Compiled by the Road Trip Alberta team
March 20, 2020
Medicine Hat has long been a natural gathering place, from the Indigenous cultures who roamed here thousands of years ago, to the friendly, 65,000 (or so) Canadians inhabiting it now. The attraction likely has to do with the area’s geography, with its gently sloping valleys and merging waterways sheltered by burly cottonwood trees. But there could be another reason why cultures rested here, and some say it has to do with the spirit of the land itself.
With all the traffic the area has seen, 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’.
The land on which Medicine Hat is located is on Treaty 7 and Treaty 4 territory. Traditional lands of the Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), Stoney-Nakoda, and Tsuut’ina (Sarcee) as well as the Cree, Sioux, and the Saulteaux bands of the Ojibwa peoples, and on the homelands of the Metis.
How Medicine Hat got its name
There are a few variations on the fable as to how Medicine Hat acquired its name, but one of the more well-known versions is about a young Blackfoot man.
This young hunter is chosen by his elders to go find the Great Spirit in order to save his tribe from a harsh winter famine.
After venturing to the South Saskatchewan River, the young man sets up camp next to an opening, or breathing hole, in the ice – the supposed dwelling place of the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit appears to the hunter in the form of a serpent and tells him to spend the night on Strathcona island (in some darker versions of the fable, the young man must sacrifice his wife to this serpent).
In the morning, the man is instructed to look along the cut-banks where the morning light touches, and here he finds a bag containing medicines and a saamis or ‘holy bonnet’. The serpent tells the hunter that the ‘medicine hat’ is only to be worn during wartime and will ensure victory to the wearer. With help from the magic saamis, the young hunter locates much-needed game, saves his people, and eventually becomes a great medicine man.
The Badlands Guardian
Fittingly enough, east of Medicine Hat sits a fascinating geological formation known as the Badlands Guardian. In Google Maps view, it resembles the head of a medicine man. On a humorous note, the lone road leading to an oil well creates the illusion that the ‘medicine man’ is wearing earphones, and enjoying the music he’s listening to!
For a more interactive look, check out the Badlands Guardian on Google Earth
Getting there: Calgary to Medicine Hat
Calgary to Medicine Hat is a 3-hour drive (approximately 300km), giving you plenty of rolling prairies to admire as you cruise southeast along the Trans-Canada Highway. (click here for map directions)
Since it’s a bit of a drive, we recommend stopping at the hour and a half mark in Bassano for a leg-stretch, fuel, and some grub that will stick to your bones at the Roadside Grill. After coffee, eggs, hashbrowns and toast, you’ll be topped up and ready to hit the road again!
The Best Things To Do in Medicine Hat
With mythology surrounding the city, Medicine Hat seems enchanted – and for that reason alone, completely worth the visit. But beyond the curious history of the city, there are tons of fun things to do that will make your visit all the better.
Also, with 330 days per year of pure, glorious sunshine, Medicine Hat is the perfect place to get out and enjoy the sun and fresh air.
Let’s dive in!
If we list the “historic clay district” as a must-see attraction, you might question our judgment, but trust us, a visit to Medalta is THAT cool. It’s an innovative and industrial museum that is not only important to discover Medicine Hat’s past, but also to explore the cultural flair of today. You’ll find a modern ceramic arts facility, art gallery, and a community space. And if you get the chance to take in a private event there, be sure to take it, as the eclectic industrial spaces make every occasion special.
Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede
This has been around since 1887 and is Alberta’s oldest exhibition event. You won’t be short on activities at the Med Hat Stampede because there’s a little something for everyone. Whether you prefer meandering through crowds while sampling local fresh-baked goods, cheering on your favourite bull-rider, chuck-wagon racer, or screaming your head off on some Midway rides, you’re bound to leave the stampede with a full heart, and perhaps some new western attire!
Medicine Hat Speedway
If you’re a gear-head, you’ll want to check out the Medicine Hat Speedway for some high-octane entertainment with fellow adrenaline junkies. Park yourself at the Speedway and cheer on some of the best drivers in Southern Alberta as they take on the oval.
Medicine Hat Golf Courses
Chances are the sun will be shining when you show up, so why not get out and enjoy a round or two of golf? The season is long and there are a handful of beautiful courses around the area for you to try out. Options include Desert Blume, Cottonwood Coulee Golf Course, Medicine Hat Golf and Country Club, and Paradise Valley Golf Course with its sprawling course overlooked by the World’s Tallest Teepee, or Saamis Teepee – which is also worth a pop-in visit.
If you’re not into golf, but still craving some sunshine, take a stroll through Medicine Hat’s myriad of parks. The Kin Coulee Park, Police Point Park and Strathcona Island Park offer plenty of room to explore and relax in nature. And, for those looking to cool-off, Central Park downtown features a splash park that should take the edge off that heat!
Escape Rooms in Medicine Hat
Ready to test your clue-finding and puzzle-solving skills in an escape room? Try Mr. E’s Solve-it-torium or The Clued-Inn for some great themed escape rooms designed to challenge every skill-level, and to get everyone having some fun while solving riddles, clues, and mysteries.
Where to Eat in Medicine Hat
With all those activities to choose from, you’re going to be ravenous by the time you finish them all! From an eclectic global menu to some local fan-favourites, Medicine Hat boasts tons of delicious fare. Just try to save room for it all!
The Medicine Hat Coffee Scene
If you’re looking for someplace to relax over a cup of coffee, there are plenty of spots in Medicine Hat that locals love. We recommend Station Coffee Company, which is right downtown, or, for those who desire the absolute freshest coffee, The Madhatter Roastery, which is on the west edge of downtown. For those who prefer their cafés with the option to order paninis, soups or pizzas, try Zucchini Blossom Market & Café.
And if you’re REALLY into coffee culture, then sign up for a tour from a local to take you to all the coolest spots.
Medicine Hat Restaurants
For more serious eats to take the edge off your hunger, Medicine Hat has your back (or rather, your stomach!). Our number one recommendation is Lela’s Place (formerly known as The Chocolate Shop), which also happens to be the oldest restaurant in the city. It has an old-school diner setting, big homemade portions, and reasonable prices.
Other notable stops include the Local Pub Eatery and Skinny’s Smokehouse which both offer up classic North American food guaranteed to fill you up. If you prefer something a little lighter, try The Thai Orchid Room for some highly-rated Thai cuisine in a charming atmosphere.
And don’t miss the Medicine Hat Brewing Company, which has become something of a safe harbour to local Hatters. Embodying the small-town charm and character of the blue-collar workforce in the city, this brewery offers up classic pub fare, with (of course) delicious local brews. It’s worth the stop to wet your whistle, feast on classic pub staples, and maybe exchange a fable or two with the folks at the bar.
Where to Stay in Medicine Hat
Medicine Hat Hotels
There are plenty of hotel options available in Medicine Hat that cater to an array of budgets. Most hotels are gathered around the major intersections just off Highway 1, making them easy to access. All of them are relatively the same quality (there are no major luxuries to be found here). Here are our picks:
- The Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Medicine Hat – This is one of the highest rated hotels in the city and it comes with free breakfast and parking, an indoor gym and stylish pool. It’s next to plenty of casual eateries off of the main highway. – Book this hotel –
- Comfort Inn & Suites – Located nearby, this hotel provides good value for the price. Rooms are comfortable and some come with whirlpool tubs. If you didn’t score one of those, play in the indoor pool instead! – Book this hotel –
- Towneplace Suites by Marriott – This newly decorated hotel is the perfect place to settle in and stay on your routine for business or holiday. Conveniently located just off the Trans-Canada Highway, the hotel is surrounded by great shopping, dining and entertainment options. – Book this hotel –
Medicine Hat Campgrounds
From rough and tumble tent-camping to RV ‘glamping’, there’s tons of space for you to camp in Medicine Hat. Choose from quiet spaces next to the South Saskatchewan River or bustling areas closer to the city centre. Wherever you choose, you’re bound to be at one with nature in this serene city on the prairies.
- Gas City Campground – Tucked between trees and the babbling South Saskatchewan River, this camp spot is a great place to relax and get back to nature. It’s got rave reviews for its friendly staff and clean and spacious sites.
- Wildrose Trailer Park – You won’t be short on amenities in this groovy little campground nestled close to downtown. You can do the traditional weenie-roast (provided there’s no fire ban in place), or, head out for food (see our “Where to Eat” list above!) if you’re over that #campgroundlife. 😉
- Ross Creek RV Park – A little way south of the city, you’ll find the semi-secluded, out-of-the-way RV Park, offering quaint views and a convenient ‘just-off-the-highway’ location. There are full hook-ups with 30 and 50 amp service, however, there are no showers or washroom facilities here.
IN THE AREA
The perfect place to enjoy the great outdoors is in this Interprovincial Park less than an hour drive from Medicine Hat. Stretching from southeastern Alberta to southwestern Saskatchewan, this park is home to a mix of forests, wetlands, and grasslands as well as an abundance of wildlife. Explore the land by hiking, and take a SUP or kayak out onto the Elkwater Lake. Stay in one of the many campgrounds available, and take in the night sky from this designated Dark-Sky Preserve.
Also, be sure to make a stop at Camp Cookhouse in the town of Elkwater. Opened by a former Top Chef Canada contestant, the food is not to be missed (order the ribs and thank us later).
Red Rock Coulee
If you want to experience what life might look like on Mars, venture approximately 54 kms southwest of Medicine Hat to this Provincial natural area, where you will find very large and very rounded boulders that are a beautiful shade of red. Some of these sandstone concretions are over 2.5 ms wide across (8 feet), making them some of the largest found in the world.