Seventy-five million years ago, when dinosaurs walked the earth, southern Alberta was a subtropical paradise of towering redwoods and giant ferns. Today, fertile plains suddenly drop away into a world of multi-hued canyons and wind-sculpted hoodoos. Spanning east from Drumheller to the Saskatchewan border and south to the United States, this region is known as the Canadian Badlands. It is home to the largest deposits of dinosaur bones in the world.
At the southeast end of the badlands, the Cypress Hills rise 600 metres above the plains like a vast layer cake of sedimentary rock. An astonishing diversity of plants and animals make their home in the grasslands, forests and wetlands of these high, lush plateaus. The Milk River Natural Area to the south of these hills preserves wild prairie in the same undisturbed state as when the buffalo roamed.
The badlands were named by early French explorers who termed their steep-sloped mesas (flat-topped mountains) and deep, winding gullies as “bad lands to cross.” Don’t miss a chance to camp and explore this otherworldly landscape. Comfort camping in wood-floored tents or staying in backcountry huts is available at three provincial parks in the region.
The stunning, otherworldly landscape of the Canadian Badlands teems with wildlife and unusual species, from prairie rattlesnakes and horned lizards to prickly pear cacti. It’s a great place for birdwatching, backcountry hiking, canoeing, cycling or simply soaking up the wondrous sights.
Discover hundreds of sandstone hoodoos as you hike the trails and marvel at the ancient rock art at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. Or contemplate the hoodoos from the water as you paddle or float down the Milk River.
Enjoy the warm lake and superb beach at Kinbrook Island Provincial Park, just 90 minutes east of Calgary. Count how many bird species you can spy along the shore.
Explore the splendid boardwalks and trails at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park all year round. You can rent a variety of recreation equipment, including stargazing kits and explorer backpacks to guide your discoveries of science and nature. Or relax and watch the stars from one of the many campgrounds in the area.
Wherever you go in the Canadian Badlands, you’ll find a sight to remember. So pack up your camera, and come and explore! For more information on travel in the region, check Travel Alberta.
There's no shortage of outdoor fun in Alberta’s amazing badlands. Go on a fossil hunt. Follow the hoodoos along a dinosaur trail. Or hike where massive herds of buffalo once covered the land as far as the eye could see. Grab your paddles and play on the waters of history-steeped rivers and sparkling lakes. Or look for wildlife as you explore the area’s amazing trails on foot, on your mountain bike or on cross-country skis.