Six Attractions You Must Visit in Southern Alberta
· 11 min. read
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If you’re visiting Alberta this summer, you probably have your heart set on visiting the mountains. After all, places like Lake Louise, Banff, Waterton and now Castle Provincial Park are some of the most beautiful sites in Canada, and they’re always a hit on Instagram (if you’re into that kind of thing). But, between Regina and the mountains is a whole province with plenty of sights to explore.
Last year I took more trips than I could count to southern Alberta, but most of them ended near Medicine Hat. Had I gone a bit further, I would have found myself in a myriad of attractions to see, from historical museums to sites of natural disasters and just about everything in-between.
For those looking to make a few stops on their way to the Rocky Mountains, or for those who are just looking for an Alberta road trip, here are six attractions you must visit while in southern Alberta.
Stay a night & see a sight, here is help to live out your next #BucketlistAB adventure.
1. Downtown Medicine Hat
On my last count I had about seven articles about Medicine Hat, and collectively they only skin the surface of what to see in this city. This city is full of culture, heritage and rivals any major city for year-round festivals.
While you’re in “The Hat”, make sure to visit some of the cute and quirky cafes throughout the city, like MadHatter Roastery or Heartwood Café. I visited MadHatter Roastery last summer and watched firsthand as they ground, steamed and cooked fresh coffee beans.
Beyond the cafes, pubs, breweries and distilleries in Medicine Hat, one of the city’s biggest attractions is Medalta. This former brick processing plant was closed several years ago and was converted into a gallery, museum and local market. This national historic site not only showcases the industry that gave birth to Medicine Hat, but also the resilience of the community after it closed.
There’s plenty more to see in Medicine Hat, like Hell’s Basement Brewery, The Esplanade or even the nearby Cypress Hills if you’re planning on spending a few days in the area.
2. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
One of the most iconic sights in southern Alberta is the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. This dramatic geological cliff formation, and the interpretive museum built into the side of it, discussed the history of the Blackfoot people and their way of life. The museum explains how the Blackfoot people would lure the buffalo near the cliff, and then have members of their tribe dress up as wolves to chase them over the edge. Running the buffalo over the cliff would provide the tribe with more than enough meat, fur, fat and sinew to last through to the winter.
The jump is no longer used for this purpose, but visitors can dress up in both buffalo and wolves fur and re-enact the famous scene. Guides can even explain the various techniques used for over 6,000 years in this area, as well as showcase the tools the hunters used to make their kill.
3. Fort Macleod’s N.W.M.P Musical Ride
Fort Macleod was incorporated in 1892, but twenty years later the Canadian Pacific Railway moved locations to Lethbridge, devastating the local economy. From 1912 until the 1970s the city remained untouched, almost as if it was in a time capsule. In the 1980s, the downtown area was declared a “Provincial Historical Area” and is preserved for future generations.
This same concept of preserving history can be seen throughout the town, especially at The Fort. Rebuilt in the 1950s, The Fort is a recreation of the N.W.M.P fort that stood in the same spot in the late 1800s. The purpose of the fort is to preserve the history of the police, the First Nations people and the history of the town.
Four times a day, actors mount trained horses and re-enact the famous musical ride, full of turn of the century uniforms, techniques and music. Each horse is also branded with a temporary maple leaf tattoo, a symbol that represented the force back in 1876 when the first musical ride was performed.
4. Remington Carriage Museum
Cardston, Alberta might be a small community, but it’s home to the largest carriage museum in Canada. The Remington Carriage Museum showcases over 250 different carriages from around North America and England, dating back to the late 1800s. Some of these carriages were used by settlers as they moved west, while others were used by politicians like Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Queen Elizabeth II.
One of the newest exhibits in the museum opened in May of 2017 and focuses on Robert McLaughlin. McLaughlin is the owner and operator of McLaughlin Carriages Co., the largest carriage manufacturing company in the British Empire. Based out of Oshawa, the carriage manufacturing plant is responsible for bringing General Motors into Canada in the early years of the 20th Century but is also responsible for the creation and distribution of Canada Dry Ginger Ale.
With 64,000-square-feet of space to explore, the Remington Carriage Museum is one of the most fascinating, and least well-known attractions in southern Alberta.
5. Turner Valley Gas Plant
An hour south of Calgary is Turner Valley, and within this valley sits one of Alberta’s most iconic symbols: a natural gas manufacturing plant. However, this plant isn’t any ordinary plant. It is the very first plant to ever exist in the province and is the one responsible for making Alberta into the economic powerhouse it is today.
The plant closed in 1985 after being in operation for nearly seventy years, but it was quickly converted into a museum, full of the original mechanics, machinery and tools. There is also an exhibit in the museum that marks the exact spot Dingman No. 1 went into operation back on May 14, 1914 where natural gas began seeping from the earth. This sight, as commonplace as it is today, changed the future of Alberta forever.
For historians, those interested in the petrochemical industry or anybody in between, the plant offers an incredible opportunity to see how the oil and natural gas industry has changed over the past century.
6. Frank Slide
Before there was Turner Valley, there was Turtle Mountain and the town of Frank. The town of Frank sits at the bottom of Turtle Mountain, and in early 1900s the residents of the town started mining the mountain. The First Nations people warned them not to set up a village there, as the mountain tended to move, but their worries fell on deaf ears.
On April 29, 1903 the mountain moved, and 90 million tones of limestone moved with it. A complete side of the mountain collapsed and started a landslide that ? although lasted less than 2 minutes ? took the lives of 90 people and buried the community.
Today an interpretative center sits near the edge of the stony field, and a seismic measuring system is placed at the peak of the mountain. The mountain shifts once and awhile, but it has never collapsed again.
If you visit the park, give yourself time to go on the Drive Through the Slide tour. This driving tour takes you into the heart of the landslide and into the remains of the community, where of wooden structures and skeletons can still be found.
If You Go
Check into Tourism Medicine Hat to start planning your trip activities.
Fort MacLeod is around two and a half hours south of Calgary.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is around two and a half hours south of Calgary, near Fort MacLeod.
Cardston is about a 2.5-drive south of Calgary.
Frank Slide is around two and a half hours south of Calgary on Highway 22, the Cowboy Trail.
Learn more about BucketlistAB here.
Grab an awesome itinerary and start your Southern Alberta adventure.
Check into Alberta Parks to start planning your trip and other activities in the area.
Travel Alberta also has lots of great information about things to do and places to see in Castle Provincial Park.
Canalta Hotels has partnered up with a collection of destinations across Southern Alberta. Stay a Night & See a Sight. They’re set to help you plan your trip.
Images by Matt Bailey and Chris Istace Mindful Explorer.
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Categories: Alberta, Canada