Exploring Medicine Hat, Alberta is a must when visiting the Canadian Badlands. Located about 3 hours from Calgary on the #1 Highway, the city is home to roughly 63 000 people and is full of culture, beautiful nature, and history. Plus, the city is known for being one of the sunniest cities in Canada.
I lived in Medicine Hat for a year from May 2018 – May 2019 after I accepted a contract position as Promotions Manager at two local radio stations — 105.3 ROCK and 102.1 CJCY. My time working at the stations gave me to get a birds-eye view on all the major events going on around town and allowed me to meet so many great locals. I was constantly in awe of the people I met in the city — their passion for arts and culture was totally inspiring.
And you know, being me, I also made a point to constantly get out and check out all the city had to offer. I wanted to know the best hotspots, the best day trips, and the greatest hiking trails in the area.
So, from a local’s perspective, here are my favorite, and most unique, things to do in Medicine Hat, Alberta!
The 16 Most Unique Things to do in Medicine Hat, Alberta
Watch a Movie at the Monarch Theatre
Catching a film at the historic Monarch Theatre on 2nd street was my number one favorite activity during my year in the Hat. Having opened its doors in 1911, The Monarch Theatre was one of the first theatres in the country that showed films on opening night and is the oldest still-operating movie theatre in Western Canada. The building has gone through a couple of renovation periods, but the old-timey atmosphere inside the monarch is still very present.
The theatre shows movies a few nights a week, often at a discounted rate (of course, all their rates are discounted as compared to the big chains). Along with some of the big blockbusters, I loved that the Monarch often shows small indie flicks that you might not have heard of otherwise.
Attend a Festival
Part of my role as Promotions Manager at the two radio stations was working with local businesses and initiatives (via the sales team) to get their events blasted out onto the interwebs and radiowaves. In this, I had the opportunity to work with a lot of great local festivals, some of my favorites being Heliocity Music Festival (punk/rock), Tongue On The Post Folk Festival, JazzFest, and Spectrum — each of these tend to happen in the spring/summer months, so keep an eye out for dates.
Also, Medicine Hat has historically hosted the Banff Mountian Film Festival on their tour every year. This typically happens every winter, which is the perfect time to snuggle up in a movie theatre and take in the best of new short films and documentaries.
Check out the Petting Zoo at Windmill Garden Center
Admittedly, this activity wasn’t on my radar until my very last weekend in Medicine Hat when one of my best friends and her family came to the city to visit. Having two little kids, we were on the hunt for activities that would be fun for all ages, and the Windmill Garden Center fit the bill.
While the WGC is a greenhouse that sells all kinds of garden-related items, it also features a butterfly sanctuary and a petting zoo. My friends’ kids absolutely loved (slash were a little freaked out by) spending time with the goats and chickens that are cared for on the property.
Shop at the Local Farmer’s Market
Every Saturday morning from May through October you can catch the Medicine Hat Farmer’s Market in the hall at the Stampede Grounds. I always loved attending these markets, as not only are they a great way to meet some local vendors and creatives, but I also loved picking up fresh produce and natural, homemade skin-care products. The markets also feature crafts, jewelry, baking, woodworking, and so much more.
Additionally, every Wednesday afternoon/evening you’ll be able to find a spinoff of MHFM, Market in the Park. In my experience, Market in the Park is a smaller production than the one inside the hall, but a great event to check out nonetheless.
Get Ice Cream at Swirl’s
What I would do to have an ice cream cone from Swirl’s right now. This place was my most-frequented ice-cream joint, especially when friends came to the city to visit and I had a reason to go that wasn’t just my sweet tooth. This place has soft-serve as well as hard ice cream and is legitimately one of the best places I’ve gotten my ice cream fix, like, ever.
Have a Picnic on the Riverfront
One of my favorite Medicine Hat features is the South Saskatchewan River. To experience the river in all its glory, head down to the riverfront with a picnic basket in tow. There’s a lot of green space to do this if you park downtown Medicine Hat near 2nd street and walk across the street.
Attend the Medicine Hat Stampede
Visiting Medicine Hat in July is extra special. Not only are the days extra long and sunny in the summer, but Medicine Hat hosts its very own Stampede. A Stampede is like an exhibition or fair, except there’s more of a rodeo element to it. You can expect all the usual suspects as far as rides go, as well as bands at night (Joan Jett & The Blackhearts played the year I went), chuckwagon races, the aforementioned cows, and so much delicious food. On that note, if you’re craving poutine then definitely get some Pooty’s Poutine — it’s crazy good (I also hear their pickle poutine is to die for, although I don’t like pickles so I can’t confirm).
When I attended the Stampede, I was there as part of the 105.3 ROCK team, handing out t-shirts and taking entries for a giveaway. If you find that booth next year, tell them I sent you!
See Some Live Music
Along with the festivals, there are so many opportunities to see live music in Medicine Hat. The two major music venues here are the Canalta Centre (arena), and the Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre (a 700-seater). In addition to this, you’ll be able to catch some bands at Inspire Cafe & Art Gallery, Local Public Eatery, Liquid Concert and Event Venue, The Silver Buckle, and the Monarch Theatre. Just be sure to look up their upcoming event schedules!
Visit the Medicine Hat Teepee
Ah, the iconic Medicine Hat Teepee. If you know anything about the Hat, then an image of the Teepee is probably what comes to mind — it’s like, what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, the Taj Mahal is to Agra, and the CN Tower is to Toronto. You dig? And it’s impossible to miss, as it’s right on the #1 highway as you roll through town.
Anyway, if you think visiting the Teepee is just a touristy thing you can skip without regret, I’d urge you to reconsider. Not only is there some fabulous local history to be uncovered at the Teepee, but it’s also a great way to honor Canadian and Indigenous heritage while getting some very Medicine Hat-esque photos.
Spend time at Medalta
A non-profit museum, ceramic arts venue, and art gallery, Medalta is the place to go to learn about Medicine Hat’s industrial origins or get your pottery on. I recommend, in addition to checking out the museum, to take a tour here — whether it’s the Medalta Beehive Kilns & Factory Tour (explore the beehive kilns & check out the factory), The Bricks that Built the Badlands (listen to stories from the Medicine Hat Brick and Tile Factory), or Play in the Mud (get hands-on with clay with one of the in-residence artists).
Walk Around Downtown
While so much of Medicine Hat is sprawling industrialism, residential areas, and strip malls, downtown is the place to be to really get the Medicine Hat vibe. My recommendation is to head down to the heart of the city, 2nd street, and check out the mom-and-pop shops, cute restaurants, and artsy cafes. The area has gone through a renaissance in the past decade or so, and many of the beautiful old buildings have been restored to their former glory.
This area is where you’ll find Inspire Cafe, The Monarch Theatre, Local, and so much more.
Visit a Brewery
There are three breweries in Medicine Hat (at the time of writing this), and the only way to find out which one is up your alley is to experience them all! The breweries are Medicine Hat Brew Co., Travois Ale Worx, and Hell’s Basement Brewery.
I loved Travois Ale Worx as it’s right downtown and has great stout options (although the space inside the taproom is limited), while Medicine Hat Brew Co. (although a little out of the way in Brier Park) puts on regular events such as game nights. Hell’s Basement is located in the light industrial area and has a great atmosphere. Also, their root beer is killer.
Hit Up a Hiking Trail
If you’re a hiking fanatic in Medicine Hat, then you’ll love that there are plenty of trails right in town! That’s right — because Medicine Hat is built around a coulee, there are plenty of paths to hit up of all degrees of difficulty. Some of the most popular trails are Ross Glen Coulee Trail, Ajax Coulee Trail, Strathcona Island Park Trail (this one is paved), and Echo Dale Park Loop.
A word for the wise: watch out for rattlesnakes if you’re doing some summertime hiking. Medicine Hat is located in the Canadian Badlands and, as such, there are often rattlers spotted nearby. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for them, and always make sure to step on top of fallen logs, not over, as snakes like to rest against them.
Take a Day Trip
There are so many fabulous day-trips to take from Medicine Hat. If you’re craving a getaway, I recommend hopping in your car and heading to Calgary (3-hour drive, one way), Drumheller (2.5 hours), Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park (2 hours), Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park (1 hour), the Saskatchewan Sandhills (3 hours), or Dinosaur Provincial Park (1.5 hours).
Catch a Medicine Hat Musical Theatre Show
During my time in Medicine Hat, I had the opportunity to catch two plays put on by Medicine Hat Musical Theatre, A Christmas Carol Pantomime, and Mama Mia. Needless to say, I was completely blown away by both productions.
I’ve been a theatre lover since my high school days when I was part of my drama class production, and I always make a point to go and see shows in whatever city I’m living in. So, when I got the chance to go down to The Playhouse and take a gander at what MHMT was all about, I was more than up for it. And they delivered. I was so completely caught up in the great sets, convincing performances, and obvious blood, sweat, and tears that I know go into putting on productions like these.
These plays are a must-see in the Hat!
Go For Patio Drinks
Patio drinks were gospel during my year living in Medicine Hat (in the summer, that is). However, keep in mind that Medicine Hat is very much a chain restaurant kind of town and, as such, many of the best patios are provided by such restaurants. Some of my most frequented ones in Medicine Hat were the patio’s at Local, Earl’s, and DayzOff Pub.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Medicine Hat? Let me know in the comments!