Dinosaur heaven

From the Big Bang to fossils, this day trip has it all


Kid-tested travel

 What's come to be known as dinosaur heaven is a 90-minute drive northeast of Calgary in the old coal mining town of Drumheller. The rocky, lunar-like landscape is home to the renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and Dinosaur Provincial Park, one of the globe's richest dinosaur fossil graveyards.

Plan to spend at least two hours exploring the dynamic dino museum, laid out in layers of geological time. Each section traces the evolution of ancient life, from single-celled bacteria and amphibians to the mighty T. Rex, hairy mastodon and prehistoric man.

In Dinosaur Hall, nearly 40 free-standing skeletons and some fleshed-out animals illustrate the area's prehistoric life 65 million years ago. For older kids, graphic exhibits and short films make succinct sense of the Big Bang creation theory, continental drift and dinosaur extinction hypotheses.

The museum anchors Alberta's Dinosaur Trail, a 30-mile loop drive through Red Deer River Valley studded with hoodoos, cylindrical sandstone formations. Will loved picnicking at the clawed feet of "Dinny the T. Rex," a five-story scaly critter in Drumheller's Centennial Park.

You can see both Royal Tyrrell Museum and Dinosaur Provincial Park in a very long day on a tight schedule. When making plans, consider your child's tolerance for full, stimulating days and driving distances. For all of Dinosaur Provincial Park's guided tours, make reservations. The Centrosaurus Bone Bed Hike exploring a 300-skeleton dig site is the most popular. In September, guided tours are weekends only. Call for tour hours and frequency. Tours stop in early October.

In fall, the Royal Tyrrell Museum is open to 5 p.m. daily. While we planned on covering both dino destinations in one day, Will's interest in the museum persuaded us to not cut his time short there to drive 75 miles to Dinosaur Provincial Park. It's on our list for next time.

There is some lodging available in Drumheller, but we used Calgary as a base for our dinosaur daytripping. Look for the yellow Child and Youth Friendly Calgary sun stickers about town, like the one sported by Fort Calgary; they are the stamp of approval awarded by local kids and child visitors ranking area attractions, lodging, museums, parks and services as child friendly. We stayed as guests of the elegant and kid approved Fairmont Palliser hotel before finally heading home.

Kit Bernardi

Kids Eat Chicago

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