Fossil digs are an Alberta highlight and are offered at multiple museums. // © 2015 Telus Spark
Feature image (above): Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, Alberta, is home to more than 125,000 fossils. // © 2015 Royal Tyrrell Museum
As one of the greatest depositories of prehistoric fossils in the world, Alberta has an illustrious reputation for dinosaur-themed travel. Thanks to local museums, there’s never been a better time to explore Canada’s dinosaur country than now.
A paleontologist’s dream road trip might begin in Calgary, where two major exhibits are making 2015 the unofficial year of the dinosaur. After a five-year absence, animatronic dinos have returned to the world-class Calgary Zoo.
Dinosaurs Alive, located in the already-popular Prehistoric Park, now features 18 dinos of all shapes and sizes, including a family of Tyrannosaurus rexes. Three exhibit trails vary in length, and all give guests a “Jurassic Park” sensation — without the need to run for their lives.
“The exhibit was very popular back in 2010, so we knew bringing back the dinosaurs would be a huge hit,” said Roz Freeman, advisor of special events and promotions for the Calgary Zoo. “We’ve also done massive renovations to Prehistoric Park, with new installations for programming and interpretive centers. It’s a big experience for everybody.”
The zoo also offers an excavation site and a dinosaur dig that allows children to get their hands dirty as they look for fossils. Those with a sense of humor can also have their photo taken in what looks like a large pile of dinosaur poop.
Another must-see is Calgary’s brand-new science center, Telus Spark. The center is home to the Canadian premiere of Dinosaurs in Motion, a temporary exhibit that features a collection of 14 dinosaur sculptures made of recycled materials and built by late North Carolina artist John Payne. The exhibit, open until June 28, allows guests to manipulate the skeletons with pulleys, levers and remote controls.
“Travelers can go to some museums and see incredible paleontology, but with Dinosaurs in Motion, guests can engage with it as well,” said Cassandra Dickin, communications officer for Telus Spark. “You can actually move the T-rex and make its jaw clang. You can get it really rockin’.”
Once you’ve seen both of these Calgary sights, it’s time to hit the highway. Drumheller, the epicenter of Alberta’s dinosaur badlands, is about 90 minutes northeast of Calgary on Highway 9. The small town of about 8,000 residents features numerous dinosaur-themed attractions, including the World’s Largest Dinosaur, a model T-rex made of fiberglass and steel that stands 82 feet high. Visitors can climb 106 stairs from the dino’s tail to its jagged-toothed mouth for a great view of the town and Red Deer River.
For the greatest dinosaur experience of them all, head to the nearby Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology next. Home to more 125,000 fossils, Royal Tyrrell’s massive exhibit spaces offer an in-depth look at our prehistoric past — a visit here is a stunning trip through time, from the Paleozoic Era (which began more than 500 million years ago) to the most recent Ice Age (about 15,000 years ago).
“Alberta is world-renowned for its rich dinosaur fossil heritage,” said Karen Soyka, executive director North America for Travel Alberta. “With one of the finest dinosaur collections in the world at Royal Tyrrell Museum, a visit here is an authentic Alberta experience.”
At least one full day is required to get a complete sense of the space. Highlights include the Devonian Reef exhibit, where guests walk above and below a representation of the inland sea that covered Alberta 400 million years ago, and Lords of the Land, a display of the museum’s rarest fossil finds, including raptors and a rare blackened T-rex skull named Black Beauty.
The Royal Tyrrell is also chock-full of programming for guests young and old, including fossil digs and a camp-in package for brave souls willing to spend the night next to a full-sized skeleton of a T-rex or woolly mammoth. The program runs from February to April and October through November. But whether or not clients spend the night, they won’t leave disappointed. The Royal Tyrrell is truly a treasure chest for dinosaur lovers of all ages.