This summer, it’s all about finding new spots to reconnect in the great outdoors. To that end, I was amazed at the number of outdoorsy and fun things to do in Lethbridge. I’ve been visiting relatives in Lethbridge for well over a decade, but it wasn’t until I put on my tourist hat that I discovered the city’s best gems. And now I’m going to share them with you!
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Things to do in Lethbridge
Whether it’s biking, hiking or paddling on the Oldman River, there’s no shortage of outdoorsy, fresh air things to do in Lethbridge. The city’s undulating coulee environment and the fact that Lethbridge is divided by a river, demonstrates how nature really is at its heart.
With a range of unique attractions, dining and shopping, Lethbridge is a road trip destination in its own right. And because it’s that much further south than Calgary (approximately a two hour drive away), summer is extended by an extra two weeks – sometimes longer. Yep, when the chill of fall hits the rest of Alberta, you’ll still be able to effortlessly connect outdoors in Lethbridge. Here’s a look at my favourite activities.
Japanese Garden Lethbridge
Nikka Yuko is the sole Japanese garden in Lethbridge. You wouldn’t think that out here on the prairie lies a tranquil, cultural oasis, but as I discovered, there’s a lot more to Lethbridge than what you might think. Nikka Yuko is a legit Japanese garden comprised of all the traditional elements. Though technically, it’s a Canadian garden, as it showcases the plants and trees from Southern Alberta.
Still, the layout and techniques used are Japanese, making it a soothing spot for reflection. Most people don’t realize the thought and attention that goes into a Japanese garden. Each season brings different blossoms and colours bursting forth. But it’s not only about what you see, it’s also about what you hear. Listen for the sounds of bells chiming, water rushing and a steady breeze rippling the leaves.
While the garden isn’t large, it does have a lovely grassy area for children to run around in, and it’s home a lot of cultural events. You can watch taiko (Japanese drumming), sumo wresting, tea ceremony or get grounded with a spot of yoga.
Until mid-September, you can order a picnic created by Mocha Cabana Bistro and eat at the garden. Don’t leave without poking through the gift shop. Here you’ll find sweets, books, and my favourite: umbrellas that look like samurai swords.
Lethbridge Farmer’s Market
Running Saturdays from 9am-9pm at Exhibition Park and downtown on Wednesdays from 10am-2pm, the Lethbridge Farmer’s Market is a must visit for food lovers. In addition to the unusual suspects (produce! beef jerky!), you’ll find some hyper local Alberta items. Alberta is the 4th largest producer of honey in the entire world, and not only can you score some of that sweet nectar, but pollen and other derivatives as well.
Comb the aisles of any grocery store and you’ll find a lot of fancy French mustard. Too bad they don’t grow all their own seeds. The majority of mustard seed used in prepared mustard comes from Saskatchewan – and some a few km outside of Lethbridge.
I loaded my shopping bags with a sampler pack of five different local mustards, bags and braids of fresh garlic, some awesome Turkish flatbread stuffed with spinach and feta (feeling very European, I was), plus some jelly made from lilacs! I also spotted cabbages the size of basketballs, hella healthy haskap berries, plus plant-based food and gourmet cotton candy.
More plant to plate action can be found a five minute drive out of town at Broxburn Cafe. Dine here from 10am-4pm on produce freshly picked from the surrounding fields or their greenhouses.
This is an excellent spot for families. While you order at the cafe or shop the market, let the littles roam wild outdoors. There’s plenty of green space, playground equipment and the most fabulous slide to burn off energy on.
What really stood out for me is how amazing Lethbridge parks are. In the heart of the city, you’ll find plenty of green zones with family-friendly attractions, but head down into the coulees and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another world.
Henderson Lake Park
For families, it doesn’t get much better than Henderson Lake Park. With tons of green space, mature trees providing shaded picnic spots and lots of playground equipment, it’s a choice spot to spend a summer or fall afternoon. But then you’ve got Henderson Lake Pool, one of the nicest outdoor public pools in all of Canada. With COVID, you can book your swim time online so you’ll have 90-minutes to dive into their zero depth entry pool, waterslides and spray park. As if that weren’t enough, a climbing wall is also on-site.
For those wanting to get back to nature, there’s loads of wilderness opportunities actually situated within the city limits. Popson Park is on the west side of town and has tonnes of trails for easy traipsing though the coulees. It sports direct access to the Old Man River with a boat launch, so don’t be surprised to see boaters, fishers and kayakers. It’s also an off leash dog park, so be prepared to meet some energetic pups.
A few km away lies Cottonwood Park, a City Preservation Area boasting incredible views of the grasslands, a legit cottonwood forest and those undulating coulees. It’s a natural habit for wildlife like deer and rattlesnakes. Yes, you read that right. There are a few rattlesnakes that call this area of Southern Alberta home, so keep your wits about you, just as you would hiking in the mountains where bears roam.
We visited Cottonwood Park on a weekend and it was dead quiet – a perfect spot for hiking with killer views and a light breeze floating by. Why more folks don’t leave the crowded mountain trails and explore spots like this is a mystery.
Helen Schuler Nature Centre
One of the best known wilderness spots in the city is the Helen Schuler Nature Centre. Situated right below the Lethbridge Viaduct (that iconic black train bridge), the Nature Centre is laced with trails throughout the coulee river valley.
Pick up the Coulee Climb Self Guided Trail Map for suggestions on where to wander. Just be sure to go inside the Centre to suss out their easily digestible exhibits. It’s quick and interesting, and they’ve done a really good job of appealing to kids. Tip: There just might be activity bags waiting for wee ones!
Fort Whoop-Up Lethbridge
How can you not visit an attraction with a name like that? Nearby the Nature Centre is one of the city’s main attractions: Fort Whoop-Up Lethbridge. A replica of a fur and whisky trading fort from the 1800s, this once infamous trading post was apparently quite the spot until those pesky Northwest Mounted Police showed up to reign in the whisky trade.
Though those good times (for the colonialist) have gone, the historic fort remains tucked into the coulees. Pop in to view interpretive galleries that delve into the whisky trade and the culture of the Blackfoot and Plains Peoples.
And before the weather takes a turn for the worse, you can order delightful picnic baskets to enjoy at the Fort. Tuck into an artisan bison salad, bannock bread and haskap berry crumble bars. Each picnic basket feeds two.
Park Place Mall is the premium mall in town, but when it comes to Lethbridge shopping, I like the vibe downtown. Silla is one of my favourite shops in all of Alberta. They’ve pretty much cornered the market on all things pretty and pretty useful – from housewares to gifts to delicate jewelry and books.
Conybeare Mercantile is another delightful, independent general store. Lethbridge Handmade Market is a trove of artisan treasures created by locals. You can browse for vinyl at Street Legal Records and snap up titles from both Echo Books and Big John’s Books – both lovely indy bookshops.
If you’re a foodie, you’ll want to suss out both Umami and The Wooden Shoe – also downtown. Side step through the tightly packed aisles of Umami to find not only Asian delights, but deli items from Europe and provisions to make an authentic Mexican feast. The Wooden Shoe is another winner, with a European focus. I write about both shops more in depth in this post on the food scene in Lethbridge.
There’s several Lethbridge museums and art galleries, and the city has quite a rich art community. While the university gallery is currently closed (try it next summer, it’s free!), SAAG (Southern Alberta Art Gallery) is open and Casa is a fantastic facility with a lovely summer art salon in their gallery (free, but you need to book your visit in advance).
As far as traditional museums go, Galt Museum & Archives collects and preserves artifacts (over 20,00) from around the community to showcase human history in Southwestern Alberta. Their Discovery Hall isn’t large, so it won’t take up much time, just know it doesn’t have much going on in the way of interactive activities for kids – though it’s massive cowboy boot and bottle of beer are pretty rad.
The work of local artists is also showcased here and some of the best views of the coulees can be found from this museum – both indoors and out. Galt’s gift shop is worthing visiting for gifts and stocking stuffers..
Best Lethbridge hotels
Lethbridge has some fantastic, affordable hotels for families. The city is an ideal hub for the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Southern Alberta. (If you haven’t been to Writing on Stone Provincial Park, you’ll want to get there before winter.) By overnighting in Lethbridge, you can easily experience the Prairies, Canadians Badlands and mountains during the day, but soak up city amenities at night.
Lethbridge has a diverse range of accommodations, but what I think it really has going for it are its indoor pools. Personally, I think the Holiday Inn has the best waterpark for kids, with a splash park, two waterslides, full pool and hot tub.
Then there’s the Sandman Signature Lethbridge Lodge (what used to be known as the Lethbridge Lodge) with it’s lovely courtyard oasis flanking the indoor pool. It still gives me that tropical vibe every time I visit, and the city’s best Italian restaurant (Italian Table) is situated at the hotel.
Meanwhile, Days Inn has the most incredible views of the coulees and river valley. If only they had an outdoor pool, it would be an extremely affordable resort. Still, it sports an indoor pool and hot tub, and affordable room rates.
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Have you ever been to Lethbridge? What are your favourite things to do here?