Alberta Badlands

Beyond Banff: What to do in the Alberta Badlands

The Alberta Badlands was one of the most surprising travel experiences I’ve ever had. The entire thing made me realize my desire to become a cowboy’s wife and to spend the rest of my days living in the middle of the prairies where the sweet scent of leather and horse poop is like nature’s own perfume.

My first couple of trips to Alberta, I spent most of my time in Banff or Calgary. But then my friends and I decided to do a little Canada Day weekend road trip around dinosaur central. I had no idea that the prairies could be so beautiful.

Grain silo

Quick summary: The Badlands is filled with coulee landscapes and hoodoo rocks and canyons and crazy dinosaur fossil deposits. There’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site Dinosaur Provincial Park and a whole lot of adorable prairie towns that look like something straight out of a western. I’m talking saloons with swinging doors and abandoned grain silos with tumbleweeds rolling past. Here are some of the highlights from my trip.

Barbecues, fire pits, and fireflies St. Ann Ranch in Trochu

This place is not only a period home, it’s a scrapbooking retreat. I did not know such things existed. The rooms are filled with antiques and collectibles, and the property is listed as a Provincial Historic Site. There’s a heritage village on the property that was actually the original Trochu settlement.

St. Ann's Ranch

On the grounds: seven museums, including an old hospital and a schoolhouse. We used this place as our base for the entire trip.

Inside St. Ann's ranch

I just love this photo. It captures mine and Matt’s personalities especially perfect, haha.


BUT the best part about the ranch? The owners, Holly and Toad. There were five of us travelling together, and they treated us like family. They even invited us to a Canada Day barbecue at their friends’ farm, the Meding family, where we drank beers and ate grilled meat and wandered around barley fields like we were real farmers. It was AWESOME.

Canada Day BB

One of my favourite memories: Coming back to the ranch at sunset, sitting around the fire pit with some beers, and listening to Toad’s brother serenade us into the evening. Then we caught fireflies in jars. SO MUCH FUN.

St Ann

Driving through Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park, and Horsethief Canyon

I had never driven through a canyon landscape. I was mesmerized at every turn.

Horsetheif canyon

Horsethief Canyon.
River valley

And gorgeous river valleys.
And the hoodoos! My god, the hoodoos!


Pizza night in Rowley

Easily one of the funniest, most interesting travel memories I have. Rowley is a ghost town, but in the summer months it hosts Pizza Nights every other Saturday. It serves a fundraiser, and so locals make the pizza at the town hall before delivering them to Sam’s Saloon across the street. People sit around on picnic tables and drink pitchers of beer while eating the best goddamned pizza you’ll ever have. No jokes.


Sam’s Saloon is an amazing landmark itself. The floor is made of sawdust and the walls are covered in just about every piece of random paraphernalia you can imagine, including deer heads and newspaper clippings from the 1800s. Being out of towners, we were quite a spectacle.

Sam's Saloon

Taking the oldest cable ferry in North America

I LOVE THIS. The oldest cable ferry in North America is used to cross the Red Deer River, and it seriously took all of five minutes to make the journey.

Cable ferry

I just LOVE that there’s a sign that says, “ring bell for service.”

Ring bell for service

The Royal Tyrell Museum

Being the dinosaur capital, it only makes sense to have a big-ass dinosaur museum. The Royal Tyrell Museum is easily one of the best museums I have ever visited, and its bone collection (giggle) is impressive. The museum is named for Joseph Tyrrell, a geologist who made the first dinosaur bones discovery in Red Deer River Valley in 1884. Here you’ll find an evolutionary celebration of Earth’s 3.9-billion year history.

Tyrell museum

The Dinosaur Hall and Lords of the Land sections feature fossils and complete skeletons, and there’s an incredible skull of a t-rex on display there. Your geek sirens will start screaming.


Drumheller is a quirky dinosaur town. But we happened to catch the Canada Day Parade, which was filled with delightful floats like this one featuring some of the city’s oldest and most prized citizens. The Badlands really place a lot of emphasis on antiquity.


And who doesn’t love a good tiny horse?

Tiny horse

The town itself is kitschy and covered in dinosaur statues. You’ll love it.