The Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta is one of the world’s premier destinations for dinosaur enthusiasts. My family and I visited on a summer Canadian holiday weekend, and the huge crowd at the Royal Tyrrell confirmed for me the pride and interest that a world-class dinosaur museum can generate.
The Royal Tyrrell is a relatively young museum, in 2020 it is celebrating its 35th year. It is also a very large museum, and a forward-thinking museum–very active in creating new displays, putting recently discovered specimens on display quickly, and engaging the community and particularly children in a wide variety of paleontological education. To say that I was impressed with the museum would be a grand understatement. I have been to over 75 natural history/science museums and it is hard to make me gasp in awe, but the Royal Tyrrell had that effect on me.
So, what is so great? Well, for one, the Royal Tyrrell has a remarkable collection of dinosaurs on display. Sitting near a treasure trove of fossils in the Canadian badlands surrounding the musuem, and only 100 miles or so from Dinosaur Provincial Park, the museum has easy access to one of the most fertile fossil beds in the world. Many of the fossils were found in Alberta, including beautiful specimens of Tyrannosaurus, Albertosaurus, and Gorgosaurus. Several vicious-looking Dromeosaurus are on display, as well as other raptor-types including the jaws of the recently discovered Atrociraptor.
One of the most beautiful dinosaur fossils in the world is displayed in the classic “death pose” in which many theropod dinosaurs have been found. “Black Beauty” is a subadult Tyrannosaurus whose nickname was inspired by the rare dark color of the fossil due to the unusual mineralization process it underwent.
There are other beautiful dinosaur fossils at the Royal Tyrrell, and no shortage of interesting displays. The Struthiomimus and Ornithomimus fossils were very nice, and there is a Chirostenotes fossil on display, which I had not seen displayed anywhere else. There is also a large collection of ceratopsians and hadrosaurs, almost all of which hail from the Cretaceous Era in Alberta.
One of the most amazing dinosaur fossils in the world was added to the collection of the Royal Tyrrell a few years ago when a shockingly lifelike, practically mummified fossil of an ancient nodosaur was found in Alberta and brought to the museum. Later named Borealopelta, it generated a lot of press attention when it was announced. Now it can be seen on display at the museum and it is spectacular–absolutely one of the most interesting dinosaur fossils in the world.
Many of the most well-known dinosaurs that have been discovered in Alberta can be found here, typically in life-like, creative displays. One of my favorites is a Gorgosaurus (an earlier relative of Tyrannosaurus) standing over the carcass of a Centrosaurus. It’s a beautiful display, with the fossils standing in front of a mural depicting Cretaceous Alberta. As terrific as this display is, there are many other dinosaurs also depicted in active, interesting displays. Allosaurus, Prosaurolophus, Ornitholestes…the list goes on and on at the Royal Tyrrell.
Besides the dinosaurs, the Royal Tyrrell also has a nice collection of Cenezoic mammals on display. There is a dark tunnel-like room with quite a few ancient sea reptiles on display, the kids particularly enjoyed walking through that room.
IF I DON’T LIKE DINOSAURS, WILL I ENJOY MY VISIT?
Hmm…well, probably not so much. The Cretaceous Garden exhibit is beautiful and enjoyable, featuring plants that are relatives to Cretaceous-era plants. The playground outside is fantastic and we saw quite a few people who spent a lot of time watching smaller children play there. But make no mistake, this is a museum that is all about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures.
WHAT COULD BE BETTER?
I suppose any place could be better than it is, but it is very difficult to come up with something reasonable that could be better at the Royal Tyrrell. The main challenge for most people who would want to visit is that it is simply far away from most of the North American population. But the museum can hardly be faulted for that. If you don’t like large crowds, avoid summer weekend visits. The weekend we visited, the crowd we saw in Drumheller could only be rivaled by the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Personally, I usually enjoy the large crowd–I enjoy watching other people be fascinated by the same things I am fascinated by, and I think the crowd helps give me the sensation that I am somewhere important, interesting, and worth my time. And I am!
DID MY CHILDREN ENJOY THEIR VISIT?
My children were thrilled with their visit to the Royal Tyrrell, I’d have to say it was the single best experience they have had at a dinosaur museum (the oldest has been to over 30 such museums). My then-11-year old son participated in one of their 90-minute dig programs and he loved it; my younger son (6 years old) said the museum had the very best playground (which they do). He also participated in one of the museum’s one-hour programs for younger children, and he had a wonderful time. In addition to the many and varied educational programs for children, the dig pit outside is very large and buried within the sand is a realistic replica of a Tyrannosaurus rex, which made for a lot of fun digging. There are also numerous interactive displays, puzzles to solve, and games to play along the way as you go through the museum. All in all, this museum is fantastic for kids. One recommendation: Drumheller is pretty dino-crazy, and there are a lot of dinosaur-themed things to do in the area. One my kids particularly enjoyed was a visit to the “world’s tallest dinosaur”, an 86-ft T. rex made of fiberglass. You can walk to the top and enjoy a great view of the town and surrounding badlands.
HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD I PLAN TO SPEND THERE?
The Royal Tyrrell is a LARGE museum, there are a lot of great displays and you will want to spend the day there, and if you are doing any of the educational programs, you may want to spend more than one day. Fortunately, they offer a reduced price 2-day ticket option. The absolute minimum amount of time to really see the museum would be about two hours, but I recommend that families plan to spend at least three or four at this incredible museum.
The Royal Tyrrell Museum has just about everything a dinosaur lover (and their family) might want: fantastic exhibits, recently discovered dinosaurs on display alongside older favorites, beautiful and important dinosaur fossils around every corner, and a lot of fun activities for the whole family. If I could choose only one dinosaur museum in North America to spend a day visiting, it would be the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
Rating Aspects of the Museum’s Dinosaur Displays:
Number of Dinosaurs on Display: (9.5 out of 10)
Fossil Displays/Creativity/Visual Layout/Overall Scene: (9.5 out of 10)
Unique/New/Famous/Important Fossils on Display: (9 out of 10)
Educational Materials/Display Information/Signage: (9.5 out of 10)
Activities/Play Areas for Children: (10 out of 10)