More than dinosaurs and fossils, the Canadian Badlands is still a relatively undiscovered gem. In this diverse region, you can indeed go fossil hunting, but also sleep in a train caboose, take in an epic outdoor concert or try your hand at nighttime photography in a Dark Sky Preserve.
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The Canadian Badlands
At 90,000 square km, the Canadian Badlands is actually larger than Portugal. Spanning east from Drumheller to Saskatchewan, south towards the United States border and north to Red Deer, the Canadian Badlands were formed more than 13,000 years ago through a process of vigorous erosion of its sedimentary rocks.
No time to read? Watch my segment with Global Calgary on all the Canadian Badlands’ hidden gems:
Fall is an ideal time to visit this this historic area, brimming with outdoor adventures. Here’s a look at some of the best activities to try before the snow flies.
Camping year round
File this one under unusual accommodation, you can actually bed down in a legit train at Aspen Crossing. Aspen Crossing Caboose Cabins in Mossleigh (minutes from south Calgary) transport glampers back to a simpler time, yet one with modern conveniences.
Instead of roughing it in your RV or tent (they also have 120 fully serviced camping sites until the end of October), you can lap up a true train car experience. Caboose cabins are kitted out with a bed, kitchenette, half bath, TV and fireplace. But with your own private deck and fire pit, you just might spending more time outside. The best part? These caboose cabins are open year round!
Hiking that rivals the Rockies
The trails laced throughout the Canadian Badlands are just as picturesque as what you’ll find in the mountains. Trekking through the Flintstone-esque hoodoo formations is otherworldly and with the undulating landscape of the Badlands, you’ll get a decent work out to boot!
Big Knife Provincial Park
There’s two decent hikes at Big Knife Provincial Park, situated a tad bit east and north of Red Deer. What’s particularly rad about this spot is it’s diverse landscape. You’ve got both a lush river valley and your traditional sandstone Badlands hills to explore.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
One of Canada’s most specular natural sites, Dinosaur Provincial Park is a must visit for any resident or visitor to Alberta. Here you can take guided hiking tours led by experts in the palaeontology world. Fossil hunting is quite popular, but there’s also a golden hour hike (until the end of September) that would be ideal for photographers.
Near Stettler, Donald is this tiny little hamlet perched on the edge of a coulee. The Willow Canyon Trail leads to 120 acres of coulee valley. Not only is it perfect for young families and pets on a leash to explore, it’s maintained year-round. That means cross country skiers will find groomed trails in winter.
Chill out at a recreation area
Home to 35 provincial parks and natural areas, there’s plenty of laid back outdoor experiences to be had in the Badlands. It’s not all clay and sediment, trust. The Badlands are home to numerous recreational areas including Alexander Wilderness Park, Gooseberry Lake Provincial Park, and Rochon Sands Provincial Park.
Cast a rod
Who else has been intrigued by fly fishing ever since watching Brad Pitt in the 1992 movie: A River Runs Through It. C’mon, it can’t be just me! Brad may be unavailable for pointers, but My Fly Guy in Coalhurst is ready to help. This full service shop is just a quick stop on the way to some of the province’s best fly fishing spots, and their friendly staff can accompany you on a guided tour.
Blues and BBQ at Badlands Amphitheatre
Most people are surprised to hear that the Badlands Amphitheatre is Canada’s largest outdoor stage. It’s the site for the award-winning Badlands Passion Play, but also the Canadian Icons concert series.
On September 12, there’s a very cool, safely-spaced, outdoor event going on: Blues & Barbecue. You’ll get a bbq brisket meal, and can listen to 3 blues artists under the wide open Alberta sky. Camp at the Badlands Campground or snag a discount at Canalta Hotel like Ramada by Wyndham Drumheller Hotels and Suites or the Canalta Jurassic Hotel. Call 403-823-2001 for tickets.
Peer into Cypress Hills Dark Sky Preserve
Home to some of the darkest skies in the world, it feels so peaceful at night looking up at millions of stars. You can take it all in on Saturdays until the end of September at the Cypress Hills Observatory, conveniently located in the Cypress Hills Dark-Sky Preserve. (Currently closed due to COVID-19.)
This dark-sky preserve is one of the world’s darkest, dedicated to keeping out artificial light that restricts the view. It’s also one of the largest and most easily accessible, so you should have no trouble getting that perfect shot for the ‘gram.
Have you ever visited the Canadian Badlands? What are your favourite experiences there?
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