The third largest city in Alberta, Red Deer sits midway between Calgary and Edmonton amongst the rolling hills of the aspen parklands. The city is a major centre for oil distribution, as well as being a place that is filled with history and culture. In fact, in 2003 the Department of Canadian Heritage pegged it as the Cultural Capital of Canada
Red Deer has something for everyone, from indoor arts and entertainment to outdoor fun. Whether you are a lover of sports, nature, shopping or food, you will find plenty of things to keep you occupied while visiting the beautiful city. These are the 15 best things to do in Red Deer.
1. Surround yourself in nature
This can be done at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre; a nature centre that sits along the south bank of the Red Deer River. The area is open throughout the entire year, providing visitors with stunning scenery no matter what time of the year you visit.
One of the nature centre’s main draws is its five kilometre trail system that runs through a 118 hectare protected bird sanctuary. View migratory birds while strolling along the trail, or from its various viewing decks.
The Kerry Wood Nature Centre is also a hands-on centre that has exhibits showcasing the area’s natural history. There’s also a music garden that features numerous outdoor instruments where visitors can make some beautiful music together.
2. Go fishing
Or canoeing, ice skating, kayaking or cycling. There’s even a board game café at Bower Ponds; a recreation centre that sits along the Red Deer River.
Visit in the winter and lace up a pair of ice skates and skate on the frozen water, or hire a sled to pull the kids on. Come to the city in the summer and enjoy water sports like kayaking, canoeing or paddle boarding, or walk on the water in a water ball.
Don’t want to get wet? Then head to the board game café where there are over 225 games to enjoy, including classics like Battleship, Scrabble, Jenga, Trouble and Monopoly.
3. Wander around a fort
Fort Normandeau is more than just a fort. It’s also a part of the city’s rich cultural history and the birthplace of Red Deer as we know it today.
The fort was once the gateway between northern and southern Alberta, and was known as the safest spot to cross the river. In 1884, a stopping house was built, and one year later it was fortified by the 65th Mount Royal Rifles.
Today, Fort Normandeau is a park and an interpretive centre that offers exhibits on the natural and human history of the city. It also houses a boat launch that visitors can use as a starting point for canoeing along the river.
4. Learn about Alberta sports celebrities
Sports enthusiasts should not miss the chance to visit the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame to learn all about Alberta’s top sports celebrities. The museum was created by the Alberta Amateur Athletic Union in 1957, with its first inductees being boxers Charles Cheesman, Wilf Greaves and Hugh Sloan.
In 1997 the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum Society took over and made it was it is today. The museum is filled with sport’s archives. Including a poster of the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, limited edition prints of hockey great Wayne Gretzky and the 1995 Canada Winter Games Torch.
In addition to sports memorabilia, the museum also features interactive games, an ice and snow gallery, an art gallery and a gallery dedicated to hockey. There’s also, of course, the hall of fame gallery, which showcases the amazing teams and sports celebrities hailing from Alberta.
5. Stare at art
If you want to delve more into Red Deer’s history then head to the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery; locally known as the MAG. The MAG’s collection documents the history and culture of the city through textiles, archaeological artefacts, agricultural equipment and art by local artisans.
Wander around the gallery and stare at its permanent collection; Remarkable Red Deer: Stories from the Heart of the Parkland. The gallery also has special exhibitions that run throughout the year.
In addition to being a museum and art gallery, the MAG is also an education centre that offers programs for people of all ages. Bring the kids to have fun creating art on a Saturday afternoon, visit yourself on a Tuesday morning or check their schedule for an adult evening course with a local artist.
6. Meet farm animals
Meet chickens, goats, pigs, sheep, rabbits, donkeys and more at the Sunnybrook Farm Museum. You can also learn all about the evolution of rural life in Central Alberta at this four hectare historic farm and museum.
Go on a self-guided or guided tour of the city’s oldest farm and jump back to what life was like in Red Deer and the rest of Central Alberta between 1880 and 1950. See how pioneer families ran a farm, from working the fields to baking bread.
Staff at Sunnybrook Farm Museum even dress in period clothing to really make visitors feel like they are at a historic working farm. Don’t forget to check their schedule for special events like the ‘Ladies of Sunnybrook Farm Pie Sale’, ‘Fall Turkey Supper’ and ‘Pioneer Days Festival’.
7. Hit the slopes
Just nine kilometres east of Red Deer on the banks of the Red Deer River is the 32 hectare Canyon Ski Resort. Hit the slopes during the winter months and ski in one of Canada’s first ever ski resorts.
The resort is not located in the mountains, but in the hills, and was one of the first Canadian ski hills to use artificial snow-making equipment. In fact, the Canadian National Ski team has used Canyon Ski Resort for training since the 1960s.
The resort features 22 runs, 6 lift systems and a snow tube park, as well as boasting a snowboard terrain park. There’s also a lodge, a cafeteria, a cosy lounge and a pro shop.
8. Go to the rodeo
Not just any rodeo; but the famous Calgary Stampede. This 10-day festival takes place every year in nearby Calgary, and is a must for anyone visiting Red Deer in July.
The stampede started as an exhibition in 1886 and became a rodeo in 1916. Since then, it’s grown to be one of the largest stampedes in the world, attracting over one million people each year!
Today, the event is so large that it’s held in 12 different venues across Calgary and brings in big name talent like Tim McGraw, the Zac Brown Band, Garth Brooks and the Beach Boys. It features numerous events, including a parade, a derby, a midway, a market and, of course, a rodeo.
9. Head to the market
Red Deer’s first ever public market was started in 1906 where City Hall Park sits today. The Saturday morning market has rapidly grown since then.
The market opens every year on the May long weekend and runs right until Thanksgiving, and is a must for anyone visiting the city during these months. In fact, there’s no reasons not to go, and many things to draw anyone of any age there.
The Red Deer Market is filled with local venders selling everything from fresh produce to clothing. Walk around the outdoor market and devour mini-donuts, homemade sweets or locally made beef jerky, amongst other things.
10. Taste local beer
Troubled Monk is the Red Deer local craft brewery and distillery to visit if you want to taste delicious local craft beer. The brewery uses predominately locally grown malts to create some award-winning beers.
Visit the brewery’s taproom and enjoy some of its best beers, like Golden Gaetz Golden Ale, Pesky Pig Pale Ale, Brut of All Evil Brut IPA or Rebels Red Ale. Talk to the experts and learn all about how each beer is made, with or without a brewery tour.
Even non-beer drinkers can have a blast at the Troubled Monk, as they also make vodka and hard iced tea. They even brew ginger ale and root beer made with Alberta beet sugar.
11. Enjoy an event
Red Deer hosts many of them throughout the year, ranging from marathons to musical performances. But its signature annual events are the ones not to be missed to get into the spirit of the local community.
Of all of the city’s events, Centrefest is arguably the best of the best, which is a street performer festival. Buskers come from all over the globe to display their talent in front of event goers every year at the end of July.
No matter what age you are, there is a street performance that will catch your eye; be it a unicycle rider, a magician, a stilt walker or a clown. On top of that, there is a food, face painting, live music and more.
12. Walk along trails
McKenzie Trails Recreation Area is a trail system that’s located within Waskasoo Park in northeast Red Deer. The trails runs along the Red Deer River, lined with spruce trees and greenery.
Once the site of a sawmill, a gravel pit and a dump, today the recreation area is home to some lovely paved trails that offer visitors the chance to spend a day amongst nature. In fact, it’s a nesting area for Canada geese.
There are paved paths and picnic areas within the McKenzie Trails Recreation Area, as well as a canoe launch for canoeing along the river. The area is open every day from dawn until dusk and can be accessed from 55 Street.
13. Try your luck at a casino
There are two in the city; Cash Casino Red Deer and Jackpot Casino, with the latter being located right in downtown Red Deer. Both are a great place to spend some time if you want to try your luck at a casino.
Cash Casino Red Deer is a 24-hour casino that can be found in the northwest part of the city. It features over 500 slot machines, blackjack, roulette, baccarat and a poker room, in addition to many other tables.
Jackpot Casino is a lively place with over 300 slot machines, Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em, roulette, blackjack and baccarat. It’s also home to a lounge that serves delicious western and Asian cuisine.
14. Head to the mountains
No visit to Red Deer is complete without heading to the Banff National Park. This is the oldest national park in all of Canada and part of the spectacular Rocky Mountains.
The park is home to glaciers, ice fields, dense forests and stunning alpine landscapes, with access from the city being via Banff. Banff is the main commercial area of the national park and happens to be the second highest community in all of Alberta.
Here, visitors can go skiing, snowboarding, hiking, biking and climbing. There are also many attractions in Banff, including the Banff Upper Hot Springs, Banff Park Museum and the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which goes all the way to New Mexico!
15. Splash around
If you’re visiting in the summer with your kids, splash around at the Blue Grass Sod Farm Central Spray & Play. The waterpark can be found at the north end of Rotary Recreation Park in downtown Red Deer.
The waterpark is an area of fun that features a spray, splash and play area where you can cool off on a hot summer day. The entire place has a railway and river theme, focusing on the city’s rich history.
All of the water here is treated to ensure the safety of everyone that visits. Plus, there are picnic areas, seating areas and trails, as well as change room facilities.