|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 beachSo 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|
Dinosaur Themed playgroundWhen 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 hikingWe 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 activitiesWhile 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|
More informationTo 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)|