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The local indigenous Cree people named the Red Deer River, after which the city is named, Waskasoo Seepee, or Elk River, the elk sometimes being called a “red deer” in the past. Today, just over 100,000 Red Deerians call the city, which lies at the heart of Central Alberta’s aspen parkland zone, home.
Red Deer was the historical location of a shallow portion in the Red Deer River where travelers could cross from southern to northern Alberta. Later, Fort Normandeau was built on this spot, a few kilometers west and upstream from the modern city.
Like many Albertans past and present, I’ve always seen Red Deer as a logical place to stop, fil up on gas, and grab a bite to eat on road trips from Edmonton to Calgary or Banff. Until recently, I’d never strayed beyond “Gasoline Alley”, the row of gas stations and fast food restaurants catering to such passing traffic.
However, I’m writing this article to encourage others to do exactly that. There are in fact loads of fun things to do in Red Deer, from cultural and historical attractions to family-friendly activities and some excellent restaurants.
Thanks to its central location in the province, Red Deer is easily done as a day trip from Edmonton, Calgary, or other towns in Alberta. Using Red Deer as a base, you can also visit numerous farms, some of the best lakes in Alberta, go brewery hopping, and so much more. Red Deer could also be a worthwhile add on to various longer road trip possibilities from Edmonton.
Things to do in Central Red Deer
We begin this tour of Red Deer is the historic city centre.
Explore Downtown Red Deer
While Red Deer is a fairly sprawled out city, the downtown area can easily be explored in a couple hours on foot.
Red Deer’s downtown is encircled by the Red Deer river to the north and west, and the Piper and Waskasoo Creeks to the south and east.
The main one-way thoroughfares of 49th ave and 51st (Gaetz) ave slice through downtown, with the former traveling north and the latter traveling south. The main historic section lies between them, with the most interesting streets found between 47th and 50th streets.
50th street, also known as Ross Street, is particularly pretty and has some of the best restaurants and cafés downtown between Little Gaetz Avenue (50th ave) and 47 ave, including several with patios. Veterans’ Park, near 49 ave, honors local soldiers.
The Downtown Red Deer Market takes places on Little Gaetz Avenue between 48th and 50th streets every Wednesday from 3:30 to 6:30p.m.
I’ll cover several attractions, restaurants, and cafés in the downtown area below. Here’s a more detailed listing of all the downtown Red Deer businesses.
Downtown Dining & Cafés
The highest concentration of places to eat in downtown Red Deer can be found on Ross Street (50th street). The poke bowl I had at JusFruit x OishiDesu really hit the spot. Next door, I finished it off with an unbelievably delicious (and huge!) ice cream at Ross Street Ice Cream co.
On the same street, Tribe serves up a creative mix of international fare done with local ingredients, Occam’s Razor specializes at cocktails, the Velvet Olive Lounge is fun at night, and City Roast Coffee is one of the best cafés in town.
Beyond Ross Street, other tempting choices include Sushi Koon for the best sushi in Red Deer, and Dose Coffee for more excellent coffee.
Fun Fact: Puffed wheat squares were invented in Red Deer, and Red Deer has an official cookie.
See the Flowers in City Hall Park
On the eastern edge of the historic downtown area, Red Deer City Hall Park has well maintained flower gardens in summer. There are picnic tables or lawn space for kicking back. In winter, some of the best Christmas lights and decorations in Red Deer can be seen here.
North of City Hall Park on the other side of 50th street, Red Deer Old Court House is one of the most impressive historic buildings downtown.
Rotary Recreation Park
A short walk southeast of the historic downtown area, Rotary Recreation Park is the largest park in Central Red Deer outside of the river valley and creek systems. The park is home to several historical and recreational attractions.
At the northern end of the park, keep an eye out for the Francis the Pig Statue, a local legend. You can read his full story here.
Also at the northern end of the park, Central Spray & Play (also known as Blue Grass Sod Farm) is the best spray park in Central Red Deer. The water runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. when the weather allows (17°C+ and no lightning).
At the centre of the park, the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery is Red Deer’s premier museum and art gallery. Right next to it, the Red Deer Recreation Centre Pool is the best in town, including a large outdoor pool with high diving boards.
A few steps southeast of the recreation centre, don’t miss the small collection of historic buildings. This includes the sod (earth & grass)-topped Norwegian Laft Hus Society and the oldest school in Red Deer and Central Alberta.
At the southern end of the park is the Red Deer tennis club. Across the street you’ll find the Red Deer Skate Park and huge Kinex Ice Skating Arena and Red Deer Curling Centre.
The Market at Red Deer (Red Deer Farmers’ Market)
Red Deer’s largest and longest running farmers’ market, The Market at Red Deer, takes place every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., from the May long weekend to Thanksgiving.
The 200+ vendors include local produce, tasty treats, craft beers & spirits, art, clothing, crafts, bison meat, toys, and much more.
There’s limited free parking along 43rd street, or a large parking lot ($5) across the street.
Best Breweries in Red Deer
Brewery hopping is one of the delights that locals and visitors alike can enjoy in Red Deer, thanks to the plethora of breweries based in town.
Troubled Monk is Red Deer’s best-known brewery. The brewery is west of downtown in a small industrial area near the Red Deer River.
They’ve got an intimate patio and interior reminiscent of a traditional beer hall. Besides the fine brews on offer, there are some delicious non-alcoholic craft sodas.
Brewing they do, but beer it is not. The brand new Wild Brewing just down the road from Troubled Monk specialized in delicious kombucha tea blends. The patio wasn’t quite built yet when I stopped in to pick up a six-pack, but they said it’s coming soon.
If you need a pick-me-up while in the neighborhood, try Dose Coffee Riverfront near the Red Deer River.
Other Breweries and Brewpubs in Red Deer
Other beer stops to check out in town include Red Hart Brewing and Craft Beer Commonwealth (a pub serving beers from Red Deer and across Central Alberta) in the south of town, as well as Sawback brewing, Belly Hop Brewing, and Something Brewing on the north side.
You can also expect to find several of these breweries represented at the various farrmers markets in Red Deer.
Best Red Deer River Valley & Creek Parks
The best and largest green spaces in Red Deer are found along the River Deer Valley and its tributaries, Piper Creek and Waskasoo Creek.
Waskasoo Creek is a tributary of the Red Deer River. It forms a natural green boundary to the southern and eastern ends of Downtown Red Deer.
From Rotary Recreation Park, you can access the cycling and hiking trails on either side of the creek from various points behind Kinex Arena, or at a number of parks east of downtown, including Barrett Park, Waskasoo Park, Coronation Park or Galbraith Park.
North of downtown where the Waskasoo enters the Red Deer River, Gaetz Park follows the River Deer River.
Fun Fact: All of the Red Deer River Valley and creek parks are collectively known as Waskasoo Park. These include over 110 kilometers of walking and cycling trails. A detailed map of the park can be downloaded here.
Kin Kanyon is another long green stretch south of downtown. It follows Piper Creek until it empties into Waskasoo Creek. The most popular spot is around Kin Canyon Spray Pool, where there’s a fun little fountain for kids, excellent playground, and several picnic and campfire spots.
The Devonian Trail is a loop trail connecting Kin Canyon and Waskasoo Parks, or you can easily do smaller sections of it.
Bower Ponds (Great Chief Park)
One of Red Deer’s most well-known parks, Bower Ponds is located west of downtown, on the western bank of the Red Deer River.
The park centres on a series of connecting ponds with walking trails around them. Paddle boats can be rented from the picturesque brick pavilion, while kids can enjoy the great playground beside the main pond. There are also several recreational facilities on site.
The park is also popular for fishing, and in winter ice skating and tobogganing.
Don’t miss the beautiful heritage building on the shore of the main pond, Cronquist House, constructed by Swedish immigrants in 1912.
Walking trails also connect Bower Ponds to the Great West Adventure Park (a BMX park) to the north, as well as Kiwanis Boat Launch and Picnic Area and Red Deer Golf Club to the south.
A cycling trail follows the Red Deer River from Wikwanis Boat Launch west to Heritage Ranch (see the “Greater Red Deer” section below).
Gaetz Lakes Migratory Bird Sanctuary
A short drive northeast of downtown, on the eastern bank of the Red Deer River, Gaetz Lakes Migratory Bird Sanctuary (open 24 hours) is one of the most beautiful natural oases in town. The 118-hectare park protects an expansive habitat for a variety of birds, plants, and other wildlife.
The bird sanctuary is accessed via the Kerry Wood Nature Centre (open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.), which has an interpretive centre, children’s’ programs, and a small, shady playground. There are also seasonal events for all ages, including pumpkin hunts, easter egg hunts, and wine tastings.
The centre is named after a prolific writer and early warden of the sanctuary.
Walking past the nature centre, you’ll be faced with three paths. Take the middle one for a short walk to an elevated promontory looking over the lakes, which I would highly recommend, especially for visitors with young children. The picturesque promontory offers gorgeous views, and even has special windows cut out lower down for kids, making it one of the best places to visit in Red Deer with kids.
For a longer stroll, take the path to the right, which is the 3.9 km Wishart Trail. The trail does a full look around the two rounded lakes. Budget a full hour to complete the circuit.
McKenzie Trails Park
Following the same road used to access Gaetz Lakes (45 ave) a few minutes further to the north will bring you to McKenzie Trails Park, another green oasis with several walking and cycling trails.
Follow McKenzie Trails Road all the way to the end for access to Red Deer River. This is the perfect spot to finish off a kayaking, canoeing, or river tubing trip through town, which you could start at Fort Normandeau or the area around Heritage Ranch (see more info on both of those below).
Fun Fact: The cycling trail through MacKenzie Trails Park is part of the Trans Canada Trail, a cross-country system of trails that also runs along the Red Deer River and Waskasoo Creek in Red Deer.
Three Mile Bend
Just north of McKenzie Trails Park but on the opposite bank of the river, Three Mile Bend occupies (as the name suggests) the area between a sharp bend in the river.
Three Mile Bend is considered one of the go-to off-leash areas in Red Deer, so expect to encounter lots of dogs here. Even for non-dog owners, there are some beautiful walking and cycling trails, ponds for fishing, and even a freestyle skin jump in winter.
Greater Red Deer Places to Visit
The following Red Deer attractions are located in Red Deer, but outside of the city centre.
Our favorite restaurant in Red Deer is Blanco Cantina on the east side of Red Deer. They do killer tacos and other Mexican fare, with loads of hot sauces (including their house made spicy mayo). They cocktails are especially good, and there’s a long list of specialty tequilas available.
Little Ice Cream & Soda Shoppe
This classic local institution on the east side serves excellent homemade ice cream, sundaes, and more.
Sunnybrook Farm Museum
At the southern end of Kin Kanyon Park, Sunnybrook Farm Museum is a fun place to learn about farming history in Alberta. There are historical buildings on site, all kinds of farming equipment and machinery, a playground for the kids, and several farm animals.
The best time to come is in summer, when costumed interpreters give various demonstrations. Entrance is by donation.
Fort Normandeau is build on the Red Deer River Crossing just west of town, where early indigenous people and travelers from Montana and Calgary crossed the river en route to Fort Edmonton. The original structure dates to 1884, and was once a major crossing point between the north and south until the Edmonton-to -algary railway line was built in 1893.
Besides exploring the historic fort, there’s also a small museum where you can watch a short film introducing the fort’s history. Entrance to the site is by donation.
Fort Normandeau’s boat launch is also a popular spot to start kayaking, canoeing, or tubing rides through red deer.
A short drive north of town, Discovery Canyon is a hot spot for families with kids in summer. There the Riverbend Golf Course has added on a super popular attraction: a tubing run for kids.
Water is diverted from the Red Deer River into a waterfall and tubing creek which feeds into a large play pool and sandy beach. Tubes can be rented for $6, but prepare to wait in a line when they run out at peak times, especially weekend afternoons.
There’s also an excellent playground and lots of picnic space on site. Discovery Canyon is usually open from June to the September long weekend.
Little Red Barn Café & Gift
Take a little drive into the countryside east of town to visit Little Red Barn, a super cute café, restaurant, and shop selling local crafts. It’s a friendly spot supporting local everything.
Try to come in July when the canola on surrounded farms turns the fields bright yellow.
Fun Stops along Highway 2 & Gasoline Alley
Even if you’re just passing through on the way to Edmonton or Calgary, there are a few fun stops right on the highway. Gasoline Alley is the typical halfway stopping point between the latter two cities for filling up on gas and treats, and is adjacent to the southern end of town.
Alberta Sports Hall of Fame
Right on Highway 2, but 10 minutes north of Gasoline Alley, on the eastern (Red Deer) side of the highway, the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame is a surprisingly fun and interactive museum dedicated to sports.
Besides the Hall of Fame room honoring the province’s many successful athletes and several themed rooms, there are various hands-on activities, like rock climbing, throwing balls to test your speed, wheelchair challenge, selfie station, and more.
With kids, this would make for a fun stop to get some energy out on a long drive.
Entrance is $7 for adults of $15 for the whole family. The museum shares the building with Tourism Red Deer‘s Visitor Centre, so you can also pick up a local map or get travel advice.
A two-minute drive in from the Alberta Sports Museum, Heritage Ranch is one of Red Deer’s star attraction.
This working ranch covers 217 acres of wildland next to the Red Deer River. They offer sleigh rides, horseback riding, and more creative options such as a date night. The latter includes a private 30-minute sleigh ride along a trail lit with 20,000 lights, a five-course gourmet dinner with wine, a long stem rose, and a box of chocolates.
Westlake Grill on site is considered one of the best and most atmospheric restaurants in town.
A walking and cycling trail beginning here also descends into the Red Deer River Valley to the Riverlands Pedestrian Bridge.
Gasoline Alley Farmers’ Market
Gasoline Alley Now has a market of it’s own, making it even easier for those passing by on the highway to stop and pick up some locally made produce, beers/fruit wines/meads, meats, artworks, and so much more.
The market is open year-round from Friday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. See the market’s official site for a full list of the vendors.
The Donut Mill
Ever since I was a kid, we considered the Donut Mill in Gasoline Alley to be an essential stop on road trips from Edmonton to Calgary or Banff.
They’ve got an impressive selection of tempting donuts. Watch for the huge windmill.
Peter’s Drive In
A branch of Peter’s Drive-In, Calgary’s most famous drive in, which dates to 1964, was set up in Gasoline Alley in 2015.
Come here for good old fashioned fast food and loads of milkshake flavors to choose from (you can even mix up to three flavors). Be careful; the milkshakes only come in one size, and it’s huge!
Bedford Food Company
If you’re willing to drive a few minutes into town from Gasoline Alley, Bedford Food Company does awesome poutine, with several unique variations on the menu. They’ve also got donairs, bowls, milkshakes, local beers, and more.
We enjoyed out pyrogy poutine, but the real star was the French toast poutine: slices of deep fried French toast with cubes of cheesecake, doused in maple syrup.
Day Trips from Red Deer
Red Deer is well position in the center of Alberta to visit countless fascinating sights in all directions.
The following Red Deer day trips are all located within an hour of Red Deer, and this is not even including all the things to do in Edmonton and Calgary, both under two hours away, or the beautiful mountains and lakes of Banff, lakes of Kananaskis & Canmore, and lakes of Jasper National Park to the west of Red Deer.
In winter, don’t miss the unique spectacle of frozen ice bubbles at Abraham Lake!
Canyon Ski Resort
Skiing in the prairies? Red Deer’s got it! Canyon Ski Resort is only 15 minutes east of town in the Red Deer River Valley. It is billed as Alberta’s largest ski resort outside of the mountains, with a total of 23 runs.
Blackfalds Abbey Centre
Abbey Centre in Blackfalds, a town just 10 minutes north of Red Deer, has an awesome indoor jungle gym and outdoor swimming pool with slides. A must visit with kids.
One of Alberta’s most famous lakes (once known for its now-retired waterpark) is only 20 minutes’ drive west of Red Deer.
Come to spend on day on the beach, stroll past the lighthouse, or visit the excellent Snake Lake Brewing Company in town.
On the way, consider stopping in at Sylvan Star Cheese, a cheese factory specializing in gouda and other fine cheeses. Note that it is closed on Sundays.
Only 20 minutes north of Red Deer, Lacombe is a growing destination in its own right. With a super cute historic town centre, excellent restaurants such as Cilantro & Chive (note: there’s also a branch in Red Deer), and one of Alberta’s best breweries (Blindman), this town has a lot going for it.
The next two attractions are also located just outside of Lacombe.
Another great lake within short reach of Red Deer is Gull Lake. There are several campgrounds and RV parks on the lake, including Brewers Campground and Aspen Beach Lakeview Campground in Aspen Beach Provincial Park, at the southern end of the lake.
Gull Lake is a straight shot west of Lacombe.
Kraay Family Farm
Come to Kraay Family Farm for all kinds of fun, including an impressive corn maze, mini golf, a huge jumping pillow, and various farm-related activities.
The farm is just west of town, on the way to Gull Lake.
Ellis Bird Farm
For a chance to see wild mountain bluebirds, head to Ellis Bird Farm 25 minutes northeast of Red Deer. The farm is run by a non-profit organization aiming to conserve local birds and wildlife.
Entrance is free if you just want to take a stroll for bird watching. There are also various programs on offer. The farm is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Mondays.
Ol’ Macdonald’s Resort & Campground
Buffalo Lake, less than an hour northeast of Red Deer, is home to Ol’ Macdonald’s Resort, one of the most family-friendly private campgrounds in Alberta. We used to always camp here when I was a kid. They’ve got farm animals, candy & ice cream stores, a merry-go-round, an arcade & theater, bike rentals, and more.
Saskatoons Red Deer
You can pick your own saskatoon berries at Saskatoons Red Deer 10 minutes east of town. The cost is $16 per ice cream pail. They open in mid-July, and the best time to come is August.
Stettler Historic Train Ride
An hour’s drive due east from Red Deer will bring you to Stettler, a historic town that is home to the Stettler Town & Country Museum, and starting point for taking a ride on the Alberta Prairie Railway.
The Jungle Farm
Heading south of town, it’s a 20-minute drive to The Jungle Farm, another farm-themed attraction with strawberry U-picking, a greenhouse, and a general store in a 1940s red barn. They’re open Monday to Saturday, 10-6.
Innisfail, the next main town south of Red Deer, is home to two family-friendly attractions: the Discovery Wildlife Park & Campground (which features the world’s largest animated bear, one of the great Giants of the Alberta prairies) and DINOS Centre.
Eagle Creek Farms & Bowden Sun Maze
More Ideas for Activities in Red Deer
- Lion’s Campground: You can camp right in the city centre along the Red Deer River at this campground.
- St. Mary’s Catholic Church: one of the most beautiful structures in town, located on the east side.
- Mud Hero is Canada’s largest mud obstacle race. It features a 13 km course with more than 24 obstacles. The event takes place in mid-July at Heritage Ranch.
- Rent a Stand-Up Paddleboard from Mountain Surf Co. for use one on of Red Deer’s many ponds, rivers, or nearby lakes.
- Red Deer Mountain Bike Park: On the northern edge of town, this is a network of wooden paths and forest trails for mountain biking and fat biking.
- Solorzano Spa Cafe & Wine bar: enjoy charcuterie & a glass of wine while getting a spa treatment in a historic home.
- Go golfing at Riverbend Golf & Recreation Area, Red Deer Golf & Country Club, or several other golf courses in and around town
- Try to find your way out of Lockdown Escape Rooms Red Deer
- Go paintballing at Outcast Society Paintball Field east of town or Sylvan Lake Paintball west of town.
Well, that brings us to the end of my Red Deer travel guide. I hope you’ve found more than enough ideas for fun things to do in Red Deer, Alberta. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below!