Drumheller had always been on our list of places we’d like to visit. It’s not every day that you get to go and see real dinosaurs. No really, how often are we ever able to really experience them? I’m not looking for an authentic Jurassic park type of adventure though! I enjoy the safety of visiting skeletons.
So we woke up early and hit on the road on the Dinosaur Trail to Drumheller. It was about an hour and half of a drive from Calgary. Long enough that the kids needed entertainment but short enough that they were excited the whole time.
The sign alerted us that we were close to Drumheller. The fields that we had been driving through for the past hour and a half quickly disappeared and we drove down a windy road that looked almost like a tunnel. Suddenly the farmlands of Alberta were in the rear-view mirror and we were in the bottom of a canyon… we had found the Alberta badlands!
You could feel the dinosaur pride as soon as you entered the city. This town was kid friendly central and a place for dinosaur enthusiasts to thrive. Every street corner had a large statue of a brightly coloured dinosaur and shop windows had dinosaur paintings welcoming visitors.
Signs teased us as we got closer to the museum. “You’re almost there” “Two more minutes” It was like someone had a big present for us to unwrap and we had to wait to get into it! The anticipation added to our excitement!
And finally the big sign “Welcome to the Royal Tyrell Museum” We had arrived!
We were greeted by a world class, world renowned Dinosaur Museum and Research Centre. My kids were impressed with the larger than life dinosaur statues that lined the entrance way. “DINOSAURS” they would say, and then run up, take photos or pose with the giants. “This place is awesome” they squealed. And we hadn’t even gone inside yet!
The Royal Tyrell Museum celebrated their 30th anniversary this year, although it’s founder, Joseph Burr Tyrrell made his first discovery over 100 years prior to the opening of the museum! (In 1884 to be exact!) The museum boasts one of the biggest displays of dinosaur skeletons in the world spanning over 125,000 sq. feet! Since opening day they have welcomed 12 million visitors from 150 different countries. It truly is a world-class facility.
Once inside the museum we were welcomed by a friendly and passionate staff member who was excited to share all of the museum offerings with us. She quickly went over everything we needed to know including the map and audio tour, the schedule of events and programs, and where to find support, and then we were off on our adventure!
I expected the entrance to the actual museum to be a large T-Rex. However when we first entered we were greeted by large dinosaurs that were so lifelike that they actually scared the kids. I think it was a combination of the lights, sounds and animatronics
After rounding the first corner the more traditional museum welcomes you. This was a place we could spend HOURS exploring, looking, seeing, touching. Some of my favorite parts of the museum were:
Black Beauty – in 1980 two high school students went fishing in Crowsnest pass and they stumbled upon a fossil. After reporting it to the Alberta Government and a full excavation took place, a beautiful Tyrannosaurus Rex was discovered. This T-Rex quickly earned the nickname “Black Beauty” as magnesium had tainted the bones during fossilization making them black. While I was excited to see the traditional T-Rex as I had envisioned, this one completely surprised me because of its colour and display. It’s actually one of the smallest Tyrannosaurus Fossils that exists, making it even more valuable. When I think about the museum this is one of the first memories that pops up
Dinosaur Hall – After winding through the top galleries you come downstairs to a large open hall. This gallery boats a wide range of dinosaur skeletons, all posed in positions resembling them as they would be in nature. It was overwhelming to see all the different types, sizes and species that were presented.
Small Dinosaurs – As much as the gigantic dinosaurs impressed me I was equally impressed with the little dinosaurs. I think part of me wondered what it would be like to encounter one of these animals in real life! The other part of me was amazement and respect for the researchers who found, preserved and displayed these amazing animals.
Live research facility – The Royal Tyrell Museum is the only museum in Canada that is devoted exclusively to the science of paleontology. They provide large windows in the museum that show actual researchers working on real fossils. They also have a staff member in the hall who shows families how fossils are cleaned off and answer questions. I didn’t expect my kids to have such hands-on experience.
After our tour of the museum the kids were ready to sit down and have lunch. It was then that I told them that we had plans for the afternoon… the kids were going to become Paleontologists! I had signed them up for the preschool “Dino Adventure Hour.” The kids were excited to eat their lunch and carry on their adventure.
We walked next door to the Atco Tyrrell Learning Centre. This centre is attached to the museum and provides children with 16,500 of square feet for staff to facilitate educational programming! “I’m going to be a palaeontologist” my four year old tried to say. He was ready to learn!
The kids were welcomed into an official dinosaur classroom where they took part in a circle time, craft making, hands on fossil demonstration and then a real dinosaur dig! The facilitator was excellent at providing a high quality “real” dig experience all while keeping the kids engaged.
After 6 hours the kids were exhausted and ready to head home. I wish we could have come back the next day as I feel like we only scratched the surface of things to explore!
Tips and Tricks:
Time – Give yourself enough time to enjoy the museum and the surrounding badlands. If I were to do this trip again I’d actually stay in Drumheller for 2 nights, giving us ample time to explore the museum and take in a couple different educational programs (or maybe even do a summer camp!). The town of Drumheller has lots to offer, including the famous hoodoos, recreational programs, iconic bridges and it is a great little walking town. With lots of campsites and a town built for tourists, I’d recommend staying a bit longer. It was a long day trip for the little people!
Book Early – The educational programs bring the learning hands on for the kids and my only regret is that we didn’t get to take in more classes. When you arrive check out your schedule and the programs that are being offered and reserve your spots early!
Food – My daughter has food allergies so we opted to bring our own lunch and eat in the cafeteria. I appreciated that there was this option for our family. I did get a chance to check out the cafeteria and was impressed with their level of selection of food for families.
Storage Room – We took advantage of the storage room and put our bags, our jackets and our umbrellas in storage while we toured around. It was more fun to be hands free!
Audio Tour – Surprisingly my 6 year old LOVED the audio tour. I was looking forward to it however she took it from me and liked listening and then teaching us what she had just heard. It was a great way for her to be the teacher!
Washrooms – The washrooms by the main entrance can get pretty busy, so if you want to skip the line hop through the gift shop and there’s a washroom right behind it has no lineups!
Gift Shop – Speaking of the gift shop, it’s a fantastic place to spoil the kids. Actually, on our whole road trip this was the only place that we stopped and shopped for souvenirs. My kids enjoyed the “real dinosaurs” the crafts and an umbrella (did I mention how hard it was raining outside?!?) I found the prices to be very good and I was really impressed with the selection.
Sometimes pictures can’t do a place justice and The Royal Tyrrell Dinosaur Museum definitely was deserving of a video!
To plan your own trip to Drumheller and the Royal Tyrrell Dinosaur Museum check out their website at: http://www.tyrrellmuseum.com/
Planning a trip to Drumheller? Why not check out Calgary while you’re at it! Check out our Calgary Adventures: