What is the first thing you think of when you hear the term Canadian Badlands? Probably dinosaurs, or fossils of dinosaurs. What if I told you, you could take a full weekend trip and not even start to get into the prehistoric history of the Badlands? There is so much history, culture and outdoor activities to do, that you would need a full week’s vacation to really cover everything this tourist destination has to offer. Whether you’re flying in from a different area of Canada or the world, or just taking a road trip out to your own backyard, taking time to explore the Badlands is worth it.
The first thing you’ll notice as you drive into the Badlands area (which is actually a very large area across southern Alberta) is the natural beauty. The prairies are gorgeous themselves and when you add in the hoodoos, lakes and national park views, you’ll be blown away by the scenic beauty. Plus, it all makes for great photo backgrounds.
There are plenty of trails and hikes for you to adventure through in the Badlands. Located in Elkwater, Alberta, Horseshoe Canyon is one of those spots, with a great view of the landslide and rolling rangeland to the north. You can venture down into the valleys and walk through the unique and cool landscape.
Driving through the Badlands, you’ll stumble upon so many great small towns that you probably didn’t know existed if you’re coming from the city. On the way to Drumheller, take a stop in Wayne, Alberta (population 31) at the Last Chance Saloon for a bison burger. The restaurant is filled with artifacts and random trinkets, offering a glimpse into the history and culture of small town Alberta.
Another 20 minutes down the highway is the Atlas Coal Mine, the last working mine and the perfect post-lunch activity to dive deep into the mining history of Southern Alberta. It’s the reason so many of these towns, including Drumheller exist. Atlas Coal Mine offers a number of different tours and encourage you to enroll in more than one. These tours include the Tipple Tour, Tunnel Tour, Train Tour and Unmentionables Tours. Each tour explores a different part of the mine, whether it’s above, below or across the land.
If you take the Unmentionables Tour, you’ll be guided through a behind the scenes look what life was like at the mine. The working conditions, housing conditions and the dirty underbelly of Drumheller Valley. Jay is one of the tour guides and curator of the mine and tells phenomenal stories of the workers and artifacts that are housed at the mine. He’s been working there since 1994 so has full knowledge of the mine and even has met multiple people that used to work at the mine. He says they are finding and adding new artifacts to the tour all of the time as they come across them. Each tour guide creates their own version of the Unmentionables Tour so you’ll get a different experience with different stories each time.
On your way from Atlas Coal Mine to Drumheller, make sure you stop at the Star Mine Suspension Bridge in Rosedale. It’s about a 10 minute drive and getting to cross the bridge is so terrifyingly fun. It’s a 117m long pedestrian bridge across the Red Deer River that was built in 1931 for the coal workers of Star Mine. Now it’s used for tourists who want to take Instagram photos and explore the great Badlands terrain.
All of that exploring probably has you hungry. Drumheller has a number of great dinner spots to check out, including Sublime Food and Bar, located right across the street from the World’s Biggest Dinosaur. There are plenty of other culinary experiences when you’re in the Badlands, including local Farmers’ Markets, long table dinners, the Taste of Heartland and the Taber Corn Fest.
If you’re looking for something to do in the evening and to expand your Badlands culture experience, the Badlands Amphitheatre is an outdoor theatre and music venue located in Drumheller. For 25 years, the well-known Badlands Passion Play has been bringing in audiences from across the country. It’s also a great spot for live shows and concerts. During the August long weekend, Carmen took the stage, the first opera to show at the Amphitheatre and the first open air opera in Alberta. Singers from Spain, artists from Italy, Denmark, Ukraine, US and Canada helped make this show huge success. With amazing scenic views and superb acoustics, you’ll get to experience the arts like you never have before.
If you missed Carmen but still want to get the full Badlands Amphitheatre experience, you need to check out DrumBeats, a laser, light and water show happening on the Labour Day long weekend. Multimedia images will be projected on a 100-foot-wide water screen and fountains will be launched 70 feet into the air above the Badlands Amphitheatre. It’s going to be a weekend of shows that you’ll never forget and perfect for the whole family. The shows start at 9pm giving you lots of time to check out the other amazing sights and experiences the Badlands has to offer.
Get out to the Badlands during the summer and all year round for a rich experience in culture, history and the outdoors. For more information visit the Badlands Tourism website HERE.