Imagine you are walking through a thick mass of poplar and pine trees, ferns and grasses brushing your legs, sunlight dappling the path before you. Bees and dragonflies buzz through the muggy air, humid after a fresh spring rain. Suddenly, you see movement through the trees ahead, and hear a low, moaning call being answered by a similar cry. As you push apart a curtain of Saskatoon bushes, you are stunned to see a life-sized Parasaurolophus hovering above you, protecting its young. It hollers at you to back off, shaking its head menacingly from side to side.
No, you are not having a daydream about being in the next "Jurassic Park" film instalment. You are wandering through Alberta's Jurassic Forest, one of the province's little-known hidden gems.
|Jurassic Forest near Edmonton, Alberta is an excellent family attraction!|
I live about an hour away from Alberta's capital city of Edmonton, yet it took a random "travel" search on Pinterest to learn about this Jurassic Forest, an attraction located just outside of Edmonton near a town called Gibbons. As soon as I saw a picture of this magical place, and discovered just how close it was, I knew I had to go. Unfortunately, my online search occurred during the winter months, and upon visiting Jurassic Forest's website, I learned that it was closed until April, when the warmer weather was due to return to our province. So I had to patiently wait.
Finally, this week, I packed my kidlets up into the car and off we went, while my poor hubby was left behind to work. (That only means we get to go back with him at a later date - I'm so excited!) We drove nearly two hours to get to the park, which is about 30 minutes north of Edmonton, but exceedingly easy to find, especially with handy dandy Google Maps.
|Is everyone ready to see some moving, talking dinosaurs?|
The park is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day of the week, but we didn't get there until almost noon. I was worried it would be super crowded by that time of day, but it really wasn't. We were visiting one day after the long weekend in May had ended, so maybe people were back to their daily grind by then. Plus, it had rained all weekend, so maybe not many people were thinking about trying their hand at an outdoor adventure that day. Regardless, there were only five other cars in the parking lot, so my kids and I basically had the forest paths to ourselves.
The cost to attend is quite reasonable, in my opinion. It was $15 for me at the adult rate, and Avy, being over 2, cost $9. Parker was free. The fee includes all dinosaur trails and admission to the giant sand pit and small 'museum' they have near the entrance. Rides there cost $1, and the mini golf is extra. Visit their webpage to plan your trip, as there are also family passes, adventure passes, and seasonal passes.
|The kids didn't like the dinosaurs at first, but they eventually came around.|
As soon as we passed the admission area, we wandered into the small museum they have on site. It is really just one room with several displays of dinosaur bones, models, natural elements such as giant wasp nests, and live reptiles. Avy was invited to pet an albino something-or-other (please someone, help me identify it in the photo!). She loved it, and despite only being allowed to pet it with one finger, tried to snatch it away from the lady. Luckily, the lady was too quick for her!
|Avy discovers a new love of reptiles.|
Doors leading out of the exhibition hall open onto a giant play area for kids, including a sand pit, rope climbing area, slides, and a dinosaur dig zone embedded into the sand pit. Naturally, this was Avy's favourite place. There are also dollar dinosaur rides, where animatronic dinosaurs equipped with saddles offer quick mall-type rides for adults and children. Avy and Parker both refused to go near them.
|The giant sand pit area with a rope climbing centre and a dinosaur bone dig.|
After playing in the sand pit for what seemed like FOREVER, I finally was able to convince my daughter to climb into the double stroller and take a walk with her brother and I. We began in the South Discovery Trail, and it didn't take long to find our first dinosaur. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was definitely pleasantly surprised by the set-up! (My kids, on the other hand, were not. They cried over the first couple of dinosaurs - I think they were a little scared of them - but after two or three they began to try and find them in the trees. So it was all good.) The trails are extremely well maintained, and as you can see, are stroller and wheelchair accessible.
|We began our journey on the South Discovery Trail.|
The dinosaurs are all mounted in a very natural setting amongst the woods, sometimes in an open plain, sometimes shrouded in bushes and branches, waiting patiently for you. All dinosaurs are triggered by a motion sensor set near the trail, which launches them into action. Every display moves and makes sounds (some more convincing than others), and every little scenario does its best to tell a story. One dinosaur is fighting off predators, while another fights with its kin for a piece of meat. A mother dinosaur protects her eggs, while another shelters her young from predators. I loved every one and I think I pretty much recorded them all in my excitement.
|A dimetrodon awaits us in the trees at Jurassic Forest.|
The North Discovery Trail is basically the same as the South Discovery Trail, just with different dinosaurs and settings. Each trail has a smaller path branching off of it, leading visitors down the journey of evolution. The South Discovery Trail has a path leading off of it that explores the evolution of mammals, while the North Discovery Trail depicts the rise of birds. I liked those, but still preferred the dinosaur displays. The best part is just walking the trails, listening to the sounds of the forest. Before you see any of the dinosaurs, you hear them. I really did feel like I was in a Jurassic Park movie.
|The kids were fascinated with the moving, screeching dinosaurs.|
Once we had finished walking the trails, we spent another hundred years in the sand pit again. I sat in the concession area with my son, eating a snack, while my daughter decided to get simply filthy before our two hour ride home. (I wasn't making up the 'fresh spring rain' in my scenario at the beginning of the post - that sand was spongey and wet!)
|Parker plays with dandelions while Avy submerges herself in wet sand.|
Additional activities include walking the trails using a palaeontology guide, which according to their website you can request at the admissions desk, digging dinosaur bones at the sand pit dig site, do a scavenger hunt using a guide which you can pre-print from the website, and stop to have a picnic among the unique Jurassic flora and fauna. When we go back with my husband, I think we will try using the guides to make it a little more educational.
|We pose with a triceratops, Daddy's favourite dinosaur, because he couldn't come with us.|
All in all, my kids and I spent two and a half hours just cruising around the forest and playing in the activity area. My kids are very young still, so I imagine you could make the day last even longer with the additional use of the scavenger hunt and palaeontology guides, as well as at least one round of mini golf. When I got home and told my friends where we'd been, only 2 in 20 had heard of Jurassic Forest, which I think is a shame. So I'm making it my duty to spread the word, because this place truly is worth it!