Lethbridge, Alberta is an interesting town located in the Old Man River. South of Calgary, Lethbridge is Alberta prairie country (called the Badlands of Canada, actually) and home to a great deal of Wild West history.
You’ll want to focus your attention on the River Valley area, which is essentially an urban wilderness near the heart of town. This area features rolling coulees (or hill formations) and rich wildlife. It’s also the site of the last battle between aboriginal tribes in North America.
The historic site of Fort Whoop-Up Lethbridge is located in the river valley, and is home to the most notorious whiskey fort of the Canadian west. Operated in the late 1800s, the fort was a central fur trading center that also dealt in illegal whiskey. The site is very well done, with a recreated fort, galleries commemorating the Blackfoot nation tribes of the area, and period rooms as they would have appeared at the time of the fort’s heyday. Families can walk room-to-room in a self-guided tour, listening to quite entertaining audio in each room.
The center of the fort is open to the public, and during our visit, a crackling fire was alive in the fire pit. During summer, livestock is also on site. The staff roams the fort answering any questions, and kids can touch and play with most items. For instance, in one room, my son played the saloon piano, and in another, we played a game of checkers.
The fort will take you less than two hours to tour (be sure to start with the 20 minute video to give you an overview of the history).
Admission is $9 for adults and $6.50 for kids (5 and under free). Or, they offer a family rate of $24.95 for two adults and up to four children.
Hours of operation:
10 am to 5 pm daily during the summer (June 1- September 30) and 12 pm to 4 pm Wed-Sat in the off-season.
Location: 200 Indian Battle Road, Lethbridge
Helen Schüler Nature Centre:
Directly across the way from Fort Whoop-Up, the Helen Schuler Nature Centre is definitely worth a stop. This new centre features indoor exhibits on local eco-systems and wildlife; during the time of our visit, the focus was on creatures beneath our feet. The main gallery included an interactive exhibit on escaping a web (kids could climb over and under elastic strings to ‘escape’ and a few live animals (kids could meet ‘Peg Leg’ a resident crow who was domesticated after a leg injury).
The centre features a living roof kids can check out, and lots of fun facts are located throughout the building. The staff offers a scavenger hunt kids can embark upon, answering questions by reading facts on the walls, floors and even ceiling of the building.
Outdoors, several trails begin at the centre, taking families either along the Old Man River valley or up on the coulees overlooking the High Line Bridge (an impressive engineering marvel). We opted to hike up, roaming the coulees a bit to explore the prairie grass (though beware: there’s also cacti up here!). Adjacent to the centre is also a very interesting playground with an interactive ‘rattlesnake’ climbing toy, a climbing wall, and line tag mazes. We loved it!
Hours of admission:
10 am to 4 pm (closed Mondays)
Where to eat:
If you have time for a nice meal in Lethbridge, Ric’s Grill is unique. Housed in a repurposed water tower, it’s hard to miss in the center of town! The fare here is quite high end (and prices reflect this) but if you have a hour or more and want to make an occasion of your time in Lethbridge, this is the place to do it. They do offer a children’s menu and have a full bar. Views of town are featured out every window.
Location: 200 103 Mayor Magrath Dr
We toured Fort Whoop Up as part of our Great Coast Road Trip with Coast Hotels. Read more about our road trip through the Wild West of Alberta!