Head to Vermilion for food, fests and fun
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Vermilion's old prairie, new school vibes combine rural ease and urban comfort in this surprising northeastern Alberta small town.
Vermilion, AB - When you visit Vermilion, you’ll want to be prepared for anything. Agri-tours, fresh local food, outdoor adventures, shopping and apres can easily fill a weekend. And you never know what festival you might just happen upon.
Bari Hlus has walked into a splash fight on Main Street. It’s part of the town’s “Bucket Brigade” event during the annual Celebration of Vermilion and Multiculturalism that takes place each summer.
But here in this town of about 4000, where the tallest buildings are the grain elevators, she could just as easily have walked into a painting class, an Amazing Race-style competition or a fall harvest festival. It’s just that kind of town.
For those from nearby communities - Vegreville, Lloydminster - going to Vermilion is still considered “going to town.” Main Street Vermilion is the shopping hub, where people from across northeastern Alberta come to find cool local shops with lovingly made and sourced goods.
It’s also the place many come for a weekend away, including Edmontonians looking for a getaway from the city, but with all the urban comforts. At just two hours’ drive from Edmonton, you can take off on a Friday afternoon and still be in Vermilion in time for dinner and cocktails.
A Vermilion food, fun and festival itinerary
Here’s some ideas to help you spend a fun few days in this “little Portlandia” of the Alberta prairies. Try this 3-day itinerary to fill your Vermilion visit with food, fun and festivals.
Evening, day 1: dinner and a date in Vermilion
With local entrepreneurs and farm producers nearby, Vermilion is a regional destination for dining. Bari is meeting her mother-in-law Leanne Hlus at the Old School Cheesery’s new restaurant in downtown Vermilion (open 10am - 7pm, Tues - Sat). With over six years making artisanal cheese at the family farm, this marks a new stage in the cheesemakers’ evolution.
At the new downtown location, the Cheesery has wine on tap, regional butchery meats and farm fresh vegetables from around the region, creating a complementary experience for their showcase cheeses.
“Impressive, really impressive,” says Leanne. “I would recommend them for sure to anybody that just wants to go for like a nice light kind of meal or date night, enjoy some charcuterie, a glass of wine or a drink.”
“The cheeses were really good. A lot of different stuff I haven't seen anywhere else, like they had a honey cheese! It was really good!” Bari adds. “Our charcuterie board probably had six different flavors of cheese and some really nice local meat.”
For an after dinner drink, or a nice dessert, you can walk just a block over to Main Street, where you’ll find a distillery, ice cream shop, cafe bakery and more. Or you can stretch your legs with a visit to Vermilion Provincial Park.
Pro tip: catch sunset by Vermilion Lake to wind down your evening, and you might find out why the area is called Vermilion!
Morning, Day 2: nature adventures in Vermilion Provincial park
At the western edge of town, about a 10-minute walk from downtown, the provincial park is literally on the town’s back doorstep. But once you dip down into the Vermilion River valley, the forested trails and calm lake will make you feel miles away from civilization.
Hike, bike or paddle through the park to get your juices flowing again. (Make sure to stop in at local outdoor gear retailer, Burnt Rock Adventure Co., for any last minute gear needs, watercraft rentals or local types - these guys know their way around the area.)
There’s a bird watching pavilion about two kilometres down the main trail, for those who want to soak in the nature on the lake a little longer. Or, for some entertainment, try the $2 mini-golf course beside the campground.
Afternoon, Day 2: explore Main Street and meet the locals
With all these things that make a Vermilion visit special, however, there’s one constant that you’ll find.
“It’s just so friendly. You get the sense of family here,” says Leanne Hlus. “Even if you don't know people, you feel like you do.”
That easy welcome is part of what I like to describe as Vermilion’s “old prairie, new school” vibe. Down Main Street, century-old sandstone and red brick heritage buildings now play home to fashion retailers, an art gallery, a wellness boutique, an outdoor gear shop, a distillery and more.
Day 3: check out a local Vermilion festival
One of the unsung reasons for Vermilion’s regional appeal is the local events calendar. Year over year, Vermilionaires (as Vermilion residents are known) band together to create ways for locals and visitors alike to engage in community activities.
As a result, you can find festivals in any season: next up in late July comes the Vermilion Fair, while fall brings Art in the Park and Savor Vermilion. Winter events in 2023 include “Love From Around the World” (details yet to be released), and then in spring, the annual Race of Vermilion. in June, there’s Celebration of Vermilion, which just passed.
“Some small towns have their little claim to fame … but Vermillion just has such a variety,” says Quinn, Bari’s sister in law, who’s come to meet Bari and Leanne at the Taste of Vermilion event, which features an overflowing of sample platters from many of Vermilion’s favourite culinary producers.
“A lot of small towns are trying to revitalize but Vermilion attracts people by creating these unique events, shopping or restaurant experiences.”
Lastly, as you wind down your festival day, make a final stop at Red Brick for snacks and specialty barista beverages for the road to set you on your cheery way home.
WHEN YOU GO
Vermilion is approximately two hours' drive straight east from Edmonton on Hwy 16, or 40 minutes from Lloydminster (west on 16).
Dovetail your visit with a festival - the summer calendar features:
For more inspiration for your visit, check out more of the many things to do in Vermilion on the Town of Vermilion's visitor page.
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