Canada | Travel

The Wonders of Southwestern Saskatchewan

August 13, 2015

On the 10th anniver­sary of my first arrival in Canada last year, I made it to the only Cana­di­an province I had nev­er been before: Saskatchewan. When I told peo­ple that I was going to Saskatchewan, they usu­al­ly looked at me fun­ny and then asked why. I sim­ply said, because I’ve nev­er been, which is pret­ty much the main rea­son for all my trav­els, real­ly. I didn’t expect to fall in love with the province, but fall in love with it I did.

Most fel­low Cana­di­ans seem to think that Saskatchewan is flat and bor­ing with noth­ing to see, but I’ve found it to be quite the oppo­site. Now, I’ve only been to a small cor­ner of Saskatchewan, but if one small cor­ner could have that much to see, imag­ine how much the whole province has to offer! In the four days I spent in South­west­ern Saskatchewan, I saw so many amaz­ing scener­ies and so much wildlife unlike any­thing I had ever seen before.

We spent our first night in Saskatchewan in Swift Cur­rent, which is a pret­ty big town com­pared to oth­ers we’d passed along the way. We arrived ear­ly in the evening, but there was still a cou­ple hours of day­light left and we were not about to waste it by just sit­ting around in our hotel room. There are places to go and things to see! So we decid­ed to go on a mis­sion to find Wal­ly the Wool­ly Mam­moth, or rather, the stat­ue of Wal­ly, in a small town called Kyle. Why? Because wool­ly mam­moth is my favourite extinct ani­mal! And yes, we did find Wal­ly!

Me and Wally, best friends forever.
Me and Wal­ly, best friends forever. (Pho­to cour­tesy my hus­band.)

I learned from my first day there that Saskatchewan is noth­ing if not quirky. :-)

On our way back from see­ing Wal­ly, we made a quick stop at Saskatchewan Land­ing Provin­cial Park to take a few pic­tures of the beau­ti­ful Lake Diefen­bak­er, named after John G. Diefen­bak­er, the 13th Prime Min­is­ter of Canada. From the look of the sky, we could see that a big storm was com­ing in.

Lake Diefenbaker at Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park.
Lake Diefen­bak­er at Saskatchewan Land­ing Provin­cial Park.

That night, we wit­nessed one of the most spec­tac­u­lar storms we’ve ever seen. The light­ning seemed to go on and on and on. The hotel lost pow­er sev­er­al times dur­ing the storm but we didn’t real­ly care. We were quite enjoy­ing the light show. Lat­er we learned that a tor­nado had actu­al­ly touched down fur­ther south from where we were. I was real­ly glad that we missed it.

The next morn­ing, we checked out of our hotel and drove straight out to Val Marie, which is the gate­way to Grass­lands Nation­al Park. It was a very scenic dri­ve from Swift Cur­rent, and being in Val Marie made me feel like I was in an old wild west movie. We had lunch at a local restau­rant and picked up some fresh fruits and snacks from a local gro­cery store before head­ing out to the park.

A grain elevator in Val Marie.
A grain ele­va­tor in Val Marie.

We stopped by the Grass­lands Nation­al Park vis­i­tor cen­tre first to pick up a map of the eco-dri­ve we were plan­ning to take and the friend­ly park staff point­ed out to us on the map some low-lying areas in the park that might be flood­ed after last night’s storm. We made a note to avoid those. There was no entrance fee to the park. All we had to do was sign the guest­book and we were good to go!

Grass­lands Nation­al Park deserves its own post, but let me tell you this: it is now one of my most favourite places in Canada, if not on Earth. I often think about it, long­ing to come back. Land­scape pho­tog­ra­phers should real­ly be all over this place. It’s beau­ti­ful. It’s nature, pure and sim­ple. Imag­ine a wide open space with big skies and plains bison roam­ing free; with river val­leys and hills dot­ted the park here and there; and the prairie grass­es danc­ing and whis­per­ing soft­ly in the wind. Amaz­ing place. You should total­ly go there. I can’t rec­om­mend it enough.

Plains bison in Grasslands National Park.
Plains bison in Grass­lands Nation­al Park.

We start­ed doing the Eagle But­te Loop hike but turned around short­ly after real­iz­ing that I was just too tired and hun­gry (and there­fore hangry) to do this hike in its entire­ty, even if it was only a 2 km., easy hike. Will have to do this next time for sure. It def­i­nite­ly looks like a beau­ti­ful hike with chances of inter­est­ing wildlife sight­ings.

The Eagle Butte looks very inviting.
The Eagle But­te looks very invit­ing.

The next day, after spend­ing a night at a love­ly B&B in the town of Fron­tier, we set out for the next part of our adven­ture and head­ed to Eas­t­end, Saskatchewan’s dinosaur coun­try, to vis­it the T. Rex Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre. It wasn’t half as big as the Roy­al Tyrrell Muse­um in Drumheller, Alber­ta that we vis­it­ed on the first day of our trip, but it was still quite inter­est­ing, infor­ma­tive, and edu­ca­tion­al. We real­ly enjoyed the screen­ing of the film about the local dis­cov­ery of Scot­ty the T. Rex, Canada’s largest and most com­plete T. Rex fos­silized skele­ton, in the ear­ly 90s.

A replica of Scotty the T. Rex skeleton at the T. Rex Discovery Centre.
A repli­ca of Scot­ty the T. Rex skele­ton at the T. Rex Dis­overy Cen­tre.

Then we real­ized that we had com­plete­ly missed The Old Man on His Back Prairie and Her­itage Con­ser­va­tion Area, which we found out to be locat­ed just around the cor­ner from Fron­tier where we had stayed the night before, so we had to back­track our way towards it. I just need­ed to see more of the majes­tic plains bison! We did see a big herd of them, but they were stand­ing far away from the road and we knew bet­ter than to approach them.

Trust me, those are plains bison, not cows.
Trust me, those are plains bison, not cows.

After check­ing in to a B&B in Maple Creek, we unload­ed our bags to our small room in the attic, and then had din­ner at a local Chi­ne­se restau­rant before head­ing to Cypress Hills Inter­provin­cial Park to explore, and also to find the high­est point in Saskatchewan some­where in the park. We found one close to it.

The highest point in Saskatchewan.
The high­est point in Saskatchewan. Or close to it.

I was real­ly impressed with the beau­ti­ful panoram­ic view from the top of Con­glom­er­ate Cliffs inside the park. It was quite stun­ning. There were love­ly wild spring flow­ers all over the place at the time, which made a great back­drop to the love­ly scener­ies.

A view from the top of Conglomerate Cliffs.
A view from the top of Con­glom­er­ate Cliffs.

We start­ed dri­ving towards the Alber­ta part of the inter­provin­cial park but had to turn around due to a flood­ed area on the road that we didn’t want to risk get­ting stuck in because it was almost dark, we didn’t have a 4×4 vehi­cle, and there was no cell­phone recep­tion. It was also quite a remote area. You don’t want to get stuck there! So we drove towards Fort Wal­sh instead even though we knew it wouldn’t be open. We just like to check things out. :-) Didn’t real­ly explore the fortress but I could see that it had quite a beau­ti­ful back­drop of lush green treed hills.

A teepee in Fort Walsh.
A teepee in Fort Wal­sh.

The next day we drove around Maple Creek a lit­tle bit before leav­ing and I saw a cow­boy cross­ing sign that made me smile; a friend­ly reminder that we were in the wild, wild west!

Cowboy crossing sign in Maple Creek.
Cow­boy cross­ing sign in Maple Creek.

It was our last day in Saskatchewan and our final des­ti­na­tion was the Great Sand Hills. On our way there, we stopped at an old, one-room school build­ing that was oper­a­tional in the years between 1924–1965. Every­thing seemed to be well-pre­served. I felt like I had been trans­port­ed to the old­en days.

The classroom in the old school building.
The class­room in the old school build­ing.

Next to the school build­ing was a tiny old church with old pho­tos hang­ing on its walls. Anoth­er trip back to the old­en days.

A tiny old church near Leader, SK.
A tiny old church near Lead­er, SK.

When we arrived in the town of Lead­er, of course we had to check out all the giant ani­mal sculp­tures the town is famous for, like this one of the kan­ga­roo rats.

Kangaroo rats aren't really this big.
Thank­ful­ly, kan­ga­roo rats aren’t real­ly this big.

And this one of the bur­row­ing owls.

The one on the left is looking straight into your soul!
The one on the left is look­ing straight into your soul!

I don’t think it was open at the time but the local tourist infor­ma­tion office in Lead­er is locat­ed inside a red caboose! How adorable is that? 

Tourist information office in Leader, SK.
Tourist infor­ma­tion office in Lead­er, SK.

Just out­side the town of Lead­er, we saw this loco­mo­tive. It was in a pret­ty good shape and didn’t look over­ly old so I’m not sure if it was aban­doned. If any­thing, it made for an inter­est­ing pho­to op with the stormy skies and the prairies in the back­ground.

A locomotive outside the town of Leader, SK.
A loco­mo­tive out­side the town of Lead­er, SK.

In order to get to the Great Sand Hills, we need­ed to pur­chase a map to the loca­tion from the Great Sand­hills Muse­um and Inter­pre­tive Cen­tre in Scep­tre, SK. While we were there, we thought we might as well pay the admis­sion fee to the muse­um and check out its quirky col­lec­tions of things from the old­en days. I just had to have my hus­band pose as a kan­ga­roo rat to remem­ber the vis­it by.

My husband is a kangaroo rat!
My hus­band is a kan­ga­roo rat!

After our lit­tle vis­it to the muse­um, we head­ed out to the Great Sand Hills with our copy of the map to the loca­tion in hand. After dri­ving on a dirt road for a bit, not quite sure if we were even on the right track, we saw the giant piles of sands in the mid­dle of a prairie land, and we knew we had been on the right track all along. It was just as beau­ti­ful, serene, and sur­re­al as I’d imag­ined it to be.

The Great Sand Hills.
The Great Sand Hills.

We climbed up a hill to get a sweep­ing view of the dunes and on top of it, we found this struc­ture with cow­boy boots hang­ing all over it. Not quite sure what this is all about but it’s inter­est­ing. As I men­tioned before, Saskatchewan is noth­ing if not quirky. :-)

A great collection of cowboy boots on top of a hill in the Great Sand Hills.
A great col­lec­tion of cow­boy boots on top of a hill in the Great Sand Hills.

As we were head­ing out of Saskatchewan towards Alber­ta, we saw a herd of prong­horn antelopes. We had seen them before in oth­er loca­tions in Saskatchewan but they were either alone or in pairs, nev­er in herds. It was as if they were giv­ing us a big send-off. :-)

A herd of pronghorn antelopes.
A herd of prong­horn antelopes.

I love Saskatchewan. Will def­i­nite­ly make a trip back there again in the future to see more.

5 Comments

  1. I saw this on the Cypress Hills FB page.Thanks for vis­it­ing my province.Next time you want to explore South­ern Saskatchewan try the Clay­bank His­toric Brick Plant, south of Moose Jaw. It’s almost a hun­dred years old and is actu­al­ly pre­served the way it was when it was closed. The near­by clay hills are locat­ed near a beau­ti­ful val­ley. Any­way, good luck with your trav­els.

    1. We would have loved to make it to Moose Jaw and check out the attrac­tions around it but couldn’t due to time con­straint. Next time for sure! The Clay­bank His­toric Brick Plant sounds very inter­est­ing. I’ve actu­al­ly nev­er heard of it before so thanks for the tip! Always appre­ci­ate trav­el tips from the locals. :-) And thank you for vis­it­ing my blog!

  2. Thanks for vis­it­ing my lit­tle cor­ner of the world, make sure to come back again some­time. Any­one thinks that Sask is noth­ing but flat has nev­er been off the #1 and even the flat bits are beau­ti­ful pieces of prairie with gor­geous skies. :-D

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