Updated: May 26th, 2020
Lethbridge is a small city that’s very near to my heart. Not only is Lethbridge home to my university – the University of Lethbridge – but it’s also where my wife and I met. I met a lot of good friends in Lethbridge and lived with my best friend for a semester. I’ve since been back on many occasions, both to write about things to do in Lethbridge, and to attend my graduation.
While Lethbridge doesn’t hold the same star-power as places like Calgary, Banff, and Jasper, it’s certainly a beautiful city and home to a variety of fun things to do. It’s also a great base for other things to do in Alberta and is quite unique thanks to its desert-like climate, coulees, and cactus.
Where is Lethbridge?
Lethbridge is located 2-hours south of Calgary, Alberta. The drive from Calgary to Lethbridge is just over 200 kilometres and passes through small prairie towns, as well as Fort Macleod, which is home to the awesome Fort Museum and RCMP Musical Ride. It’s just over an hours drive North of the U.S. border with Montana, 2 hours west of Medicine Hat, and only 1.5 hours northeast of the incredible Waterton Lakes National Park.
While Lethbridge isn’t home to a major airport, it does have a small regional airport served by WestJet and Air Canada.
Best Time to Visit Lethbridge
Like many Canadian cities, Lethbridge is extreme. Expect hot dry summers and cold windy winters. Lethbridge is known for its wind and the storms can be strong, but not dangerous. In the winter, there is a lot of snow and temperatures dip down to -30 Celcius, whereas the exact opposite can be expected from June – September. While Lethbridge can certainly be visited any time of year, the most popular time would be between June and October.
Things to Do in Lethbridge
Looking for what to do while visiting this southern Alberta city? Well, look no further. We’ve got you covered.
Galt Museum and Archives
Not only is this museum home to some of the best views in all of Lethbridge, but it’s also a well-respected museum and the largest in Southern Alberta. Containing over 17,000 artifacts and more than 1 million archival documents and photographs, the Galt is a great place to learn about the history of Lethbridge as well as southwestern Alberta.
It’s also home to a variety of walking trails and two beautiful gardens containing over 40 species of native plants, including wildflowers, grasses, and woody plants.
Helen Schuller Centre
For those interested in learning about the local nature, you don’t want to miss a visit to the Helen Schuller Centre. This is both a nature preserve and an activity centre, with exhibits presenting information about local flora and fauna along with a variety of walking trails as well. Even if you don’t make it into the centre itself (which we recommend you do), the area around it is very beautiful and a great place to begin your exploration of the coulees.
This is one of our favourite places to visit in Lethbridge. Not only is it smack dab in the middle of the coulee’s and Indian Battle Park, but it’s just a great place to learn about the local history. Fort Whoop-Up is a replica of an original fur trading fort built back in the late 1800s. It was originally called Fort Hamilton and served as a centre for a variety of trading activities, the most infamous one being the illegal whiskey trade. During our visit, we were led by one of the fort’s interpreters, Harrison Red Crow, a man of Blackfoot descent who educated us about the history of the First Nations that inhabited this area, as well as the pioneers that eventually called this place home.
Hiking the Coulees
The coulees are the most striking feature of Lethbridge. They’re beautiful to admire from any angle and they’re a great place to go for a hike or a bike ride. You can hike down into them from places like the Galt Museum or drive down and park at places like Indian Battle Park or the Helen Schuller Centre. From there, you’ll find many paths that meander along the coulees, the train bridge, and Old Man River.
Lethbridge Viaduct or High Level Bridge
Another striking feature of the Lethbridge landscape is the High-Level Bridge. Constructed between 1907 – 1909, this massive steel trestle that sits above the Old Man River is still the largest of its type in the world. Whether you admire it from afar, hike under it, or go tubing down the river, it’s a beautiful bridge to see and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a train crossing it as well.
Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden
Located right next to Henderson Lake Park, which we’ll talk about below, you’ll find the stunning Nikko Yuko Japanese Garden. Designed by a garden Arctiect from Osaka as well as being constructed by artisans from Kyoto, this garden was built to symbolize the friendship between Canada and Japan. It’s an incredibly beautiful place to just meander through, but you can also partake in tea ceremonies, Sumo Sumo Sundays, or even yoga.
The Geomatic Attic
If you’re looking for a cool live concert, you’ll want to look into the Geomatic Attic. They list upcoming concerts on their website and are home to a local art gallery as well.
SAAG Art Gallery
For those looking for art, you’ll want to head to the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, which highlights local artists and also invites curators and collaborators from abroad to showcase their work as well. There’s also a popular gift shop for those looking to buy artisanal goods. Another place to find goods from local artists is a training facility called Casa.
Exploring Lethbridge on the Water
In the summer, Lethbridge, Canada is one of the hottest cities in Alberta, if not the whole country. It’s quite dry, and after the spring, most of the greenery becomes yellowish due to the heat. The city is home to both rattlesnakes and cactus, proving that this really is one of Canada’s desert areas. However, there are lots of options for finding a cool oasis as well.
Henderson Lake Park
This Lethbridge park is a popular place to go, whether you’re looking to go kayaking, paddle-boarding, biking, running, roller-blading, or even attending a popular Lethbridge event, such as the Dragonboat Festival, this is a great place to spend a warm summer day. This man-made lake is not good for swimming but it’s a great place to get out on the water and feel like you’re no longer in the city. There’s lots of greenery around, so even if you don’t want to get wet, you can still enjoy a little slice of park paradise. It’s also adjacent to Henderson Pool.
This popular Lethbridge attraction recently went under massive renovations and now boasts an incredible waterpark, which includes multiple waterslides, a rock-climbing wall that hangs above the pool, a kid water park, a diving board, a massive wading pool, and green space for hanging out. We were there on a weekend and it was packed, so it’s safe to say that the locals love it. If you want even more activities to do that are walking distance, check out the Japanese Gardens Lethbridge, which is not far from here.
Old Man River
Thanks to some tips from the locals, we ended up rafting, kayaking, and paddle-boarding down the Old Man River, a huge river that snakes its way around the scenic coulees and under the famous Lethbridge train bridge. This was our favourite activity by far, as it was not only a great way to see some of Lethbridge’s best scenery but also quite relaxing. It was a little faster moving when we were there but it’s usually quite calm, making it a gentle float, even in a basic tube. If you don’t have a water vessel, you can rent one from Awesome Adventures Lethbridge, the company that brought us out. In addition, another popular activity is fishing on Old Man River. We saw many people doing this but didn’t have time to try it ourselves. Plus, you need a license, which is not something we have. (Note: do not fish without a license. It’s an expensive fine!)
Where to Stay in Lethbridge
There are a lot of hotels and accommodation to choose from in Lethbridge, Alberta. The one that we stayed in during our visit is the newly renovated Sandman Signature Lethbridge Lodge. This hotel is in the best location possible, located right next to the Galt Museum and the Lethbridge Trestle Bridge, which has the best views in the city. You’re close to walking trails that go throughout the coulee’s, as well as Fort Whoop-Up and downtown Lethbridge. There’s even a lovely indoor courtyard, which has a pool, hot tub, and a really good breakfast buffet.
There’s also the Best Western Plus Service Inn & Suites, which is relatively close to Henderson Lake and features a free hot breakfast, an indoor heated pool, a hot tub, a fitness centre, and spacious modern suites. If you’d rather a Bed & Breakfast, we’ve heard good things about the Charles Street Suites.
Where to Eat in Lethbridge
There are loads of places to eat and drink in Lethbridge, and this is in no way an exhaustive list. However, these are places we’ve tried and the past and can recommend. You may also want to ask locals or check TripAdvisor for even more options.
Two Guys Pizza: Without a double, Two Guys Pizza is the most famous pizza joint in the city. Not only do they combine a wild selection of pizzas along with beers, but they’re also an award-winning pizza restaurant that has been featured in a range of publications. Perfect to order to deliver to your hotel or pop by, grab a box, and eat it outside in nature.
Tacos Made in Mexico: This awesome little tiny food joint is as authentic as it gets. There’s not much seating, but if you can snag a table outdoors, it’s the perfect place to munch on Tostados Tinga, Enfrijoladas, Pineapple Salad, and Tacos Dorados. They have Mexican sodas as well.
Mocha Cabana: Ranked #1 for restaurants in Lethbridge, this funky restaurant works with local supplies to deliver farm-t0-table foods, as well as vegan and gluten-free options as well.
Coulee Taproom: This brewery/restaurant is a great place to drink fresh beer and eat delicious pub-style food. They have some awesome outdoor games that make it perfect for whisking away a weeknight or weekend with friends and family.
Sawa: You wouldn’t think it but Lethrbdige actually has a few options for Japanese foods and Sawa is one of the most popular. It’s super small so you might have to takeout, but either way, you’re tastebuds will be satisfied.
Plum: For more of a fine-dining experience, head to Plum, another super highly ranked restaurant in Lethbridge with upscale food and great cocktails.
Chef Stella: When it comes to breakfast and brunch, most people recommend Chef Stella. Think of it like a classic diner with a modern twist, along with bottomless coffee and scrumptious food.
Day Trips from Lethbridge
While there are lots of things to do in Lethbridge, there are even more things to do as you venture outside the city.
Just 30-minutes away on the drive between Lethbridge and Calgary is Fort Macleod, which is home to The Fort Museum and the RCMP Musical Ride. If you’re interested in learning about the history of the area and the RCMP, this is a great place to go. During the summer months, it’s also home to a replica of the RCMP Musical Ride, a popular ceremony featuring horses.
Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
Another one of our favourite places in Alberta is Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, which is located around 70 kilometres west of Lethbridge and can easily be combined with Fort Macleod. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a museum and interpretive centre featuring the Blackfoot indigenous culture and a place that preserves and interprets over 6,000 years of Plains Buffalo culture. The museum is truly excellent, the people are very friendly, and the surrounding area is beautiful for a stroll. On certain days you can also participate in Piskun, the Buffalo Jump, which is a 3-hour immersive experience that takes visitors back in time to learn the basics of buffalo hunting, get deeper into the Blackfoot culture, and get a much better appreciation of the site. We highly recommend it.
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park
Oh wow, another UNESCO World Heritage Site! Just 100 kilometres southeast of Lethbridge is yet another gorgeous natural area that’s perfect for hiking, camping, and learning about indigenous culture. In fact, you can see ancient carvings and rock paintings that date back to 1050 BCE! While camping can be hard to nab as it’s often booked well in advance, it’s also a great place for hiking, canoeing, kayaking, or taking one of their interpretive programs or guided walks.
Waterton Lakes National Park
One of Alberta’s most scenic areas is located just 1.5 hours southwest of Lethbridge and is one of the most beautiful places in the country to go hiking, biking, camping, or boating. Waterton Lakes National Park is also the world’s first International Peace Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features the Canadian Rocky Mountains in all their glory, including crystal clear lakes, waterfalls, and world-famous hiking trails. Bordering Montana in the United States, you can also take a lake cruise aboard the historic M.V. International, which takes you along the shoreline of beautiful Upper Waterton Lake and crosses into the International border of Montana.
The Remington Carriage Museum
Located just an hour southwest in Cardston, Alberta is the Remington Carriage Museum, which is home to more than 270 carriages and is the largest of its kind in the world. Upon entering the museum, you’ll be transported back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, getting a glimpse of carriages that carried pioneers as well as the rich and famous. You’ll also learn about Robert McLaughlin, the entrepreneur behind the largest carriage manufacturing company in the British Empire. Considering how big of an impact this family had on Canada, I was surprised I had never heard of them before. They even created Canada Dry Ginger Ale.
Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation
For wildlife lovers, you won’t want to miss the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation, which is just a 17-minute drive east to the town of Coaldale. Here you’ll learn about and witness some of Alberta’s famous bird species, including owls, falcons, eagles, and hawks. Admission is by donation and it all goes to this incredible non-profit organization that helps to rehabilitate injured and orphaned owls, eagles, and hawks back into the wild.
Castle Provincial Park
As you can see, there’s no shortage of things to do near Lethbridge as well. Another place we highly recommend is Alberta’s newest provincial park – Castle Provincial Park! Here you’ll find truly gorgeous mountain scenery, crystal clear lakes and rivers, a variety of wildlife, and plenty of opportunities to go camping, hiking, biking, and more!
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