Exploring the Park on Your Own
Much of Dinosaur Provincial Park is protected as a Natural Preserve and is off-limits to unguided visitors. The Natural Preserve protects the bone beds and the valley’s fragile environment. It also keeps visitors from becoming disoriented in the uniform landscape and ending up spending the night among the bobcats and rattlesnakes. The area is well marked and should not be entered except on a guided tour.
One other important rule: Surface-collecting and digging for bones anywhere within the park is prohibited.
You may explore the area bounded by the public loop road and take three short interpretive trails on your own. The loop road passes through part of the area where bones were removed during the Great Canadian Dinosaur Rush. By staying within its limits, hikers are prevented from becoming lost, although the classic badlands terrain is still littered with fragments of bones, and the area is large enough to make you feel “lost in time.”
It’s a fantastic place to explore. Of special interest are two dinosaur dig sites excavated earlier this century, one of which contains a still-intact skeleton of a duck-billed hadrosaur.
The Badlands Trail is a 1.3-kilometer (0.8-mile) loop that starts just east of the campground and passes into the restricted area. The Coulee Viewpoint Trail, which begins behind the Field Station, climbs steadily for 500 meters (1,650 feet) to a high ridge above Little Sandhill Creek. This one-kilometer (0.6-mile) trail takes 20 minutes. It’s easy to ignore the nearby floodplains, but the large stands of cottonwoods you’ll see were a contributing factor to the park being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Cottonwood Flats Trail starts 1.4 kilometers (0.9 miles) along the loop road, leading through the trees and into old river channels that lend themselves to good bird-watching. Allow 30 minutes round-trip.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition