Very few people have explored Alberta as much as we have and yet Medicine Hat was one of the few places we had never been. Well, that’s no longer the case! We recently toured the city and the surrounding area for a whole week, experiencing as many things to do in Medicine Hat as possible.
Although Medicine Hat was once one of the five biggest cities in Alberta, it’s now relatively small with about 65,000 inhabitants. However, its history is rich, starting out thousands of years ago as a natural gathering place for Indigenous Peoples, and then a popular place for pottery, natural gas, and the railway. In fact, it’s known as the “The Gas City” due to all the natural gas deposits surrounding the city.
In this travel guide to Medicine Hat Alberta, we’re going to share some history, how to get there, where to eat, where to stay, and of course, the top things to do in Medicine Hat.
Why is it Called Medicine Hat?
Medicine Hat and the surrounding lands are steeped in local folklore. Even the city’s name comes from an ancient Blackfoot legend, as Medicine Hat is a loose translation of Saamis, a Blackfoot word which more accurately translates to ‘Medicine man’s hat’. In fact, it’s the Blackfoot word for the eagle tail feather headdress worn by medicine men.
Several legends are associated with the name of a mythical “mer-man” river serpent named Soy-yee-daa-bee – the Creator – who appeared to a hunter and instructed him to sacrifice his wife to get mystical powers which were manifest in a special hat. Another legend tells of a battle long ago between the Blackfoot and the Cree in which a retreating Cree “Medicine Man” lost his headdress in the South Saskatchewan River. We don’t know if there’s any truth to any of it, but it’s a cool name no?
But there’s another cool factoid about the name Medicine Hat. The Badlands Guardian, which sits east of Medicine Hat, is a geological formation that resembles the head of a medicine man when you look at it from the sky or from Google Maps. Hmmm.
How to Get to Medicine Hat
Medicine Hat is located right along the Trans-Canada Highway, making it an easy stop on a Canada road trip. If you’re driving into Alberta from Regina, Saskatchewan along the Trans-Canada, you’ll pass right through the middle of the city.
Calgary to Medicine Hat: Medicine Hat is a 3-hour drive south of Calgary. It’s a fairly flat drive through the prairies, but once you get to Medicine Hat, you’ll start seeing more desertic badlands. Somewhere in the middle is Brooks, which is a great place to fill up your gas tank or have a quick bite to eat.
Popular Things to Do in Medicine Hat
The city may be small, but there are some cool things to do in Medicine Hat. Plus, it’s one of the sunniest cities in Canada, so if you’re looking for heat, this is the place to go!
World’s Tallest Teepee
Perhaps the most iconic site to see in Medicine Hat is the world’s tallest teepee! It’s visible from almost everywhere and is right off the Trans-Canada Highway next to the visitor centre. Known as the Saamis Teepee, it was originally constructed for the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics as a tribute to Canada’s native heritage.
Built entirely of steel and standing 215 feet tall, the tepee is ringed with 10 large circular storyboards depicting aspects of native culture and history. It’s quite a sight to see and the artwork is beautiful. You’ll also find various explanations and if you walk the short 1-minute trail behind the teepee, you’ll get a glimpse of the beautiful Seven Persons Coulee, which is also an important archaeological site.
It’s also right around the corner from the visitor centre, so there’s more than one reason to stop here.
Whether you like history or pottery, Medalta is a must-visit when in Medicine Hat. Located in the historic clay district, Medalta (derived using Medicine Hat and Alberta) is an innovative and industrial museum that is important for learning about Medicine Hat’s past. We were blown away by our tour, seeing the working conditions of the time and learning that this clay factory supplied 75% of Canada’s pottery needs at one time. However, it’s also a modern ceramic arts facility, art gallery, and community space. Once your tour is done, you can also buy some pottery to take home with you! We bought a miniature whiskey jug but they have all sorts of artistic pieces created by artists-in-residence.
Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede
Started in 1887 and still going today, the Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede is Alberta’s oldest exhibition event. This has been around since 1887 and is Alberta’s oldest exhibition event. They do host events throughout the year but without a doubt, the main event you’ll want to see is the Stampede, which occurs in late July. Like the Calgary Stampede, you’ll find midway games, food trucks, and a rodeo.
Golfing in Medicine Hat
With 330 days of sunshine, Medicine Hat is a great play to hit some golf balls. There’s a variety of golf courses including Desert Blume, Medicine Hat Golf and Country Club, Cottonwood Coulee Golf Course, and Paradise Valley Golf Course. We were tempted to golf at Paradise Valley during our visit as it’s visible right from the World’s Tallest Teepee and is located within the beautiful Seven Persons Coulee. Unfortunately, we ran out of time, but now we have a reason to go back!
Walk Historic Downtown
The outskirts of Medicine Hat are mostly modern or industrial, so the real charm of the place lies in the downtown historic core. Head down to 2nd street and check out all the little restaurants, cafes, and shops. You’ll get to see so many old and beautiful buildings dating back about 100 years. Inspire Cafe, The Monarch Theatre, Local, City Hall, and the Court Building are just some of the ones to pop by.
We’d recommend a couple of hours, but don’t miss St. John’s Presbyterian Church, the Canadian Bank of Commerce, Ewart Duggan House, the Medicine Hat Railway Station, Kerr Wallace House, and St Patrick’s Church.
Medicine Hat Speedway
If you like race cars, you’ll want to make your way out to Medicine Hat Speedway for some race track excitement. The Medicine Hat Speedway was started in 1985 following the closure of the dirt track in Brooks. The track was built and maintained by volunteer hours (and still is today) from many people and the support of many local businesses in and around Medicine Hat donating, money, equipment, labour, and materials. Check out their schedule for the next big race.
Paddling the South Saskatchewan River
If you’re looking for some outdoor adventure, perhaps the best thing to do is paddle down the South Saskatchewan River. This is a very popular activity with locals as well, and you’ll likely see people kayaking, canoeing, or paddle-boarding down the river. We had the chance to go paddle boarding and it was a beautiful experience. We saw hawks, a moose, and lots of cool badland scenery. Rivers do change though so make sure you find out what the water levels are when you’re there. During our visit, the river was slow and low. This makes it very chill but we did have to get off the board at times and literally walk down the river until we found a deeper part. The most popular place to start is Echo Dale Regional Park and getting out at Strathcona Island Park in the city. This trip took us 2.5 hours paddling but if you’re just in a tube, it might take 4-5 hours. Either way, we recommend starting in Echo Dale because they have a boat launch and it’s the only way to see some beautiful scenery before entering the city.
Visit the Many Parks
If you like strolling around parks and living life as the locals do, Medicine Hat has a fair number of parks to enjoy. If you happen to go paddling down the river as we mentioned above, you’ll be getting in at one park and exiting at another, but even if you don’t go paddling, you can enjoy the many parks such as Police Point Park, Strathcona Island Park, and Kin Coulee Park. Our favourite park is Echo Dale Regional Park, which is just outside the city. It has an outdoor pool, some ponds, and some beautiful badlands scenery down by the river.
If you’re looking to do some light hiking within the city, there’s actually a fair amount of trails. Built around the coulees, there’s a variety of paths with various degrees of difficulty. Some of the most popular trails are Ross Glen Coulee Trail, Strathcona Island Park Trail, Ajax Coulee Trail, and Echo Dale Park Loop. However, keep in mind that there can be rattlesnakes in the summer months, so keep your eyes on the lookout and be extra mindful around logs and places where they might be resting.
World’s Largest Chess Set
First the world’s tallest teepee and now this? That’s right, Medicine Hat is home to the world’s largest chess set, certified by the Guinness World Records. It is located on the lawn between the Court of Queen’s Bench Building and the Medicine Hat Public Library, not far from the scenic river views. The chess set was made by the Medicine Hat Chess Club and can be booked with a suggested donation of $10 per hour. The chess pieces are up to 4 feet high!
Red Rock Coulee
Although it’s about 45 minutes south of Medicine Hat, a visit to the Red Rock Coulee is something you shouldn’t miss when visiting the city. Often compared to Mars, this is a truly unique geological area where you’ll find large rounded boulders that seem to appear out of nowhere. Some of the boulders are quite red and when added to the backdrop of the badlands, I can see how one might compare it to Mars or Star Wars. Aim for a 1-2 hour visit unless you plan on going for a long hike.
Where to Eat in Medicine Hat
Like many small cities, there are more than a few options for filling your belly. During our visit, we tried some of their most popular options
Thai Orchid Room
We ate here on our last day in Medicine Hat and really liked it. Although the Pad Thai wasn’t the best we’ve had, they make a delicious yellow curry and papaya salad. If you check out the reviews, it’s one of the most popular restaurants in the city, and for good reason. It’s modern and eloquent and who doesn’t like Thai food?
Takumi Japanese Restaurant
This was the first place we tried in Medicine Hat and it was great. Located in a very tiny (they have like three tables), this is truly authentic. We started off with Takumi’s Pork Gyoza, which is made fresh every day. It was quite different compared to other Gyoza’s we’ve tried as it was battered a little more and was crispy, but very good. We then ordered a Sashimi platter followed by their specialty roll, which consisted of Deep-fried dynamite roll, salmon, tuna, hamachi, BBQ eel, avocado, chef-made yuzu ponzu sauce, and black flying fish roe. Washed it down with Green Tea. Yum Yum Yum.
Medicine Hat Brewing Company
The most popular brewery in the city is also a great place for lunch or supper. They serve everything from mouth-watering bacon habanero burgers to duck-fat-fried wings and AAA Striploin. It goes without saying that they also offer some incredibly delicious beer. Our favourites are the Burnside Blood Orange, Creamsicle Ale, and Blueberry Vanilla Ale. I guess we like fruity beer.
Medicine Hat Breweries
Looking for a nice cold brew? You’re in luck. Medicine Hat is known for its great breweries.
Despite the name, the beers here taste quite heavenly. In fact, this brewery was started in 2016 and was the first modern-day brewery in Medicine Hat! As much as I love the name, I was curious where it came from and it turns out it’s steeped in history. Historically, Medicine Hat has been known for its large natural gas fields, and was immortalized by Rudyard Kipling as having “all hell for a basement”. So, the name is actually historically relevant to the city in a big way. But anyway, enough history, more beer. They serve a wide range of beer for all tastebuds, including IPA’s, stouts, fruity beer, lagers, sours, and more. They also make some of their own soda, including a delicious root beer. We actually bought a 6-pack to take home with us. They have a great little tasting room but keep in mind that there’s not really any food served here. However, it’s kinda cool that you can bring your own food with you.
Medicine Hat Brewing Company
As mentioned in the food section, Medicine Hat Brewery is a must-visit when in the city. They definitely offer the best food menu of all the breweries but they also offer some of the most delicious beer. If you like fruity beer especially, it’ll likely become one of your favourite breweries, as they offer an array of light fruity beers. However, they have some dark ones too, as well as stronger IPA’s and Ales.
Travois Ale Works
Located right in historical downtown Medicine Hat, Travois Brewery has the best location of them all. It’s located in a really cool trendy building dating back to 1939 and has both indoor and outdoor seating. It’s quite small but they serve up some tasty beer as well, including a mix of revolutionary American and traditional European styles that are both creative and approachable. Those into stronger beers like IPA’s will enjoy it even more, but they do have some lighter options as well. They also have a small food menu consisting of things like nachos, pulled pork, and wings.
Coffee in Medicine Hat
If you enjoy a nice steaming cup of java, you’ll be happy in Medicine Hat. Besides an array of the typical franchise establishments like Starbucks and Tim Horton’s, you’ll also find a number of local joints as well.
Some popular options include Station Coffee Company, which is right in the heart of downtown Medicine Hat, as well as the Madhatter Roastery on the western side of town. If you’re looking for a light meal as well, you may want to consider Zucchini Blossom Market & Café, which has a range of options. One of the oldest restaurants in town is actually Lela’s Place (once known as The Chocolate Shop), which has a really cool diner feel with a heavier food menu.
Where to Stay in Medicine Hat
There are lots of choices in terms of accommodation, including hotels, campgrounds, and RV parks.
Best Western Premiere
This new hotel is absolutely stunning. Not only is it brand new, but it has some great amenities such as a pool with a waterslide, steam room and hot tub, and a fitness centre. It also has one of the best hotel breakfasts you can get, including made-to-order omelets and french toast, waffles, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, bagels, toast, cereal, yogurt, and fresh fruit. Plus, they offer a wide range of rooms including full suites with a living room and a kitchen. In addition, there’s a Denny’s connected to the hotel as well.
Camping in Medicine Hat
Whether you’re pitching a tent or pulling up an RV, there are many choices for campgrounds in Medicine Hat. First, there’s the Wildrose Trailer Park, which is close to downtown and has a lot of amenities. Then there’s the Gas City Campground, which is near the South Saskatchewan River. There’s also Ross Creek RV Park, which offers full hook-ups but no bathroom facilities. Either way, this is camping within Medicine Hat!
Where Else to Go Near Medicine Hat?
Once you’ve had your fix of the Gas City, there are other things to do as well. We already mentioned Red Rock Coulee but there are many other places as well. One of the most popular places to go would be Cypress Hill Alberta, which is an interprovincial park that’s a mecca for families, campers, bikers, and water sports. Elkwater is the main town and you’ll find both a lodge and about 7 campgrounds. It’s a beautiful place because it’s where the badlands/prairies meet the trees. It’s also a designated Dark-Sky Preserve, so if you’re wanting to see the stars, this is the place to go.
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