I don’t know how many times I have whizzed past Medicine Hat on the Trans-Canada Highway without giving the city a second thought. Located on the South Saskatchewan River in eastern Alberta its tagline – “The Gas City”- is hardly an endearing term for tourists but great for industries in need of low-cost energy.
Fortunately the city is far more interesting than it appears from the highway. Check out these 7 things to do in Medicine Hat – and nearby.
Take a hike in Medicine Hat
Stretch your legs on over 100 kilometres of hiking trails. Strathcona Island Park, Police Point Park and Mr. Burnside Trail are all excellent choices. You can check out a full list of the hiking trails on the Medicine Hat website here.
Medalta – the must visit industrial museum
The cheap, accessible natural gas along with access to train transport and clay fueled the brick and pottery factories that started to pop up around 1910. Today the area known as the historic clay district is a must-see for anyone interested in history, pottery or the arts.
Even without a map it’s easy to find Medalta (short for Medicine Hat, Alberta) by following the signs from the Trans-Canada Highway.
Not only is it an industrial museum with original equipment in place, but it’s home to an artist-in-residence program, a contemporary gallery and a very popular Thursday night market (4:30 – 8:30 PM) complete with music.
The museum is open year round but guided tours are only available from Victoria Day to Labour Day.
In the museum you can see examples of the products they produced including collectible stoneware crockery and porcelain ware as well as more practical items like sinks, toilet bowls and sewer pipes. (Check your crockery and if it says Medalta on the bottom it’s worth something.)
I found the wall of old photos very interesting especially the ones with women wearing curlers to work on Friday so they would look good for the Friday night dance.
Explore the historic downtown in Medicine Hat
Downtown Medicine Hat is definitely worth a visit too. Explore several city blocks filled with handsome heritage buildings housing interesting retail stores and lots of locally run cafes and restaurants.
Aside from the restaurants and cafes, you can shop and relax in a park facing the South Saskatchewan River. I highly recommend the garden store on the main street. It’s an oasis of calm full of things you didn’t know you needed.
Check out the coffee culture in Medicine Hat
With five locally run cafes there are plenty of options to get a caffeine fix. All are within a few blocks of each other. The smell alone will have you ordering a coffee at the Medicine Hat Roastery where beans are roasted onsite.
For a meal surrounded by artwork head to Inspire Café. If you’re avoiding gluten then check out the Heartland Café but if it’s a calorie laden pastry you’re after as well as a great coffee and music then The Station Café across the street from the garden centre is the place to go.
Bravo, in Medicine Hat’s Arts and Heritage Centre offers a casual setting and friendly service, even if there’s nothing playing.
Other restaurant choices suggested by a local include Mario’s for Italian food, The Mango Tree for southeast Asian and Skinny’s Smoke House for a BBQ fix.
Play a game of chess outdoors
Did you know the world’s largest chess set is in Medicine Hat? Stop by to watch or play a game of chess. Note the size of the chess pieces.
If you’re willing to do a short drive from Medicine Hat
Red Rock Coulee
Just 35 minutes south of Medicine Hat sit the otherworldly rock concretions known as Red Rock Coulee. They are basically in the middle of nowhere but if you’re looking for a nature or photography fix they’re an excellent place to visit.
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Cypress Hills Park
Drive 40 minutes south from Medicine Hat and you’ll enter one of Alberta’s most beautiful parks. It’s a four season gem with skiing and snowshoeing available in winter, and hiking and mountain biking in the summer. There’s also a beach, boating, a couple of decent restaurants and lots of birdlife and wild animals.
Choose from camping, glamping or Elkwater Lake Lodge & Resort.
Places to stay in Medicine Hat
If you’re planning to stay in Medicine Hat your best bet is one of the chain hotels.
Baymont by Wyndham Medicine Hat is rated as fabulous.
HomeStay Inn & Suites would be another solid choice.
Further reading on things to do in southern Alberta
- A Visit to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park
- A Need to Know Guide About Cypress Hills Alberta
- 3 Southern Alberta Provincial Parks That Should be on Your Radar
Next time you’re driving past Medicine Hat – the sunniest city in Canada – stop and see how much more there is to the city than meets the eye on the highway. It’s so much more than just a “gas city.”
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Thank you to the Chinook Country Tourist Association for sponsoring this trip. All opinions as always are my own – and I will be stopping at the local cafes the next time I’m in the area.