Compiled by the Road Trip Alberta team
December 23, 2019
Your first view of Lethbridge from the top of the coulee, as you come in on the Calgary to Lethbridge bus, is breathtaking. The High-Level Bridge, which the town is known for, stands tall and dark against the green, gold, or white coulees (depending on the season) while the Oldman River meanders along the bottom.
Lethbridge is quite spread out, which can make finding interesting things to do difficult. But with this guide beside you, it’s going to be easy to have a great time during your visit to Lethbridge!
Where is Lethbridge?
Tucked between the U.S. border and the Rocky Mountains, Lethbridge is a great launching pad to visit various national parks (Like Waterton and Glacier), and a curious little place in its own right. Coming from Cowtown, it’s a relaxing 2 -ish hour drive through small prairie towns with mountains and foothills on the horizon.
Lethbridge’s Three Main Areas
Lethbridge is split neatly into three sections by Highway #2 (Crowsnest Highway) that bisects the town north and south, as the Oldman River cuts the coulee separating east from west. That means there’s a section in Lethbridge for each point on a compass, except for east. There’s the Westside which is west of the coulees and the river, the Northside which is north of the highway, and the Southside, which is where the downtown is situated.
Each area has its own charm, and list of things to do, but the south is both the oldest and busiest part of the city, making it much more dense with history, culture and opportunities to ‘see it all.’ For most visitors, it’s easiest to stay on the southside, especially if you’ve just rolled into town on the Calgary to Lethbridge bus and don’t have a car.
However, if you have easy access to a vehicle, there are places in both the north and the west side that are worth the drive!
The Lethbridge core is easily walkable, and the historic buildings that dominate downtown make for a great atmosphere. For those who drove, parking can be difficult to find if you’re considering spending more than two hours. If you want to ditch your car for the day, it’s easiest to pay for a spot at the Park & Ride Parkade, which is a quick walk from downtown proper.
There’s a great sense of Canadian and Albertan history in downtown Lethbridge. Many of the buildings that came with the boom in the early 1900s are still standing, including the town’s first public library turned art gallery that houses the Southern Alberta Art Gallery (SAAG), the recently renovated Oliver Building, and the old Catholic Charities building (which is currently being completely renovated). Because of this, Lethbridge’s downtown core is more interesting and beautiful than most towns its size in western Canada, making getting acquainted a pleasure.
Things To Do In Lethbridge’s Downtown
There’s plenty of things to do in downtown Lethbridge if you know where to look. If you need some suggestions to get you started, including the best restaurants in Lethbridge, then keep reading friend, cause you’re in luck! But even with these great recommendations in hand, the best way to see the town is still by talking with the locals, who are plenty friendly and love talking up their town to visitors.
Shopping in Lethbridge
- Urban Prairie – Featuring many different curators, this vintage shop covers the gamut from 1800s ephemera to mid-century modern furniture.
- Populess – Both a clothing brand and a store, Populess was born here, ‘where the mountain meets the prairies’, and stocks some of the finest denim and workwear-inspired menswear available south of Calgary.
- Splurge & Co – A local favourite, Splurge sells trendy clothes and jewellery for women.
Art Galleries in Lethbridge
- SAAG – the Southern Alberta Art Gallery not only highlights local and Southern Alberta artists but invites curators and collaborators from abroad to display as well. The gift shop, which doesn’t require admission, is worth popping into just to get a sense of the space and peruse the artisanal goods.
- Casa – Part training facility for musicians, artists and dancers, and part gallery for local artists, admission to this beautiful building is free, including the art gallery.
- Galt Museum and Archives – The largest museum south of Calgary, the Galt chronicles Lethbridge’s past, from its very beginnings as Fort Whoop-Up (which featured a local distillery that earned it the epithet) to its current role as the hub of Southern Alberta.
Best Restaurants in Lethbridge
- Two Guys Pizza – Combining a wide-ranging selection of beers with its award-winning (and boundary-defying) pizza, Two Guys pizza is a favourite of locals and one of the best restaurants in the city. They were even featured on Canada’s You Gotta Eat Here.
- The Telegraph Taphouse – Filled with the ephemera of the building’s time as the headquarters of a telegraph office, this charming Lethbridge locale is much more modern in both its food and drink offerings. The food ranges from Canadian comfort to Indian and African, while the taps offer the widest range of draft beer south of Calgary.
- Chef Stella – A modern take on a classic diner, Chef Stella’s is the perfect place for the most important meal of the day – brunch and bottomless coffee.
- Plum – Great drinks and upscale food is the mainstay of Plum, a cosy little restaurant with some of the best service (and craft-cocktails) in town. It has great evening vibes and there’s usually a record scratching some warm old tunes at the bar.
Music and Entertainment Venues in Lethbridge
- The Owl Acoustic Lounge – The Owl, as it’s colloquially known, has a quirky ambience that keeps locals coming back. And, with nightly events, The Owl always has something going on to enjoy.
- Good Times Comedy Club – A local comedy club, Good Times features both local and national comedians, along with quiz nights to keep the good times rolling. 😉
- The Slice – The Slice focuses on three things: pizza, beer and music, and all three make for a delicious and relaxing evening out.
The Lethbridge Coulees
You don’t need a car to get to the coulees from downtown Lethbridge, or from the eastern edges of the Westside, but you do need to plan for the hike back up if you’re going down under your own two feet.
Whether you choose to make the hike or with a bike, or make it easy on yourself and take a car, once you get down into the coulees the city melts away, leaving you in almost undisturbed nature.
It’s easy to find both parking spots and trails at the bottom of the coulee, whether you prefer the more strenuous climb and descent at the edges, or want to simply stroll next to the Oldman River as it slowly winds its way through Southern Alberta.
The coulees are more than just walking/biking paths. Once down at the bottom, be sure to make time for:
- Helen Schuller Centre – A nature preserve and activity centre, the Helen Schuller Centre is the perfect place to spend some time learning about local flora/fauna and exploring the nearby forested trails with kids.
- Fort Whoop-Up – Commemorating the wild past of the area, Fort Whoop-Up is a re-creation of the fur trading fort that pre-dated the city.
Mayor Magrath Drive
- Henderson Lake Park– If you decide to head out of the downtown core, head east to Henderson Lake Park where you’ll find the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden. Designed by a garden architect in Osaka and constructed by artisans from Kyoto, the Japanese Garden in Lethbridge is a beautiful symbol of friendship between Canada and Japan. Here, visitors can take part in tea ceremonies, participate in Sumo Sumo Sundays or do yoga in the serenity of the garden. Of course, you can also simply walk the paths and experience an authentically Japanese-Albertan experience.
- Henderson Pool – If you’re looking for a little more action, look north from the gardens and you’ll see Henderson Pool with its bright, colourful waterslides and spray park. The outdoor pool is the perfect place to spend a couple hours during Lethbridge’s long, hot summer days. And once you’ve been worn out by all the swimming and splashing (or perhaps by all the screaming children ;)), Henderson Lake offers a lovely 3 km loop to wind down.
- Henderson Lake Golf Course – For those who prefer to spend their time on the links, Henderson Lake has you covered. The Henderson Lake Golf Course is right around the corner, and is open early in the season, and stays open much later than courses in most other cities!
Where to stay – Lethbridge Hotels
With Airbnb and local hotels, there are plenty of places to stay in Lethbridge. But if you’re looking for something more interesting than Super 8, these are the Lethbridge Hotels (and a Bed and Breakfast) we recommend:
- Sandman Signature Lethbridge Lodge – This hotel has changed hands many times since it was built, but the gorgeous tropical atrium remains with a pool at its centre, along with its views of the coulees. Try out the Italian Table for a delicious Italian spread with local ingredients from Southern Alberta businesses.
- The Coast Hotel & Conference Centre – Featuring the Firestone Restaurant, which has delicious Sangria and the best patio in the city, it’s nearly kiddy-corner to Henderson Park.
- Charles Street Suites – A quaint and cozy little Bed and Breakfast that’s close to Lethbridge’s gorgeous bike boulevard (7th Avenue) which is also a thoroughfare to the coulees, Henderson Lake Park, and the South side!
Worth the drive
Not everywhere in town is just a quick walk, or even quicker drive, away. For those who have some more time, and a vehicle of their own, there are great facilities, restaurants and activities spread across the city that are worth taking the trip across the highway or the river.
- Cor Van Raay YMCA – The newest and largest fitness facility in Lethbridge. Including a surf simulator, pool, water slides, ice rink, running track, and so much more, Cor Van Raay YMCA is a one-stop-shop for all things active!
- The Geomatic Attic – One of the most dependable venues in town, the Geomatic Attic is technically on the south side, but requires a car to get to. While you’re there checking out a show, you can also peruse the venue’s art gallery to get a feel for Southern Albertan artists. *Keep in mind that not all Geomatic Attic shows are hosted at the Geomatic Attic. Make sure to keep an eye on the venue when you look through their site.
- Sawa – A great takeaway joint (since there are only two tables in the restaurant), Sawa serves up Japanese comfort food like Okonomiyaki and Karaage.
- Jonny Bean – The local haunt of young entrepreneurs and artist, Jonny Bean is one of the hippest cafes in Southern Alberta.
- Nicholas Sheran Park – Not only is Nicholas Sheran Park a great place to take a stroll, or have a picnic, it has the only Disc Golf Course in the city.
- Mama La – Fresh Vietnamese and Asian cuisine in a modern restaurant, their portion sizes are legendary, yet will keep you coming back for more!
- Paradise Canyon Golf Course – It’s a long drive to golf in Paradise, but believe us and the name… because it’s worth it.
- Lethbridge Country Club – A beautiful golf course that runs along the bottom of the coulees, it’s a beautiful and serene area for a relaxing game or two with some friends.
IN THE AREA
Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation
After a short 17 minute drive east to the town of Coaldale, you will arrive at this unique interactive experience with some of Alberta’s famous species of birds. Let an owl rest on your arm, learn ancient falconry training methods, and get up close to trained eagles or hawks. Gain admission to this non-profit organization by donation only, in which they rely solely on to run it’s day-to-day operations and help injured and orphaned owls, hawks, and eagles back into the wild.
Take the 132 km drive southwest to the majestic Waterton Lakes National Park. Experience the Canadian Rocky Mountains at their finest by taking in crystal clear lakes, waterfalls, a variety of wildlife and wildflowers as well as offering some world famous scenic hiking trails.
About 100 kms southeast, this Provincial Park was named a National Historic Site in 2004, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019. Explore among the hoodoos and find ancient carvings and rock paintings dating back to 1050 BCE. In the summer months, enjoy camping, swimming, hiking, canoeing or kayaking or take in one of the interpretive programs or guided walks.
Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
Just 71 kms west lies this UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site and Interpretive Centre. A museum to the Blackfoot culture and a place that preserves and interprets over 6,000 years of Plains Buffalo culture. Explore the indoor and outdoor exhibits or take a short interpretive hike beneath the cliffs.