April Squares: Canadian Badlands

Badlands Interpretive Trail, Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

After our 2017 road trip in the Canadian Rockies we headed for a very different area of Alberta – the Badlands. We were blown away by the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller. Here I am feeling on top of the world on its Badlands Interpretive Trail.

Dinosaur Provincial Park

Another place we found fascinating and amazing was Dinosaur Provincial Park. Here it’s John’s turn to take the top spot.

If you have just joined my gallivanting, and fancy some armchair travel, I have four posts about the Canadian Badlands:

Linked to Becky’s #SquareTops challenge.

April Squares: Lake Louise

Two squares for the price of one today. Here we are on top of the world at Lake Louise: firstly at the viewpoint looking down to the Fairmont Château, and secondly on the gondola up Mount Whitehorn.

Linked to Becky’s #SquareTops challenge.

Full story here: Lake Louise.

April Squares: Calgary Tower

In the first few days of Becky’s #SquareTops challenge I looked at various places in the US where we felt on top of the world. Now it’s time to move to Canada and our Rockies trip of 2017. We flew into Calgary and climbed the Calgary Tower soon after we arrived. These are my feet as I stand at the very top, looking down through a rather scary glass window. My knees feel quite wobbly remembering this!

Original post: Calgary.

Dinosaur Provincial Park

Like Drumheller, Dinosaur Provincial Park is hidden in the valley, up to 100 metres deep, of the Red Deer River. Shortly after the sign in the picture above, the road plunges to the 27km stretch of park, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Digging began here in the 1880s, and since then more than 300 top-quality dinosaur skeletons have been found, a greater concentration than anywhere else on earth. (Parks Canada has a nice, simple explanation if you’re wondering why this is.) The skeletons can be found in about 30 museums world-wide, the biggest number in the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology which we had visited a few days before, so it was an interesting follow-up to see where they came from. The park’s Visitor Centre also has some impressive specimens, as well as other exhibits, and is worth spending time in. One of the dinosaurs appeared to have escaped outside 😉

Most of the park is out-of-bounds unless you are on a pre-booked guided tour. We hadn’t been organised enough to arrange this, so we stuck to the five self-guided trails along the 3km public loop road. It was enough! We spent all day admiring the views and amazing rock formations.

We also spotted a little bit of flora and fauna. The area near the river was much more lush than the rest of the park, and several times we saw deer peering up at the weird humans scrambling about the arid rocks.

And – that was it! The end of our vacation. The next day, we packed up and headed for Calgary Airport and the long journey home. We had a great time in Canada, and I’ve enjoyed reliving it through blogging. Next time, I’ll be back writing about Scotland again.

Drumheller to Brooks

Last Chance Saloon, Wayne

All good things come to an end, and it was time to set off for the last stop of our trip: the small town of Brooks. However, we took in a few more sights around the Drumheller area before we left.

The Hoodoos

These weird, mushroom-like rocks have been naturally eroded over thousands of years. They are beautiful, but we felt the local tourist maps over-hyped them – it’s a very small site and, well, we’ve been to Bryce Canyon.

Atlas Mine

This whole area was once a prosperous coal-mining community, and one mine, Atlas, has been preserved as a National Historic Site. I found this much more interesting than I expected and we spent a couple of hours wandering around and riding the coal train.

Star Mine Suspension Bridge

I’m letting the picture above do the explanations for me! Here’s proof that we crossed the bridge:

Last Chance Saloon

For lunch, we headed up a side road to Wayne, home of the Last Chance Saloon. A short stretch of road (6km) had 11 bridges as it crossed and re-crossed the winding Rosebud River. You can see the saloon exterior at the top of the post and below is the interior, packed with quirky memorabilia. I can’t remember what we ate: I think it was basic pub food such as burgers and wraps, but we were too busy looking at our surroundings to take much notice.


From Wayne, a gravel road took us onto Highway 56 and then to Brooks. There’s not much to it as a place, although we were thrilled to find an Indian restaurant near our hotel – curry is something we always miss when away from home, and we seek it out whenever we can. Our evening stroll also brought us to some attractive murals.

So why did we stay in Brooks? It was close to somewhere I was very keen to visit – Dinosaur Provincial Park, where many of the fossils we had seen in Drumheller were found. Coming up soon!

Horseshoe Canyon and the Dinosaur Trail

Horseshoe Canyon

17 km west of Drumheller is Horseshoe Canyon, a spectacular chasm in otherwise flat prairie. Trails lead down from the parking lot (take care, they are steep and slippery) and we set off to see if we could find the end of the canyon. We couldn’t! There were other things we wanted to do that day so eventually we gave up and turned back.

From Horseshoe Canyon, we drove back into Drumheller and crossed the Red Deer River by bridge to follow the 48 km Dinosaur Trail, a loop on both sides of the river. Our first stop was The Little Church which can seat a mere 6 people at a time.

Next, it was on to Horsethief Canyon, once a hiding place for its namesake outlaws, and an opportunity for more hiking.

There is no bridge to cross back over the river – instead the Dinosaur Trail takes you via the Bleriot Ferry, the eponymous Bleriot being André, brother of the more famous Louis who was the first man to fly the English Channel.

Once back on the south side of the river, there was just one last stop at the beautiful Orkney Viewpoint. I’d love to know how it got its name.

Then we headed back to Drumheller for our last night. Despite our misgivings when we arrived, largely because of the terrible hotel, we had a great time and could have spent longer exploring. However, we still had one more Badlands adventure to come, so the next day we were back on the road again.


Royal Tyrrell Museum

From Lake Louise, we left the Rockies and drove east: destination Drumheller. The road was flat – very flat – and I was puzzled when we came to the 3km sign for Drumheller: where was it? Surely we should see it by now? Then the road suddenly plunged down into the Red Deer River Valley, and there it was at the bottom. We were in the Badlands! (Badlands are a type of dry terrain where soft sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively eroded by wind and water.) The next surprise was how small Drumheller is. We were here to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, a world leading institution, which we expected to have rather more sophisticated surroundings (sorry Drumheller).

The third surprise was unpleasant. Our hotel claimed to have no knowledge of us and was “fully booked”. Now, I spent my entire career in public service and I know that the answer to a problem is “Oh, I’m sorry that has happened – let’s see what we can do to fix it.” The two staff here had obviously missed that memo and were truculent and defensive. Apparently, it was all our fault for booking through a third party, despite the fact that we had booked most of our accommodation through the same site months in advance and had no problem anywhere else.  It became my responsibility to call the booking company to sort it out – I was grudgingly allowed to use one of the hotel phones when I pointed out that it would cost me a fortune to use a UK mobile. I have nothing but praise for the young lady I spoke to who then spent half an hour talking to one of the staff, and – surprise again! – it turned out they did have a room, although more expensive than the one we’d booked. I don’t know why they couldn’t have found this in the first place: presumably the booking company was inveigled into paying the extra amount. I shan’t name the hotel, but I definitely won’t be using that chain again.

After my blood pressure had returned to normal, we set out to explore Drumheller. They love their dinosaurs. This T Rex is the largest dinosaur in the world, apparently – the one on the right is much smaller, it’s just the perspective making them look similar.

There were also smaller dinosaurs all around town. We even met one in our (nameless) hotel lobby! He arrived every morning to entertain the children, but didn’t seem to mind being photographed with a couple of slightly older visitors.

Drumheller is a former mining area and, if we’d had time, there is a mining trail we could have followed. We did visit one historic mine (which I’ll include in a later post) and stop for reflection at the memorial in town to all those miners killed in the area. A lot of names.

As for the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, which we visited on our first full day, it blew us away. It has to be one of the best museums I have ever visited. The layout was so clear that you could easily follow a logical path through it, and the signs had just the right amount of information. And if all you wanted to do was look at dinosaurs (there were many young children who were there to do just that), you could still have a ball.

Why have so many fossils, particularly dinosaurs, been found in Alberta? Apparently, it’s because of the high sedimentation rate in the Late Cretaceous Period which meant that dead animals were buried quickly before they started to decompose, preserving the skeletons intact.

The museum also has a Badlands Interpretive Trail (below) which we spent some time exploring before, mid-afternoon, returning to our hotel to freshen up for our next event at 6pm – the Canadian Badlands Passion Play.

We didn’t know until after we’d decided to visit Drumheller that this was on, but we jumped at the chance to get tickets when we found out. The epic representation of the life of Jesus has been produced every summer since 1994 and, if you live nearby or are likely to visit next July, I strongly recommend it. There are a few professional actors involved, but most are amateurs and they are simply amazing. Photography during the play is not allowed – the first picture below was taken by John beforehand and the other two were supplied to me as part of a set sent to ticket holders after the event, hence the attribution.

The Canadian Badlands Passion Play 2017
The set © Canadian Badlands Passion Play
Cast and crew © Canadian Badlands Passion Play

The site for the play was a few miles out of town and there were hundreds of cars parked, yet the volunteers directing us out were so efficient that we hardly had to queue at all before we were back out onto the main road. An excellent and well-organised event.

On our second day in Drumheller we set out to explore the Badlands further and get some hiking in. More next time!

Lake Louise

Lake Louise

On our previous visit to Lake Louise in 2007 we stayed in Deer Lodge, which is the only hotel actually by the lake apart from the mega-expensive Fairmont Château, but when we tried to book it in December 2016 for July 2017 it was already full! I looked at the Château prices and decided they were having a laugh, so we booked a hotel about 4km away in Lake Louise Village and commuted. There is a regular shuttle bus to the lake which we took the first morning, but only after queueing for ages in full sun. We decided it would be just as easy to walk back, and the second day we spent at the lake we walked both ways. There’s a pretty trail along Louise Creek, which can be extended via the old tramway which took Victorian visitors from the station in the village to the Château. The middle day of our stay we rode the Gondola up Mount Whitehorn.

Lake Louise Village

We were glad we walked back via the old tramway the first day, because it took us out near The Old Station Restaurant which we booked for dinner that night (excellent). Trains still pass through – we are always fascinated by their length in North America. We watched the one below for 5 minutes from beginning to end!

The other nights we ate in our hotel, the Lake Louise Inn, which served reasonable bar food and good pizza. I have no pictures of the Inn, it wasn’t particularly pretty. The red roofs by the river in the gallery above are part of the Post Hotel which was much more picturesque. Maybe we’ll stay there next time…

The Lake

A few highlights from our two days hiking by or near the lake. Considering how crowded the place was, I’m amazed John managed to get pictures with hardly anyone else in them – though the old rule holds good. Walk a few hundred metres from the car parks and most people melt away.

Lake Louise Gondola

The Lake Louise Gondola is a short drive from the village. We booked early morning tickets which included breakfast on the ground before heading up the mountain. At the top of the lift is a Wildlife Interpretive Centre, a couple of (very steep) trails to viewpoints and the fabulous Whitehorn Bistro. We rewarded ourselves after the strenuous hikes with a late lunch on their deck – fondue with great views, though as you can see we were still hampered by haze from all the fires.

After Lake Louise, we left the Rockies – but we weren’t going home just yet. We were heading for the Badlands!

Jasper National Park

Downtown Jasper

When we visited Jasper ten years ago, we stayed in a cabin outside the town. This time, we were very central and the big bonus of that is we got to appreciate some excellent restaurants right on our doorstep. I can heartily recommend Jasper Pizza Place, Olive Bistro, Raven Bistro and Syrah’s of Jasper – and there were several other places I’d like to have tried if we’d been there longer. So what did we do other than eat?

Jasper Town

Stroll along the main street, Connaught Drive (above), and I defy you not to be transfixed by the mountain views – but  trains and totem poles are available too.

Mina and Riley Lakes Loop

We followed this 9km trail right from downtown on our first morning, no need to even move the car. It was a beautiful, still day as you can see from the reflections – as we feasted on our picnics, the bugs feasted on us…

Jasper Tramway

On our second day we took the tramway more than 1000 vertical metres (3280 feet) up Whistlers Mountain from where we hiked the (very steep) mile to the summit. The views are awesome, and Parks Canada has helpfully placed some beautiful red chairs just where you can admire Mount Edith Cavell. (These chairs are all over the country – the idea is to share them on social media).

Whistlers is named for the hoary marmots which live on the summit. We saw several of them as well as white-tailed ptarmigans and golden-mantled ground squirrels. One of the latter appears to be trying to eat a tissue!

After a reasonable lunch in the tramway’s top station, we headed back down the mountain for another hike on flatter terrain.

Valley of the Five Lakes

There were, indeed, five lakes on this trail! Third Lake had another set of red chairs, just right for enjoying the view. I think I have these lakes labelled right….

Maligne Canyon and Lake

Our final day in Jasper was my birthday, which we celebrated in the worst weather of the whole trip. Our first stop was Maligne Canyon, a steep narrow gorge crossed by several bridges.

On to Maligne Lake, where we did a couple of short trails in a sleet-storm! This made the paths muddy and treacherous – you might spot that from the state of John’s left trouser leg. Yes, it was his turn to slip.

Maybe it was the cooler, wetter conditions that made this a good day for wildlife spotting. Deer in abundance, and twice – bears! Only one bear picture good enough to share though.

From Jasper, we headed back south to Lake Louise, our last stop in the Rockies.

Along the Icefields Parkway

Crowfoot Glacier and Bow Lake

From Glacier, we headed north to Jasper along the Icefields Parkway. A few days later, we drove back down the same road to Lake Louise (there really isn’t any other way). We made several stops each time which I’ve combined into one south to north sequence, starting with the Crowfoot Glacier viewpoint (above).

Peyto Lake and Bow Lake Lookout

This was a day of very poor visibility due to smoke blowing over from the fires in BC. From the parking lot at Bow Summit, a short, steep, paved trail leads to a viewing platform over Peyto Lake (first picture). It was thronged with people so we only got one photograph but, as is often the case, we carried on a bit further and lost most of them. The trail to Bow Lake Lookout goes through forest, moraine and snow, some of which is not terribly solid. Guess who went in to thigh level? Still, to make up for that we met a cute marmot. The view of Bow Lake was pretty enough but nothing like it could have been in other circumstances. The picture near the end of the gallery, slightly enhanced, is the best we have.

Parker’s Ridge

The trail to Parker’s Ridge, overlooking the Saskatchewan Glacier, is about half way between Lake Louise and Jasper. We hiked here in 2007 too – the weather wasn’t great then, but better than it was in 2017 with a squall of hail at the top. The panoramas below are just before the storm and just after.


On the drive down from Jasper, we saw a mother with two cubs! Much zoomed and a bit blurry, but still – bears!

Sunwapta Falls

We stopped here on the way down and had lunch at the nearby Sunwapta Falls Resort. It wasn’t amazing, but it was a lot better than the meal we had at the resort at Saskatchewan River Crossing on the way up – although, to be fair, there are three places to eat on site. We chose the Parkway Pub for the views from its deck – I’d recommend you to forego the view and try one of the other options.

Athabasca Falls

We spent about an hour here exploring the various trails round the Falls. Such awesome power in the water – we were reminded of this by the plaques to those who thought it would be fun to hop over the fence and never came back.

Three busy days in Jasper coming up next.