Exploring Alberta’s Provincial Parks: Dinosaur

Cassidy.joyes, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

About Dinosaur

Dinosaur Provincial Park is a large provincial park located in the Red Deer River valley about 48km northeast of Brooks, Alberta. It is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its unique badland topography as well as the archeological significance of the area. The park is known for being one of the richest dinosaur fossil locations in the world and more than 500 different specimens have been removed and displayed at museums around the world. The park has a visitor center which showcases some fossils, a theatre, a fossil prep lab, and a gift shop. John Ware, the famous Albertan rancher has a cabin in the park.

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About John Ware

L-R: Mrs. Mildred Ware; Robert Ware; Nettie Ware; John Ware. Copied from PA-4011-1.

John Ware was an Albertan cowboy who became influential in the western ranching industry. Despite discrimination and the anti-black racism of the day, John Ware would become admired as one of the best ranchers and cowboys in the west. He was among the first ranchers in Alberta and helped to shape the province we know today!

John Ware was born into slavery in Tennessee (Ware put on his marriage certificate) but this is disputed since there is no record of his birth. As a kid he worked on a plantation as a slave. After the American Civil War, John Ware has freedom from slavery and moved to Texas where he began to learn the skills required for being a cowboy.

He worked his way north driving cattle into Montana and eventually Canada. In 1882, he helped bring 3000 head of cattle to the North-West Cattle Company in Alberta. Once he arrived in Calgary, he found work at the Bar-U Ranch and Quorn Ranch. Eventually, he and his wife moved northeast of Calgary and started their own ranch in the Red Deer River valley in what is today Dinosaur Provincial Park. He registered the cattle brand 9999 (likely a nod to the famous 6666 ranch in Texas), but later changed it to just 999.

In 1905 – just after Alberta became a province – John Ware’s wife dies of pneumonia and a few months later the troubled John Ware himself died when his horse tripped in a badger hold and crushed him, breaking his neck. John Ware’s funeral was held in Calgary and would be one of the largest attended funerals of its time. His legacy was one of determination and the refusal to be defined by racism and discrimination – truly a testament to the rugged Albertan way of life.

Today, there are many books written about John Ware. He still is remembered in Alberta’s culture with several namesakes in his honour. The John Ware Ridge, Mount Ware, and Ware Creek are all named after him. Additionally there is a John Ware Junior High School in Calgary, a John Ware building at the Southern Alberta Institude of Technology (SAIT), and the John Ware 4-H Beef Club in Duchess, Alberta.

In 2006, a small fragment of wood was salvaged from John Ware’s cabin and it became part of the Six String Nation project which is a beautiful guitar constructed from more than 64 pieces of wood, bone, metal, and animal horn from every province and territory in Canada. Other Alberta components include the top of Wayne Gretzky’s hockey stick, Community Dance Hall floor board from the Hand Hills Lake Stampede, and Ammolite carved in the shape of the Blood Tribe Buffalo Skull symbol.


Activities at Dinosaur

Dinosaur Provincial Park offers visitors with good summer and winter activities. The park is located alongside the Red Deer River so canoeing and kayaking are popular activities. Additionally, there good bird watching and wildlife viewing in the valley as well.

The park has some excellent hikes both interpretive and front country. Here are a few of the popular trails:

  1. Prairie Trail – A 0.3km trail that passes through prairie grasslands and has leads through interpretive signs about indigenous history in the area. This trail is entirely wheelchair accessible.
  2. Badlands Trail – A 1.3km trail that leads through some amazing badlands landscapes.
  3. Trail of the Fossil Hunters – A 0.9km trail that leads to a historic quarry site.
  4. Cottonwood Flats Trail – A 1.4km look that passes through 200 year old cottonwood tree stands. There is a lot of birds that live in these trees. The trail is wheelchair accessible.

For overnight stays, the park has two campgrounds, and a group use area. The main campground offers winter camping and is open year round.

The visitor center offers interpretive and guided hiking opportunities to better explore the park.

1brettsnyder, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rattlesnakes at Dinosaur

Dinosaur Provincial Park is a provincial park located in a part of Alberta that has rattlesnakes. The snakes like the valley due to its hot temperatures and will often be seen sunning themselves on the rock faces throughout the park. Visitors should take some preventative measures, but the rattlesnakes are not fatal to humans if they are treated properly.

Rattlesnakes are timid and will go to great lengths to avoid contact with humans. They generally only bite if they feel threatened by humans so as long as you leave the snakes along, they will leave you alone as well.

If you do end up getting bitten:

  1. Stay calm – Rattlesnake bites are treatable (staying calm will also slow blood flow which will keep the venom in one area)
  2. Avoid cardio activities – The goal is to prevent your blood from spreading the venom throughout the body. If possible, immobilize the bitten area and keep it below the heart level.
  3. Go immediately to the nearest hospital (Town of Brooks). They have the medical resources and expertise to treat snake bites.
  4. Don’t: Attempt to suck the venom out, apply a tourniquet, or attack the snake further – no sense injuring yourself further.

How do I Prevent Snake Bites?

The easiest treatment to snake bites it to avoid getting bit in the first place. There are some preventative measures that you can implement to avoid getting bit by snakes while explore the park.

  1. Stay on trails – Snakes learn to avoid areas of high traffic and due to their shy nature, they will tend toward piles of rocks and bushes for protection.
  2. Avoid Long Grass – This is another area where snakes will hide from predators and their colouring makes them hard to see – and easy to step on.
  3. Don’t Put Hands Where You Can’t See – This includes in bushes, cracks, holes, and crevices in the rock faces. Snakes will used these areas as shelter. Also, avoid climbing the rocks as snakes like to sun themselves on top and you won’t necessarily see them.
  4. Don’t Bother Snakes When You Do See Them – Snakes just want to be left alone. They bite as a defense mechanism and are not aggressive toward humans unless provoked.

Camping at Dinosaur

Dinosaur Provincial Park has 2 campgrounds – one is small and less developed while the other is quite large and has many amenities. There is also comfort camping available in the park.

CampgroundAmenitiesType of SiteAmount AvailableCost/Night
Dinosaur Campground
Amphitheatre, bus tours, commercial guided hiking, cook shelters, concessions, firepits, firewood (sold), flush toilets, gift shop, hand launch, interpretive viewpoint, laundry, outhouses, playgrounds, power hookups, sewage dump, showers, visitor center, water tapsPower (15/30 amp)92$39.00
Winter Camping
(no water service or showers)
Unserviced Campsites29$31.00
Steveville Bridge Campground
(April 1 – December 1)
Firepits, outhousesUnserviced10$12.00
Group Camping
Dinosaur Group Use
(April 1 – October 31)
Bus tours, commercial guided hiking, cook shelters, fast food concession, firepits, firewood (sold), supply store, laundry, pay phones, outhouses, water tapsUnserviced10 units$215/5 units + $31/ extra unit
Comfort Camping
Dinosaur Wall Tent
(June 16 – October 2)
4 Person (Waterfront)3 units$115.00
4 Person (Park View)4 units$100.00
This data is accurate as of 2023

Day Use at Dinosaur

Dinosaur Provincial Park has a very developed day use area that includes a visitor center offering in depth tours of the park. The day use area has an amphitheater, bus tours, commercial guided hiking, interpretive hiking, fast food concessions, firewood (sold), supply store, gift shop, visitor center, pay phones, playgrounds, and outhouses. Liquor is permitted in the area between 11am and 9pm.

There is 12 picnic sites near the concession building. The John Ware cabin is also in the day use area.


Distances to Alberta Cities

Distance to Calgary: 246km

Distance to Edmonton: 433km

Distance to Red Deer: 334km

Distance to Lethbridge: 195km

Distance to Grande Prairie: 891km

Coordinates: 50°45’33.8″N 111°28’59.3″W

Alberta Parks Website