Drumheller, is an hour and a half drive north-east of Calgary. Just prior to dropping from big sky, prairie land into Drumheller, travelling north on Highway 9, there is a pullout to a parking area at the crest of a valley for amazing views of the colored layers in Horseshoe Canyon.
Horseshoe Canyon offers a variety of excellent, rustic, hiking opportunities but this is only a hint of attractions to come.
Drumheller is a town nestled in the Red Deer River Valley. Time and weather have eroded the valley into badlands formations and a history of coal mining offers a unique and worthwhile road trip combined with a wide variety of wilderness adventure, day hiking opportunities.
To the northwest of Drumheller, clearly signed, red-colored highway leads to a host of attractions. At the Midland Coal Mine exhibit there are interpretive trails which document the history of the mine and short offtrail treks will reveal foundations of old processing facilities. It is a short, easy hike through history.
The Dinosaur Trail is a paved road. The North Dinosaur Trail meanders the bottom of the north side of the Red Deer River Valley bottom, west from Drumheller, for a short road trip to the world-renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. Adjacent interpretive trails provide amazing views of the landscape. There have been a number of dinosaur remains found in this area but the main Alberta digs are a long driving distance south and east in Dinosaur Provincial Park to the northeast of Brooks, Alberta.
Driving further up the North Dinosaur Trail takes us past the tiny church, which seats 10,000, to the top of Horsethief Canyon, where other wilderness hiking opportunities abound. We always take a few minutes to absorb the incredible views from the top before we travel on to the Bleriot Ferry which will take our vehicle across the Red Deer River. Dave and I are prepared for a long wait in a lineup for the tiny ferry but it is not busy and we are delivered quickly across the Red Deer River to South Dinosaur Trail, along the top of the Red Deer River Valley, with fabulous, expansive viewpoints and outstanding photographic opportunities on the return trip to Drumheller.
Driving south-east from Drumheller on Hwy 10, we arrive at Rosedale and hang a left for the short drive to park and walk across the suspension bridge over the Red Deer River that will take us to a myriad of trails through the property of the long-abandoned Star Mine. A quick hike takes us to old trestles partially buried by the flow of clay-like terrain.
Back at the Rosedale intersection, we cross Hwy 10 and take the road south, over 11 bridges (some are single lane traffic, so we are paying attention) to the hamlet of Wayne, home of the historic Last Chance Saloon, as a standing reminder of the bustling coal mining era in days long gone by.
Here, there are many, short, scenic hikes to old mining ruins. There is nearly limitless opportunity for fascinating exploration and discovery in an era of intrigue eventually ended by reduced demand for coal and river flooding which continually decimated the town.
Back at Hwy. 10, we turn right and continue southeast to the Hoodoos for more hiking through the stark, pristine rock formations and deposits of petrified wood. Continuing down Hwy 10, we soon arrive at the remnants of the old Atlas Coal Mine and the location of Canada‘s largest free-standing coal tipple.
The Atlas Coal Mine is a National Historic Site. It is receiving the benefit of a limited budget, long-term, restoration project and dedicated tour guides in the summer lead visitors into and through the fascinating tipple. Many of the original buildings, and examples of generations of mining equipment remain and, combined with brilliant oratory, the remarkable experience is memorable and educational. When you get there, please throw your loose change, or a few extra dollars, in the donation pot. The friendly and hard-working people who are trying to keep this history alive deserve all the help they can muster.
Dave and I continue on Hwy 10 south and take the exit to Finnegan Ferry which will transport us across the Red Deer River again.
We make a brief stop for refreshment in the restored, turn-of-the-century, quaint town of Rosebud, Alberta, home of live theatre in the restored Opera House. At the end of a long exhilarating day, Dave and I return to Calgary.
What I have posted here is a brief description of a fascinating road trip with frequent, brief, intermittent stops for a taste of the wide variety of unique attractions. It can be achieved in a long, summer day between sunrise and sunset, but those who have only one day will be constantly moving to get it done. It is a wonderful experience of discovery and learning for children and there will be no time for them to say “Are we there yet?” Those of us who are blessed to live in the area, travel here often with guests and easily spend an entire day hiking and exploring portions of the areas I have mentioned. It is a remarkable area rich in history that began with the dinosaur population. If you have time, try to take in the view from the mouth of the large dinosaur in the centre of Drumheller.