Exploring new places is an exciting feeling, whether it’s climbing a mountain or learning about the history of the place you’re in, getting the chance to explore the unknown is one of the best experiences. However, we don’t always have to hop on a plane or a train to have a getaway and explore. There are lots of places within a few hours of Lethbridge that offer stunning views and rich history.
Here are just a few of our favourite places to visit throughout the year!
Frank Slide. If you have ever driven west along Highway 3 through the Crowsnest Pass, you would have passed through the debris field left behind by the Frank Slide. April 19, 1903 was a historic day when 110 million tonnes of rock slid off Turtle Mountain, burying the eastern portion of the town of Frank, the Canadian Pacific Railway line and the coal mine. It was one of the largest and the deadliest landslides in Canadian history.
The mountain has remained stable since the event and there is now an interpretive centre outlining the events that occurred as well as the history of coal mining in the area. The massive debris field has remained largely untouched, with the exception of the interpretive centre and the main highway. Once you’re done in the interpretive centre, hike the trails through the debris field to stand on and next to massive boulders of limestone. The size and magnitude of the slide can be hard to comprehend without seeing it for yourself. It is best visited when there is no snow on the ground to obstruct the views of the boulders.
Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site. Located east of Bellevue, Alberta along Highway 3 is another piece of mining history. The Leitch Collieries were built along with the discovery of coal in 1905. A colliery is a coal mining and processing plant that all major mines in the Crowsnest Pass had. It is where the surface operations were performed like cleaning and grading the coal. These were big operations with impressive structures made of wood, sandstone and brick, with their own power-generating stations.
Leitch Colliery only lasted about 10 years as labour unrest, declining markets and financial difficulties, combined with the closure of mine operations forced its closure. However, most of the buildings still stand today where they were built back in the day. A testament to the quality of the materials that were used. There is a self guided walking tour through the colliery and surrounding area. Stop by for a visit to the past!
Lille Ghost Town Provincial Historic Resource. Continuing on with the journey through the Crowsnest Pass is yet another stop that showcases the mining history of Alberta. Lille was a company town built to support the coal mining industry. As with so many other coal mining towns, weak market prices, poor quality coal and ever increasing production costs, the mines closed and Lille became a ghost town. The buildings that made up the town were either dismantled and moved to other towns or were demolished.
What remains now is a set of ruins of the Belgian coke ovens. These were sent over from Belgium to be used to convert fine coal into coke for use in the steel industry. Each of the bricks were numbered so that reassembly in Canada was as uncomplicated as possible. Besides the coke ovens, there are remains of the powerhouse, the Lille Hotel and a pile of leftover coal. Find this ghost town with a roughly 6 km hike starting near the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre. Although it may be tempting to take a piece of history with you, this site has already lost some of its artefacts due to looters and scavengers, so please leave history in its place.
Lundbreck Falls. If you live in the Lethbridge area I’m sure you have taken a trip or two to Lundbreck falls. The waterfall of the Crowsnest river has a drop of roughly 12 metres, with lots of areas for photo opportunities and picnics. Visiting in the summer boasts some pretty spectacular views of the green forest surrounding the falls, but winter is one of my favourite times to visit as the falls freeze partially, creating a very unique experience.
Looking to spend a little more time in the area, the Lundbreck Falls campground is located near the falls with first come, first serve sites. Fishermen are welcome too, with an Alberta fishing license of course. The Crowsnest River is filled with a few types of trout and is a popular spot with the locals. If you’re a rock nerd like me, there are lots of cool geologic structures that can be found in the cliffs around the falls, including very visible faults in the rock structure, ripple marks and worm burrows, all which represent the shallow shoreline environment that was once dominant in the area.
Waterton National Park. Another staple of Southern Alberta, if you have never checked out this national park, we highly recommend making it a priority stop. There are so many things to do, from hiking, to water sports, to eating delicious food, there is truly something for everyone.
While it can get a little windy some days, the spring and summer are some of the best times to visit. Catch the wildflowers blooming in early summer and then hike the infamous Crypt Lake trail near the end of summer to catch all of the majestic views. If you can get there early enough, Red Rock Canyon is a definite must see. The brightly coloured walls of the canyon are some of the most unique ones you can find in Alberta. Prepare to leave early for this one, as the parking lots fill up quickly. Hiking not your thing? Try out the paddle board rentals or other water sport rentals and take a leisurely cruise on the bright blue Waterton lake, fed straight from the small number of glaciers that remain.
Writing on Stone Provincial Park. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Writing on Stone is one place that truly evokes a sense of wonder. Located along the Milk River, the site is home to one of the largest areas of protected prairies, acting as both a nature preserve and protecting many Indigenous cultural artefacts. Most famously, the carvings and paintings that line the hoodoo walls – providing a glimpse into the past.
As a sacred site for the Blackfoot people and other indigenous tribes, Writing on Stone is an important piece of cultural and natural history. It contains the greatest concentration of rock art on what is called the North American Great Plains. Within the park is an interpretive centre outlining the history of the site, as well as trails along the cliffs where the rock art is. Take a self-guided tour or participate in a guided tour of the archaeological preserve to hear the history, stories and language of the Blackfoot people and how it is woven into the rock art.
Dinosaur Provincial Park. If you’re looking for a dino-mite time, check out Dinosaur Provincial Park located north east of Brooks, Alberta. Like stepping back into the time of dinosaurs, the landscape and rich fossil history lend to the amazing atmosphere. Being the site of discovery for some of the most important fossil specimens, you can walk in the footsteps of some of your favourite dinosaurs.
With outstanding geological features and processes forming much of the hoodoo, the badlands of Dinosaur Park are a local must see! While some of the areas are protected from public visitors, there are many trails and hoodoos for you to climb and explore on. Want to step into the shoes of a palaeontologist? Take the bus tour through the private area of the park to learn how scientists identify fossils within the landscape, preserve them and transport them to the next step. A truly out of this century experience can be found at Dinosaur Provincial Park!
Red Rock Coulee. Another out of this world landscape is Red Rock Coulee located southwest of Medicine Hat. Scattered across the landscape and coulees are large spherical boulders. Their round shape and rusty red colour lend the name “Red Rock Coulee” along with the exposure of brown ironstone within the bands of the coulees. Having formed many thousands of years ago, the spherical boulders give the badlands a Mars like feeling. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Sweet Grass Hills located across the border in Montana.
Hop on the hiking trails and explore the coulee’s and surrounding badlands. Make sure the weather is dry before heading out. The bentonite clay making up much of the coulee trails is VERY slippery when wet and can make for some hazardous terrain. If you’re looking for smaller crowds and something more off the beaten path, check out the alien world of Red Rock Coulee!
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. The Cypress Hills are a region of hills in southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta. I know, hills in Saskatchewan are a rare site and these ones are well worth the trip. In fact these hills are the location of the highest point in Saskatchewan and are what we in the geology world call a Nunatak, the summit or ridge of a hill or mountain that sticks out of an ice field or glacier that otherwise covers the majority of the hill or mountain. This means that during the last glacial period, the Cypress Hills were one of the few areas of the prairies that were not covered by the glaciers.
The site of many historical meetings and conflicts, the park has many interesting stories to tell. Visit the Fort Walsh National Historic Site, created by North-West Mounted Police to further prevent conflict after the Cypress Hills Massacre in 1873, to learn about the intense history of conflict in the area. Or travel to the Elkwater area and stay in the lodge, go camping and explore the Cypress Hills from the many different trails offered. Explore the hills on horseback, take a treetop zipline tour or try your hand at fly fishing, the opportunities are endless! Being as Cypress Hills is an interprovincial park, there are many adventures to be had on both the Alberta and Saskatchewan side of the borders.
While you may have been dreaming of a tropical beach vacation this year, there are many unique opportunities in the local area. You may have visited all of these sites or only a few, but they are definitely worth going back to. With so much variation in geography between the borders of Alberta, you’re sure to find something that peaks your interest and provides you with an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.