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Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan

By Eric - Posted on 22 May 2011

Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan

Grasslands National Park is the only national park in the Canadian prairies and is home to ancient plants, animals and geological history. It’s well off of the beaten path, in southern Saskatchewan, about 100 kilometers south of the Trans Canada Highway. It holds a strange and lonely beauty in a place known as the “Land of the Living Skies”. y

The park is made up of two, large blocks of land about 531 square kilometers that extend to the Canada/US border. As local ranches come available, the size will grow to over 900 square kilometers. It’s interesting to see active ranch lands on one side of the barbed-wire fence and undisturbed, rolling terrain on the other.

The natural flora of the area is long and short grass studded with bulbous cactus. Trees are non-existent here and water is scarce. The dilapidated shells of former homesteads stand crooked and weathered.

This place is hot and remote. Even in the summer, when tourism in Canada is at its busiest, Grasslands National Park receives fewer than 10,000 visitors. Adventurous travellers may not see another human for as far as the eye can see.

Looking out at the desolate plains, it’s easy to imagine the long-vanished buffalo herds roaming these plains with resilient native camps on the periphery. In fact, there’s over 12,000 ancient teepee rings in the park.

Wildlife is returning to the natural prairie. Pronghorn antelope, the second fastest land animal in the world, still inhibits the area while other endangered species such as prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets and burrowing owls are making a comeback with some human help.

Plains bison from Elk Island National Park near Edmonton was re-introduced a few years ago. Visitors can take self-guided tours of their new refuge along the many dirt roads that criss-cross the park.

Things to do in Grasslands National Park

This place is big! Outdoor adventures include multi-day backpacking, hiking, horse-back riding and astronomy (and it gets REALLY dark here). The park and surrounding communities were designated as a Dark Sky Preserve in 2009 by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Check for guided tours and events ranging from night visits to the ferret colony to star gazing. When was the last time you saw the Milky Way?

Camping is limited in this hot, dry area and be wary as your tent pole may be the highest lightning rod around. Watch for rattlesnakes too. In the summer, temperatures can exceed +40C. Bring lots of water.

How to Get to Grasslands National Park

View Grasslands National Park in a larger map

The park is made up of two widely-separated sections, the East and West Block, with the park administration office located in Val Marie, Saskatchewan. Getting here is a lot of fun. It feels like you’re travelling back in time the further you get from the Trans Canada Highway.

The only way to experience the park is with a vehicle. The surrounding highways are in good condition, not great, with some potholes and rough patches. Most roads in the park are graded dirt strips.

RVs won’t have a problem, nor will motorcyclists (you may eat lots of dust though). Cell phone coverage is pretty good but service is intermittent in the valley bottoms.

Distance to Val Marie, Saskatchewan:

  • Calgary – 607 kilometers (7 hours)
  • Saskatoon – 390 kilometers (5 hours)
  • Regina – 350 kilometers (4 hours)

There are two Canada/US border crossings near the park at Monchy & West Poplar River but these entry points are rarely used to enter Canada. Hours of operation are limited.

The closest international airport is in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Interesting facts:

  • The first dinosaur remains to be found in Canada by Europeans were discovered in 1874 in the Killdeer Badlands in the East Block.
  • Sitting bull and about 5000 Sioux natives took refuge in the area after the defeat of General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Because of its remote location, Grasslands National Park is one of the least visited reserves in the national park system. If you've been to the other national parks, make sure to go out of your way to experience the quiet beauty of this corner of Canada. Check out other things to do in Saskatchewan.

Get more insider tips on Canadian Adventures at Scenic Travel Canada.

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