For a sleepy rural Alberta town, Drumheller has a distinctive and rich history that can be traced to the Cretaceous period 70 million years ago. Seriously, there’s even an annual festival that throws some props to the dinosaurs. It’s called DinoFest, and for two days, the town is prehistoric-themed. Travelers swinging by on the off-season can learn about its prehistory at the Royal Tyrrell Museum or drive through the badlands. Families looking for gorgeous and diverse scenery, and kids looking for dinosaur skeletons will love Drumheller!
Photo by Marco Derksen via Flickr.
Unearth some dinosaur bones in the badlands, or walk around the skeletal frame of a brontosaurus. the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology is situated at the edge of the Late Cretaceous Horseshoe Canyon Formation, a veritable treasure trove of dinosaur bones and a visually striking area in its own right – tall, layered hoodoos rise from the bottom of a wide geological basin, looking somewhat like the set for a sci-fi movie or the day after the apocalypse. Inside the museum, look for exhibits on the Ice Age, stroll around the Cretaceous garden full of prehistoric plants, and befriend a T-Rex in the Dinosaur Hall.
Photo by Lorien, Joe & Moshe via Flickr.
Drumheller was the coal equivalent of the Mother Lode in Canada. After the discovery of this burning black rock in 1911, over 130 coal mines operated in the valley, providing coal as an energy source for the whole country. This began the the coal rush, turning Drumheller into an economically viable town, driving miners from all over to the area. Drumheller became one of the fastest growing municipalities in Canada. Return to the beginning of this humble township by taking a tour through the Atlas Coal Mine, a historical preservation of one of the last coal mines in the valley. Explore the underground tunnels, ride in a mine locomotive and climb the last wooden tipple, now a nationally designated historic structure.
Photo by Ross Murphy via Flickr.
Naturally formed pillars of sand and clay have been a distinct and visually striking asset of Alberta’s traceable geological history for millions of years. Whittled down slowly by wind erosion, losing roughly a centimeter each year, they stand tall, layers exposed, topped by a mushroom-like capstone, jutting out of the stunning Alberta Badlands. The scene looks right out of Land Before Time, because of course, it is literally straight from the land before time; the grounds hide an invaluable amount of dinosaur bones and fossils. The mystery that surrounds them stems from Cree and Blackfoot lore, which considered hoodoos as petrified giants, hurling rocks to trespassers in the darkness of night.
Photo by Explore Canada via Flickr.
As you continue through scenic, winding roads and backwoods of the Canadian badlands, there is no better grub stop imaginable than the Last Chance Saloon. The interior of this saloon looks pieced together from the attics of every rural-Canadian octogenarian who still refers to couches as "Chesterfields". Vintage signs, antique photographs, and the preserved heads of at least three antlered animals adorn every inch of the walls. And outside, the imposing, outstretched mountains of the rural Alberta landscape. Welcome to Classic Canada.
Photo via their official FB page.
The proprietor of this inn is named Zeke. Most people who stay overnight meet him immediately, because that’s the kind of place it is. Zeke makes home-style French toast with real maple syrup in the morning and is handy with suggestions of where to go in Drumheller. The rooms in the inn he runs can only be described as cottage chic, with certain rooms and suites appointed with fireplaces, oversized jetted tubs or claw foot baths. There’s a type of room for travelers from solo to family, including a bungalow with a peaceful veranda and a fully-equipped kitchen, but the Heartwood Inn and Spa prides itself as a romantic destination for couples.