For years I’ve been coming to Lethbridge to visit The Huz’s family, but I never thought of it as a hub for hiking and biking until I got into both during the COVID-era. Lethbridge is a fantastic hub for exploring the best things to do in Southern Alberta.
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Things to do in Southern Alberta
With no crowds and unspoilt wilderness amid the coulee valleys, Lethbridge is an underrated, affordable spot for summer and fall travel. Here, you can choose to be ridiculously active on its vast trail system or kick back with a spot of BBQ or bird watching. If you’re looking for an inspiriting getaway punctuated with fun activities, check out my recs for the best things to do in Southern Alberta.
Birds of Prey
File this under highly entertaining while being sneakily educational: the Alberta Birds of Prey foundation is a fantastic place to go with kids, a date, your parents, your colleagues. You get the picture.
A visit to this rescue and rehabilitation center just outside of Lethbridge is essentially a behind the scenes tour of a working conservative area. Stroll the hawk walk, admiring the eagles and falcons, before feeding the duck and geese who no doubt will be following you around.
Throughout the day, staff roam around with birds for you to engage with and safely hold. My teen gave a bald eagle a shower! Starting July 2, they expect to have regular programming like flight demonstrations.
Your admission (by donation) goes directly to local conservation services, plus it’s one of the best family outings you can do in Alberta. Even my teen loved every minute of our visit.
Pro tip: Stop for fresh produce or a slice of pie at Broxburn Cafe along the way.
BBQ in July
Did you see me on social media, swanning about Exhibition Park becoming a certified BBQ judge? No worries if not. It’s just to say that this pandemic has got me knee deep in BBQ – the process, the rubs, the technique. If, like me, you love filling your lungs with the delectably smoky aromas of bbq, before filling your stomach with a variety of ribs, brisket, pulled pork and chicken, then you’ll want to hit up Smoke, Wind & Fire.
This Kansas City BBQ Society sanctioned BBQ competition is the only professional BBQ competition in Canada this summer. It’s a major stop on the BBQ Pro Circuit (yep, there is one!) and it’s happening in Lethbridge July 10-11.
By attending this barbecue competition, you’ll be able to snack on some delectable ‘que, can pick up a few barbecue skills and talk to the masters. There’ll also be a local backyard BBQ competition, demonstrations and other fun events.
Hike or bike the expansive trail system
An easy way to burn off all those highly worth it BBQ calories is by hitting the trails. Few people realize Lethbridge has this amazing trail system that laces its way through the river valley, along the coulees and into forests.
Along the 200 km of trails, you’ll find picnic shelters and view points. (I found some awesome outdoor exercise equipment.) Here’s a few trails that ought to be on your radar.
For mountain bikers: Violent Tendency
It couldn’t be any easier to find the Violent Tendency trail right behind Best Buy on Mayor Magrath Drive. While it starts off paved, the trail quickly switches to gravel and then onto single track, so it’s best if you have a bike with suspension, especially if you want to go down into the coulee valley.
The big thing I noticed on this trail was the smell. The air was perfumed. I don’t know with what (perhaps sagebrush?), but it was so pleasant inhaling that sweet scent that I didn’t do my usual cursing routine when grinding up the coulee trails.
I saw a mama deer with two fawns, cactus, a variety of wildflowers and hardly any other people. Why more people from Calgary (or anywhere else in Alberta) don’t bike here is beyond me.
While you also have the option of staying on top of the ridge, Violent Tendency heads down into the valley and links up with what looks like dozens upon dozens of other trails.
For hiker and walkers: Cottonwood Park
I didn’t mean to hike Cottonwood Park during the hottest part of the day. Without a hat. But it was do-able, and I’m glad I made the trek.
Cottonwood Park lies on the west side of Lethbridge and is a city preservation area. That’s because it’s a natural habitat for all different kinds of wildlife (including rattlesnakes!) and is also home to a cottonwood forest.
You begin by going down steps and then descending into the valley on a limestone path. I was relieved the path was so wide, so I could clearly see any critters crossing. None did. I think the rattlesnake warning is something the government has to do, but it’s like bears or cougars in the mountains. Encounters (compared to the number of people who traffic the trail) are rare.
The only thing I regret about this trail isn’t forgetting my hat, but not bringing my swimsuit. We made it down to the Oldman River in 15 minutes (going back up took just under 25 minutes) and the water was so warm! I would’ve loved a dip, but my teen wasn’t keen to watch her mother skinny dip. Kids, I tell ya!
Get rewarded for hitting the trails!
If you’re the competitive sort, might as well enter the 48 in 48. If you book a two night stay and nail off 48 km along the trails in 48 hours, you’ll earn a a gift card for a one-night stay in Lethbridge. Even if you bite off 24 km with the 48 hrs (before August 31, 2021), you’ll get a prize. More details can be found here.
Amazing Race-style Odyssey
If you’re interested in exploring Lethbridge as I did or are a fan of the TV show: Amazing Race, you’re going to love Odyssey 2021. In this adventure challenge, teams compete for a $5,000 grand prize by travelling around this part of Southern Alberta.
The race begins in Lethbridge the Aug. 13 to 15 weekend. Teams of two people follow clues that will take them throughout the region, following clues, earning points along the way by taking selfies, collecting certain items and completing challenges.
The entry fee INCLUDES 2 nights accommodations (double occupancy), plus all the festivities that go along with the Odyssey. More info + registration here.
Where to stay in Lethbridge?
Staying overnight in Lethbridge is a no brainer for families. So many of its hotels sport pools and waterslides, you know your kids will sleep tight afterwards. Hotels here are also crazy affordable.
I recently stayed at Sandman Signature Lethbridge Lodge, where kids go nuts inside their – glamping rooms. There’s tents set up for the littles and parents get their own room (score!). My teen used the pull out couch, as the tent sizes are suited for younger/shorter kids, but she still love the concept.
More accommodation options for Lethbridge can be found here.
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