I would like to acknowledge that this is treaty seven land on which the traditional territories the Dene, Blackfoot, Sioux, Stoney, Nakoda peoples, and is home to many diverse indigenous persons including the Metis.
When looking for adventure around Alberta it’s easy to think of the mountains and stop there. I mean they have EVERYTHING, wildlife, views, waterfalls, summer snow, lakes, cute mountains villages. What else could you ask for?
How about desert conditions and dinosaurs? Hoodoos and prairie dogs? What if I told you that there’s a kid friendly trail where everyday people can still find dinosaur fossils just 1 hour from Calgary? Why not head east instead of west and explore Horseshoe Canyon in the heart of the Canadian Badlands.
Where are the Canadian Badlands?
The Canadian Badlands consists of a 35,000 square mile region located in the south east region of Alberta including Drumheller moving east to Saskatchewan and south past the United States border. It is in this region that you will find Horseshoe Canyon located about 90 minutes east of Calgary or 15 minutes west of Drumheller.
Terrain, and Wildlife
When visiting the Horseshoe Canyon you will notice that the terrain and climate are not quite what you would expect from Canada. This beautiful area offers dessert like conditions, grasslands and most importantly (according to my son) the world’s largest dinosaur deposit.
Because of the desert like conditions the flora in the badlands is much different than that of the mountains and boreal regions of the province. Here you won’t find dense forest and cool lakes but you will find wild flowers, cacti and other drought friendly succulents. Because of this leaving the assigned trails can lead to unexpected pokes from the plant life.
It’s not uncommon to come across prairie dogs while exploring here. Because the badlands are such a huge tourist attraction they tend to be very curious of humans. Unlike bears you don’t need to be scared of them, but very much like bears please don’t feed them; no matter how cute their little furry faces are.
Horseshoe Canyon Trail
According to all trails Horseshoe Canyon Tail is 3.9km and considered moderate.
From our experience on the trail it was quite easy for the kids (then 2 and 4) to the most difficult part was actually the hill going into the canyon. It is quite steep but there are stairs. The terrains is unique making it exciting for young hikers who love to explore but may need something exciting to motivate them to keep moving along. I know for my littles the thought that any rock or stick could possibly be a dinosaur really helped hide up the excitement in on this hike.
I recommend arriving mid morning as it can get quite hot by mid day with limited trees and shade.
There are outhouses at the trail head but none directly on the trail so if your littles need and actual toilet or more privacy than a cactus can provide make sure to take a pit stop before you hit the trails.
Visiting Horseshoe Canyon and exploring the Canadian Badlands was on overall positive experience. The kids loved the idea of possibly finding something prehistoric and the change scenery pushed them to explore and push their limits a little further than they normally would.
As for me, one of the things I love about living in Canada is how diverse the terrain and climate is and getting to experience that is always a win for me. The trail was easy enough that I could allow them to explore relatively freely (at ages 4 and 2) which made it a relaxing outdoor experience for me.
If you are looking for a new outdoor experience that will spark your children’s imagination this summer I suggest visiting Horseshoe Canyon, just outside Drumheller, Alberta.