Why You Should Skip the Rockies and Visit the Canadian Badlands


Awesome Tips   Bucket List Worthy  

alberta badlands

By Candice Walsh

I’ve spent a lot of time in Banff and the surrounding areas when visiting Alberta, but on a recent summer trip to Calgary my friends and I decided to get out of town for the Canada Day weekend and hit up an often overlooked destination: the Badlands.

The Badlands are a mixture of wide-open skies and glacier-torn dinosaur-fossil-rich landscapes dotted with canyons and valleys. And the, of course, there’s the good old fashion prairie hospitality. 

St. Ann Ranch in Trochu

Holly and Toad (Thomas) are the hosts at St. Ann Ranch in the small town of Trochu. They’re in the business of making you feel comfortable. We loved the time we spent getting to know them. We had a late-night bonfire sing-along with Toad’s brother, and they taught my friends and I how to catch fireflies.

This B&B accommodation is a museum itself; the rooms are furnished with antiques and collectibles, and the whole building looks like a home from the early 1900s. My bed was draped with lace and flowers, and I wasted no time filling the deep bathtub with hot water upon arrival.

One of the coolest factoids about the ranch: The St. Ann Ranch Trading Co. was founded in 1905 by a bunch of aristocratic French cavalrymen, and shortly after more French settlers founded the pioneer town of Trochu. Now a Provincial Historic Site, you can stroll around the Heritage Village where a blacksmith shop, a post office, hospital, school, and a chapel all stand beautifully preserved. There’s also an interpretive centre

Pizza Night in Rowley

On the final Saturday of each month, the ghost town of Rowley hosts a community function known as Pizza Night. You pay about $12 for a pizza handmade by volunteers at the Community Hall. While you wait, you can enjoy cheap beer at Sam’s Saloon across the road.

This event is popular and, although it took about two hours to receive our pizzas, we didn’t mind the wait. (Tip: get the extra cheese.)

Sam’s Saloon is an excellent place to pass the time. It’s an old-timey western bar with a floor covered in sawdust. They serve free popcorn to satisfy your hunger while your pizza is being made.

We took our beers outside to enjoy the summer evening and for photo opportunities by the old train tracks and grain silo. When your pizza is ready, someone brings it to saloon and calls your name over the audio system. It’s like a special version of bingo.

alberta badlands

Royal Tyrrell Museum

I’m not the kind of person to spend a Saturday afternoon strolling through a museum, but I have a soft spot for dinosaurs, and Canada’s only museum that is dedicated solely to paleontology. The Royal Tyrrell Museum is home to over 40 dinosaur skeletons and 110,000 fossil specimens.

Everything about the Badlands just kinda looks like dinosaur territory: massive canyons cut into desert-like landscapes, red sandy hills, and low-lying vegetation. It’s easy to imagine dinosaurs roamed here, and you’ll see some amazing examples of their existence in the museum. One exception highlight is the near perfect skeleton of a massive t-rex.

Yes, they lived in Canada.

alberta badlands

Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park

I saw photos of this park for the first time while researching activities in the area and was immediately determined to visit. The park is about 16 kilometres east of Trochu on the Red Deer River.

There you’ll find a deep canyon carved into the heart of the Badlands, where prairie grasses frame the riverbank and the water is a murky brown. The park is the site of an ancient buffalo jump, where Cree drove bison over the cliffs to kill them for their meat, hides, and bones.

alberta badlands

Drumheller Hoodoos

Hoodoos take millions of years to form, and they stand five- to seven-metres tall. Each formation is a sandstone pillar sitting on a base of shale, capped by a stone. Although hoodoos are extremely fragile and vulnerable to wind erosion, some of the best preserved hoodoos can be found in the Drumheller Valley.

alberta badlands

The Shortest Ferry Ever

The oldest cable ferry in North America still operates in the Badlands on the Red Deer River. It’s one of those quirky things you have to do if you’re visiting – there’s literally a sign that says, “ring bell for service.”

The ride takes a whopping five minutes. You pretty much feel like you can reach out and touch the the opposite shore of the river from the bank.

Just outside of Drumheller is Horsethief Canyon, a spectacular sprawling gorge surrounded by yellow canola fields.  The lookout point just past the Royal Tyrell Museum is a great spot to take it all in. You can also embark on a little hike.

alberta badlands

I didn’t have time to do this, but I watched mountain bikers hit the trails, dropping from crazy heights and zooming down the valley with no fear. My hat is off to you if you’re the kind of person who does this!


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