Lacombe's historic flatiron building (photo: Lacombe and District Historical Society)

End the Summer with a Central Alberta Road Trip

By Tracy Hyatt

Surrounded by rolling farmland and sweeping river valleys, central Alberta is a picture-perfect part of the province to explore this fall. Two destinations in particular are ripe for a road trip—on which you’ll find great food, unique history, urban parks and even a few local craft brews.

PAST MEETS PRESENT IN LACOMBE
One of Alberta’s great small towns, Lacombe is known for its inventory of heritage buildings. In the 1980s, while other towns were razing century-old edifices, Lacombe’s urban planners had the foresight to save its stock of Edwardian-era structures.

An easy stroll down 50 Avenue presents one of the best-preserved historic streetscapes in the province, highlighted by a flatiron building erected in 1904 by the Merchants Bank of Canada. The wedge-shaped building is now home to the Flatiron Museum and Interpretive Centre, a must-stop for visitors seeking to discover Lacombe’s history.

Turn the corner onto 49 Street and you’ll find the Blacksmith Shop Museum, Alberta’s oldest operating blacksmithing business. In the summer and fall, you can make an appointment to tour the space. Even the town’s bowling alley, Ambassador Bowling Centre has a nostalgic vibe—many visitors snap photos of its original wood sign hanging outside.

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But the past is past; today the buzz in Lacombe focuses on food. Locavores flock to Cilantro and Chive restaurant for duck wings and juicy burgers. They also frequent Sweet Capone’s for melt-in-your-mouth Italian cannoli in more than a dozen flavours, from vanilla custard cream to double chocolate to toasted coconut. Out-of-towners can also pass some time off the beaten path. In the Wolf Creek Industrial Park, Blindman Brewing’s pocket-sized taproom is one of the central Alberta’s superlative spots for craft beer. Next door, Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery fills an even tinier space with handcrafted spirits, including a single-malt vodka and its barrel spice distilled gin, which is based on a moonshine recipe.

Just outside of Lacombe, stop in at the Lacombe Corn Maze at Kraay Family Farm. The six-hectare property is famous for its labyrinth, but it also boasts 40-plus attractions, including a pumpkin cannon, grain train, jumping pillows and adventure course.

central alberta road trip red deer jazz festival
Street beats in downtown Red Deer

MUCH ADO IN RED DEER
The stereotypes that tend to plague small cities (“There’s nothing to do!” “The restaurants are all the same!”) definitely do not apply to Red Deer. In recent years, the downtown core has been praised for its street art, outdoor patios, craft beer and lively restaurant scene that unites Red Deer’s diverse citizens.

The most visible sign of this revitalization is Art Alley, a collaborative project that showcases murals by nine local artists. Poke your head behind the John Howard Society building on 50 Street for a peek at several of the colourful, oversized pieces of wall art. The Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery is similarly eye-catching, thanks to its varied collection of historical artifacts plus the many travelling exhibitions it hosts. This fall, check out “Keepsakes of Conflict,” a showcase of Canadian craft related to war.

After a feast for the eyes, it’s time to feed the belly. Red Deer’s food-and-drink scene is bolstered by newcomers like To the Lost, Dose Coffee Co., Hudsons Canada’s Pub and Red Boar Smokery. How good is the barbecue at Red Boar? Order the 18-hour smoked beef brisket and find out! The massive sticky meat platter is large enough to satisfy a starving brood.

Outside of the core you’ll come across Wild Brewing Co., Canada’s first kombucha taphouse, where you can bliss out with a cup of trendy fermented tea. Around the corner there’s another type of brew: beer, courtesy of Troubled Monk Brewery. Visit the taproom or get a growler fill of its award-winning Open Road American brown ale or Pesky Pig pale ale.

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It may not be obvious to the thousands of commuters who drive through Red Deer every day, but mere minutes from the QE2 lies a huge urban green space known as Waskasoo Park. Explore the vast space via the 100-kilometre network of trails that bisects Red Deer. Its eastern section is highlighted by Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary, which has been instrumental in conserving parkland in Red Deer: 118 hectares gained protection in 1924 as a federal migratory bird sanctuary.

A fall visit to the preserve offers ample bird-sighting opportunities for amateur ornithologists. There are multiple lookout points along the serene Dr. George Trail or longer Wishart Trail. Borrow a set of binoculars from the park’s Kerry Wood Nature Centre to get an up-close view of the many species of birds that rest here on their way south.

For a livelier outing, visit Heritage Ranch, at the west side of Waskasoo Park. From there, you can explore the landscape on horseback or in a horse-drawn carriage. In winter, book a two-hour guided snowshoe tour of the trails behind the ranch with local outfitter Pursuit Adventures. The evening excursion ends with beer and chicken wings back at the ranch’s Westlake Grill. Powder hounds, take note: Red Deer is also home to Canyon Ski Resort, the largest non-mountain skiing spot in Alberta.

central alberta road trip food kombucha burger
Fresh eats at Lacombe’s Cilantro and Chive; Wild Brewing Co.’s kombucha in Red Deer

HOW TO SAVE
Show your card at these AMA partners in Central Alberta: You’ll save more than $50.

Hudsons Canada’s Pub: Save 15% on all regular-price food and beverages
Two adults save $7.50 on a $50 bill

Best Western Plus Red Deer Inn & Suites: Save 10% on more on your booking
Save up to $40 on a one-night stay

Reloadable Esso Card: Earn 2% in reward dollars on the card’s purchase amount, plus another 2% when you pay with your CAA Rewards Mastercard
Earn $4 in reward dollars on a $100 card