By Karan SmithUpdated Mar 30, 2017
You’ve done the family trips mixing adult pleasures—artisanal cheese shops, art galleries—with a lot of running about. But sometimes it pays to focus on what kids really dig. And what better place than the Canadian Badlands in southeastern Alberta? The sandstone hills and river valleys are literally littered with 75-million-year-old bones.
The main draws are the find-rich Dinosaur Provincial Park and the Royal Tyrrell Museum, where dino egg nests, footprints and towering skeletal remains interpret 3.9 billion years of Earth’s history. Plus, where else can you measure your height against a building-high Camarosaurus leg?
And as the kids start to fade, give in and head to the dino-themed splash pad in nearby Drumheller. Overlooking the park is the world's largest dinosaur: an 86-foot T-Rex. Climb the interior stairs into its open jaws. Like many surprises about parenting, the views from here aren’t bad at all.
Field trip: The Explorer’s Bus Tour travels into protected areas of Dinosaur Provincial Park. On the first stop, my seven-year-old found a bone fragment. Exciting stuff, even if you can’t take it home.
Place for amateur archeologists: The Jr. Dig Experience at Royal Tyrrell lets older kids play at paleontology while the younger set can uncover an Ornitholestes—and pass around fossilized dino poop—in the Dino Adventure Hour.
King of the castle: Follow sage-lined trails through the unique Badlands landscape and pose for a classic Canadian photo in front of the hoodoos along the Hoodoo Trail.
Dig deep: The Atlas Coal Mine proves surprisingly entertaining with its coal-car train ride and theatrical tours.
Did you know... *Millions of years ago, this area was a subtropical, coastal plain, rather like Florida today. *There’s an easy way to tell a dusty rock from a fossil. Use your tongue: petrified bones will stick.
Tip... *It can be very hot and buggy in the Badlands, especially in Dinosaur Provincial Park, so bring plenty of water, sunscreen and repellant.
Where to stay... While you can camp or stay in a chain hotel, Rocking R Guest Ranch, on the edge of the Canadian Badlands, makes for an ideal home base. Horses graze in the front yard and open sky views create a relaxing rural scene. A two-bedroom cottage, the Bunk House, provides family comforts: night lights, a mini dining table and a baby monitor, so after bedtime you can flip through gossip mags on the deck or soak in the hot tub. On one night, a barbeque is followed by a horse-drawn wagon ride. In the morning, the welcoming hosts arrive with trays of French toast and sliced berries. And the quiet country highways around here make for easy road trips into the Badlands.