Dinosaur discoveries: the Alberta badlands with kids

It’s funny how many times Curious George has served as the impetus for my son to try new things. If Curious George goes camping, Bennett wants to go. Ditto the little monkey riding a train, learning the alphabet or buying ice cream from an ice cream truck. So imagine Bennett’s delight when he found out we were going to a dinosaur museum this past weekend, just like Curious George!

Since life doesn’t always imitate art, we did not join a dino dig nor did Bennett get to climb to the top of a dinosaur skeleton. While in the Drumheller area, however, we hiked among hoodoos, ogled skeletons at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and made some exciting discoveries including a blooming prickly pear cactus and dinosaur bones (but not a complete specimen). Here are our top picks for passing the time in dino-land with kids.

Since our daughter will no longer pose for inane pictures like this, it’s up to me to be dorky.

1. Hike in Horseshoe Canyon. Located just off Hwy. 9 on the way to Drumheller from Calgary, this canyon will be your first glimpse into Alberta’s badlands, a stunning geography of domed sandstone formations created by water erosion over millions of years. It’s easy to hike down into the canyon along one of the paths and then explore the formations. Just don’t get lost.

Hiking through the badlands.

2. Visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Otherwise known as the “Dinosaur Museum” this amazing facility boasts one of the world’s largest displays of dinosaur remains in Dinosaur Hall, plus an Ice Age exhibit (hello woolly mammoth) and a display featuring weird-looking and now extinct huge mammals that used to roam the plains of Europe and North America.

Avery restrains Bennett from climbing onto a skeleton inside Dinosaur Hall.

3. Take a stroll outside of the museum. If your kids have any energy left after the first two activities, I highly recommend striking out for the interpretive trail just outside the museum’s doors. The 1.5-km gravel trail winds past more iconic badlands formations and it’s here we found a blooming prickly pear cactus and what we think might have been a couple of fossilized dinosaur bones (it had rained recently, which exposes new fossils). The kids loved it!

Avery’s first discovery — a blooming prickly pear cactus.

It’s a dinosaur fossil! We think, anyway. I like to think it’s part of an Albertosaurus’s arm.

In all, the day was a hit, even though we didn’t have time to visit Reptile World or climb to the top of the World’s Largest Dinosaur. Next time. Bennett’s one disappointment? Since we didn’t discover a new species of dinosaur, the Tyrrell Museum will not be naming a dinosaur after him (Bennettosaurus has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?).

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