Rolling countryside meets prairie in the small city of Lacombe, Alberta, about 90 minutes drive north of Calgary.
Often cited as one of the best places to live in the province, Lacombe is up and coming on the travel scene as well.
Always curious to explore lesser known places, we recently visited in both winter and spring to see what Lacombe had to offer for ourselves.
And the answer? Well, for such a relatively compact place, Lacombe has quite a lot going on to say the least! This is especially true if you like nature, good food and history (like us).
In this post, I’ll be sharing the best tried and tested things to do in Lacombe. Because I know you’ll want to plan a trip after reading this guide, I’ve also included some restaurant and accommodation recommendations as well.
Here’s an overview:
- Things to do in Lacombe
- Walk the urban trails
- Go hiking – three trail suggestions
- Visit Gull Lake
- Discover Ellis Bird Farm
- Visit the world’s largest fishing lure
- Browse the local markets
- Step back in time at Michener House
- Visit Alberta’s oldest operating blacksmith
- Explore Lacombe’s historical downtown
- Enjoy a self guided mural tour
- Taste local craft beers at Blindman Brewing
- Savour artisan ice cream at Oodles of Chocolates
- Dine at Cilantro and Chive
- Enjoy free Music in the Park
- Attend one of many local events
- Even more things to do in Lacombe
- Where to stay
- Where to eat
We visited Lacombe in March and June 2022, in partnership with Lacombe Regional Tourism.
Introducing Lacombe, Alberta
The City of Lacombe is located on Treaty 6 territory, the traditional home and meeting ground for many Indigenous peoples, including the Blackfoot, Dene, Cree, and Métis.
Settlers of European origin arrived in the late 19th century, with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) providing accessibility not long after.
The president of the CPR named the fledging community after Albert Lacombe, a French-Canadian Roman Catholic missionary who travelled with (and evangelized) the Cree and Blackfoot.
With the city being located in one of Central Alberta’s most fertile valleys, farming has been a mainstay of the local economy since the beginning.
In the early 20th century, the federal government even established an experimental farm in Lacombe to research livestock and grain production.
Today, Lacombe has a growing population of just over 13k people. Agricultural research and farming continues today, even as the local economy has developed and diversified.
How to get to Lacombe
To get you orientated quickly, Lacombe sits roughly half way between Calgary and Edmonton, around 90 minutes drive from each city.
Positioned just off Highway 2, this small city is a convenient destination for a short stay or even just an afternoon of exploration.
The best things to do in Lacombe
We were truly blown away by the amount of fun things to do in Lacombe. Central Alberta isn’t known as being a tourist mecca but this area really does have a lot to offer.
So whether you’re visiting family/friends or just looking for somewhere new to explore, here are our top picks for the best things to do in Lacombe.
As a side note, the majority of these ideas are completely free, so a trip to Lacombe can be very cost effective as well as being super fun!
Walk Lacombe’s urban trails
Lacombe’s wide open landscape offers plenty of room for outdoor recreation, with a large network of trails situated right in the urban town area.
For trailhead details and parking locations, download a trail map on the City of Lacombe website. The Bill Neilsen Trail Society cleans and maintains these trails, please consider making a donation if you are able to.
A well maintained 1.8km path loops around the shore of Cranna Lake. Completely paved and almost entirely flat, this trail is a great choice for all ages and abilities.
Cranna Lake is an ideal place for a short run. Travel the loop clockwise to run down to one short, steep slope at the southwest corner of the lake.
There are six outdoor fitness stations along the route as well, if you want to mix cardio with strength training.
Despite being just a stone’s throw from downtown Lacombe, the lake is a haven for birds, especially in late spring.
Elizabeth Lake is another ideal place to go walking close to downtown Lacombe.
An established trail follows the shoreline around most of the lake, with a higher path running parallel on the eastern side. There is interpretive signage along the lake as well as exercise equipment.
Visiting the lookout on the eastern side of the lake is a must. It offers wonderful views across the lake, showcasing the big skies above.
For a longer walk, consider continuing on the connector trails to Barnett Lake (below) or Cranna Lake (above).
Barnet Lake sits just west of Elizabeth Lake. A shaded nature trail runs along two thirds of the shoreline, primarily on the eastern edge of the lake. It provides access to a number of small beaches, with views across the lake.
Casey’s Cabin is located at the southern end of the trail, a rentable facility popular for birthday parties and reunions.
Of the two, we preferred Elizabeth Lake over Barnett Lake. Elizabeth Lake has more housing nearby but Barnett Lake is located close to Highway 2 and some of the sound travels.
Located right at the northern edge of Lacombe, Henner’s Pond is a peaceful setting for a walk. The park features a couple of short paved trails, perfect for young families to explore.
The main walking loop is 700m and circles a storm pond to the south of Henner’s Pond itself. There is some interpretive signage to accompany the pretty views.
A short drive from Lacombe reveals a number of scenic spots with easy, accessible hiking trails. Our top pick is JJ Collett Natural Area, but we also enjoyed walking in Kuhnen Park and along the Alix Nature Trail too.
Please be careful to Leave No Trace when exploring these areas. Pack everything out that you brought in with you. Dogs should be kept on a leash and under control.
The following places are free to visit but consider making a donation if you are able to.
JJ Collett Natural Area
Established in 1985, JJ Collett Natural Area features more than 600 acres of protected land. 18km of trails traverse beautiful groves of aspen and white spruce as well as wetlands, meadows and, surprisingly, sand dunes. Hiking here is definitely one of the best things to do in Lacombe.
A wonderful place to visit at any time of year, late spring and early summer are particularly special due to increased animal activity. JJ Collett is a favourite with birders, with 60+ species spotted in this area.
The trails conveniently interconnect to provide huge choice for loop routes, both short and long. This expansive network also means that you’re unlikely to run into anyone else, even with half a dozen other vehicles in the parking lot.
Just south of Lacombe Lake is Kuhnen Park, a forested hiking area with rich plant and wildlife diversity. The land was donated by the generous Kuhnen family, to share this peaceful area with the community.
Another ‘choose your own adventure’ destination, Kuhnen Park offers a relatively large network of short, interconnecting trails.
We followed the boundary of the park from the parking lot, arriving first at a small, shallow lake before climbing up to find sweeping views of rolling countryside. It was a wonderful surprise, especially on such a sunny winter day.
Alix Nature Trail
The Village of Alix, 30 minutes drive east of Lacombe, may seem like an unlikely spot for a hike. But it’s worth the trip for the 6km long nature trail that circuits Alix Lake.
Besides the beautiful views, there is an abundance of wildlife activity to enjoy. Interpretive signage is provided along the way, with outhouses and benches at regular intervals.
Almost completely flat for the entire length, this trail is ideal for families looking for a longer adventure. Note that the northeastern section does run through a residential area.
Visit Gull Lake
Gull Lake is one of the largest lakes in this area of Alberta. A relatively shallow lake, it’s very popular with families for summer recreation. There are numerous campgrounds located around the lake in addition to day use areas.
Aspen Lake Provincial Park‘s Ebeling Beach is only 15 minutes drive from Lacombe and features a huge parking area with easy access to the beach and washroom facilities.
While Gull Lake is exceptionally busy in July and August, it is much quieter during the rest of the year. We saw only a handful of other cars in early June. Of course, expect more traffic on weekends than weekdays.
Gull Lake is a great place for sunset, but be warned that you’ll be joined with plenty of flying insects (thankfully the non-biting kind) in late spring and early summer.
Discover Ellis Bird Farm
Driving along Range Road 260, about 15 minutes east of Lacombe, it’s hard to imagine a wildlife sanctuary anywhere near the large chemical plant that is situated here.
But exist it does, in the form of Ellis Bird Farm. This non-profit organisation continues the work of local conservationists Charlie and Winnie Ellis, who first built nesting boxes along their fences here in the 1950s.
The working farm comprises expansive gardens, a dipping pond, tearoom, café, walking trails and many, many bird boxes. In fact, Ellis Bird Farm has the largest collection of Mountain Bluebird boxes in the world!
Besides bluebirds, you may also spot Purple Martins, Black-capped Chickadees, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Yellow Warblers and more.
Allow at least an hour to explore the grounds, taking time to sit on one of the many shady benches and listen to the twittering birds. Bring a picnic or stop by the café for a slice of homemade pie before heading out onto one of the pretty loop trails.
Admission is free, though donations are very welcome.
Check out the world’s largest fishing lure
Are you lured in by giant sized attractions? Don’t resist this one! Lacombe is home to the world’s largest fishing lure, built to celebrate 90 years of Len Thompson Fishing Lures.
The first Len Thompson factory was built right here in Lacombe back in 1958. It’s still family owned and operated today.
The extra large lure is located at the Len Thompson Pond, situated at the end of Len Thompson Drive. It is 12m long and almost 3m wide.
Browse the local markets
Lacombe has not one, but two markets, both held at Michener Park. The first takes place on Thursday evenings from 3pm to 6pm, with the second on Friday mornings from 9am to 1pm.
The Thursday Farmers’ Market is larger, with more than 90 vendors displaying a variety of products from fresh vegetables, handmade perogies, craft spirits, baked goods and cheese to clothing, paintings, sculptures and bath products.
While the Friday market was smaller at the time of our visit (early June), it’s just as varied, with an entirely different mix of vendors.
Free samples at both markets are commonplace, more so than other markets we have been to. We also found the vendors to be very friendly and we consequently spent a lot longer at both markets than we originally anticipated!
Step back in time at Michener House
Michener House is one of the oldest buildings in Lacombe and is also the former home of Right Honourable Roland Michener, former Governor General of Canada from 1967 until 1974.
Built in the late 19th century as the Village of Lacombe Methodist Church Parsonage, the house was used by a number of ministers before being converted for use as a church hall. The church itself was eventually demolished but Michener House lives on as a Provincial Historic Site and museum.
Restored to its original turn of the century appearance, the lower floor showcases authentic period furniture. Upstairs, there is an exhibit dedicated to the life of Roland Michener, from his Lacombe beginnings to Rideau Hall. Free admission.
Visit Alberta’s oldest operating blacksmiths
At one time, there were as many as eight blacksmiths operating in Lacombe. They would have had been responsible for making and mending most of the machinery for local farms, such as wagon wheels and plow shears. Of course, farriers were also kept busy with horseshoeing.
Remarkably, one blacksmith remains operational – the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum. The oldest of its kind in Alberta, it was built in 1902 and much of the machinery in the shop is original and remarkably, still functioning.
Visit from late May to early September to watch live demonstrations of blacksmiths bending iron (free admission, donations welcome). The head blacksmith also appears at the Friday morning market.
Explore Lacombe’s historical downtown
Filled with heritage Edwardian buildings, Lacombe is home to one of the best preserved historical downtown areas in Alberta.
A huge fire wiped out the majority of the commercial area in 1906, leading local officials to require all new constructions to be built in brick.
Many of the buildings now host creative and community focused businesses, such as Cilantro and Chive, Oodles of Chocolates and the Broom Tree Café, all mentioned elsewhere in this guide.
Walk around the downtown streets and you’ll soon notice black heritage markers. These tell the story of notable properties, such as the iconic Flatiron Building on the corner of 50 Ave and 49c Ave, which now houses rotating museum exhibits.
Enjoy a self guided mural tour
The retelling of Lacombe’s story is not limited to the heritage markers dotted around downtown. Huge murals adorn the sides and backs of buildings and depict street scenes from years gone by.
Artist Tim Giles used archival photographs as inspiration, with some creative liberties. The murals were originally painted between 2004 and 2013, with touch-ups in 2015.
There are two main clusters of murals – the first between 49b and 49c Avenues and the second between 51 and 52 Streets.
Download a map and guide from the Lacombe & District Historical Society to plan your own self guided tour.
Taste local craft beers at Blindman Brewing
After a day of exploring the local trails, head to Blindman Brewing and try one (or four) of 24+ innovative craft beers.
The newly renovated taproom is sleek yet unpretentious, serving snacks and fresh tacos from the local taqueria alongside glasses and flights of beer.
The brewery is named after a river that winds its way through Central Alberta, a nod to the owner’s community focused approach. Ingredients are sourced locally, something that is easy to do in Lacombe.
Not only is Alberta the largest barley producer in Canada, but the federal and provincial wheat and barley research stations are also located in Lacombe.
Savour artisan ice cream at Oodles of Chocolates
Locals call Oodles of Chocolates a hidden gem and it really is, quite literally! Enter the unassuming door at 4915 50 Ave, head down the stairs and down the corridor and you’ll find a treasure trove of treats.
Best known for their hand crafted chocolates, this mother-daughter chocolatier team have recently turned their hand to ice cream as well.
Choose between nine indulgent flavours (if you can!) such as lemon shortcake, key lime, raspberry pistachio and salted caramel. All are served in a fresh baked waffle cone.
Dine at Cilantro and Chive
Contemporary yet still down to earth, Cilantro and Chive offers a creative take on casual dining, serving classic dishes with a fresh twist. The menu changes often, to reflect the seasons and availability of local ingredients.
Head down to the Where to Eat in Lacombe section to read more about this fabulous local restaurant!
Enjoy free Music in the Park
Visiting Lacombe in the summer months? Don’t miss Music in the Park!
Local and regional musicians take to the Echo Stage on the south side of the Lacombe Memorial Centre (5214 50 Ave) every Wednesday from early June to the end of August.
Bring a lawn chair or blanket, sit down and enjoy! The music starts at 6.30pm. Food trucks can be found just around the corner, in the parking lot of the Memorial Centre.
The crowd was jovial yet on the small side during our visit in early June, but I’ve heard that the park can be almost full later in summer. Consider arriving early to secure a spot.
In the event of rainy weather, performances will be moved to St. Andrew’s United Church.
Attend one of many local events
Lacombe’s events calendar is pretty busy, especially in summer. Check out the listings on the Lacombe Tourism website.
Lacombe Days, usually held in mid July, is a highlight, featuring a parade, kid’s activities, car show, live music and fireworks.
We just missed the International Trail Day celebrations, held on the first Saturday of June by the Bill Nielsen Trail Society. The group runs regular fundraisers, with organised 10km and 5km runs/walks.
On Father’s Day (19th June in 2022), a free event is taking place on Cranna Lake, with hot dogs, canoe rides and games.
Other great things to do in Lacombe
- Go fishing. The Len Thompson Pond, just minutes from downtown, is stocked with trout. Gull Lake is popular for walleye and northern pike. Don’t forget your fishing licence!
- Play a round of golf at one of Lacombe’s two golf courses. Both welcome non-members
- Visit Kraay Family Farm, which features more than 40+ attractions, including a 15 acre corn maze
- Take in a sunset – I’d recommend heading to the viewpoint above Elizabeth Lake (as described above)
- Bike to Blackfalds along the Trans Canada Trail, a 20km return journey
Where to stay in Lacombe
Best Western Plus Lacombe Inn & Suites is conveniently situated at the entrance to Lacombe from Highway 2. Downtown is a quick three minutes drive away. Tollers Bistro, one of the best places to eat in Lacombe, is across the parking lot. The weekly markets take place just beyond that.
Though built in 2015, the hotel still seems brand new, with plush, modern furnishings. There is a mix of room configurations, with some of the larger suites offering full kitchens.
Breakfast is complimentary with your stay and includes the standard continental fare (yogurt, granola, cereals, bagels, fruit etc.) as well as breakfast sandwiches and wraps.
Visiting Lacombe with your family? There’s a large indoor swimming pool with water slide to enjoy. The hotel is located right next to a playground and skatepark.
Where to eat in Lacombe
Be careful not to underestimate Lacombe’s dining scene. Central Alberta is, after all, brimming with local producers. You only have to check out the local markets, as mentioned above, to see that!
Such easy access to fresh, high quality ingredients has inspired a new wave of foodie restaurant owners in Lacombe. Most of the below eateries are relatively new, with some opening just in the last few months.
And it’s only going to be get better – we spotted a number of ‘opening soon’ signs while strolling around downtown Lacombe.
Live in Lacombe and don’t see your favourite local restaurant on here? We hope to return and try even more places so watch this space.
Simplicity is key at Tollers Bistro, where they aim to perfect home style cooking.
Think burgers, pasta and a range of bowls (chicken, falafel, burrito) for dinner, with sandwiches and soup for lunch. Healthier options, such as the ahi tuna poke bowl (below), abound alongside comfort food favourites.
Worth the short trip beyond the downtown area, Tollers Bistro is located next door to the Best Western and Michener Park, where the weekly markets are held.
Tollers is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but you can also just pop by for a coffee and sweet treat. The front counter case is filled with handmade doughnuts finished with gourmet toppings, made fresh every morning.
Cilantro and Chive
I’ve already raved about Cilantro and Chive, but another mention in this section seemed mandatory (just so you don’t miss out!)
Go big or go home with the Bacon Quad Burger, which sits on top of Cilantro and Chive’s signature Caesar cocktail. Don’t worry, there are lighter options too!
Thinking of drinks, you’re spoiled for choice here. Seriously! The beer menu is eight pages long, with craft varieties from across Canada alongside local favourites.
If you’re looking for something stronger, try a flight of cold brew coffees or fruity mule cocktails, both made with Alberta craft spirits.
As a side note, this restaurant has one of the best non-alcoholic menus I’ve ever seen. Many of the cocktails can be made without alcohol as well.
The cutest coffee shop on the block, Kavaccino’s is the place to go for a morning (or anytime, let’s be real!) perk-up. Choose a cosy corner inside or the sunny patio outside.
If the idea of a hot coffee on a warm day doesn’t suit, there are plenty of innovative iced options to help cool you down. I loved my pina colada soda, one of the current summer specials alongside Vietnamese iced coffee and rhubarb cordial.
The sandwiches, made fresh to order, are a steal of a deal, priced between $3.50 and $5.50. There are plenty of treats on offer too, including made from scratch cinnamon buns, sandwich cookies and scones.
Milly Oak Café
This bright and airy downtown café is a must stop when visiting Lacombe. Everything is homemade (including the pastries in the front case!) with an emphasis on quality. Menus change seasonally to highlight locally sourced ingredients.
Breakfast and lunch are served at the Milly Oak Café from Tuesday to Sunday, with the addition of brunch on weekends.
Time your trip to Lacombe right and you may be able to attend one of the special (ticketed) events – think five course dinners, wine tasting and more.
Family owned and operated, service is warm and friendly. Portions are generous, so come hungry or enjoy the bonus of leftovers!
Come for the beer, stay for the food! Enjoy an extended stay at Blindman Brewing’s brand new taproom with fresh and flavourful tacos from the local taqueria, made with ingredients from local producers.
Meats are sourced from a local butcher shop, with the corn tortillas and salsa coming from Edmonton. In a wonderfully circular move, the oyster mushrooms are grown from brewery waste, care of Ceres Solutions (Crossfield).
Buying local in this way supports the community and also reduces Blindman’s environmental impact. Continuing on this theme, 180 solar panels line the roof of the taproom (see how much power is currently being generated here!)
Brunch Glory is one of Lacombe’s newest restaurants and is a solid choice for classic Canadian breakfast dishes.
Located close to the industrial side of town, it’s a longer walk from downtown than some of the other options here. The exterior is a bit dated (a hangover from the previous owner) but the interior is a lot brighter.
As you may guess, breakfast dishes are available all day. The large menu includes all of the classics, including Eggs Benedict and Steak and Eggs.
The Broom Tree Café
Feel good about your morning java at the Broom Tree Café, where every purchase gives back to the community.
All revenues are directed back to the Broom Tree Foundation, which supports women in need. In turn, the café provides employment for women associated with the Foundation.
As well as coffee, the menu also features light breakfast options, sandwiches and soup.
While you wait, take in the gorgeous interior of the café, which features exposed brick walls, minimalist furnishings and a molded art deco style ceiling.
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