Alberta’s Rockies and Badlands: Landscapes and Dinosaurs

This vacation package delves into the wildly contrasting landscapes of southern Alberta, from the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Badlands in the east

Highlights

  • New Scientist Discovery Tour in partnership with GeoCultura.
  • Traverse the spectacular scenery of the Canadian Rockies and marvel at the colossal forces that generated and shaped them
  • Begin with a panoramic overview of the Rockies and the Badlands from the 191m (626 foot) Calgary Tower
  • Visit two UNESCO World Heritage sites: the rugged peaks and glacial features of the Banff portion of Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks and the bone-riddled badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park
  • Examine world-class dinosaur fossils and take a backroom tour at the Royal Tyrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller
  • Explore the geology and landforms of the extraordinary landscapes of the Badlands
  • See dinosaur excavation sites normally off-limits to the public while at Dinosaur Provincial Park
  • An optional addition is a half hour helicopter flight over the majestic peaks of the Canadian Rockies
  • The tour begins and ends in Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Reviews from Recent Runs

“The leader’s enthusiasm and wonderful drawings make rocks and bones the most exciting things in the world! I’m so glad I discovered this trip!” P.H.

“I knew the Rockies would be beautiful, but the Badlands were a revelation! Highly recommended!” J.D.

“This is a tour ... about something we never think about: deep time. You see landscapes in four dimensions and interpret how mountains rise, rivers shape their environment and sea levels rise and fall. The joy is that once pointed out, it is completely obvious and difficult to unsee.” M.E.

“Best bit: Dinosaur provincial Park. Visiting with such a knowledgeable and experienced Paleontologist as a guide was a unique experience”. A.C.

Overview

This tour of the majestic Rocky Mountains west of Calgary and the otherworldly Badlands to the east explores the stunning scenery and geology of southern Alberta and brings to life these remote but beautiful lands. Participants will join a working palaeontologist to visit two World Heritage Sites with world-class rock outcrops and outstanding dinosaur fossils. The expert will develop the story of rocks and life from the Cambrian (~541-million-years-ago) to the present, a tale that includes massive reefs, dinosaur playgrounds, evidence of the geological process that formed the Rocky Mountains and, more recently, ice sheets that covered Alberta and carved out spectacular landscapes. The human story began about 10,000 years ago as the ice sheets were melting away and people arrived to start a history of settlement.

After an introduction in Calgary, the tour explores the structural geology (the landscape, formed by the shortening and telescoping of land as the Rockies grew in pulses from 160–50 million years ago) and the stratigraphy (the layers of rocks) of the stunning Kananaskis Valley. The tour will visit the magnificent Banff and Lake Louise area, surrounded by mountains composed of uplifted limestones which originally formed in ancient warm seas.

We then head east to explore the multi-hued canyons and wind-sculpted hoodoos of the Alberta Badlands, named by early French explorers as “bad lands to cross”. The Badlands include amazing finds from the age of the dinosaurs. The first discoveries were by Joseph Tyrell in 1884 and have continued since then to make Alberta one of the most renowned locations for their study in the world. The group will tour one of the world’s best and most-celebrated dinosaur museums, the Royal Tyrrell Museum at Drumheller, and have a talk from a fossil preparation expert. Our last full day will be spent walking the bonebeds of Dinosaur Provincial Park, visiting areas normally off-limits to the general public.

Activity Level: Moderate, with walks of up to 3km (2 miles) on most days and a longer walk of 6km (4 miles) in Dinosaur Provincial Park (see our activity definitions here). 

Transport: We will use a comfortable coach suited to the number of attendees.

Accommodation: We will be in very comfortable hotels in Calgary, Banff, Drumheller and Brooks. The hotels in Calgary and Banff are well positioned to offer views of the city and/or surrounding mountains. See our list of hotels in the Need to Know tab.

Weather: Generally good in the summer with mild days and cool evenings. Rain is always possible.

Tour Map

Day 1 – Arrival in Calgary

The Hyatt Hotel, Calgary

The tour will begin with an afternoon meeting in central Calgary, where the tour expert will discuss the itinerary and introduce the geology of Alberta. This will be followed by a visit to the Calgary Tower where the spectacular views will serve to orient the tour and discuss more of the geology ahead. In the evening a group dinner will be accompanied by a talk on the history and culture of Alberta from an eminent local historian.

Overnight in Calgary. Group dinner.

Day 2 – Calgary to Banff – the formation of the Rockies and glaciation

Kananaskis Valley Overview

An early departure will lead to the Kananaskis Valley to view a classic feature that is a standard illustration in numerous geology books: the Lewis Thrust Fault. This impressive feature at the top of Mount Kidd has moved a slab of rock miles thick for ~80km from the west and terminates in an extremely large fold in the rock layers of the mountain's south peak. The morning continues with examination of the Montney Formation, one of the best hydrocarbon resources in North America, exposed in a series of outcrops that include a Triassic (~240-million-year-old) bone bed.

Afternoon stops include views of the striking Yamnuska Mountain showing the 505-million-year-old Eldon Formation thrust over the 80-million-year-old Belly River Formation by the McConnell Thrust, as well as exposures of the 70-million-year-old Cardium Formation with unusual sedimentary features and excellent trace fossils (a trail or burrow of an animal). A short final leg takes the tour to the overnight stop in Banff, nestled in a stunning setting amid the mountains.

Overnight in Banff. Free evening.

Day 3 – In and around Banff

Moose Hotel & Suites, Banff

During the morning the tour will visit outcrops of the Pekisko Limestone, named after the Blackfoot native tribe word for “rolling hills”, and the Mazama Ash Beds, deposited around 7600 years ago by the ash fall from the volcanic eruption that created Crater Lake in Oregon, 1500km (900 miles) to the southwest. After lunch in Canmore the tour will move on to view the 400-million-year-old Devonian sediments rich in amazing stromatoporoids (reef-building sponges) and take in the stunning scenery on a comfortable 2km (1.5 mile) walk at Grassi Lakes.

After returning to Banff there will be a group meal in the evening and a chance to hear more about the story of Banff from a local historian. The town is famous not just for its astounding scenery but also for its hot springs, formed from hot water emerging from the Sulphur Mountain Thrust Fault.

Overnight in Banff. Group dinner.

Day 4 – Banff to Drumheller

View across Lake Louise

Today the tour travels along one of the most scenic highways in the world, the Icefields Parkway, on a short journey to Lake Louise. Expect fantastic views of ancient glaciers, waterfalls, rock spires and reflective lakes all set in landscapes that owe their origin to powerful ice flow processes. There will be a viewing stop at the Banff Meadows to take in the spectacular vista, which clearly reveals the astounding crustal scale faults that formed the Rockies. Late morning the tour will arrive at the hotel at Lake Louise. There will be a chance to stroll around the edge of the lake before lunch.

In the afternoon, a longish drive (~3 hrs) takes us to the overnight hotel stop in Drumheller, north-east of Calgary. After settling into the hotel there is a group dinner at a renowned bar and restaurant in Wayne, an outlying part of the town and previously home to a number of coal mines. Drumheller itself has a fascinating history which, like much of western Canada, is dominated by the development of the railway network in the early 1900s. It is still the largest town by land area in Alberta, despite having a population of under 10,000 people – a result of its amalgamation with the Municipal District of Badlands No.7 in 1998.

Overnight in Drumheller. Group dinner.

Day 5 – Drumheller: dinosaurs, extinction and hoodoos

The Royal Tyrell Museum

The day will begin with an excursion to one of the world's premier dinosaur museums, the Royal Tyrell Museum. We will enjoy a talk on fossil preparation and visit a fossil preparation lab, followed by lunch at the museum. The afternoon begins with a visit to Horseshoe Canyon, where the stunning scenery has been used as backdrop for a variety of films and TV series. The exposed deposits lie just beneath the K/T (Cretaceous-Tertiary) boundary, which marks the end of the reign of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Further stops may include Hoodoos, Willow Creek and East Coulee to see impressive spires of rock, world-class sedimentary structures formed by the sideways migration of ancient channels (known as lateral accretion surfaces), evidence of ancient shorelines, some awesome giant fossil tree stumps and preserved burrows formed by bivalves in the wood (Teredolites traces). A short final journey takes the tour back to Drumheller

Overnight in Drumheller. Free evening.

Day 6 – Drumheller to Brooks – Dinosaur Provincial Park

A partially-buried dinosaur bone

The final full day of the tour begins with a drive to the Dinosaur Provincial Park, a World Heritage Site. We will spend the day at the Park and see the sites of some of the best and most famous dinosaur fossils finds in the world. Our visit will follow a 6km (4 mile) walking trail that is not usually open to the public, allowing us to immerse ourselves in the setting. A full packed lunch will be provided. The itinerary will include the Hadrosaur House, home of a sub-complete dinosaur skeleton featuring skin impressions, as well as ancient river channel deposits, whose fossils tell a tragic tale of flash flooding and its impact on Cretaceous fauna. One of Alberta’s most extensive groves of cottonwoods, flanking the Red Deer River, provides a fitting backdrop.

Supper will be at the famous steak pits (vegetarian options available) in Patricia, where everyone can cook their own meal, before the tour continues to Brooks.

Overnight in Brooks. Group dinner.

Day 7 – Brooks to Calgary and tour’s end

A two-hour journey will return participants to Calgary, where participants are free to return home or to continue exploring Alberta.

Note: this provisional itinerary is subject to change as specific locations and accommodations release more information regarding access for the coming year.

 

Single Supplement

Single room supplement is £743 / $928 in 2024 and £788 / $985 in 2025

Activity Level and Transport

The activity level is rated as MODERATE, requiring a fair level of fitness (view activity level definitions). The tour will involve walks of up to 3km (2 miles) with elevation gains up to 100m (300 ft) on most days and a 6km (4 mile) walk with a maximum elevation gain of 50m (150 ft) on day 5. All walks will be on prepared paths or trails. Some paths will be uneven and loose underfoot so sturdy footwear is required.

The weather is generally good in summer with mild temperatures expected during the day (12–23°C/55–76°F) and cooler ones at night (6–10°C/40–50°F), although it can be warmer or cooler. Rain is always possible. Elevations are between 1000–1400m (3000–4500 ft); participants unused to such elevations may find activities a little more strenuous than usual.

Transport will be in a comfortable vehicle suited to the number of attendees.

The Tour Includes/Excludes

The Tour Includes:

  • The services of your tour expert, who will be with the group throughout the tour, providing pre-visit briefings, walking seminars and available to answer questions.
  • A tour leader, who will attend to logistical matters, oversee the group’s health and safety and assist participants with their queries.
  • All transportation costs from the start to the end of the tour, including the services of a professional coach driver.
  • All accommodation costs for the nights stated, assuming double occupancy rooms. Single occupancy rooms are generally available for a surcharge. See single supplement header.
  • All breakfasts, lunches and dinners, except for the two dinners marked “free evening”.
  • Entry fees, local guide fees and activity fees, where arranged as part of the tour.
  • Most gratuities and all service charges

The Tour Excludes:

  • Alcoholic drinks with meals are not included.
  • Optional activities as described in the tour itinerary or extra activities that are not described in the itinerary.
  • Personal expenditures, including bar bills, laundry bills, and the cost of meals on two free evenings.
  • Transportation to the start venue or from the end venue of the tour (air fares are not included).
  • Passport and visa fees.

Participants are required to carry their own health and travel insurance in case of accident or unforeseen circumstances.

Alternate Activities

Individuals who prefer not to participate in certain activities might consider these options:

Day 2: A half-hour helicopter overflight out of a base in Canmore. This one-of-a-kind flight amongst the peaks of the Rockies will reinforce the geological messages of the tour by providing a 3-D appreciation of the vertical relief of the individual ranges and the widespread distribution of the rock layers. Participants will need to book this activity separately.

Alternatively, participants may wish to spend the day in Banff for sightseeing, museum visits or a gondola ride to the crest of Banff’s Sulphur Mountain for alpine hikes, an interpretative centre and a three-course meal as the sun sets over the Rockies.

Day 4: In Drumheller there are opportunities for sightseeing, shopping for dinosaur fossils and antiques or hiking.

Suggested Reading

Dinosaur Provincial Park: A Spectacular Ancient Ecosystem Revealed (2005), edited by Philip Currie and Eva Koppelhus. Published by Indiana University Press.

Badlands of Drumheller – Eastern Area (2017), David Eberth. Published by Bedrock Press.

Tales from the Canadian Rockies (2013), Brian Patton. Published by McClelland & Stewart.

Canadian Rockies Geology Road Tours (2008), Ben Gadd. Published by Corax Press.

Dinosaur Country: Unearthing the Badlands’ Prehistoric Past (1998), Renie Gross. Published by Badlands Books.

The Trade (2010), Fred Stenson. Published by Douglas & McIntyre. Historical fiction.

Icefields (1995), Thomas Wharton. NeWest Press. Historical fiction.

Accommodation

Night 1: Hyatt Regency Calgary, central Calgary

Hyatt Regency, Calgary

A full-service and classy refuge within walking distance of many restaurants and museums.

 

Nights 2 and 3: Moose Hotel & Suites in Banff

The Moose Hotel & Suites, Banff

The Inn is nestled below the peaks of Banff National Park and steps away from the sights and activities of downtown Banff. It boasts comfortable, spacious rooms with balconies and city or mountain views.

 

Nights 4 and 5: Ramada by Wyndham Drumheller Hotel & Suites in Drumheller

In central Drumheller and near the Royal Tyrell Museum, the hotel is ideally situated to explore the Badlands of Alberta. Amenities include a pool and fitness centre, and the hotel is within walking distance of Drumheller restaurants.

 

Night 6: Canalta Brooks Hotel in Brooks

The Canalta has all you need to make the most of your stay: spacious rooms and enjoyable amenities such as a pool and hot tub.

Note: If required for reasons beyond our control, GeoCultura reserves the right to substitute alternate accommodations of equal or higher quality.

Deposit and Payment Terms

Deposit: A deposit of 10% of the tour price is due upon registration for a tour.

Final payment: Full payment is due 60 days before a tour begins, or upon registration if within the 60-day window.

Cancellation by participant: A participant may cancel a registration after securing a confirmed place on a tour for any reason. The following refund terms will apply:

  • Greater than 60 days before tour begins: Any monies paid plus half of the deposit will be refunded
  • 30 to 59 days before tour begins: 35% of tour price will be refunded
  • 15 to 29 days before tour begins: 25% of tour price will be refunded
  • Within 14 days of tour or during the tour: No monies will be refunded

Cancellation by GeoCultura: GeoCultura reserves the right to cancel any tour due to low enrolment, inability to run the tour or concerns about the safety, health or welfare of participants. If a tour is cancelled before it begins, all monies paid will be refunded (including any deposit).

Please refer to our Terms and Conditions page for additional details.

Jon Noad

Jon Noad

Jon Noad resides in Calgary, Alberta, where he is in demand for running “Geology for Non-geologists” courses. Jon is a consulting geologist and palaeontologist, an Adjunct Professor at Mount Royal University, Calgary, and a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide. Jon specializes in sedimentology and trace fossils and is currently researching Cretaceous river systems and fossil localities in Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta. 

Jon has led groups in the field for many years, and is an enthusiastic teacher and presenter. He has taught university courses in Alberta and internationally. He has recently developed a popular portfolio of geology-focused videos across western Canada. 

In addition to fieldwork, Jon loves hiking, wildlife photography and travel. He has run more than 30 marathons and skies in the winter. He also enjoys cooking and eating hot curries. 

Upcoming tours
17 - 23 Jun 2024
Prices from GBP £3,999.00
16 - 22 Jun 2025
Prices from GBP £4,240.00
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