You probably know that there are dinosaur bones in Drumheller. What you may not know is that its more recent history would make a Tyrannosaurus blush. In the early 1900s, the rough-and-tumble region earned a rugged reputation. Among other things, its residents flush with coalmining cash openly flaunted liquor laws during the Prohibition era. But by mid-century, oil and natural gas extraction caused the coal mines’ closure. Thousands of workers moved away, leaving Drumheller frozen in history.
A two-day motorcycle trip is just the right amount of time (and just the right mode of transport) for exploring the area. The roads are quiet and there are plenty of valleys and s-curves to ride. Many attractions are less than 30-minutes from town, making them perfect for less experienced riders who aren’t used to being on a bike for long periods.
Drumheller is an easy hour-and-a-half (or so) trip from both Calgary and Red Deer (and about three hours south of Edmonton). Start your engine mid-morning to give yourself time for a scenic ride through small Prairie towns and a noon-hour arrival in the Badlands.
LUNCH AT THE LAST CHANCE SALOON
Though it has fewer than 50 residents, the ghost town of Wayne welcomes thousands of visitors each summer. A big draw? The short drive to town on Highway 10X is one of the Badlands’ most scenic rides, featuring 11 narrow bridge crossings, the Red Deer River and abandoned grain elevators. The other main attraction is the Last Chance Saloon, a small-town watering hole whose walls are covered in dollar bills and rack-mounted trophy heads. Look for the bullet hole in the wall above the piano: rumour has it that back in the 1930s, a bartender fired a gun at a patron who tried to leave without paying his bill.
VISIT THE WORLD’S LARGEST DINOSAUR
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Drumheller is dinosaur country. Dinosaur kitsch is everywhere, from downtown street corners to restaurant menus to the fossil-filled Royal Tyrell Museum. You’ll also see the World’s Largest Dinosaur, right beside Drumheller’s tourist information centre. For $3 you can climb 106 stairs inside the belly of a 25-metre-tall T-Rex. Once you’ve reached the top, a viewing area in the dino’s wide-open mouth affords a sweeping panorama of the town.
DISCOVER HORSESHOE CANYON
Wondering where folks take those unbelievable photos of a Mars-like landscapes swathed in red, brown and yellow? Head to Horseshoe Canyon, located on Highway 9 about 17 kilometres southwest of town. It’s not the easiest spot to find (don’t confuse it with Horsethief Canyon, also in the area, and don’t be fooled when the landscape changes to Prairie grassland), but if you keep your eyes open you’ll eventually see the exit sign and be amazed as the canyon opens up before you. You can hike down to the valley or take a ten-minute helicopter tour.
DINE AT BERNIE & THE BOYS BISTRO
A ginormous 25-ounce burger headlines the menu at downtown Drumheller’s Bernie & The Boys Bistro. The patty is so big that only 20 people have been able to eat the whole thing single-handedly. Other standout plates include the Blair Witch Project chicken wings. They’re so hot you have to be at least 18 to eat them—and even then you have to sign a waiver.
HEAD TO THE HOODOOS
Mushroom-like stone columns formed by centuries of erosion, the hoodoos are among the most interesting geological features of the Badlands. For the best view, head out of town on Highway 10 east for about 18 kilometres. Remember, though, the hoodoos are very delicate and protected, so respect the signs, stay on the path and do not touch the hoodoos.
DISCOVER ALBERTA’S COAL MINING HISTORY
Further along Highway 10 you’ll find the Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site, Canada’s last standing wooden coal tipple. The seven-storey building is where coalminers loaded coal from the mines onto rail cars. For $10, visitors tour the grounds on a tiny locomotive and learn all about coal-mining life from the site’s roving interpreters. For an additional fee you can don a headlamp and go into the tunnels.
EXPLORE THE ROYAL TYRELL MUSEUM
One of the world’s premier paleontology museums, the Royal Tyrrell Museum houses an internationally renowned collection of dinosaur fossils, including childhood favourites such as Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops. Stop to admire T- rex’s cousin, Albertosaurus, the species whose skull first brought the dinosaurs of the Badlands to light. Give yourself about three hours to explore the museum thoroughly.
ENJOY AN EVENING RIDE, AIDED BY THE BLERIOT FERRY
Did you know that Alberta Transportation operates eight free ferries in the province? Take Highway 838 northwest from Drumheller to reach the Bleriot Ferry, which carries vehicles across the Red Deer River. The ferry operates until 11 p.m. during summer. Expect to share the 105-metre journey with other motorcyclists, cars, farm equipment and RVs. Sure, it’s not exactly an epic crossing, but the drive out is worthwhile for the landscape alone.
WHERE TO STAY
There are a number of smaller and mid-size accommodations available in the Drumheller area. Book your stay through AMA Travel: You’re assured the most reasonable rate thanks to AMA’s Best Price Guarantee.
WE’VE GOT YOUR COVERED
The Drumheller area is relatively sparsely populated, so make sure you keep your bike’s fuel tank topped up, as you may find it hard to predict when the next gas station will appear. If you do happen to run out of gas, AMA can deliver fuel for free no matter where you are in the province. Upgrading to a plus or higher membership offers further benefits for bikers, including motorcycle towing up to 160 kilometres.