Stettler, in east-central Alberta, has long been known for its Wild West themed train excursions, but the town also makes a great base for exploring nature.
With a surprisingly diverse landscape, visitors can enjoy badlands, coulees, forests, lakes, rivers, and an undulating knob and kettle terrain, all without travelling far from Stettler.
Within these scenic settings you’ll find several lesser-known provincial parks and easily accessible bodies of water, plus some quirky small-town attractions, that make the Stettler area a fun place to explore and unwind away from the crowds.
Things to Do Near Stettler- A Weekend Getaway for Nature Lovers
Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty of things to do near Stettler from camping and hiking, to watersports and wildlife viewing. Here’s a sample itinerary for a nature-focused weekend getaway in central Alberta to help you discover some fun things to do near Stettler.
Day 1: Visit the Parks Around Buffalo Lake
Buffalo Lake is one of the largest lakes in Central Alberta and has several recreation areas on its shores for year-round enjoyment. Whether you’re into camping, boating, fishing, bird watching, nature walks, or just laying on the beach, you’ll be able to do it all at Buffalo Lake.
With three provincial parks/recreation areas on Buffalo Lake, there are a variety of places you can visit depending on your interests. You can even visit all three in one day if you want, since they’re only a short drive apart.
Buffalo Lake Provincial Recreation Area
Buffalo Lake Provincial Recreation Area, on the lake’s eastern shore, is perfect for tent camping or a family beach day in the summer. There’s a long sandy beach with picnic tables, shallow water for swimming, a hand boat launch, and a nearby playground. This secluded recreation area also has a rustic campground with some lakefront sites and sheltered, forested sites a short walk from the beach.
Rochon Sands Provincial Park
Rochon Sands Provincial Park, on the south shore, also has a beach, swimming area, and playground, but offers a larger campground with more amenities, launching area for motorized boats, and some nature trails that pass through prime bird watching habitat.
On route to the park, stop in at the village marina to see a larger than life, 8 metre long northern pike sculpture. It’s quite impressive how realistic it looks!
The Narrows Provincial Recreation Area
The Narrows Provincial Recreation Area, on the west end of Buffalo Lake, is a real hidden gem. Built along a scenic channel connecting the lake with Parlby Bay, it’s an ideal area for kayaking and bird watching. The park also offers several access points along the channel for shore fishing and a forested, rustic campground.
Where to Stay
If you choose not to camp at Buffalo Lake, you can find a range of accommodations nearby in Stettler (a half hour drive from each of the parks mentioned). A great choice is the Phoenix House Bed and Breakfast, a welcoming B&B in a restored 1916 home. The generous, homemade breakfast will leave you full and energized for a second day of outdoor activities near Stettler.
Day 2: Go Hiking at Big Knife Provincial Park, Visit Donalda
For your second day, drive east of Buffalo Lake and Stettler to explore the northern most part of the Canadian Badlands. You’ll be able to spend much of the day at Big Knife Provincial Park, but save some time to stop in at the village of Donalda on your way home.
Big Knife Provincial Park
Big Knife Provincial Park is a 40 minute drive northeast of Stettler, in the northern section of the Canadian Badlands region. As part of the badlands, you’ll find plenty of intriguing scenery like coulees, hoodoos, and bluffs framing the Battle River.
The best way to enjoy the surrounding landscape is by venturing out on one of the park’s two hiking trails. River Flats Trail is an easy hike that meanders across a meadow then along the bends in the river, whereas the Highlands Trail climbs to viewpoints overlooking the park. Even on a snowy day, Big Knife Provincial Park is an enjoyable place to hike, especially if you’re looking for peace and solitude.
If you’re visiting in the summer and have brought a kayak or canoe, you can put in at the boat launch for a relaxing paddle on the gentle-flowing Battle River.
In addition to hiking trails and river access, the park also has a campground with sites suitable for RVs and tents.
After leaving Big Knife Provincial Park, stop in at the village of Donalda just 30 minutes northwest of the park. The main attraction here is the world’s largest oil lamp replica, standing almost 13 metres tall.
If you have time for another short hike, follow the trail from the village down into the coulee to explore the badlands of Willow Canyon.
Before heading home, grab a bite to eat at the Donalda Tavern, a local favourite for charbroiled steak.
Review of the Outdoor Activities Near Stettler
The Stettler area has plenty of options for parks, campgrounds, and nature walks that are within a 30- 40 minute drive from town. These parks strike the perfect balance of being secluded and immersed in nature, without being too far from the conveniences of more developed areas.
Even if you don’t want to camp, the parks near Stettler are still worth visiting because they have day use areas with access to beaches, boat launches, and trails.
To fully experience all the area has to offer, it’s best to visit in the summer when the campgrounds are open and weather is more favourable for watersports. However, if you choose to visit in winter, you’ll still be able to enjoy the area by taking part in activities like ice fishing, winter hiking, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing.
Stettler’s central location makes it an excellent choice for people from Edmonton, Red Deer, and Calgary who want a weekend away without having to drive too far from home.
Tips for Visiting Stettler
Location: Stettler is located in east-central Alberta. It’s about 96 km east of Red Deer, 196 km southeast of Edmonton, and 227 km northeast of Calgary.
Park Access and Camping: The parks and campgrounds are fully operational in the summer but opening dates vary. Off-season access and maintenance is limited and there is no winter camping. Consult the Alberta Parks website for up to date information before visiting.
- Buffalo Lake Provincial Recreation Area is accessible year round but there is no maintenance service from end of September to late April.
- Rochon Sands Provincial Park is closed from mid-October to early May.
- The Narrows Provincial Recreation Area is closed from mid-October to early May.
- Big Knife Provincial Park is open year round but off-season access depends on snow conditions (there is no snow removal in the winter). Maintenance services are not provided after Labour Day until spring.
- All the provincial campgrounds mentioned here have unserviced sites. Some of the parks recommend or require you to bring your own drinking water. Firewood is available for purchase onsite at the Buffalo Lake campgrounds but not at Big Knife Provincial Park.
Accommodations in Stettler
For your convenience, here is a list of hotels in Stettler. Please consider booking your Stettler accommodations through the included link. It costs nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!
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Adventure Alberta was hosted by Canadian Badlands Tourism in order to bring you this story. Hosts have no editorial influence on articles and our opinions are strictly our own.