In the late Cretaceous Period (75 million years ago), the landscape was very different. The climate was subtropical, with lush forests covering a coastal plain. Rivers flowed east, across the plain into a warm inland sea.
The conditions were perfect for the preservation of dinosaurs' bones as fossils. After a century of excavations, over 150 complete dinosaur skeletons have been discovered. Disorganized concentrations of bones, called "bone beds", have also been discovered. Over 50 dinosaur species have been found here, joining a list of another 450 fossil organisms.
These ancient remains give us the world's most complete record of the late Cretaceous Period. Dinosaur Provincial Park has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The distinct landscapes of Dinosaur Provincial Park (badlands, riverside and grasslands) host a unique diversity of plants and animals.
Towering cottonwood trees grow by the river where there is abundant water and fertile soil. The trees form a canopy, filtering heat and light. This living roof supports an understory that nurtures the moisture-loving residents of the forest floor. The narrow riverbank corridor (called the riparian zone) creates ideal living spaces, especially for birds. Although the smallest habitat in the park, it hosts the greatest concentration of life.
The three distinct habitats of Dinosaur Provincial Park support many plants.
Alberta's distinct landscapes are our Natural Regions. Each of the six Natural Regions is further divided into Subregions based on more specific landscape, climate and species distinctions.
Dinosaur Provincial Park preserves a representative sample of the environmental diversity of the Dry Mixedgrass Subregion of the Grassland Natural Region.
The Grassland Natural Region is characterized by cold winters, warm summers, high winds and low precipitation. The region is a flat to gently rolling plain with a few major hill systems. It is punctuated by exposed bedrock, carved sandstone cliffs, ancient boulders and other reminders of the last ice age. Unique landscapes known as badlands exist where wind and water have carved the bedrock. Plants have adapted to the severe moisture shortage of mid-to-late summer.
Dinosaur Provincial Park is located in the Dry Mixedgrass Subregion of the Grassland Natural Region. This is the warmest and driest subregion in Alberta. Permanent streams are relatively rare. The ones that do exist are deeply carved into the bedrock in some places. This has exposed Cretaceous shales and sandstones, creating extensive badlands in some areas.