Road trip Saskatchewan’s stunning National Parks – Lonely Planet

Visiting Canada’s parks has become more popular than ever. With a leisurely, meandering north-to-south road trip through Saskatchewan’s stunning landscape you can see many of the province’s best, from Prince Albert National Park to Grasslands National Park.

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Waskesiu Lake © Carey Shaw Photography / Tourism Saskatchewan

Prince Albert National Park

Begin your journey in the heart of Saskatchewan at Prince Albert National Park, where you’ll find a bounty of trails and wildlife viewing opportunities. Make the small resort town of Waskesiu Lake, located within the park, your base camp – the park features numerous multi-use trails for all skill levels and a range of amenities and accommodation all year round. All campgrounds and operation seasons are dependent on weather.

Highway 263 is a favorite among road cyclists, who love the scenic 48km route between Wakesiu and the park’s southern boundary; but there are lots of shorter paved paths too. Other adventures include canoeing, kayaking, or stand-up paddle boarding at Hanging Heart Lakes, hiking the northern boreal forest, horseback riding in the warmer months, and cross-country skiing or snowshoeing during winter.     

Bring your camera and be on the lookout for bison, moose, wolves, foxes, elk, deer, beavers, otters, coyotes, and black bears – but don’t forget to look up occasionally, or you might miss one of the more than 200 species of birds, including eagles, osprey, and herons.

If you’re a pasta fan, make time to dine at Restaurant Pietro in Waskesiu Lake, where the pasta is hand-made in-house. For something more relaxed with vegetarian and kid-friendly options, try Pete’s Terrace, where pub fare such as pizza and burgers is a specialty. 

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Batoche National Historic Site © Greg Huszar Photography / Tourism Saskatchewan

Batoche National Historic Site

From Prince Albert National Park, head south through the city of Prince Albert and – if it’s between May and October – make a stop at the Batoche National Historic Site. This is where the Battle of Batoche took place in 1885 during the Northwest Resistance.

In the museum, you can take an interactive digital journey, check out dioramas and see the unique collection of artifacts from the Métis (mixed European and Indigenous ancestry) and First Nations.

After you’re done exploring the museum, take a ride on the open-sided Batoche Shuttle, which takes visitors on a tour of the former Métis settlement on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River and has Parks Canada staff in authentic historic dress ready to answer questions. Before getting back on the road, stretch your legs along the Li pchi shmayn walking trail to forage for edible berries and gain views of the aspen forest and prairies.  

Saskatoon

Treat yourself to an overnight stay in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan’s largest city, and enjoy the views of the South Saskatchewan River. For dinner, try Odd Couple, which serves creative Asian fusion dishes like vegan kung pao and maple thai basil pork ribs.

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Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park © Paul Austring / Tourism Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park

After brunch, input Saskatchewan Landing to your GPS and continue on your southward journey. This is where the first historic crossing of the South Saskatchewan River took place. Today, it’s known for its hiking trails, beaches, fishing and golf.

There are three interpretive hiking trails: “Rings, Ruts, and Remnants,” an easy 2.75km loop trail that features tipi rings and remnants of early homesteaders; the “Ridges and Ravines Trail,” a moderate 1.2km loop trail with lake views and interesting geological characteristics; and the “Prairie Vista Trail,” a moderate 3.5km out-and-back trail with a hill climb that leads to majestic views.

Watch for ferruginous hawks, piping plovers, prairie falcons, burrowing owls, golden eagles, and loggerhead shrikes as well as antelope, mule deer, and bobcats. The park is also home to the Goodwin House, which is a historic home built by the first known settlers, the Goodwin Family.

After you’ve had your fix of hiking, watersports, and sunbathing at Saskatchewan Landing, check out the nearby La Reata Ranch, or head to the town of Swift Current for dinner at Nightjar Diner. It’s not your average small town prairie diner – the restaurant and grocery store works with local food producers to offer homegrown fare. Don’t miss the cornbread waffles and gourmet salads. If you’re not the one driving, try the Shiso Julep or the Nokomis Kettle Sour Beer.

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Man horseback riding in Cypress Hills Provincial Park, Saskatchewan in 2017. © Chris Hendrickson Photography / Tourism Saskatchewan

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park

Instead of heading directly south on Highway 4, take a detour on the Trans-Canada Highway 1 to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. Go camping here to enjoy one of the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserves. There are a half-dozen tent and RV campgrounds with close access to water stations and washrooms with showers. Campsite reservations can be made online or by phone.

From horseback riding to golfing, hiking, and canoeing, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities to choose from. You’ll find a few unexpected adventures at Cypress Hills that you won’t find at most provincial parks, such as Segway tours, axe throwing, ziplining, climbing, and geocaching. Keep your wildlife checklist out for elk, moose, wild turkeys, mule deer, pine martens, and cougars.

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Grasslands National Park © Chris Hendrickson Photography / Tourism Saskatchewan

Grasslands National Park

On your way from Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park to Grasslands National Park, grab a bite to eat and snacks for the road at Harvest Eatery and Fresh Market in Shaunavon. Feast on a family-size serving of barbeque or enjoy some of the lighter fare, like the nicoise salad.

When you get to the National Park, you’ll be greeted with rolling grassy hills and wide open plains. Start your tour with a self-guided 20km driving tour through the Frenchman River Valley. Grab the brochure from the visitor center and stop at the information panels along the way for more education. On this drive you may see prairie dog colonies, bison, and prairie birds. If you do encounter wildlife, be sure to give them their space. 

Look for the seven red chair locations around the park that not only make a fun bucket list adventure for park exploration but are also great photo spots in every Canadian National Park. Have a seat in the red Adirondack chairs and take in the views.

For something more active, take a hike on one of the dozen hiking trails that range from easy to difficult. If you’re up for the challenge and hoping to see bison, take the 16km  Timbergulch Trail, which has three prominent, glacially created coulee bottoms you’ll have to traverse. For an easy nature walk, take the half-mile Top Dogtown loop trail and scout for black-tailed prairie dogs. Beware of rattlesnakes and quicksand while you’re adventuring in the park.

If you want to go kayaking on the Frenchman River, the easiest launch access is via the Belza bridge area. If you prefer a guided kayak tour, you can set one up with the parks office.

To end your journey with a unique experience, spend the night at the nearby Convent Inn at Val Marie. The restored former convent has nine rooms and stays include a home-cooked breakfast. The hardwood floors, historical records, and claw foot bathtubs make this place as quaint as can be.

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