Drumheller just may be the coolest place in Alberta to visit. Most people make a b-line for Banff or Jasper, but the Canadian Badlands are not to be missed. The town of Drumheller makes for a great base to explore some of Alberta’s quirkiest and amazing attractions. So let’s explore the dinosaur capital of the world and check out all the cool things to do in Drumheller.
Things to See in Drumheller
Drumheller is a small town 90 minutes east of Calgary. If you plan to visit Drumheller, you will want a car. We have this stretch of road as one of the best drive in Canada. You can pick up cars directly at the Calgary Airport. Check rates for car rentals in Alberta here.
An old coal-mining town that is home to the richest dinosaur fossil collection in the world, Drumheller offers plenty of activities for outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs, and photography lovers. So let’s get started!
The hoodoos of Drumheller are the entire reason we wanted to visit Drumheller. So starting on the Hoodoo Trail is our number one thing to do. From Drumheller, start driving south along Highway 56 to highway 10 following the river it is an out and back route. So we suggest going directly to the Hoodoos in the morning before they get too busy and then take your time exploring the rest of the trail.
- Read more of our southern Alberta Road Trip here.
Hoodoos of Drumheller
The Hoodoos are the star attraction of Drumheller. They are a cluster of thin rock spires with a dense rock cap sitting on top. The cap protects the spires from completely eroding away.
Made of sandstone, they formed over hundreds of years of erosion. These fairytale chimneys are very delicate and two to four feet every 100 years. Many people only stay at the hoodoos for a few minutes taking in the tiny cluster of pillars sitting on the side of the road. But take your time to see them from all angles and make sure to hike up to the high lookout. Read about our experience here.
Atlas Coal Mine National historic Sit
The Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site is what this area was built around at the turn of the 20th century. Operating from 1936 to 1970 produced coal to power steam engines for CN and CP rail heading to the prairies. It is considered Canada’s best preserved complete coal mine and visitors can tour the mine and can climb the last wooden tipple in Canada.
You can do a self guided tour of the grounds, but to access the underground and tipple you will need to take a guided tour. And that’s where all the cool stuff is!
East Coulee School Museum
If you want to pop into a museum to learn a bit more about life in the coal mining days. The East Coulee School Museum is an old school house that focuses on life at home for the families of the miners from 1930 – 1971
Last Chance Saloon
It may be the first stop on your drive south from Drumheller, but we suggest stopping here on your way back, it’s a great places for lunch or dinner. The Last Chance Saloon is one of the coolest places to eat in Alberta! To get there, you need to detour off highway 10 to 10x and drive west.
After crossing 11 bridges zigzagging over the river, you arrive at the Last Chance Saloon. This was a wild west type of saloon where coal miners spent their paycheck on the weekends and many a brawl broke out. They have made sure to leave the bullet holes on the walls to show the rowdy heritage. You’ll definitely want to walk through and peruse the photos and memorabilia. It’s a living museum!
The Last Chance Saloon, is located in the ghost town of Wayne. This was the heart of the mining industry where once 3000 people lived in the town, and 10,000 lived in the surrounding communities.
The 11 one-lane bridges are worth the drive alone, they are in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most bridges located in the shortest distance. (Guinness will measure anything!) The only structure left standing today is the Rosedeer Hotel which is connected to the Last Chance Saloon.
Star Mine Suspension Bridge
Constructed in 1931 the Star Mine Suspension Bridge, (aka Rosedale Suspension Bridge) is a bridge spanning the Red River that you can walk across. This 117 meter long suspension bridge was created to give coal miners from the Rosedale community access to the Atlas Coal Mine. Before that, they rowed across the river. It a great stop on this drive to get out and stretch your legs before heading back to Drumheller.
This trail takes you on a loop north of Drumheller along Hwys 837 and 838. There is a lot to see on this 48 km loop. Make sure to take your time to go for hikes and enjoy the viewpoints. The whole charm of this part of Alberta is experiencing the awe-inspiring scenery.
World’s Largest Dinosaur
Canadians love road side attractions, and as you leave town, Drumheller fittingly displays the world’s largest Dinosaur.
Royal Tyrell Museum
We aren’t ones to gush over museums, but the Royal Tyrell Museum is amazing! 75 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed this land and they left their mark all around Drumheller. The Royal Tyrell Museum displays the finds that have been discovered throughout Drumheller and the badlands. Unlike most museums around the world where dinosaur skeletons are fake, the Royal Tyrell sows real dinosaur bones.
Plus, The Royal Tyrell Museum has the best-preserved authentic T-Rex skulls in the world and there are actual Paleontologists working on bones. You can approach them to talk to them, and there are others working behind glass showing you what is involved in excavations.
The first viewpoint you will see along this drive is Horsetheif Canyon. It is the classic Alberta Badlands site and what a sight to behold! Horsethief Canyon got its name from cowboy outlaws hiding stolen horses in the 1800s. When looking at the canyon below, you can see how it made for a great hiding place!
You can actually see the layers of time etched in the canyon walls. There are platforms to take in the scenic views and you can go hiking. I highly recommend hiking through the badlands. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Just be sure to bring plenty of water, it gets hot!
As we said above, Canadians love a road side attraction and the Little Church of Drumheller is definitely that! Built in 1968 as a place for meditation and worship. It is also a tourist attraction in Drumheller attracting 10,000 people six at a time. It seats six people and still operates as a wedding chapel and holding services. How cool would it be to get married here?
Cross the Red Deer River by using the Bleriot Ferry. It’s free and it’s always cool to take a ferry. Operating daily from 8 am to 11 pm from May through September, this little ferry crossing has been in operation since 1913. It’s the oldest cable ferry in North America! And the ferry is free!
Once you cross the river, you are now on the way back along the Dinosaur Trail and the Orkney Viewpoint offers beautiful views of the Red Deer River Valley. Located on high red rock cliffs, it’s the quintessential Alberta view.
When driving from Calgary this will be the first stop you see on your way to Drumheller. Or if you are us, the last stop you see on your way out. But it can totally be done on the Dinosaur Trail. Horseshoe Canyon has a 3.9 kilometer loop trail for better views of its coulees and hoodoos and the abundance of wildflowers that grow in the canyons. Keep in mind, it can get very hot in the Alberta Badlands, so always carry water.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
After spending a couple of days in Drumheller exploring the Dinosaur Trail and the Hoodoo Trail, make your way to Dinosaur Provincial Park to really dig into the dinosaur culture.
Centrosaurus Quarry Hike
Located in the heart of the Alberta Badlands, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to the richest collection of dinosaur fossils on earth. You can take a tour out to the The Centrosaurus Quarry to see actual dinosaur fossils. Once you know what you are looking for (which you learn about on this guided hike) they are everywhere. Much of the park is off limits as it is still a working excavation site, but there are a few tour opportunities.
We really enjoyed our hike, but we also took a sunset tour by bus taking us out to all the amazing lookouts. Dinosaur Provincial Park deserves a couple of days to explore. Read all about it here.
Where to Stay in Drumheller
Heartwood Inn and Spa is a popular choice in Drumheller. We stayed here and loved it! Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson stayed here during the filming of Shanghai Noon. If it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for Dave and Deb! It’s a great inn with elegant rooms and friendly owners. It’s the type of place that takes an interest in what you see and do and gives excellent advice.
We especially enjoyed their famous French Toast in the morning. It’s the only thing they serve for breakfast. As the owner said to us “I do one thing and one thing very well.” Yum!
Read more about Alberta Travels.