It’s hard to put Alberta’s UNESCO heritage, dinosaur-filled badlands into words. Picture Jurassic Park meets Little House on the Prairie meets Bryce Canyon (phew, nailed it).
The region is known as the Dinosaur Provincial Park, and it’s one of the most prolific and significant sources of fossils in the entire world.
Since audiences are gearing up for the release of the long-anticipated Jurassic World, we thought it might be worth visiting a site where the dinosaurs are refreshingly not alive and trying to eat you. If T-Rexes are your thing (and you can’t wait for someone to work out the whole genetic-mutation-from-mosquito and build-a-theme park thing) this is your best bet.
Move over Jurassic World. Provincial Park has your measure.
1. No chance of being eaten
This is a big one. Provincial Park’s dinosaurs have been fossilised for a long, long time. The average age of the bones pulled out of the ground here is about 75 million years, which is pretty much a 100% no eating guarantee. Visitors can join real fossil digs in the park, potentially uncovering remains that no-one on earth has seen before. Sounds far fetched, but forty news species have been discovered in the area in recent years, not to mention more than 500 individual skeletons.
2. Incredible photography
Jurassic World is probably full of that artificial jungle you find in zoo enclosures (not to mention merchandise stalls and rides all over the place). Not very inspiring for your average photographer. Dinosaur Provincial Park on the other hand is a photographer’s dream. The park even runs sunset photography tours, taking you through some of the region’s most idyllic landscapes. The land here is all undulating badlands, rocky hoodoos and cottonwood forests. It’s stunning during the day, but as the sun begins to dip over the canyons, the rocks really come alive with colour.
3. Fewer crowds
Without Chris Pratt walking about taming velociraptors and looking handsome, you won’t have to fight your way through a big crowd. Travel in the shoulder season (say March to April or September to November) and you’ll have Dinosaur Provincial Park pretty much to yourself. Jasper and Banff take the lion’s share of Alberta’s tourist crowds, so there’s a good chance you won’t be sharing your fossilised paradise with anyone more than a few palaeontologists. The park is still a magnet for scientists, with new finds turning up all the time, and access to about 70% of the area is restricted for official digs and guided tours.
4. Great hiking
There are five short hikes through the park, not to mention a lovely driving loop. But for a really wild time, book a guided tour into some of the restricted zones. These are often under excavation by palaeontologists from around the world. Try the Trail of the Fossil Hunters, which takes you to an original 1913 quarry site, or a trek up to Coulee Viewpoint for some great views over the nearby hoodoos.
5. Fossil digs
Even Jurassic World doesn’t have real life fossil digs (probably because, with walking talking dinosaurs all over the place, it’s hard to get people excited in their bones). But if you grew up watching Sam Neil patiently uncovering a raptor skeleton armed with nothing more than a small brush and rock hammer, this is the place for you. The park runs several guided excavation trips (over one, two or three days) allowing visitors to experience the thrill of a genuine dig site beneath the watchful eye of a resident palaeontologist.
6. Location, location, location
The problem with all the Jurassic Parks (apart from the obvious man-eating disasters) has always been the location: stuck on an island in Central America. Not only is it tough to get to and escape from, you’ve got nowhere else to explore – except perhaps the gift shop. But not in Dinosaur Provincial Park. Alberta is one of Canada’s true natural gems, with Banff and Jasper a short journey away, not to mention the grinding glaciers of the Columbia Icefield. And animal lovers can track wolves, grizzlies, buffalo and cougar through the boreal forests and prairies of the north. Try getting all that from a your typical dinosaur theme park.
Get your tiny fossil brush ready. Dinosaur Provincial Park is open for business. See it for yourself on our Amazing Alberta trip.
Feature image c/o Steve Tannock, Flickr