“Look a Parasaurolophus!” exclaimed my three-year-old son with perfect pronunciation. “Maybe,” I answered. I quickly checked the placard and was somewhat surprised that my son was absolutely correct. Beaming in front of the other parents I added “You’re right. Good job!”
The aforementioned Parasaurolophus can be found in the Jurassic Forest near Gibbons, Alberta—about a half an hour north of Edmonton, Canada which is a perfect place to visit when you are traveling with kids. The Jurassic Forest is a 40-acre enclosed outdoor facility that is educational and entertaining for both children and adults. As my son had become enthralled by dinosaurs we thought that this would be a perfect place to visit.
When we arrived at Jurassic Forest we saw the tall green trees of an old growth forest—a forest that is old and has experienced little disturbance—towering over a wooden enclosure, giving the impression that dinosaurs are behind the fence. Soon the faint sound of roaring dinosaurs could be heard in the distance, causing excitement in my son. As parents we are immediately impressed by the exterior of the facility and the care taken in its construction. Admittedly, we are also excited to see what lies behind that wooden enclosure. After all who wouldn’t be enthusiastic to see life-sized dinosaurs?
Play and discover
After purchasing tickets at the entrance where there are a few dinosaur skeletons, children are immediately faced with a rather large dinosaur-themed playground. Here children can climb a dinosaur shaped apparatus, slide down dino-slides and uncover replica dinosaur bones by digging in the sand with supplied brushes and shovels. Around the playground are picnic tables—a great place under large, shady pines to enjoy your lunch—a few mechanical dinosaur rides, a gift shop and a concession stand. The exit was also the entrance, so there was no escaping the playground at some point in this visit.
The “real” deal
As my son was anxious to see the dinosaurs, we entered one of the two possible trails situated behind another large fence separating the playground from the great beasts. Behind the fence is a forest thick with trees, vines, small shrubs, pools of water and consequently insects, all meant to mimic the environment from the Jurassic period. On either side of the trail are placards placed at intervals providing information on the ecology, vegetation and insects residing in the forest. Although these are informative and interesting, the highlight of the forest is most definitely the dinosaurs. There are approximately 23 different species of dinosaurs throughout the forest—all built to proper scale. What makes the dinosaurs at Jurassic Forest especially interesting for children is that they are animated. Each exhibit includes the dinosaur information—including pronunciation—and motion sensors, which triggers movement and sounds from the dinosaurs when you arrive. Whether coming upon a Stegosaurus lazily eating some plants or an Apatosaurus being attacked by some small carnivorous dinosaurs, my son was always impressed and excited.
When the sensors don’t immediately pick up your arrival, children can be seen jumping up and down, waving their arms and usually yelling in order to activate the dinosaurs. Staff members are easily found on the trail offering to answer any questions you might have and providing interesting insights about the ecology of the forest. This included showing my son some moose poop, which he naturally found interesting. Besides the dinosaurs, birds and insects, apparently the forest had picked up a young moose as a permanent resident. Occasionally this moose could be found resting in the bushes watching the people watching him.
Even more in the area
Although the city of Edmonton provides many activities for children, such as Fort Edmonton Park, Galaxyland, the World Waterpark in West Edmonton Mall, the Edmonton Valley Zoo or the TELUS World of Science, Jurassic Forest what makes it worth the visit. Our trip to Jurassic Forest was an adventure that was interesting and educational; providing facts about the dinosaurs and the ecological system of the enclosure. Of course, most importantly, Jurassic Forest provided our children—and us—with the thrill of seeing dinosaurs in a realistic environment. Our family trip to the Jurassic Forest turned out to be a perfect afternoon; one that we will repeat.
Craig Taylor is an adjunct professor of Greek and Roman history at the University of Alberta and Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He and his wife are embedding their love of travel into their two young sons as they explore the globe. You can connect with Craig on Twitter @CraigPTaylor1