Each summer, Mike and I make a point to explore a part of our backyard we’ve never really explored before. That’s why during a weekend in July we drove south to check out Red Deer and Lacombe County!
Normally when we drive through Red Deer we literally just drive through it. Gasoline Alley was the extent of my Red Deer experience up until this summer (“wait, Red Deer is more than just Gasoline Alley?” It sounds super silly, but I know some people have shared that same perspective).
Side bar: Peter’s Drive-In in Gasoline Alley is a must-stop for your road trips down to Calgary!
For this trip, Tourism Red Deer helped us plan the day. Part of my day trip ideas / recommendations below come from them, but I also round out a few other places and things to do that were suggested through my Twitter, and also just as general things I want to try but couldn’t because we ran out of time! Which is always a good problem to have, because that means we’ll need to go back!
What To Do In Red Deer / Lacombe County (Day Trip/Weekend Ideas)
The Ellis Bird Farm is home to the world’s largest outdoor collection of bluebird nest boxes. It’s a working farm, and a bird conversation area, open only during the summer (May long to September long weekend). This month, they actually celebrated their 35th year in operation!
At the Ellis Bird Farm, you can walk through their beautiful gardens, learn about their bird conservation efforts, check out all of the cool bird houses (see all the birds flying around!) and dine at their super quaint Ellis Cafe.
The Ellis Cafe (formerly known as The Tea House) is actually the original home of the Ellis family, built in 1907. You can dine out on the patio or inside the vintage home. They serve home-cooked soups, salads, sandwiches and a few other specialty items. The priciest thing in on the menu is $16.50 (the delicious charcuterie board) but most dishes averages out to $10-$12. A really affordable and lovely spot!
We also had a chance to learn about the Ellis Bird Farm from biologist, author, nature photographer (and long-time Ellis Bird Farm employee) Myrna Pearman. Some fun facts: The bird farm is home to the largest number of Mountain Blue Birds and last summer about 13,000 visitors came through (it’s free admission – but they accept donations too!)
Mike’s favourite part of our day trip was our stop at the Troubled Monk Brewery in Red Deer. The Troubled Monk opened in June 2015 and the response was phenomenal. Central Albertans really wanted great craft beer and the Troubled Monk delivers. Mike tried their sampler, which included the Golden Gaetz Golden Ale, Homesteader Saison, Open Road Brown Ale, and Pesky Pig Pale Ale.
The beautiful thing about our visit to Troubled Monk is that I could sample their craft sodas and root beer! I’m not big on beer so this was such a refreshing alternative (their root beer is great!) and it even came in their beer sampler boards so I felt super included lol. We also nibbled on sausage from the Red Deer Viva Deli and cheese from Sylvan Star and Mike went home with a few cans of the Open Road Brown Ale he liked it so much.
We got a tour of the brewery from Steven, who was super friendly and so knowledgable. You can request a tour any day, but they also have scheduled tours at 6 p.m. on Fridays. He walked us through their 15 barrel brew house, sharing insights about the brewing process (which uses 4 main ingredients – malt barley, hops, yeast and water).
He also talked about how they’ve been steadily expanding since opening (because of that great response/demand!) Coming soon: sour craft beer!
Since we only went for a day trip, we didn’t have a lot of time to check out the Red Deer/Lacombe food scene – though I’m told that it is quite a scene and definitely worth coming back to try. Initially I had wanted to try the Red Boar Smokery for one of the best BBQs in Canada (they’ve got the awards to prove it). But they’re closed Sundays (which is when we went!) Las Palmeras Mexican Restaurant was also on my list of places to try for a little fiesta, but we ended up taking Tourism Red Deer’s suggestion of Boulevard Restaurant in the Holiday Inn (Red Deer’s top-rated restaurant on Trip Advisor).
It was a great meal. We had a tasty cauliflower appetizer and for our mains, Mike had a delicious bison rib eye with saskatoon berry gastrique and I had a half jerk chicken with fruit salsa on grain pilaf). I definitely wish we had more time (/more meals in a day) to try and visit Red Deer’s other great dining spots.
Check out Tourism Red Deer’s dining suggestions here! And some other ones I got recommended from Twitter include: Old Mexico Taco Buffet, To The Lost, and of course the popular Donut Mill (in Gasoline Alley). Also on our list to try: Cilantro and Chive in Lacombe.
We didn’t get a chance to explore Red Deer by foot because of some afternoon thunderstorms, but we were able to stop into Dose Coffee Co., a specialty cafe in Red Deer serving coffee from some of the word’s best roasters. Ideally we would’ve grabbed a cup and strolled around downtown Red Deer, had the weather not taken such a turn. I had spotted some Instagrammable Walls (you know how I feel about IG Walls!) around Dose that would’ve made for some great photo spots if it hadn’t been raining when we went!
The weather wasn’t cooperating enough for us to do this but the Bower Ponds Recreation area came highly recommended as a must-do in Red Deer. In the summer – paddle boats, canoes and kayaks, water balls. In the winter, ice skates and sleds. There’s also board games, food trucks and it looks like this is a popular spot for summer festivals! Looks like a great place to spend the day.
6. Get lost at Kraay Family Farm
We have a great corn maze in Edmonton (this year they partnered with BioWare for their design!) but the Kraay Family Farm in Lacombe is definitely worth a visit. This year’s design celebrates our country’s 150th birthday. Fun fact: a few years ago they made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the world’s largest QR code (as a maze design!)
We have some incredible food producers in our province. There’s a few in the Red Deer/Lacombe area that you should definitely visit and purchase from including Sylvan Star Cheese, Edgar Asparagus Farms. Every Sunday from June to October there’s also farm festivities and pony/horse rides at the Flying Cross Ranch. (Check out even more Central Alberta farms on Alberta Open Farm Days’ website!)
Speaking of horseback riding, date night at the Heritage Ranch was initially on our itinerary and although it didn’t pan out for us this time, it’s definitely something I’ve asked Mike to keep in mind for a romantic surprise down the road (lol yes it still counts as a surprise if I make a note about it to him!) The Heritage Range is known as the “Jewel of Red Deer” and offers a few packages for a romantic country evening out that includes horse-drawn carriage rides and chef’s table at the on-site restaurant.
Visit Red Deer
Mike and I had a lovely day trip to Red Deer and there’s so many more things I want to come back to do. Hope you take some of my suggestions and visit Red Deer / Lacombe County. Let me know if you do (and where you end up going!)
Disclaimer: I will always provide my 100% honest opinion on this blog. I visited some of the stops suggested in this post as a media guest through Tourism Red Deer. This does not impact the opinions stated in this post. Central Alberta is pretty awesome! ;)