Coal Mine.
This week’s post is a continuation of my post about Drumheller, and the (my blog link) Royal Tyrrell Museum. Once you are finished at the museum, what are you going to do next? The next most popular thing Drumheller is known for: The Badlands.
Merriam Webster Defines : Definition of badlands
: a region marked by intricate erosional sculpturing, scanty vegetation, and fantastically formed hills —usually used in pluralExamples of badlands in a Sentence
Recent Examples on the Web Winnipeg is in the province of Manitoba (known for its northern polar bear population), not Alberta (known for badlands, glaciers and vast coniferous forests). — Gary Peterson, The Mercury News, “Raiders rookie punter shanks his introduction to the Great White North,” 22 Aug. 2019
These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word ‘badland.’ Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.
Even though there are other “badlands” in Alberta and elsewhere, I think it’s safe to say Drumheller’s badlands are pretty awesome. When driving up to the Drumheller Valley and you go from flat open land into this otherworldly valley, you think to yourself “where did this come from”? and “how did this even get here”? Adriane and I both said “wow” out loud, the first time we visited.
Table of contents (click to be taken to that paragraph)
How to get to Drumheller
Yes, I know you know how to use Google maps or a GPS, but this is for visual aid. Hopefully this will convince you it’s not really that far, and that you should visit.
The closest major city is Calgary, and if you flew to Alberta, you likely got here via YYC. Perhaps you came here for Calgary Stampede? A perfectly good reason to visit Calgary, but do you want to experience more than just Stampede? Then this is a good day trip option. If you are visiting Calgary on vacation,and are there for 2 weeks, then Stampede can’t be the only thing you are going to wan to do? Calgary to Drumheller is only an hour and a half, leaving you with plenty of time to do a couple of activities, and still have time to get back to Calgary.
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Coming from Edmonton? The drive time from Edmonton is 3 hours, with 3 hours back. This would leave you enough time to do 1 maybe 2 items if you stretch it, but I would probably recommend staying at least 1 night, which would leave plenty of time to do any or all activities. Drumheller is certainly a good weekend getaway from Edmonton.
Coming from the US by car? Depending where you come from it’s certainly a good weekend getaway, or short holiday. With the closest border crossing being 3½ hours drive, you definitely should stay at least 1 night.
Horseshoe Canyon AB
This activity is completely free! (update I was contacted by the East Coulee School Museum, who told me that Horseshoe Canyon is no longer open in the winter, probably because of the slippery steps) Thanks East Coulee School Museum!
It’s also 1 of 3 things to do in Drumheller besides Royal Tyrrell Museum
Not to be confused with Horseshoe Canyon, Utah (far away), or Horsethief Canyon (only 30 mins apart, and easily confused) I have only been to horseshoe AB, so can only comment on that.
Horseshoe Canyon is named for it’s aerial resemblance to a horseshoe (go figure). If you were to walk from one end to the other, you would cover approx 10km (6miles). The parking lot is just off highway 9 (West of Drumheller), bringing you to the upper edge of a canyon.
How to get there
There is a staircase built into the steep terrain giving the public easy access to the lower basin. There are also viewing platforms to get nice views from and photos. The stairs are rather steep, but if you take your time you can get down there even if you are out of shape. The hike, once you get down, ranges from easy to moderate depending on the terrain and the path you choose. Occasional trail washouts occur, with large boulders and water erosion being more common obstacles. The trails are not maintained at all except for the staircase and view decks, and with weather varying from year to year, there is a possibility the same trail you took one time will be different the next. The stairs and decks will be slippery during the winter be careful! ( I have been informed that this place is no longer open in the winter, I suspect it is because of the slippery steps and liability) thanks ecsmuseum.ca
The terrain in the area is similar to Drumheller (even though its not really in the same valley) and other parts of the badlands, with several layers of sedimentary rock, varying levels of coal, iron shale etc. Who knows you may even find a fossil?
If you do find a fossil, please know the law regarding fossil collecting in Alberta. (full details by Tyrrell Museum here) Long story short, if you live in Alberta you can keep it, unless you found it in a Provincial Park. If you found it in a Provincial Park or do not live in AB, then you cannot remove it. (I suggest taking a good picture instead) However, in peak tourism season, there may be people selling fossils whom you can legally buy from. If they are legitimate sellers, and they will give you a certificate. If they don’t, you should proceed with great caution. If you are from the US, I would mention this to them as well. Keep yourself from any grief at the border.
The time it takes to fully explore the Canyon varies greatly. If you want to explore every last inch you could spend the entire day. If you just want to check out the view from the view decks then you could take an hour or less. Your fitness level will determine whether or not you go hiking. I am slightly overweight if that is any indicator.
This activity is also completely free! It’s also open year round! (just be careful of ice in the winter)
2 of 3 things to do in Drumheller besides Royal Tyrrell Museum
Hoodoos are a really cool geological formation that formed over centuries or more. Basically, there is a hard rock “cap” with softer sedimentary rock underneath. Over centuries/millennia the softer rock erodes away, leaving the cap on top larger then the base underneath. They are constantly evolving, and will eventually be destroyed by time. Hoodoos are not exclusive to Hoodoo Trail, but there is an unusual concentration at the designated site. Being a popular destination for tourists, the trail has been built up and there are interpretive signs.
Please do not climb on or take rocks as souvenirs. They have taken thousands of years to form this way, but it can be destroyed in an instant if they are not respected. While not being highly fragile, there is a high probability of damage if they are climbed on, or if the ground is particularly wet or muddy. There are areas that aren’t fenced off and can be accessed by the public, but still be careful. The Hoodoos at Hoodoo Trail are under government protection, so best to enjoy from the designated trail.
How to get there
The hoodoos are right off highway 10 south, and are easily accessed via a parking lot. It takes only 13 minutes from Drumheller. While the staircase is not wheelchair accessible, I think there is enough of a view from the bottom that is accessible, that this site is still a decent choice even for those who are less abled.
Depending on your level of interest this activity will range from a few hours (if you hike further on the trail) to about a half hour. While I definitely recommend you visit, you should pair this with another activity, which brings me to my last recommendation:
Atlas Coal Mine
This activity is not free. Cost $12 – $250+
3 of 3 things to do in Drumheller besides Royal Tyrrell Museum
While not free, this one is a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it if you have the time. This pairs perfectly with Hoodoos Trail, as it is almost directly on the way.
How to get there
Only a 20 minute drive if you come straight from Drumheller, or just another 7 minutes if you enjoy the Hoodoos first. Head South East on AB-56 at the 56/hwy9 junction.
Historically, the Drumheller area was a highly profitable area for coal mining. In fact, Atlas mine lasted until 1984, when many other coal mines shut down long before. Perhaps that is precisely the reason it is still standing? Back in the heyday of steam powered trains Atlas coal mine and others provided coal for the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National. Not only that, but also for heating, cooking and power plants. The reason for Atlas Coal mines enduring success was the abundance of coal in the Drumheller region. There used to be almost 140 mines in this valley alone.
Something I learned on the tour: for a coal mine to be profitable (back in the day) it had to have a coal seam tall enough for a man to crawl in. The seams at Atlas were tall enough for a man to stand, accounting for Atlas’s longevity. The problem is now, in order to be profitable, a coal seam must be enormous, and large enough for heavy equipment. Thus why Atlas eventually failed as a mine.
Atlas coal mine is fun!
Guided tours run from May to Canadian Thanksgiving (Mid Oct). I emphasize Canadian so that my friends from the USA don’t get disappointed, (2019 American Thanksgiving was November 28th), while (2019 Cad Thanksgiving is Oct 14th). While there is general admission weekdays year round, I recommend a tour. I’m not 100% sure what is included with the general admission, because when I visited it was fully open. A tour is still recommended, because you don’t get the rich history lesson by self guiding. The tour is highly interesting and fascinating in my opinion. I also took the train tour (because of course I did [I love trains if you didn’t know]) I say train, but really it is an electric powered mine trolley or minecart. Even if you aren’t a train person, this is a fun thing to experience. The “locomotive” is over 90 years old, and is driven by the tour guide, who is highly knowledgeable and entertaining. Not the most comfortable to sit in, but it was meant to be a workhorse, not a fist class train coach. It is comfortable enough for the 25 minute duration. Train rides cost $14pp or $40 for a family in addition to the admission.
Other tours include:
- Tipple tour: $22pp or $65 family (a tipple is the huge structure outside, used to load train cars amongst other things)
- Tunnel Tour: $27pp or $80 family (includes the miner’s hat to wear and the mine tour)
- unmentionables tour: $22pp or $65 family (the scandalous and dark past of the mine and Drumheller )
- Signature tours (various): $85-135 PP (more details on their site here)
Other things to do
Things to do (other than) the 3 things to do in Drumheller besides Royal Tyrrell Museum
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- Overall: 8/10
- Views: 8/10
- Worth the drive from Drumheller: 10/10 from – Calgary: 5/10 pair it with something else.
- Hiking terrain: Easy to hard
- Overall 7.5/10
- Views and photographic opportunities: 8/10
- Worth the drive from Drumheller: 10/10 – Calgary: 3/10 don’t only do this. – Paired with Atlas Coal mine: 10/10
Atlas Coal Mine:
- Overall 8.5/10
- Views and photographic opportunities: 9/10
- Fun factor: Train tour: 9/10 I haven’t tried other tours?
- Worth the drive from Drumheller: 10/10 – Calgary: Just the mine – 7/10 paired with Hoodoos – 10/10
With all the rich history and fantastic geological diversity Alberta has to offer, I hope I gave you something to think about. I think if you have read some of my other blog entries, you can conclude that I really enjoy history and nature. With the recommendations I have provided you with today, I hope you enjoy these treasures the Drumheller Badlands area has to offer. Whether you come from out of Province or even out of Country, I really think you will enjoy these activities I have suggested.
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Have a good trip! – TheGlobeTrevor