Nestled between the prairies and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the welcoming small town of Sundre is an awesome base for an outdoorsy getaway.
Surrounded by green space, bisected by the Red Deer River and only a short drive away from pristine wilderness, there’s plenty to keep you busy in and around the town. Think horseback riding, hiking, biking, off-roading and more!
Worried that a small town can’t deliver in amenities? Sundre is not to be underestimated! As I’ll detail in this post, this small town has everything you need for an extended stay.
And just to add to that, the people of Sundre are some of the kindest folks you’ll ever meet. You’ll want for nothing here!
Read on to discover all of the best things to do in Sundre, Alberta, and the wider West Country area. I hope it convince you to put Sundre on your radar and help you plan a fun, outdoors focused getaway to this underrated Albertan town!
- Best things to do in Sundre
- Join a Medicine Walk
- Explore the Snake Hill Recreation Area by bike or foot
- Go horseback riding with Sunset Guiding & Outfitters
- Visit the Bergen Rocks International Sculpture Park
- Hike the trails along the Red Deer River
- Go off-roading in the foothills
- Enjoy a flight of craft beers at Cedar’s Pub
- Hit the links at Sundre Golf Course
- Meet wild horses at the Wild Horses of Alberta Society
- Browse local artisan products at the Farmhouse Market
- Visit the Sundre Pioneer Village Museum & World of Wildlife
- Where to stay
- Where to eat
This post is in partnership with Tourism Sundre. We were hosted for three nights in the region in August/September 2021. All opinions remain our own – we really enjoyed our time in Sundre and are considering return in 2022!
A quick introduction to Sundre
Sundre is a small town, pop. 2800, located about 100km north-west of Calgary, Alberta in Mountain View County. The drive from the city takes less than 90 minutes, which is why the area it is a popular (especially post-2020) weekend destination for some Calgarians.
The land around Sundre was used for centuries by the Cree, Tsuu T’ina and Blackfoot. The bison were a big attraction, but the Red Deer River also provided easy transport. Later, Métis began to live in the area as well.
Ranching families started to arrive to the area in the late 1800’s, attracted by the grasslands and relatively mild weather. Sundre remains on the ‘The Cowboy Trail’ today.
The name of the town, in case you were curious, comes from ‘Sondre,’ which means south in Norwegian. The first postmaster, Nels Hagen, needed a name to register the post office in 1909 so he used his own hometown.
Ranching remains one of the main local industries today, along with forestry, agriculture and petroleum.
Tourism is growing and for good reason! Sundre is the gateway to Alberta’s West Country, a vast wilderness area bordering the Rockies. Mountains, forest and rivers all combine to form a gorgeous rolling landscape, without the crowds found on the other side of the peaks.
Best things to do in Sundre, Alberta
For a relatively small town, I think you’ll be surprised how much there is to do in and around Sundre. I’d recommend spending some within the town itself and then using it as a base or launching point to explore the wider West Country area.
So without further ado, here’s our list of the best things to do in Sundre, Alberta, as tried and tested by us!
Looking for even more ideas? Check out Tourism Sundre’s website ExploreSundre.com
Join a Medicine Walk
JR and I spend a lot of time outdoors but I’m embarrassed to say that I know little about the plants and trees around us. Enter Mahikan Trails, who offer the opportunity to join an indigenous guide on a nature walk to learn about historical plant medicines.
According to our guide Jordan (Cree-Iroquois), plants are given descriptions rather than names. This certainly makes more sense to me!
We learned about buffalo berries (loved by bears), strawberry leaf (good for relieving constipation), wolf willow (seeds used for beads, inner bark fibers for string), pine sap (for sore throats).
Our medicine walk was 1.5 hours long, traversing about 1km of trail. It included a herbal tea break at the river and plenty of stops to discuss plants and trees along the way.
This experience was a definite highlight of our trip to Sundre and I’d highly recommend it. In addition to medicine walks like this one, Mahikan Trails also run ‘Make Your Own Medicine’ workshops and First Aid courses.
Explore the Snake Hill Recreation Area by bike or foot
Snake Hill Receation Area lies just a minute north of Sundre’s Main Avenue and is home to 17km of multi-use trails. Open year round, it’s possible to hike, bike, snowshoe and even cross-country ski here!
The trails are well maintained and marked with regular maps. It’s a real choose-your-own adventure place, with many loops and intersecting routes.
JR hit the trails on a fat bike, rented from Katie Jo’s Ride n Glide Bike and Ski Rentals (located just down the road from Snake Hill). Fat bikes offer excellent all-terrain performance and can be used in both winter and summer.
While enjoying the trails, JR and guide Brian were lucky to spot as many as three (!!) moose. Though not far away, I did not bump into any of them while hiking to a spectacular lookout spot on the Hill’s southern side.
Go horseback riding with Sunset Guiding & Outfitters
Horseback riding is an iconic Alberta activity and the West Country is an awesome place to do it!
Sunset Guiding & Outfitting sits at the confluence of the Red Deer and Panther Rivers, about a 50 minute drive west of Sundre. It’s an exceptionally peaceful location, with the foothills of the Rockies rising over the rushing water of the river.
Our two hour long trail ride led us through the forest, across the river and up to a beautiful lookout before looping back to base. We didn’t see a single soul outside of our riding group so it was just us, the horses and pristine nature.
Sunset Guiding offer trail rides up to six hours in length, with full day and overnight experiences also available. No experience is necessary – just a pair of closed toe shoes! Our guide Merle was a real gem and also incredibly patient.
Visit the Bergen Rocks International Sculpture Park
One of the most unique things to do in Sundre is to visit the Bergen Rocks Sculpture Park.
Owner Morton Burke hosted the first Bergen Rocks symposium in 2008, inviting and funding five artists from around the world to his acreage with the aim of creating public art.
Today, the three acre property is home to a dozen unique sculptures, with more found in the nearby communities of Olds and Sylvan Lake.
The park is open daily (donations are welcome) or you can call ahead and arrange a personal tour with Morton. If you’re lucky, you may get to see sculptors at work, like we did!
Hike the trails along the Red Deer River
Snake Hill isn’t the only place to walk or hike in Sundre. There are a number of trails which follow the beautiful Red Deer River.
The longest is found in the northern end of town, with a popular trailhead located at the corner of Centre St N and 2nd Ave NE. The path winds its way along the river, weaving in and out of the bordering forest.
Go off-roading in the foothills
Sundre is the gateway to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Head west out of town and you’ll find yourself surrounded by boundless crown land, with adventure in every direction. One of the easiest ways to explore is with an off-road vehicle (ORV).
Mountain’s Edge Cycle & Sled rent and demo premium ATVs and Side x Sides. Owners Phil and Laurel took us out to the West Country to showcase their backyard.
And what a playground! With steep hills, shale, muskeg (bog) and plenty of mud, the terrain is ideal for motorized exploration.
There’s plenty of beauty too. We headed up to Limestone Mountain for what would have been an epic view of the Rockies, but the snow had other ideas! We did, however, get to see some magnificent wild horses shortly after, which more than made up for the white out.
Try a flight of craft beers at Cedar’s Pub
Sundre may not have a brewery (at least, not yet!) but it’s still possible to enjoy a flight of craft beers while in town.
Cedar’s Pub, a cosy yet happening spot on Main Ave, has a large range of beers on tap with the option to try four tasters at a time. There’s a little something for everyone here, with a great choice of IPAs, dark beers (including stouts), wheat ales and fruit/sour varieties (my personal favourite).
Open late throughout the week, Cedar’s also hosts happy hour from Monday to Friday 3-6pm. Thanks to the pandemic (there are some positives!), there’s also a sizeable patio out back for drinks on a sunny day.
Hit the links at Sundre Golf Course
Golf fans are spoiled in Sundre, with half a dozen courses within a short drive.
As well as being the most convenient, Sundre Golf Club is also one of the highest rated in the area. It has the same owners as the legendary Greywolf Golf Course in Panorama, BC.
While not the most avid of golfers, we definitely appreciated the beauty and construction of the lush course, which is lined by mature trees. The vibe isn’t pretentious at all, with the staff exceptionally welcoming.
As well as the 18 hole course, there’s a driving range and practice area.
If golfing is one of your priorities, I’d recommend booking a ‘Stay and Play’ package, which includes accommodation at nearby Mountain View Inn & Suites.
Meet wild horses at the Wild Horses of Alberta Society
There are more than 2000 wild horses roaming the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, with the highest population found in the area west of Sundre.
The Wild Horses of Alberta Society rescues abandoned, injured and at-risk wild horses and cares for them on a 100 acre site near Sundre. Volunteers work slowly and carefully to gain the trust of the horses to then rehabilitate them for adoption.
Tours are given of the rescue facility and include an introduction to the current horses-in-training plus a crash course into all things wild horses. The finale of the visit is a trip to see the ‘resident’ herd that roams around the property. It’s definitely a magical, one-of-a-kind experience.
Be sure to call first to book an appointment. There is no admission fee but a donation would be much appreciated. The Wild Horses of Alberta Society does not receive any government support at this time and the facility is run entirely by volunteers.
Browse local artisan products at the Farmhouse Market
The Farmhouse Market is a hidden gem of a store, just off Sundre’s main drag. This locally owned and operated boutique curates local produce and artisan products, with a focus on quality and sustainability.
Think locally grown fruit and veg, grass fed meat, preserves and canned goods alongside natural cleaning products, handcrafted baby clothes, plants, jewelry, greeting cards, candles and more.
It’s also the most gorgeous store to explore. So even if you don’t need anything, I guarantee that you’ll likely find something you want!
Visit the Sundre Pioneer Village Museum & World of Wildlife
Personally, we always like to visit museums (even for a brief visit) to get the vibe of the local area. This is especially true in small towns like Sundre and we were glad it was the first thing we did.
The Sundre Museum has three different aspects – an indoor space with traditional displays depicting local history, the ‘Pioneer Village’ with 8 heritage buildings and the ‘World of Wildlife,’ a (very tasteful) taxidermy exhibit with 170 mounts.
We enjoyed learning about the origins of the town first to put the rest of the museum into context. I particularly liked the display showcasing remarkable women in the community, as well as the section on local Métis culture.
Outside, you can explore the restored Red Deer River Ranger Station, the Bergen School, a Blacksmith Shop and more. It’s a real step into the past!
The World of Wildlife was created by local Sundre man Chester Mjolsness. There are over 170 taxidermy birds and animals from around the world (plus a few cast molds), posed in front of a beautiful landscape mural by a local artist. It’s not for everyone (and the museum respects that, visiting is completely optional) but it does offer some great educational opportunities.
Where to stay in Sundre
While in downtown Sundre, we stayed at the Mountain View Inn & Suites. This bright, modern hotel is everything you want after a busy day of exploring the area! It’s also easily walkable to downtown for dinner.
The Mountain View Inn opened in 2012, but as far as we were concerned, it looked like it opened just yesterday! The entire property is immaculately clean, from the impressive reception area, breakfast bar and swimming pool to the spacious rooms and suites.
We stayed in a King Bed Suite, which featured a partitioned living area (with sofa bed), as well as microwave, fridge and tea/coffee facilities.
Safety protocols mean that the complimentary breakfast is on the limited side right now but on the upside, the swimming pool area is available for exclusive use by appointment only. We loved being able to relax in the hot tub in complete solitude!
The night before our horseback ride, we spent the night in one of Sunset Guiding’s rustic cabins.
‘Mustang’ was perfectly sized for the two of us and was heated for our late evening arrival. The cabins all have a seating area in front and also feature electricity and a fridge. Shower and washroom facilities are just a short walk away.
Where to eat in Sundre
For such a relatively small town, Sundre offers quite a choice when it comes to places to eat! Better still, the vast majority of options are small family businesses.
Sundre’s newest restaurant, Boondox, specialises in vibrant Asian-fusion cuisine, served alongside some Canadian favourites. We absolutely loved the Butter Chicken (I had the paneer cheese version) and the Tropical Prawns (that mango cream sauce is to die for).
Good things come in small packages! It’s definitely worth waiting for a seat at Kodiak’s, where you’ll find delicious house-smoked brisket and pulled pork (you can see the smoker running outside most days). The prices are also ridiculously affordable.
Original T’s Restaurant and Cedar’s Pub
A Sundre institution, the restaurant was once called ‘Trendies.’ The business was sold but then bought back by the original owners, who changed up the name a little (‘Original Trendies,’ get it?) The expansive menu offers excellent choice for all tastes. Wednesday night is Wing Night and I can assure you that it’s the busiest place in town!
Cedar’s Pub, owned by the same family as Original T’s, is THE place to go for after dinner drinks. But they do great food too! Disclosure – we didn’t eat at Cedar’s but I sure wish we’d had the time. There are plenty of shareable classics as well as burgers, poutine and salads. Check out the thin crust pizzas for the most inventive toppings in Sundre!
Sundre Hotel Restaurant
Located right on the corner of ‘the Lights’ (Sundre’s only traffic light junction), the Sundre Hotel is perfect for people watching. It’s also ideal if you’re looking for some classic Canadian dishes. Alternatively, there’s a Chinese menu too.
Piros Family Restaurant
For all of your Greek cravings, head to Piro’s Family Restaurant. The hearty home-cooked portions will definitely scratch that itch and more. I became slightly addicted to the wonderfully garlicky tzatziki. Steak, stir fry dishes and pizza are also available.
Sundre Golf Club Restaurant
Home of one of the best patios in Sundre (overlooking the green!), the Sundre Golf Restaurant is a great destination for non-golfers too. The burgers are a customer favourite but I had to try the shrimp tacos – delicious!
Backwoods Bakery and Café
In need of a caffeine fix? The Backwoods Bakery has you covered! Choose to take out or enjoy the cosy café space. Sandwiches and sweet baked treats are also on offer, as well as ice cream.
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada