Dinosaur Provincial Park
In Red Deer River Valley near Brooks, about 225km (140 miles) east of Calgary and 193km (120 miles) southeast of Drumheller, you'll find perhaps the greatest concentration of fossils from the late Cretaceous period in the world. The park is one of the planet's most important paleontological sites; more than 300 complete dinosaur skeletons have been found here, earning it World Heritage Site status.
Park excavations continue from early June to late August, based out of the Field Station of the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Much of the park is a natural preserve, with access restricted to guided interpretive bus tours and hikes. Space on these tours is limited, so be prepared to be flexible with your choices. "Rush" tickets are sold at 8:30am for that day's events; maximum four tickets per person. Reservations are strongly encouraged in July and August. May to August, lab tours run so that you can view fossil preparation.
But you don't need a lab to see fossils. The ground here is littered with them. Most are fragments, but you should be able to identify teeth, if not larger portions of dinosaur anatomy. Be warned: These are not souvenirs, and the Alberta government considers removing them from the park akin to stealing. So look and touch, but don't keep.
Five self-guiding trails and two outdoor fossil displays are also available. Facilities at the park include a campground, a picnic area, and a service center.
Fees for advance tickets for bus tours and hikes are C$8 adults, C$6 youths 7 to 17, C$25 family; rush tickets C$6.50 adults, C$4.50 youths 7 to 17, C$20 family; all tickets free for children under 7. Lab tours C$2 adults, C$1 youths. Maps of the hiking trails can be found on the park's website, www.tpr.alberta.ca/parks/dinosaur.
Fossils Were Not Always First -- While recent decades have seen a lot of international paleontological attention paid to Alberta's badlands, it wasn't always the case. In the height of the coal boom, the fossils weren't just ignored -- they were a nuisance. As miners extracted the coal from underground, they had to sort through the minerals looking for fossils to remove them, as any that made it to a coal-fired oven had a tendency to explode and foul the good coal -- a disaster for quality control. Needless to say, the fossils they removed weren't kept for posterity, but disposed of, or crushed; as a result, it's hard to say how many potentially important discoveries were thrown out with the trash.
A tiny prairie gem cradled in a river valley on a provincial byway, Rosebud is a thriving arts center just off the map. An art school, theater, and opera house are among the tiny hamlet's hidden pleasures, as are the meals to be had at the historic Mercantile Dining Room (tel. 403/677-2001). Art galleries and crafts by local artisans are for sale here as well, most of them so good you'd swear you were in a town 100 times its size (Rosebud has just over 100 permanent residents). You can stay at any of the many bed and breakfasts to be found here, or at the Rosebud Country Inn (tel. 403/677-2211; www.rosebud.ca/country_inn.htm). Details on accommodation and attractions can be found at www.rosebud.ca. Take provincial Route 9 west from Drumheller and keep your eyes peeled for Route 840 south. It's about a half-hour's drive from Drumheller.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.