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Each year we visit Drumheller and explore the Badlands. This year we brought my parents and showed them our favourite things to do in Drumheller. My favourite part of this town is the contrast in the landscape when arriving. As we drive closer to town, the surrounding flat landscape is very apparent with the fields of canola. Then when Google lets us know that we are 3 minutes away, the road twists down into the canyon. The ground rises up around us with its colourful layers.
Welcome to the Badlands.
My favourite Badlands Attractions
- Hoodoos – Artistic statues created by nature that have stood the test of time.
- Atlas Coal Mine Historic Site – The most complete historical coal mine in Canada
- Horsethief Canyon – Hiking trails for the adventurous traveller
- Horseshoe Canyon – A popular tourist attraction with easily accessible trails.
- Heli-Tours in Horseshoe Canyon – A hawk’s eye view of the whole canyon
- Escape This! – Escape rooms with themes representing the area’s history
- Rowley (Rollywood) – A preserved western ghost town
Famished? You gotta eat here
- Bernie and the Boys Bistro – The best burgers! & featured on Food Networks Canada show You Gotta Eat Here.
- WHIFS Flapjack House – A quick and delicious brunch decorated with a toy train travelling overhead.
- Last Chance Saloon – A vintage western restaurant with patio views of the badlands.
Where we stayed
- Airbnb – A great location owned by an Airbnb Superhost
- River Grove Campground and Cabins – Best place to rest your head outdoors.
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Scroll down and keep reading to learn about these great things to do in Drumheller!
My favourite Badlands Attractions
After lunch, we could see a rainstorm coming in. We decided to race to the hoodoos and caught the last bit of sun as we arrived. The hoodoos are made of sandstone topped with a hard rock cap and sit 20 feet high. This natural attraction has metal steps built up around it. After taking some family photos, we parted ways to quickly explore on our own. Dad *Rogered off somewhere, JC sat on a bench to people-watch, mom started taking photos nearby, and I wandered past most of the tourists to find a quieter place. Just as I finished up with my camera, mom wandered over and we walked a bit further around a bend. Then off in the distance, we saw a person waving their arms at us. Somehow, dad had made it a couple of hills over in about 15 minutes of hiking. At that moment, I felt a raindrop and knew that our time was up. Mom and I scurried back over to the hoodoos just as bigger drops started. Two minutes later, we were back in the car as the sky opened up. Dad made it back to the parking lot just in time. We try to never be caught in the rain when hiking the badlands. When the bentonite on the ground gets wet, it becomes slippery like oil.
* Rogered off – A term coined on my parent’s trip out west, to describe when someone enthusiastically wanders away & no one knows where they went.
Amenities: Small parking lot. Outhouses. Sometimes there are a couple of food vendors in the parking lot.
Location: 15 minutes Southeast of Drumheller
This interactive living history museum has so much to see and do! The site opened in 1936 and officially closed as a mining operation in 1979. It has North America’s largest standing wooden coal tipple. We arrived just as they opened and booked all their tours back to back until 2 pm. With our day pass, we went on the Tunnel Tour, Tipple Tour, rode the coal cars, and finished with the Unmentionables Tour. Each tour presented different historical details about the site and Drumheller’s mining days.
Cost: $ 40 each for a day pass or just book individual tours
Amenities: Tons of parking. Indoor washrooms. Snacks for sale.
Location: 20 minutes Southeast of Drumheller
This is our favourite canyon to hike in the Drumheller area. As we pulled in, we could see the prairie dogs scampering around. The view from the edge of the canyon looking down into the different ravines is fantastic! On the left-hand side, there are several paths down that lead down into the gully. We hurried down quickly, excited to explore. Since this area is quite popular for hiking, there are paths to follow throughout the canyon. Along the trail, people had constructed arrows out of some dark stones pointing out the way back. The best part about this hike is spotting fossils. We take photos of the treasures that we find. Sometimes placing them on bigger rocks so other hikers can enjoy looking at them. Most commonly we find pieces of petrified wood, small crystals, and if we are lucky dinosaur bones. Hiking in the canyon gets hot no matter what time of day it is, so we always pack a lot of water.
Tip: Never hike if it is going to rain. When wet the bentonite on the ground turns slippery like oil and makes it almost impossible to get out of the canyon.
Note: The provincial laws in Alberta, Historical Resources Act, allow for surface fossil collection (no digging) in certain areas. Fossils always legally belong to the province. Click here to learn more about Alberta’s Historical Resources Act.
Location: 15 minutes Northwest of Drumheller
Located on the way out of Drumheller heading towards Calgary, this Canyon is a popular tourist spot. It is also the easiest one for hiking. Recently purchased by Kneehill County, they have developed it to be more tourist friendly. The area has a small fossil shop, picnic tables, two wooden viewing decks, outhouses, and stairs leading into the canyon. We headed to the right and took the new pathway down. At the bottom, it is easy to explore the area on the well-used paths.
Amenities: Outhouses. Parking.
Location: 15 minutes Southwest of Drumheller
Their bright orange helicopter sits right beside the Canyon. My mom was excited to go on a helicopter ride for the first time, so she booked us for a 5-minute ride around the canyon. Up to three people can go at a time so my mom and dad went up first. They were thrilled, wearing big grins and waving excitedly as the helicopter rose up. Next, it was our turn; I sat in the front beside the pilot. The view was spectacular! We were 1000 feet above the canyon and could see the whole thing. I never realized how far it stretched and that it branched out through the fields. We circled the canyon two times and took tons of photos. As we were landing, I was also sporting a big kid-like grin. It was so much fun!
Cost: 5 minute ride for $55 each
The rain chased us inside so we took advantage of the weather and visited the nearby escape room. Owned by a local with a passion for escape rooms, it just opened up last summer. Each room’s themes relate to the local history. We chose Coal Heist. I am not going to reveal any spoilers, but I loved the setup. The room had the same skyhooks that we had seen in the washhouse at the Atlas Coal Mine. It was my parents first escape room and I am happy to say that we did escape! I am planning to go back and check out the dinosaur room once it is open.
From 1912 to the 70’s this was a vibrant town. Now, this ghost town is a tourist attraction and is home to only eight residents. Throughout most of the year, they keep all the buildings locked up and visitors can wander around the outside. During the summer, there are tour guides on hand who explain the history of each building and take visitors inside. Our tour was fantastic; our guild knew so many historical facts about the different buildings and the many objects in them. She took us into the stores, houses, school, train station, and old soda shop. All the antiques on display are Rowley originals donated by the local community. My parents loved the tour from seeing all the antiques to visiting the one-room schoolhouse. Some of the buildings we toured had been specifically built for the movie “Bye Bye Blues”. Since that time, many people come and use the location for films, music videos, and photo sets. It is cool how much work went into preserving this little town. They are constantly making improvements, restoring the buildings, and general maintenance. We almost had the ghost town completely to ourselves; it was a bit eerie.
Cost: Visitors can enjoy free tours during the summer months, with donations welcome.
Amenities: Indoor bathrooms, easy parking, snacks and water for sale at the hall.
Tip: The town hosts a pizza night the last Saturday of every month in Sam’s Saloon. They also offer free onsite camping in the summer.
Location: 30 minutes North of Drumheller
Famished? You gotta eat here.
If you are looking for some epic burgers this is the place to visit. After our hike, we headed here with big appetites. At the front counter, I ordered a Christy Burger (chicken), Large Fry, and a Lemon Pie Milkshake. They have over 90 kinds of Milkshakes to choose from; it was so hard to choose just one! JC got a Bacon Cheeseburger and then we headed over to an empty table. On all their tables, they keep reserved signs so that people will not sit down until after they have placed their order at the front. When my Chicken Burger came out, I was surprised by how big it was. One bite in and I knew I chose correctly; it was perfectly seasoned and juicy. JC burger was even bigger than mine was! Our fresh cut fries were so crispy and the milkshake was thick and delicious.
WHIFS Flapjack House (Waffles, Hamburgers, Ice cream, Flapjacks, Salads)
On our last day, we visited our favourite breakfast place. This restaurant décor features a train set that travels above everyone’s head. On the inside track, they have a collection of stationary trains on display. We love this place because of the entertaining trains, the delicious food, and how quickly they serve it up. As soon as we sat down our server came over to fill up our coffee cups and drop off menus. My regular order is an Egg Benny with bacon instead of ham, so yummy!
After our full morning of exploring the coal mine, we were hungry, thirsty, and ready to sit down. We headed over the many bridges to have lunch at the Last Chance Saloon. Built-in 1913 the outside of this restaurant looks straight out of a western movie. Inside there are tons of old memorabilia including “the band box”, a small electronic band on a little stage from the 1950’s. If you want to see it play a tune, just ask one of the staff to start it up. The sun was beautiful outside, so we decided to grab a table on their back patio. Here they had live music, tons of tables, and a neat bar with saddle stools. Sitting at one of their picnic tables, I enjoyed my plate of delicious sausage and perogies.
Location: 15 minutes South of Drumheller
Where we stayed
When my parents visited, we decided to rent an Airbnb. Our little house was right in town and easy to find. I called Leonard, the owner, to let him know we had arrived. Two minutes later, he was there with a big smile showing us around the place. It had plenty of space with two bedrooms, a backyard with a BBQ, front porch, and an open kitchen. This house was set up with everything that we might need including a map of Drumheller, coffee, extra towels, slippers, and air conditioning. He even had a selection of board games to play!
Normally when we visit Drumheller we pack a tent, sleeping bags, and a cooler. We always pitch our tent at River Grove Campground in Drumheller. Each site has tons of trees, a fire pit, and picnic table. They have a bit of Wi-Fi that I use to check the morning weather. There are two washrooms with pay for use showers. With a gated fence set up around the entire campground, I always feel safe here.
Note: The best part is they enforce a quiet time after 11 pm, which means you can get a full night’s sleep.
What are your favourite things to do in Drumheller? Let me know by comment below or tweet at me here.
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