Head to Gull Lake this summer for beach fun and farm-fresh eats! Only 2 hours from Calgary and 1.5 hours from Edmonton.
Gull Lake is an awesome summer destination in central Alberta with beautiful beaches, great campgrounds, and an abundance of locally-grown/made eats. From honey and bison, to produce and ice cream, you’ll have no trouble finding something fresh and delicious to fill up on. And if you don’t want to cook, there are some great eateries to choose from in Bentley, Gull Lake, and Lacombe.
For a wonderful weekend at the lake, you’re going to need a large cooler; swimsuit, towel, and sunscreen; beach toys; and big appetite. Bikes are nice for getting around camp too!
Disclosure: This story was written in partnership with Lacombe Regional Tourism, but all words and opinions are my own.
Here’s how to spend a fun summer weekend at Gull Lake:
Day 1: Stock up on farm-fresh goodness and play at the beach
As the kids dash across Ebeling Beach, kite and spool in hand, I squish my toes in the sand and bask in the sun. Within minutes, the girls squeal with glee; their owl kite has taken flight! Farther down the beach, children clamber and laugh on the adventure playground while the concession serves up generous scoops of ice cream.
Camping season has just begun, so Aspen Beach Provincial Park is quiet. Come July, the campgrounds will be full and there will be sun shelters and towels spread out across the sandy expanse; good thing it’s a big beach! Gull Lake is big too – 80.6 km2 – so there are more lovely beaches to explore when you want a change of scenery.
You can rent kayaks at stand-up paddleboards from Aspen Beach Provincial Park’s Kayakomat self-serve station. For more information, read our story Unlocking Adventure with Kayakomat.
When the wind dies down, we make our way to the boardwalk between Brewers and Lakeside Campgrounds. From the viewing platform, we watch birds and boats heading out to fish. The calls of red-winged blackbirds and rustle of frogs hopping in the marsh are music to our ears. Continuing northwest, it’s possible to bike 4.3 km on a paved path along Highway 12 (50 Ave) to Bentley; a fun adventure, but we need dinner.
Fortunately for us, Gull Lake is surrounded by farms, ranches, and greenhouses, so it’s easy to find fresh, locally grown/raised/made food. Our first stop is Brown Eggs and Lamb (home to the Small Circle Foods store), where we are greeted by Laura Siebenga and her sweet dog, Rory. Siebenga has been selling eggs for over 20 years, and opened Small Circle Foods, a “mini farmers’ market”, 10 years ago. As soon as I open the door, I realize I made a big mistake; I should’ve brought a LARGE cooler! In addition to eggs and lamb (which is supplied to Lacombe’s award-winning restaurant, Cilantro & Chive), they have bison, Italian ice cream, honey, pickles, pies, beef jerky, perogies, sausages, buns, preserves, and more. You can also find flour, wool, sheepskins, ceramics, and hats. “Have you been to Aspen Greenhouses?” Siebenga asks as she rings through our carefully curated purchases, “It’s beautiful!” Looks like we have yet another reason to return!
After ice cream in the gazebo, we swing by Pik-N-Pak Produce (look for the Lacombe Fresh sign) for local greenhouse-grown veggies. The store sells super fresh vegetables (tomatoes are picked twice a week!) from nearby Doef’s, Gull Valley, and S4 Greenhouses; as well as Gull Lake Honey Company honey and beeswax candles, Good Neighbor Coffee, relish, and hot pepper jelly. And when it’s time to cash out, the self-serve checkout is super easy to use.
At Sandy Point Resort & RV Park, our home away from home, we prepare a delicious dinner of local ingredients, then go for a stroll on Sandy Point Beach. The beautiful 6.5 acre beach on the west side of Gull Lake, 8 minutes from Bentley, boasts a playground, beachball volleyball court, SUP and kayak rentals, and public boat launch (400 metres from the beach). Franklin’s Gulls feeding in the shallows take to the air as we approach.
Sandy Point would be a gorgeous place to paddle on a calm day! The resort rents kayaks for only $15/hr and stand-up paddleboards for $20/hr. Note that parking fees are in effect, but if you’re staying at the resort, you can walk to the beach from your campsite.
Day 2: Tour de Gull Lake: Gull Lake Honey Company, Anderson Park, & Bentley
Bison graze on the range, moving slowly so their calves can keep up while nursing. “That one was just born in the last day or so,” Ray Prins says, pointing out a wee calf with its umbilical cord dangling from its belly. A large bull, weighing close to 2,000 pounds, towers over the cows and calves. Although he’s shedding and looking a bit scruffy, he’s still majestic. Ray keeps some space between the truck and the herd explaining “There’s a fight-or-flight distance.” While we observe the bison, he tells us about them and points out yellow-headed cowbirds that eat bugs off their coats.
Ray and his wife, Pauline have been here for 22 years, and “had elk, pigs, and bison to start.” These days, his sister Judy Van Haren and her family run the 1,000-head Frontier Farm bison operation (which is spread out over a few properties); and his son Lorne and wife, Alida run Gull Lake Honey Company, where we are. Ray and Pauline are still very hands-on, however, and after working in politics for 11 years, Ray declares, “This is much better.” When I ask Ray what he likes most about living here, he says, “Everything right here!” gesturing towards the bison, fields, and open skies. With no skyscrapers in sight, and quiet roads, it’s easy to relax.
While it’s relaxing for us, just visiting, beekeeping and farming is a lot of work. Lorne shares some of the challenges of the past season – mites and mold – that affected bee colonies across the country. About 40-50% of his bees were lost, but Lorne is optimistic that this year will be a good year because the bees that remain are healthy and strong. Gull Lake Honey Company beehives are placed “around Lacombe, mostly within 30 km of the farm,” and “some are sent to Langley for blueberry honey” so you can choose from several varieties of local and delicious honey.
Over at Gull Lake Honey Company’s store, Alida tends to customers and gets ready for the Bentley Farmers Market. In addition to local honey and bison, the store sells beeswax candles, and knitwear, ceramics, and jewelry made by local artisans. You can also purchase beeswax kits to make your own candles! After shopping, we check out the sunflower mural (new this year!) and visit the farm animals. Kentucky the calf naps in straw, and Stella the horse comes to say hello while cheeky 6-week old goats shove each other aside for dandelions, a favorite snack.
Gull Lake Honey Company is open Monday to Saturday, 9 am – 5 pm. During Open Farm Days, August 13 & 14, 2022, you can take a wagon ride to the bison pasture, tour the extraction facility, and pick veggies in the u-pick garden.
Down the road, we picnic and stretch our legs at Anderson Park. The new 26-acre park features a gazebo, playground, fossil digging area (large sandbox), 9-hole disc golf course, musical park, pond, and pollinator garden. You can take a path down to Wilson’s Beach and pier from the park too!
Next, we shop til we drop at the Bentley Saturday Farmer’s Market (2 pm-4 pm), get coffee and Italian sodas at The Drop, and visit Merry’s Mercantile, a favorite place for housewares, clothing, gift items, and antiques. Whenever I go there looking for a present, I end up getting something for myself too – plus treats for the kids! Next door, Earthy Accents is an amazing flower shop that is “more than just flowers” with a lovely collection of gifts including handmade jewelry, plants, and candy. Both stores pride themselves on supporting local artisans and companies, so you are bound to find a unique gift or something special for yourself.
Day 3: Explore Lacombe (Rainy Day Activities)
Morning arrives stormy and cool, so we decide to switch up our plans and head to Lacombe. Mini golf at Summerland RV Park will have to wait until the next time we’re in town; when Kraay Family Farm & Lacombe Corn Maze is open (July 18 – September 3, 2022).
At bright and cheery Milly Oak Café and Catering, the first thing we notice are decadent desserts in the pastry cabinet. Sufficiently motivated, we quickly decide on a bison skillet, Cubano sandwich with Caesar salad, and BLT with watermelon salad. Everything is fresh and flavorful, with a focus on local ingredients. Portions are generous, so we don’t really need dessert, but the girls can’t resist a worms and dirt brownie (brownie topped with gummy worms) and caramel cinnamon bun. The smiles on their faces tell me the treats are as good as they look.
In the afternoon, we visit the Truth and Reconciliation exhibit at the Lacombe Flatiron Museum in the distinctive Flatiron Building. Art has been contributed from schools across Canada and guests are encouraged to complete a card with what truth and reconciliation means to them. Admission is free, and rotating exhibits ensure there is always something interesting to see. Donations are welcome, however, and you can support the Lacombe Museum & Archives (including the Flatiron Museum, Michener House, and Blacksmith Shop Museum) by purchasing from the gift shop. I’m partial to the sassy greeting cards with vintage photos.
Next, Elizabeth gives us a tour of Michener House, birthplace of the Rt. Hon. Roland Michener, Governor General of Canada. Built in 1894 (and restored in 1984) and furnished with many of the Michener family’s original items from the late 1800s and early 1900s, Michener House provides a fascinating peek into the past. Elizabeth sheds some light on what we’re looking at, plays an old gramophone for us (that a young child would be paid to play records on at parties), and explains how many of the kitchen appliances work, as well as how laundry was done. We learned a lot and appreciated the free private tour!
A couple blocks away, two blacksmiths provide demonstrations at the Blacksmith Shop Museum. While one works on a pair of tongs, the other makes a hook and tells us about forging metal. Housed in the oldest continuously-operated blacksmith shop in Alberta (est. 1902), the museum has several artifacts on display and a scavenger hunt for kids. Since Lacombe is surrounded by farmland, most of the items made here were agricultural implements.
If time (and weather) permits, take a self-guided mural tour. 31 murals created by artist Tim Giles depict what life was like in Lacombe in decades past. See the Lacombe Museum PDF (above) for a map and details about each mural. Most are near the Flatiron Building or behind Winnie’s Ice Cream.
Before driving home, we pop in to Winnie’s Ice Cream, Lacombe’s newest ice cream shop. Located across from the Flatiron Building, Winnie’s serves up deliciousness made with all natural ingredients, one scoop at a time. Waffle cones are made fresh onsite so the place smells heavenly. “When we go home, our hair smells like waffle cones,” the young woman helping us says. Not a bad problem to have in my opinion. If you don’t do dairy or gluten, they have a delicious gluten-free, dairy-free mango sorbet; just ask!
There are so many fun things to do in Lacombe County, it’s hard to capture them all in one story. Here is a 3-day itinerary to help you plan your trip.
Three Day Itinerary for Gull Lake, Bentley, and Lacombe
- Lunch and ice cream at The Wooden Shoe: Dutch menu items and imports are their specialty. They also have a convenience store and gas station.
- Get provisions from Brown Eggs & Lamb (Open Thursday-Saturday, 12 pm – 6 pm), and Pik N Pak Produce (Open 24 hrs)
- Explore Aspen Beach Provincial Park: Ebeling Beach, Adventure Playground, Nature Trail. Bike to Bentley on paved path along 50th Avenue (6.3 km one way).
- Paddle at Sandy Point Beach: kayaks $15/hr, SUP $20/hr; parking is $3/hr or $15/day
- Stay at Sandy Point Resort and RV Park
- Gull Lake Honey Company: Visit the farm animals, take a selfie at the Sunflower Mural, and shop at the honey/bison/gift store.
- Anderson Park: Beach volleyball, Basketball court, Playground, Musical enrichment activity court, Disc golf course, Wilson’s Beach & pier
- Visit Bentley Saturday Farmer’s Market (2 pm – 4 pm) and downtown Bentley
- Stay at Sandy Point Resort and RV Park
- Play Mini Golf at Summerland RV Park, OR head to Centennial Park for disc golf, pickle ball, horseshoes, baseball, and outdoor exercise stations, OR visit Kraay Family Farm & Lacombe Corn Maze (opens for the season on July 18, 2022).
- Lunch at Milly Oak Café and Catering
- Lacombe Museum Buildings: Flatiron Museum Building and mural tour; Michener House; and Blacksmith Shop Museum
- Winnie’s Ice Cream
More fun things to do near Gull Lake
During high summer and autumn, don’t miss Kraay Family Farm & Lacombe Corn Maze. With over 40 activities and attractions including piglet races and one of Canada’s largest corn mazes, you could easily spend all day here. Summer Season: July 18 – September 3, 2022; Fall Season: September 5 – October 15, 2022. For more info, see our story Endless Fun at Kraay Family Farm & Lacombe Corn Maze.
Ellis Bird Farm has lovely walking trails, gardens, a café and gift shop, small petting zoo (goats and sheep), and special events like guided walks and birdhouse-building workshops. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.
Go fishing at Len Thompson Trout Pond and see the largest fishing lure in the world!
Know Before You Go
- Several businesses are closed on Sunday, so plan to shop on Friday or Saturday.
- Kayak ($15/hr) and stand-up paddleboard ($20/hr) rentals are available from Sandy Point Resort & RV Park.
- Parking and boat launch fees are in effect at Sandy Point: Parking is $3/hour or $15 for the day; it’s $20/day to launch a boat and park.
Where to Stay
Sandy Point Resort and RV Park has fully-serviced (power, water, sewer) nightly/weekly/monthly and seasonal RV sites with firepits and picnic tables on the west side of Gull Lake. Walk to the beach and playground, go for a paddle, launch your boat and go fishing, and play beachball volleyball or horseshoes! A golf course is currently being built and should be ready by 2023 if not sooner. The RV Park sites are in an open area, and the seasonal sites are partially shaded, but all sites offer lake views.
Tent campers will prefer Brewer’s Campground at Aspen Beach Provincial Park. Sites are in mixed forest, so they are shaded and sheltered from the wind. Adjacent Lakeside Campground has larger sites (unserviced / power / power and water) that are suitable for RVs. For more information, read our story: Camping at Aspen Beach Provincial Park.
Dining in Lacombe County
If you prefer to relax on the weekend and take a break from cooking, there are several great eateries in the area. Get Dutch food, ice cream, and Dutch imports at the Wooden Shoe; coffee, Italian soda, and baked goods at The Drop; wings and a Caesar at Monkey Top Saloon; or pizza and pasta at Piccolo Pizza.
In Lacombe (15 minutes away), try braised duck wings, the most creative Caesars you’ve ever seen, and the Burger of the Month ($2 goes to charity) at Cilantro & Chive; lettuce wraps, quesadillas and watermelon salad, and decadent desserts at Milly Oak Café & Catering; or homemade donuts, mango chicken tacos, and housemade gnocchi at Toller’s Bistro.
Gull Lake is located 2 hrs / 189 km north of Calgary, or 1.5 hrs / 140 km south of Edmonton, 11 km west of Highway 2.
For More Information
To learn more about Lacombe County and Gull Lake, visit Lacombe Regional Tourism.