Located on the outskirts of Calgary, the Alberta foothills are a great place to explore small towns, farms, artisans, and see some of the most beautiful scenery in the province. In fact, one of the things that make exploring Calgary so great is that when you’re done with the city, you have so much more waiting for you less than an hour away.
The Alberta foothills basically start where the Rocky Mountains finish, with rolling hills stretching all the way past Calgary until it truly becomes the wide-open prairies. It’s one of the most scenic areas in the province because you have these beautifully lush hills and small towns with views of the Canadian Rockies in the distance.
The Alberta Foothills also has a special place in our hearts because we called it home for a decade and in a way, it’s still home as we can leave our apartment in Calgary and be in places like Bragg Creek or Okotoks in just 30 minutes.
Whether you’re flying into Calgary for an Alberta adventure or on a road trip in Alberta, the Alberta Foothills should be on your bucket list, and in this guide, we’re gonna show you why!
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One of those most popular small towns in the Alberta Foothills is Black Diamond. Not only is Black Diamond right on the Cowboy Trail, but it’s also less than an hour’s drive from downtown Calgary, taking you through scenic areas like Priddis and Millarville or other popular towns like Okotoks. It’s known for its cool boutique shops, western-style buildings, an array of good restaurants (but keep in mind that they all close at 8 PM), as well as hundreds of artisans, authors, musicians, crafters, farmers, growers, and makers of all kinds.
Popular things to do:
Marv’s Classic Soda Shop
While the food wouldn’t win any awards, it’s the decor that makes this place unique. This 1950’s themed restaurant and soda shop features over 130 varieties of glass bottled soda pop and Canada’s only working soda fountain. It’s well known for its made-in-house Alberta beef burgers, chicken, old-fashioned milkshakes, and hand-cut fries. They have a line of retro clothing and candy as well.
Bluerock Gallery is a unique art gallery specializing in local fine arts and crafts including pottery, gift cards, jewelry, and inspiring books. They currently represent almost 200 regional fine artists and craftspeople with many of them living and working within 100 miles of the gallery. Feel free to come and admire the work or perhaps purchase one to bring home with you.
Hard Knox Brewery
As the only brewery in town, you’ll always find lots of people out enjoying a freshly brewed beer on one of their many picnic tables facing the main highway.
Edging close to the base of the Rocky Mountains and less than a five-minute drive from Black Diamond, Turney Valley is another popular town in the Alberta foothills. In fact, by the time you read this, both Black Diamond and Turney Valley will have likely joined into one town. Diamond Valley might be the new name but we’re still waiting on the final vote. Either way, this small town is home to some popular restaurants, a variety of artisans, one of the most popular distilleries in Alberta, a historic gas plant, and is also neighboring some popular parks such as Sheep River Provincial Park and Bluerock Wildland Provincial Park.
Whether you’re looking to get out into nature or buy some home food from a local grower, Turney Valley has you covered.
Popular things to do:
Eau Claire Distillery
Despite being well known for their gin, Eau Claire Distillery actually got its start as a single-malt whiskey distillery. In fact, this whiskey was so popular when it launched that it sold out in four hours. Since then, the distillery has produced a wide range of alcohol, including whiskey, gin, vodka, and a variety of bottled cocktails. They also make their own tonic, which just so happens to be one of the best we’ve had. You can see first-hand how it’s all made when you take a tour of what goes on behind the scenes or you can simply stop in and do a tasting. However, Covid has caused some issues so please call before visiting to make sure tours are taking place.
Turney Valley Gas Plant
Although this plant is currently closed to the public due to Covid, Turner Valley Gas Plant is the place where Alberta got its start as a major oil and gas producer. On May 14, 1914, natural gas sprayed out of a well at this very place, creating the birthplace of Alberta’s petroleum industry. The buildings and equipment reflect the evolution of natural gas processing and the technological changes in the oil and gas sector. Now, it is a provincially and nationally designated historic resource with Alberta Culture providing tours to the public.
This cafe is one of the most popular places to have breakfast. However, we’re not going to lie. We recently visited and left disappointed as we found the food to be extremely salty. I’m not sure if we happened to get a bad chef or if the place has changed ownership, but we were not impressed. Still, we wanted to list it here as it really is a popular place to eat and it has a really cool western look to it.
If you’re looking for an opportunity to visit a small homestead, meet some animals, or purchase some goods, add Hartell Homestead to your bucket list. Tours are available for $5 per person (we recommend calling in advance) and you’ll be taken around the property to see the garden, and to meet the animals, including ducks, chicken, goats, and the famous Highland cows. You’ll learn how it all works and can then visit the shop where you can buy farm-fresh eggs, honey, meat, and all sorts of other artisan products from the Alberta foothills.
Longview is a small town located on the Cowboy Trail, about halfway between Black Diamond and Lundbreck Falls. Although you’ll literally drive through the town during your Highway 22 Alberta Road Trip, Longview is well worth a stop. In fact, it’s one of the prettiest wild-west-looking towns in Alberta. One of our favourite buildings is the Twin Cities Hotel hotel. There are always loads of bikers there so if you’re a biker, you’ll probably fit in just fine. Longview is also very close to the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site and the turnoff for Highway 541, taking you into the Kananaskis, one of Alberta’s most beautiful areas. It’s also home to a world-famous steakhouse and jerky for those looking to fill their tummies.
Popular things to do:
Bar U Ranch National Historic Site
This national historic site, nestled along the Cowboy Trail, is a great place to live like a cowboy. Learn about the ranching life from the late 1800s and get interactive with wagon rides, the opportunity to rope a steer or repair a bridle, and walking trails that take you to some incredible views. You’ll also find 100-year-old barns to wander around, a cookhouse to eat locally, and a gift shop. Established in 1882, it’s one of the longest-standing ranches in Alberta and is surrounded by views of the Alberta foothills and the Rocky Mountains.
Longview Jerky Shop
One of the things Longview is known for is its jerky shop. So, if you like beef jerky, as well as pork jerky and buffalo jerky, stop by this little place and grab yourself a few bags for the road.
The Longview Steakhouse is an institution in Longview, attracting customers from all over Southern Alberta and beyond. They’re well-known for their local beef and offer stunning views of the countryside and the Rocky Mountains. Reservations are recommended.
Twin Cities Hotel
Opened in 1938, the Twin Cities Hotel still retains its country charm. It’s one of our favourite buildings in town as it really still looks like a hotel from the wild-west days. They also have a restaurant that offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as live unplugged music performances on Sundays.
Just 30-minutes west of Calgary is the charming little hamlet of Bragg Creek. Known for its large acreages and its close proximity to the Kananaskis, Bragg Creek has become a popular spot to visit. It boasts a collection of unique stores, artisan shops, restaurants, and lots of natural space.
Bragg is also home to outdoor adventure, which you’ll find as you travel Highway 66. Some adventures include world-class hiking, biking, horseback trails, and skiing. There’s also fishing along the Elbow River or off-roading adventures in McLean Creek Provincial Park.
Popular things to do:
If you’re looking for an easy short hike to see a beautiful waterfall, add Elbow Falls to your bucket list. It’s just 22 km west of Bragg Creek near the turn-off for Highway 66. The waterfall isn’t quite as big now after being partially destroyed in the 2013 flood, but it’s still beautiful and a great place to spend an hour or maybe even enjoy a picnic.
Moose Mountain Horseback Adventures
Whether you’re looking to enjoy a day trip on horseback or a multi-day ranch experience, Moose Mountain Horseback Adventures has something for you. Offering year-round riding and ranch stays, this is the place to truly have an Alberta foothills experience. Even in the winter, they offer sleigh rides and winter walks.
The Painted Moose Artist Collective
The Painted Moose Artist Collective in Bragg Creek is artist-owned and operated, featuring 16 artists who not only offer art to purchase but also hope to inspire and teach you how to make your own. Adult and kids’ classes are offered in all disciplines.
Just south of Calgary and somewhat in-between both Bragg Creek and Turner Valley is the hamlet of Millarville. Settled in 1885 and home to some of Alberta’s best ranches, you’ll find a famous farmers market and racetrack, a truly unique one-of-a-kind winery, artisan studios, an art gallery, and stunning views everywhere you go. It can also serve as a place to get outdoors with plenty of places to go hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, and more.
Popular things to do:
Spirit Hills Flower Winery
Perhaps the most unique winery in the world, Spirit Hills Flower Winery is a great place to visit when travelling through the Alberta Foothills. Owned and operated by the Bonjean Family with french winemaking lineage, they’ve literally created a one-and-only wine made from honey and wildflowers. Wanting to grow something rooted in Alberta’s culture and identity, they’ve utilized bees and Alberta wildflowers to create a wine that is now being served in Michelin-star restaurants throughout Europe and exported to countries like Japan. Take a tour, taste some wine, and see what all the buzz is about. Pun totally intended.
Millarville Farmers Market
If you love strolling the aisles of a farmer’s market, then you do not want to miss the big and popular Millarville Farmers Market. Home to many makers, bakers, farmers, growers, and artists from the Alberta foothills and beyond, this is one of the province’s premiere farmers’ markets. Located just 11 km from Black Diamond and Turney Valley, and surrounded by beautiful views, you’ll quickly see why it has become so popular.
Millarville General Store
It’s not very often that a general store makes its way to a “things to do” section, but this one is historic. Established in 1926, they have a great selection of everything you might expect in a general store, as well as local craft products, a liquor store, a postal outlet, and more.
Stone Wood & Steel
Of all things we’ve done in the Alberta foothills, perhaps the coolest experience of them all was a blacksmithing workshop with James at Stone Wood & Steel. From his organic farm setting, James offers traditional blacksmithing workshops with everything from a full-day experience to multi-day experiences depending on what you’re hoping to make or learn. Either way, you’ll learn the beauty of the craft and come away with a special object that you can actually use. We found James to be a very friendly, down-to-earth guy and we really came away with a new appreciation for this century-old practice.
Leighton Art Centre
This lovely Heritage Home Museum offers an incredible display of Alberta’s artists from both past and present. Situated in A.C. and Barbara Leighton’s original home, and with 80 acres of land, this place is also a great place to get a view of the Alberta foothills and the Rocky Mountains. They host visual art exhibitions, creative workshops, nature walks, art sales, festivals, and more.
Although Okotoks is the biggest city of the Alberta foothills, it still retains a small-town charm. In fact, Okotoks was the headquarters of Must Do Canada for many years before moving to Calgary. It’s home to a variety of popular restaurants, boutique shops, artisan shops, farmers, and more. It’s also home to a variety of hotels and a popular “inner-city” campground, so if you’re looking for a place to stay, Okotoks might be a good fit.
Popular things to do:
The Okotoks Erratic
Perhaps the most famous icon of Okotoks and maybe even the Alberta foothills, in general, is the Okotoks Erratic. This is the largest known rock in the Foothills Erratics Train, a group of rocks that were carried here by glaciers more than 10,000 years ago. Weighing roughly 16,500 tonnes and measuring 9 metres high, 41 metres long, and 18 metres wide, it’s a popular stop along Highway 7.
Chinook Honey Company and Chinook Arch Meadery
This sustainable Alberta honey farm is open year-round and offers educational programs, a honey bee interpretive area where you can observe worker bees, and is home to Alberta’s first Meadery. You can also give your tastebuds a treat with a variety of honey and honey-made products and ice creams. Plus, you’ll find beeswax candles, honey body care products, and more.
On This Spot Digital Walking Tours
On This Spot is truly a unique way to explore Okotoks. This free downloadable historical walking tour app allows you to explore the history of Okotoks while actually exploring various streets and landmarks. As you tour around with the app, you’ll be able to use your phone to see then and now photos right in the very location they were taken in. Imagine holding your phone up to a new modern building and seeing the historical site it used to be! They have a variety of tours available, including the Vanished Okotoks Digital Walking Tour, Working in Okotoks Digital Walking Tour, The Sheep River Digital Walking Tour, and the Life in Okotoks Digital Walking Tour.
For those who love the sport of baseball, you don’t want to miss an Okotoks Dawgs game. Providing a family-friendly atmosphere and popular baseball action, the Okotoks Dawgs are four-time WCBL Champions. It’s low-cost, entertaining, and a showcase for top Canadian and American collegiate athletes.
When it comes to small-town hockey, it’s hard to beat the atmosphere of an Alberta Junior Hockey League. With teams from all over Alberta, this is a great place to see an exciting hockey game without the big-ticket price of the NHL.
Just 20 minutes south of Okotoks is High River, a vibrant community that’s become a popular spot for a variety of film and television productions. Rich in history, you’ll find some beautiful old buildings and houses, as well as artisan shops, cool restaurants, and cafes.
Popular things to do:
Museum of the Highwood
This small museum is housed inside a former CPR rail station that was built in 1912. It’s right in the heart of High River’s downtown historic area and right beside one of the coolest restaurants – The Whistlestop Café. Visitors can enjoy a variety of exhibits, including the history of the area and the array of moves that have been filmed here. It’s also home to the visitor centre in case you’re looking for more ideas of what to do in the area. It’s small so a solid hour should be enough time here and if you have kids, they have an Imagination Station for children to learn, play and get creative.
The Whistlestop Café
Quite possibly the most unique place to eat in the entire province, The Whistlestop Café provides delicious food inside a rare 1947 historic rail car. After serving as a coach for the Canadian National rail line, it was then converted into a dining car for Expo 67. Now it can be found right next to the Museum of the Highwood, serving delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Sheppard Family Park
This historic family park was the home of Ruth Maccoy’s 13.6-acre homestead, which was given to the City of High River upon her death in 1995. It now celebrates High River’s history from the 1880s to the 1920s.
Frank Lake Conservation Area
Located just 15 minutes east of High River is the Frank Lake Conservation Area, a productive wetland important to hundreds of bird species. Once completely dry, this wetland has been saved from drainage and drought through a progressive partnership between industry, government, and Ducks Unlimited Canada. It is now listed as one of 597 Important Bird Areas in Canada and is a great place to go for a walk, especially with some binoculars or a camera.
Hot Air Balloon Festival
It’s not something you’ll typically find in a small town, but High River is home to the International Hot Air Balloon Festival, which brings in balloons from all over the world each September. Spectators are encouraged to watch the balloons inflate and join in on the chase while they are in the air. The festival also features a Night Glow, which is an opportunity to see the balloons up close and meet the pilots, as well as enjoy food trucks, dance to a DJ, and other entertainment.
Settled in the late 1800s, Nanton is a small town with a lot going on. Located about 20 minutes south of Okotoks but also along Highway 2 towards Lethbridge, it offers quite a few things to do. Home to museums, great dining, popular antique shops, and one of the biggest candy shops in the province, Nanton is the perfect place to stop for the day or to even spend the night.
Popular things to do:
Bomber Command Museum of Canada
Perhaps the most surprising thing you’ll find in Nanton is the Bomber Command Museum of Canada, which is not only home to the Lancaster Bomber (one of the most iconic aircrafts associated with World War II), but also many other amazing planes and vehicles from the war.
Museum of Miniatures
Nanton might be small but the Museum of Miniatures is much smaller. Go back in time while you visit miniature historical native villages, active western towns, farming, and logging communities. You’ll also explore vivid miniature displays that include wildlife scenes, a circus, African jungle animals, prehistoric animals, and fossils. There are also high-quality scale model cars, and a variety of pictures, sculptures, and artifacts.
Canadian Grain Elevator Discovery Centre
Grain elevators are an icon of the prairies and this is a rare opportunity to actually go inside one. Originally built in 1927 and 1929, these grain elevators served the area for almost 100 years. Saved by the community before their demolition, they have now been turned into a museum-type of experience where visitors can take a guided tour inside the elevators and learn about how they worked.
The Candy Store
What more can we say. It’s a big store with loads of candy and old candy brand memorabilia. It’s a great place to pick up some sweets or grab an ice cream.
Mossleigh is another very small town that’s just over 30 minutes drive east of High River and Okotoks. It’s right in the prairies and is also home to some scenic grain elevators.
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One of the things Mossleigh is known for is Aspen Crossing, a themed train excursion experience surrounded by the prairies. Whether you take your kids for their popular Polar Express experience or opt for one of their many summer themes such as Ale on Rails or Sunday Brunch, Aspen Crossing offers unique rides on their vintage trains, taking you through the prairies for a couple of hours while offering entertainment. However, they offer much more than train excursions. They also have a very popular campground, the unique chance to spend the night in a luxury caboose, and a railcar restaurant.
What Else Can You Do?
As you can see, there are loads of things to do in the Alberta Foothills. It’s also just outside of Calgary, one of Canada’s major cities. However, if you’re still looking for things to do in the area, we’ve got you covered. Whether you want to go east into Saskatchewan or continue exploring Alberta, here are some travel guides you might enjoy: