Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Last weekend we did something rare for our family - we went camping outside the mountain parks!  Instead of heading west from Calgary ,we traveled to Dinosaur Provincial Park located near the town of Brooks in Southern Alberta.  Dinosaur Provincial Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site  because of the high concentration of dinosaur fossils found from 35 different species.  The park is located in the heart of Alberta's Badlands along with the town of  Drumheller, home to the world famous Royal Tyrrell Museum.  If you're planing a trip to Alberta and you have dinosaur fans in your family, you'll definitely want to take a driving tour on the Dinosaur Trail starting with the museum and canyons of Drumheller.

Dinosaur Provincial Park (Photo:  Cam Schaus)

 We didn't visit Drumheller this time but headed straight south to Dinosaur for two nights of fabulous camping.  I'm going to go as far as to actually say that Dinosaur Provincial Park just might be the best family campground in Alberta.  Bold statement I know.  Here's why I think it's so wonderful though:

 

Private beach

So this is where Park staff say, what?  There's no private beach.  And true - anybody can access the sand and mud found along the creek flowing through the campground.  However, if you choose your site carefully, most people won't feel comfortable walking through your camp to get to the creek and you'll have the beach to yourself. 

It is a fantastic place for kids to play and ours spent hours down there digging in the sand, playing in mud puddles, and wading in the shallow creek.  Getting in the creek involves getting muddy so make sure you bring lots of spare clothing for the kids.  There were signs further down warning against actual swimming in the creek but I think playing along the edge of it or jumping in the mud would be fine.  I should warn that this was my first visit to the park as a family and so I don't know what the creek looks like later in the season.   All I can safely say is that in late May there is an awesome beach with sand and mud!

Our sites above our little beach

Squishy mud!


Sand!
And water!

Dinosaur Themed playground

When the kids get tired of playing in the mud (or you run out of clothes for them after they've fallen in for the umpteenth time) you can head over to the nearby playground.  It was located across the creek from our campsites with access via a bridge.  It had a lot of fun features including a mini dinosaur climbing wall and slide.

Climbing the dinosaur

Awesome family hiking

We did two hikes while we were there on the Coulee Viewpoint Trail and the Badlands Trail.  They were very interesting trails and allowed us to get up close to hoodoos and other fascinating scenery typical of the Badlands.  Each of the hikes was under 2km and I'm happy to report that we saw no snakes.  Before starting out on any hiking trail in the park it's a good idea to read the literature provided when you check in so that you can teach your kids safe hiking practices for a place that has rattle snakes, black widow spiders, and scorpions.  We saw nothing but then again, we also didn't stick our hands in any small dark holes - something you shouldn't do according to the brochure we read.  Small kids will also need close parental supervision on the Coulee Trail due to some very steep drop-offs.  My son near gave us a heart attack when he went running towards the edge of one such drop-off.  A good rule of thumb should always be that you are within an arm's reach of small kids when hiking in unfamiliar terrain.  The Badlands Trail had no drop-offs and might make for a safer option if you are at all concerned.  It was also a lot easier with less height gain, no stairs, and no scrambling along the top of the coulee.  The only thing to watch out for on the Badlands Trail is the Cacti found everywhere off the main trail.

Hoodoos on the Badlands Trail

Scenery in the Badlands
Stairs on the Coulee Trail

Running towards a huge drop-off on the Coulee Trail (eek)

Additional family activities

While we didn't join any group tours or even look through the visitor centre, there were plenty of other activities for families with school aged children wanting to add an educational component to the trip.  Check the website when you make your reservation if you want to sign up for a guided hike in the Nature Reserve, a bus tour, or a family program.  There was also an amphitheater located close to our campsites which I imagine would be used in the summer season for nightly programs.  Programming was at a minimum since we visited the park outside of tourist season.

Though we didn't go on an official dinosaur bone dig, we did hide a bunch of plastic dinosaurs in the bank below our campsites.  It took the kids over an hour to dig them all out - and I still think we left one or two.  
They felt like brave explorers digging for buried treasure.  Thanks David for the great idea and for hiding all the dinosaurs. 

Digging for treasure
My favourite activity was trying to teach my son to jump in the creek.  Blowing bubbles was another weekend favourite and should you forget bubble mix, the store on site sells lots of it.  They also sell tons of dinosaur themed toys including the plastic ones we hid for the kids.

Jump!

Bubbles!

More information

To make a booking for Dinosaur Provincial Park, visit the Reserve Alberta Parks website.  Online bookings are permitted three months in advance of your day of travel.  There is also a group campground in the park that you can book through the website.  Group campsites can be booked in advance outside the 90 day window so book early if you want one.  The park also introduces comfort camping this season in luxurious camping cabins located along the Red Deer River.  If anybody from Travel Alberta wants a review of these new cabins, my family will happily visit again this summer.  :)

View above the visitor centre (Photo:  Cam Schaus)

What's your favourite family campground in Alberta? I'd love to hear about it. 







6 comments:

  1. That looks great! We heard about it being an awesome campground, and our first year camping we booked and went. Didn't like it at all, no privacy between sites (literally, nothing!), we were the only tent there in a sea of campers, the mgmt came and told us to take our tarps down even though it was raining. After, we figured out we stayed at the Dinosaur Trail RV Park, not Dinosaur Provincial Park! Big newbie mistake!! We still mean to check that one out now. But the last couple years our favourite is Aspen Beach out by Red Deer/Lacombe, we're having our third trip there in July.

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    1. Thanks Jen. Love your story - that's hilarious! I'll have to check out Aspen Beach.

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  2. What a cool park! My kids would love the dinosaur history. I am surprised that you have to worry about rattlesnakes, black widows and scorpions. We are always on the look out for those critters here in Georgia, but we don't have the extremely cold winters like you do. We actually kill between 20-30 black widow spiders on our back porch every summer. And no, that is not normal for this area. Usually, you just see a couple a year. Our house must have been built on their habitat or something. I have gotten very good at spotting their distinctive web. It is very thick and hard to break compared to most spider webs.

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    1. Thanks Tiffany. Snakes, widows and scorpions are not usual here but Dinosaur is a special place with its own conditions. It's very different from the Rockies where we usually camp.

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  3. Great information! Booking right now for August! Any idea what campsite you were in that was so close to the stream?

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    1. We had a site across from the playground right on the little creek. Let me see - it was in the north loop and was N117 to N123. Any of those sites. Note that most of them are double sites so you'd need two families. N117 is a single though.
      They are very open but we liked them. Also each site has two picnic tables which is unusual for double sites. Often you share one table.

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