Head to the Canadian Badlands for an unexpected adventure

From Calgary, Drumheller is about a 90-minute scenic drive east along Highway 9. So, whether you’re blasting road trip tunes with your sweetheart, drowning out your rowdy brood as they jostle for armrest real estate on the backseat or cruising solo with your thoughts you’ll be out of the city and discovering some of Drumheller’s and the surrounding area’s top hidden gems in no time.

Things to do

There really isn’t a bad time of the day to take in the epic sight of the biscuit-coloured, rugged mounds of Horseshoe Canyon, which is located just outside of Drumheller, but the stunning u-shaped landscape truly sings during sunrise and sunset. Take photos from one of the lookouts or venture down to the canyon floor and spend the day searching for fossils and hiking the Horseshoe Canyon Trail, a 2.9 km moderate loop.

Horseshoe Canyon

Stop in for a night or two in the picturesque town of Rosebud about 25 minutes from Drumheller. A hub for artists and performers alike this is a great place to kick back and relax. Rosebud Centre of the Arts (RCA) encompasses the popular Rosebud Theatre (Opera House), a 232-seat theatre that was once a grain elevator, Rosebud School of the Arts, and Rosebud Mercantile. Browse the galleries and gift shops and look out for the individual passion projects dotted around town—there’s a full-scale windmill in the works opposite the Rosebud Country Inn and a miniature garden railway next door to the Thorny Rose Café

At once both strong and fragile, Drumheller’s hoodoos, located on a stretch of Highway 10 known as the Hoodoo Trail, are a captivating sight. These tall, stout columns were formed millions of years ago from clay and sand and sculpted over time by the water, wind and snow. Climb the mountainside trail to overlook the hoodoos then make your way down to the colourful Hoodoo Hydration Station cafe for ice cream, floats, or a decadent affogato—vanilla gelato drenched with a shot of hot espresso.

Hoodoo Hydration Station at the Hoodoo Trail. Image by Diane Bolt.

The Drumheller’s Farmers’ Market may be small, but the people, products, and produce are mighty. Watch local maker, Gus LeStrat, carve and file cribbage pegs from carpenter nails then peruse the stalls where you’ll find purple garlic, green beans, corn, and more at Mike Stahl’s Blue Sky Farming and farm-fresh raw honey from Buzz Along Honey Bee. There’s also an abundance of fruit wine, tasty jams, and jellies—try the raspberry and cocoa jam—and picnic-perfect sourdough bread and cinnamon buns. Every Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. at Greentree Mall (or in July to August outdoors on Center Street).

Country Acre Bits and Baubles on Centre Street is brimming with vintage finds from ceramic growlers to copper kettles to stove-top irons to vinyl records and more. A few doors down Treasure on Centre offers a similar assortment of wares that includes garden tools, books, and tea sets. Wind your way to the back of the store and say hello to glass artist and jewelry designer Kellie Krueger who creates framed mosaics using colourful found glass that dates back to the time when Drumheller was a thriving coal town. 

Kellie Krueger featuring her art at Treasures on Centre in Drumheller. Image by Diane Bolt.

The front nine holes at Dinosaur Trail Golf & Country club date back to 1965. The course runs alongside the Red Deer River and takes the shape of a traditional tree-lined course. But, it’s the back nine, laid in 1996, that will truly elevate your game—get ready to invest in a sleeve or two of balls because chances are good that you’ll lose a fair few on the fairway. Built on top of hoodoos, the views are spectacular, and the stakes are high offering challenging terrain for golfers of all skill levels. 

Dinosaur Trail Golf & Country Club in Drumheller. Image by Diane Bolt.

Take a trip out to East Coulee for a tour of the heritage East Coulee School Museum. Built as a 4-room school in 1930 the school was expanded to 11 rooms in 1940 and celebrated its final graduating class in 1971. Learn the history of this once booming coal town that previously boasted more than 3800 residents (today the population rests at just 160 people). Send yourself off to the principal’s office, marvel at the cozy size of a home that housed a family of five, and then pop in for a bite and a cup of tea in the Willow Tea Room and Café. Open Daily: May-August 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

East Coulee School Museum. Image by Diane Bolt.

Where to eat and drink

For your morning cup of artisanal joe (think flat white, Caramel Macchiato and lattes, hot or on ice) head to Black Mountain Roasters. Get there early to be sure to bag one of the signature cinnamon buns then score a spot on the patio or inside at the bar in front of the massive windows and watch the world go by. 

Across from the antique stores, Au Croque Monsieur is elevating Drumheller’s food scene. Owner and pastry chef Marc H. Delesalle serves up a simple yet delicious lunch menu of quiche, flatbread pizza, prosciutto, and salami or vegetable sandwiches, made with perfectly crusty baguette, and of course the café’s eponymous Croque monsieur. The adage “life is short; start with dessert” rings true here where freshly baked croissants and pain au chocolat vie for attention alongside cheesecake, chocolate cake and cream-filled eclairs.

Damoa Sushi is a must-stop on your Drumheller itinerary. The tempura packs a delightful crunch and the special red dynamite roll turns up the heat with spicy tuna and tempura shrimp and yam bits. The exterior might be somewhat unremarkable but inside the industrial décor, high ceilings, wooden beams, and open kitchen create a welcoming, contemporary space. 

Family-run Athens Greek restaurant brings a touch of the Mediterranean to the Badlands. Start with the house-made hummus served with toasted pita bread and follow up with the house specialty Kleftiko, which pairs slow-cooked spring lamb with rice, roasted potatoes, and garlic toast. 

Stop by Bernie and the Boys Bistro for a no-nonsense burger (try Steve’s Dad burger) and crispy fries, chicken wings, fish and chips, thick milkshake, and more. Bernie’s is also home to the mammoth burger. Beat the record time for downing this epic burger, made with 24oz of 100 percent natural Alberta beef, to land your place on the mammoth burger challenge photo wall of fame. 

The Last Chance Saloon and Rosedeer Hotel in Wayne is a destination in itself. Located about 12 km southeast of Drumheller on the 11 Bridges Road (between bridges nine and 10), Wayne was established in 1912 and was once a booming coal town, today just 28 people call it home. Inside, the saloon is filled with antiques and memorabilia. A bandbox sits on a shelf in the corner, the old mechanical display from the 1940s featuring foot-high metal musicians is one of only two in Canada. Try the bison burger with a side of sweet potato fries and wash it all down with a craft beer served up in a quart sealers jar.

Enjoy a flight of craft brews at Valley Brewing on 3 Ave West then order a pint or two of your favourites to sup on the spacious patio that looks out onto a beautifully kept park. From IPAs to sours and everything in between you’ll be sure to find your perfect tipple. Try the light and roasty Devils Row made with local coffee beans or the refreshing Prairie Icon with notes of lemongrass and honey and a peppercorn kick.

Where to stay

People come from far and wide to catch a performance at the Rosebud Theatre and the 10-room Rosebud Country Inn is the perfect place to rise and shine. The bright yellow exterior of the inn is matched inside by the warm and bubbly greeting you’ll receive from co-owner Betty Jane “B.J.” Janzen. In the morning, B.J. rustles up a mean eggs Benedict and keeps the coffee, conversation, and laughter flowing amongst the guests. Wednesday to Sunday enjoy a slice (or two) of pie from the pie shoppe—choose from apple, strawberry-rhubarb, cherry-raspberry, bumbleberry, and more. Bring a cooler as you’ll want to pack it full of goodies to take home. The inn’s Rosebud Country Market works with local vendors and stocks items such as soaps and body sprays, preserves, cheeses, pizzas, and old-fashioned ice cream. And, be sure to work some chill time into your itinerary so you can simply sit and take in the stunning views from one of the many Muskoka chairs dotted around the property.

In Drumheller, the Canalta Jurassic Hotel offers a comfortable and affordable stay with spacious rooms in calming tones. The hotel is close to downtown, is pet-friendly, and has free parking and oversized vehicle parking. 

Canalta Jurassic Hotel in Drumheller.