How to Have 2 Exciting Days in Southern Alberta
By Leigh McAdam
Boasting the greatest amount of sunshine of any city in Canada, Medicine Hat located three hours southeast of Calgary near the Saskatchewan border is not just a city of retirees. On the road to revival, the city now boasts a downtown filled with brick and sandstone heritage buildings that play host to an eclectic mix of cafes and retail shops. A vibrant music scene, loads of green space complemented with close to 100 kilometres of walking trails, the beautiful South Saskatchewan River and the Clay Industries National Historic District ensure that it’s worth the short detour from the Trans-Canada Highway.
Allow the better part of a day to explore the city. Start with a guided tour of the Medalta Museum. As the Education Coordinator, Caroline Freeman did an excellent job of transporting me back to 1912 when Medalta (short for Medicine Hat, Alberta) came into existence. It was one of many brick and pottery factories that flourished around that time, largely because of the combination of plentiful clay, natural gas and access to train transport. It’s an industrial museum with equipment still in place. Showcased are examples of products it made over the years including toilet bowls, sinks, sewer pipes (some of which are just being replaced now) as well as a selection of porcelain dinner ware and stoneware crockery that are considered collectible items today. Interestingly, it was one of the first factories to employ women, partially because their hands were small enough to attach spouts to teapots.
While you could easily spend a night in Medicine Hat, Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is only 40 minutes away. Sharing a border with Saskatchewan, it is home to a unique landscape of forests, lakes, prairies and forested hills – including the highest hills east of Ontario. Visitors can choose from a host of outdoor and nature based adventures though Mike Ratcliffe, Head of Visitor Services explains that the park is seen “as a place where people can meet and socialize away from the city environment.”
The majority of visitors don’t stray far from the Elkwater Townsite – largely because of its beach and abundance of water-based activities like kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, but rest assured that wilderness is accessible if that’s what you’re after. With the park crisscrossed by hiking and mountain biking trails, it would take you days to complete them all.
You won’t find bears or rattlesnakes in the park but it is home to a significant population of cougars. Fortunately the chances of actually seeing one are very remote. Deer and coyotes are plentiful and if you hop onboard an evening nature tour, not only will you see these animals but Burgess LongshawPower, a seasonal park interpreter will stun you with his knowledge of weird and wonderful nature facts. For example, if you’ve ever heard of the loggerhead shrike, a bird that impales its victims, you would be fascinated to learn that the varieties of hawthorn trees found in the park – boasting inch plus long razor like thorns, are used by these birds to kill their prey. They leave them for a few days to cure and then voila – a delicious meal.
Over the 2 ½ hour tour, you will be treated to close-ups of some of approximately 200 species of birds that call the park home, including many a hawk and falcon; as well, you’ll witness the fiery red of a prairie sunset from the Horseshoe Canyon Viewpoint and catch sight of Montana’s Sweet Grass Hills off in the distance.
And for those seeking peace without people, you can choose to stay in one of three backcountry huts – at any time of the year. While simply furnished, they offer more adventurous souls a chance to feel close to nature.
(Tom Trott Hut)
The Medicine Hat – Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park combination is perfect for people with just two or three days of time to explore. Accessible to visitors and residents alike from Calgary, Lethbridge and even Regina, it’s an often overlooked part of Alberta that merits a visit.
See Tour Southern Alberta for more interesting things to do!