Guide to Visiting Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, Canada

Located in the badlands of southeastern Alberta, Dinosaur Provincial Park is a unique landscape filled with history. And we’re not talking 19th-century history either. The park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 thanks to the important fossil specimens discovered from the Dinosaur Age.  

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The Dinosaur Age was long, with most dinosaurs in Canada tracing back to the Late Cretaceous Period (75 million years ago). Dinosaur Provincial Park has outstanding examples of every known group of Cretaceous dinosaurs. The park shows patterns of major geological processes and exceptional natural beauty.   

Originally called Steveville Dinosaur Provincial Park under the Alberta Provincial Parks Act, the park features hiking trails and interpretive displays. The park’s badlands span 27 km of virtually undisturbed riparian habitat—which is a fancy way to say riverside. This lends itself to almost 20,000 acres of extraordinary, desert-like scenery. 

We visited the park on our cross-Canada road trip in 2021 and were absolutely amazed by the unique landscapes and fascinating displays throughout the park. It’s a destination well worth a visit! To best explore the area, here’s everything you need to know about visiting Dinosaur Provincial Park. 

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How to Get to Dinosaur Provincial Park, Canada

Dinosaur Provincial Park is located in Southeastern Alberta, about 220 km away from Calgary. The drive from Calgary takes 2 hours 15 minutes on the Trans Canada Highway, which passes through the town of Brooks. Once you hit Brooks, you’re just 30 minutes (48 km) away from the park. Brooks is the closest town to the park and serves as a hub for accommodation options for those not able or willing to stay at the campsites inside the park. 

Many travelers initially confuse Dinosaur Provincial Park with the town of Drumheller, located north of Calgary. Drumheller is home to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and is located 2 hours away from the park itself. Dinosaur Provincial Park is more fossil-focused, celebrating the most important fossil specimens from the Dinosaur Age of earth’s history.       

How to Get Around Dinosaur Park, Alberta 

Having your own wheels is the best way to explore Dinosaur Provincial Park. You can stay inside the park, hike many of the trails right from the campground and use your vehicle to drive the scenic loop in search of fossil displays. 

But since a good chunk of the park is a restricted nature preserve, the only way to see this section of the park is through one of the  Interpretive Tour Programs organized by Alberta Parks.

Dinosaur Provincial Park offers bus tours, guided hikes, and family tours that can be arranged at the visitor centre.   

On the road to Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta
On the road to Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta

Best Time to Visit Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta 

Like many popular tourist destinations, the best time to visit Dinosaur Provincial Park is during shoulder season. It can get very busy in the summertime, with campground reservations filling months in advance. We recommend visiting in May or September to avoid the crowds and enjoy mild temperatures. Also, note that the Visitor Centre is only open from April-November. 

Similar to the weather in the rest of Alberta, Dinosaur Provincial Park weather can be unpredictable. Summers, in particular, can be extremely hot, especially on the sandy hills of the badlands. So be sure to bring lots of water, sunscreen, and a hat if visiting in the summer months.    

Dinosaur Provincial Park in late Fall
Dinosaur Provincial Park in late Fall

READ NEXT: 33 Awesome Things to Do in Banff, Canada   

Things to do in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Hike the Interpretive Trails

Guided hikes are the ideal way to experience the exceptional riparian habitat features but if you want to take your time and not follow a schedule, these trails are can be explored on your own too. 

Trail Map at Dinosaur Provincial Park
Trail Map at Dinosaur Provincial Park. Courtesy of Parks Alberta

Badlands Trail (1.3 km / 45 minutes)

The Badlands Trail is by far the most popular trail in Dinosaur Provincial Park. The trailhead is adjacent to the public loop road, not too far from the Dinosaur Provincial Park Campground. The trail allows visitors to explore the badland and have excellent opportunities to view the nature preserve. You’ll pass through hoodoos and other interesting rock formations with plenty of interpretive signs to explain the geology and landscape.  If you only have time to do one trail in the park – this is it! Prepare for beautiful views and unique landscapes – our favourite!

On the Badlands Trail, Dinosaur Provincial Park
On the Badlands Trail, Dinosaur Provincial Park
Views from the Badlands Trail, Dinosaur Provincial Park
Views from the Badlands Trail, Dinosaur Provincial Park
On the Badlands Trail, Dinosaur Provincial Park
On the Badlands Trail, Dinosaur Provincial Park

Cottonwood Flats (1.4 km / 1 hour)

This trail starts from the Dinosaur Provincial Park Campground and follows lush riverside world beneath the canopy of plains cottonwood trees. This trail is not so much about the views but is a favourite for bird watchers. There is a lot of life in this zone, with an abundance of cottonwood trees and over 160 bird species.  

Coulee Viewpoint (0.9 km / 45 minutes)

The Coulee Viewpoint trail starts at the Visitor Centre and climbs uphill opening up to beautiful views of the valley and of Little Sandhill Coulee.  This trail is a little tougher than the other trails, so families with kids should take particular caution. We did this trail in the afternoon, enjoying beautiful gold hour light along the way. 

On the Coulee Viewpoint Trail in Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta
On the Coulee Viewpoint Trail in Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta

Prairie Trail (0.3 km / 15 minutes)

This short trail is carved out of the grassy, semi-arid steppes that cover most of the region. It’s not at the top of our list in terms of outstanding aesthetic value but is an interesting contrast to the rocky badlands.  

Trail of the Fossil Hunters (0.9 km / 40 minutes)

This trail begins at Fossil Shelter #2 and is all about the dinosaurs. It features different displays of bones and highlights important historic figures like Joseph Burr Tyrrell of the Royal Tyrell Museum. 

Fossil Shelter in Dinosaur Provincial Park
Fossil Shelter in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Search for Dinosaur Fossils 

Without a doubt, one of the best things to do at Dinosaur Provincial Park is to explore some fossil beds. The Dinosaur Park Formation is home to a diversity of fossils, including those of Cretaceous dinosaurs, reptiles, turtles, fish, and other mammals. 

The best way to see them is on an interpretive tour in the nature preserve. The park offers different tours to learn about fossils and see them in the wild. But, you may even be lucky enough to see fossils on your own while walking the public-access trails. If you do, be sure to leave the fossils where you found them and keep land conservation in mind.

For a guaranteed fossil experience, head to the two fossil display houses. They contain high-quality specimens representing several types of amazing fossils discovered in Dinosaur Provincial Park. You’ll quickly see why it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site!      

Check Out the Visitors Centre and Museum

The Dinosaur Provincial Park Visitor Centre (called “field station” on some maps) is a great place to start your visit. There are displays of geology and wildlife from the area, along with interactive exhibits of you guessed it—dinosaurs.

The entrance to the museum area is CAD $4 per person, which is a small fee to pay for the remarkable displays. Over 49 different species of dinosaurs have been discovered in Dinosaur Provincial Park, sparking interesting research about the area. There are lots of historic resources and even an 80-seat theatre. 

The Visitor Centre is also the place to reserve and pick up tickets for interpretive tours. If you want to take a piece of the park home with you, there’s a small gift shop and info desk as well. Just note that the Visitors Centre and Museum is only open from April-November.  

Drive the Scenic Loop

Wrapping the eastern portion of the park is a 3.2 km gravel road that offers scenic views of the badlands. This was one of the highlights of our time in the park! This is a one-way loop that begins east of the campground and accesses three of the park’s trailheads. This is also where you’ll find the two fossil display houses, each with its own parking area. You can drive, walk, or bike the loop but note that bikes are not allowed on any of the interpretive trails.  

Along the scenic loop inside Dinosaur Provincial Park
Along the scenic loop inside Dinosaur Provincial Park
Fossil display along the scenic loop in Dinosaur Provincial Park
Fossil display along the scenic loop in Dinosaur Provincial Park
Fossil display along the scenic loop in Dinosaur Provincial Park
Fossil display along the scenic loop in Dinosaur Provincial Park

READ NEXT: Top Stops Along The Canadian Icefields Parkway In Alberta

Enjoy Camping at the Park 

Dinosaur Provincial Park has a large campground and 7 seasonal glamping tents to enjoy. The campsites are set right in the middle of the badlands with easy access to the Cottonwood Flats Trail. Plus, some sites sit along the Red Deer River, which is a fabulous perk on those hot summer days. The Comfort Camping tents are right on the river and come equipped with private decks and barbecues.   

Overlooking the campground at Dinosaur Provincial Park from one of the trails
Overlooking the campground at Dinosaur Provincial Park from one of the trails

Paddle the Red Deer River

To see the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park from a different perspective, hit the water on a canoe or kayak. The Red Deer River runs along the northern border of the park and has several access points along the way. 

You can start or end your journey at the park as there is a canoe launch near the Comfort Camping tents and Cretaceous Café. Unfortunately, there are no canoe or kayak rentals in the park so you will need to have your own gear. Check out the river map for more details.  

Where to Stay at Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta

Dinosaur Provincial Park Camping

The campground at Dinosaur Provincial Park offers year-round camping with over 120 tent and RV sites. There are a variety of serviced and unserviced sites with awesome views of the badlands and surrounding cottonwood trees. This is by far the best place to stay to explore the Dinosaur Provincial Park!

Just be sure to reserve your campsite well in advance as spots get booked up quickly. Sites are CAD $31-39 per night and can be booked here.

Campground at Dinosaur Provincial Park from one of the trails
Campground at Dinosaur Provincial Park from one of the trails

Comfort Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park 

The park also features 7 glamping tent-style units for those who prefer to travel without camping gear. Each tent has a bed, barbecue, fridge, and private deck. You will have to bring your own linens but the secluded riverside locations are lovely. Comfort camping costs CAD $100-115 per night from June-October and can be booked here. As you can imagine, the demand for these tents is really high, so be sure to book in advance!

Inside Dinosaur Provincial Park
Inside Dinosaur Provincial Park

Best Hotels in Brooks, Alberta

If you don’t want to camp or are unable to secure accommodation inside the park, the town of Brooks, located 50kms outside the park is your best option for accommodation near Dinosaur Park. 

There are a host of hotels like the Ramada, Days Inn, and Heritage Inn. Each has comfortable rooms with access to a swimming pool and free breakfast. We recommend the Ramada as a sustainable option thanks to its efforts to reduce waste, water, and energy consumption. It’s a 30-minute drive to the park and rooms start at CAD $150 per night.   

Have you ever been to Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta? Were you lucky enough to see any dinosaur fossils?  

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