Ultimate Guide to Dinosaur Provincial Park

The province of Alberta is home to many jaw-dropping landscapes, most famously the Rocky Mountains. However, the Badlands region in southeastern Alberta offers its own distinctive landforms and fascinating history. Here you will find Dinosaur Provincial Park, a location that is truly a hidden gem!

About Dinosaur Provincial Park

A UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Red Deer River valley, Dinosaur Provincial Park began shaping the landscape millions of years ago when rivers and wetlands left behind deposits of sand and clay. Over time, these deposits became distinct layers of sedimentary rock. Mini-channels or grooves in the layers of rock are formed through erosion; it’s easy to imagine the water flowing down the rocks during a prairie thunderstorm, leaving these paths behind.

Dinosaur Provincial Park hoodoos
Hoodoos at Dinosaur Provincial Park

Dinosaur Provincial Park is home to unique landforms called hoodoos; these hoodoos are formed over millions of years when the softer rock, called sandstone, erodes more quickly than the harder ironstone layer. What’s left behind are sandstone pillars with an ironstone caprock.

As the name suggests, Dinosaur Provincial Park is rich in fossil deposits and it is the location of many historic and important discoveries. 75 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous Period, dinosaurs roamed this area of what is now Alberta. I was amazed to learn that more than 300 partially complete dinosaur skeletons have been excavated here!

How to Get to Dinosaur Provincial Park

Dinosaur Provincial Park views
Ready for a great day at Dinosaur Provincial Park

Getting to Dinosaur Provincial Park is relatively easy; this provincial park is 221 km east of Calgary. Follow the Trans Canada Highway east for approximately 140 km and then exit onto the AB-550E highway (just past the town of Bassano) for 77 km. The closest town to Dinosaur Provincial Park is called Patricia; when you reach this town, you will know you’re almost there! For more detailed driving instructions, click here.

Is Dinosaur Provincial Park in Drumheller?

Dinosaur Provincial Park is NOT located in the town of Drumheller. In fact, Dinosaur Provincial Park is located 170 kilometers, nearly two hours’ drive, southeast of Drumheller. Both locations are well worth a visit but it would be difficult to fully explore both in the same day; I would recommend staying for at least two days to get the most out of both of these locations.

When is the Best Time to Visit Dinosaur Provincial Park?

Dinosaur Provincial Park landscape
A beautiful spring day at Dinosaur Provincial Park

The best time to visit Dinosaur Provincial Park is when the weather is warm and dry, between May and September. During this time, you will be able to explore all that the park has to offer, including camping, clear and dry trails, and a Visitor Centre open daily.

If you are planning to stay in the campground or take in any of the interpretive programs, I would recommend booking your preferred dates well in advance; the summer months can be busy! However, note that the summer temperatures here can be scorching; my personal preference has always been to visit in the spring or fall, when the weather is not quite so hot.

Is Dinosaur Provincial Park Kid-Friendly?

Dinosaur Provincial Park trails
Easy, kid-friendly trails at Dinosaur Provincial Park

If your child is interested in dinosaurs (and even if they’re not), this place is a must-visit! There are many fun and engaging elements for children in the visitor centre, and you could even join one of the many guided interpretive programs in the park (most of which are kid-friendly!).

Take some time to explore the hoodoos and the easy trails located here. If you’re looking to plan an epic dinosaur-filled trip, I would recommend combining your visit to Dinosaur Provincial Park with a stop in nearby Drumheller to visit the world-class Royal Tyrrell Museum.

How Long Should You Plan to Visit Dinosaur Provincial Park?

Nearby Drumheller is also worth a visit

A visit to Dinosaur Provincial Park can easily be made in a day trip from Calgary. This will give you the time to make the drive, check out the visitor centre, and explore many (or all!) of the trails. However, if you are hoping to take in one or more of the interpretive programs or combine with a visit to Drumheller and the Royal Tyrrell Museum, I would plan for a longer visit to the area.

Where to Stay Near Dinosaur Provincial Park

The only accommodation directly inside the park is the Dinosaur Provincial Park campground. Here, you can stay in regular campsites or book a comfort camping accommodation. The nearest town, Patricia, has its own hotel where you can cook your own steak over its ‘famous Patricia Hotel Steak Pit’. However, if you are looking for more accommodation and hotel options, check out the nearby town of Brooks (a 40 minute drive) or even the city of Medicine Hat (1 hour and 20 minutes away).

Things to Do at Dinosaur Provincial Park

Dinosaur Provincial Park landscape

There are so many things to do in this other-worldly area of Alberta! Dinosaur Provincial Park has lots to offer for those looking to get outdoors and explore the unique landscape and history. Listed below are some of the best things to do at Dinosaur Provincial Park.

Explore the Many Hiking Trails

Dinosaur Provincial Park views
Views of the surrounding landscape from Badlands Trail

Dinosaur Provincial Park is home to four main hiking trails which range in distance from 300 meters to 1.4 kilometers. Each of the trails here are rated as easy and can be completed by explorers of all ages and ability levels. One thing to keep in mind when planning to hike these trails is that much of the area is in direct sunlight with very little shade; make sure that you bring lots of water and sun protection, especially in the summer months.

Badlands Trail

My favorite trail is Badlands Trail, a 1.3 km loop that allows you to become immersed in the Badlands scenery. Much of the area surrounding the trail is a Natural Preserve and access is restricted to protect wildlife and the landscape; it is important to stay on the trail while exploring here. There are informative signs and boards along the trail that give information about the land, animals, and history.

Prairie Trail

Prairie Trail, a 300m trail, is found right at the entrance to the park and offers a viewpoint of the hoodoos and rock formations of Dinosaur Provincial Park from above. It’s a great way to orient yourself to the area and get a preview of what you will see upon entering the park! This trail is listed as wheelchair accessible.

Trail of the Fossil Hunters

Trail of the Fossil Hunters is a 0.9km out-and-back trail that takes visitors to two fossil displays. These fossil displays are in outdoor fossil houses that showcase partially unearthed dinosaurs in the exact spot where they were discovered.

Cottonwood Flats

Cottonwood Flats Trail is a 1.4km trail that leads visitors through the riverside habitat of plains cottonwood trees. Birdwatchers may particularly enjoy this trail, as there are up to 165 species of birds living in this area. This trail is also listed as wheelchair accessible.

Dinosaur Provincial Park

Even if you are only here for a day trip, you can likely complete all of these trails in the same day. Remember, only dinosaur footprints and animal tracks here! It is important to leave no trace and stick to the designated areas in order to help preserve this area.

Check out the Visitor Centre

Dinosaur Provincial Park visitor centre
Dinosaur fossils at the visitor centre

Dinosaur Provincial Park offers an informative and engaging visitor centre, with displays focusing on both the landscape and rich fossil history of the area. My favorite displays were the full dinosaur skeletons, but it was also interesting to visit a recreation of a paleontologist’s camp and view the film playing in the 80-seat theatre. Overall, the visitor centre is well worth the $2 admission price, and I would not miss it on a visit to the park!

The Dinosaur Provincial Park visitor centre is open year-round, however, is only open by appointment between the dates of December 1 and March 31. For detailed days and hours of operation, click here.

View Dinosaur Fossils

Fossil display at the parking area near Trail of the Fossil Hunters trail
Fossil display at the parking area near Trail of the Fossil Hunters trail

A visit to Dinosaur Provincial Park would not be complete without viewing some actual dinosaur fossils! There are a couple of ways to do this: check out the outdoor fossil displays along the Trail of the Fossil Hunters or head to the visitor centre. I was pleasantly surprised by how many fossil displays were located at the park visitor centre; I expected that most of these would instead be located at the nearby Royal Tyrrell Museum.

Also, if you are particularly keen to experience the work of a paleontologist, including participating in an authentic dinosaur dig, book one of the guided excavation programs on the Dinosaur Provincial Park website. One day guided excavation programs cost $200 and are available for visitors 14 years and up.

Participate in an Interpretive Program

Dinosaur Provincial Park Natural Preserve
The Natural Preserve areas of the park can only be accessed through a guided tour

There are a wide variety of interpretive programs offered at Dinosaur Provincial Park for visitors of all ages. Many of these programs allow visitors to have access to the restricted Natural Preserve area of the park, available only to those on a guided program. Available programs include bus tours, guided hikes, and even a fossil safari! Programs can be reserved online on the Dinosaur Provincial Park website or at the visitor centre; it is best to reserve as far in advance as possible to avoid disappointment.

Go Camping

Dinosaur Provincial Park offers a 120-site campground with easy access to nearby trails, the park’s visitor centre, and the Red Deer River. Here you will find unserviced, power, and pull-through sites available. Also, the campground offers 7 tented cabins for a comfortable camping experience. The campground is accessible year-round, with winter sites being available on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you are hoping to snag a campsite here, particularly in the summer months, I recommend booking well in advance; it is a popular location!

Paddle Along the Red Deer River

Dinosaur Provincial Park Red Deer River
Views of the Red Deer River from the Dinosaur Provincial Park campground

At the edge of the campground, there is a boat launch area for canoes and kayaks. The closest upstream access to the Red Deer River is at Steveville Campground, taking paddlers along a 13km stretch of the river ending at the Dinosaur Provincial Park campground. Depending on the water level, this portion can take around 2.5 hours to 4 hours to complete. While I have not yet paddled in this area myself, it is on my Alberta summer bucket list!

Is a Visit to Dinosaur Provincial Park Worth It?

Dinosaur Provincial Park

Dinosaur Provincial Park is a hidden gem in the Badlands region of Alberta that is definitely worth a visit. It’s often overshadowed by other Banff and Jasper, but if you are looking for a completely different experience you cannot go wrong here.

Here you can view unique landscapes, learn about and view dinosaur discoveries, and perhaps even discover a fossil yourself! I have visited the area multiple times and on each visit, I discover and enjoy something new.

About Rachel Dale

Hi, I’m Rachel! I’m a travel and outdoor enthusiast, and I love exploring my home province of Alberta. My favorite activities include hiking, running, and searching for my next best cup of coffee or new favorite restaurant. You can find me spending much of my free time outdoors, and I love visiting the Canadian Rockies as often as I can. I am excited to document my travels here and hope that you can find inspiration for your next trip to beautiful Banff!

Leave a Comment