There are only two national parks in the province of Saskatchewan, and each offers a perfect look at the unique differences of the varied landscapes of Saskatchewan. This road trip will take you to both the parks with some great stops in between.
In the south, visitors will find the beautiful prairies and slightly rolling hills of the grasslands, and to the north, the rugged rocks and coniferous forests of the Canadian Shield plateau. Saskatchewan is full of beauty and the culture and history of the First Nations and settlers. There are plenty of lakes and rivers and Provincial Parks to explore, wildlife to see and sites to visit.
Every prairie town has something unique.
Do not forget to watch the “living skies” during your trip. The mornings bring spectacular sunrises and the evenings amazing sunsets. Winter nights give you views of incredible Northern Lights.
About this road trip: Please note that Saskatchewan can have strong winds at times and during the summer tornadoes can appear in the southern and central parts of the province. Check the local weather forecast before heading out. As well, some off-the-beaten-track places may not be open during the winter season, check websites for open dates and hours. A good GPS and a printed road map is always handy to get you through the cities or along country roads. All drive times listed are based on distance, so you may find yours longer due to picture or rest stops, or if you decide to stop for an activity or site not listed.
Note: If you like, you can drive from Grasslands to Prince Albert National Park in one day if you don’t stop to see anything else.
I. Grassland National Park
Located by the southern border of the province, above Montana, Grasslands National Park covers an area of 907 square kilometers. The area here was formed by erosion by glacial meltwater and has unique geological features along with an abundance of wildlife, some of which are not found anywhere else in the province. In 2006, 71 Plains bison from Elk Island National Park in Alberta were reintroduced to Grasslands and by 2015 the herd had grown to over 300 animals. As well, in 2009 the Park was declared a dark sky reserve.
Grasslands National Park is divided into two blocks – East and West. Each Block is accessed through different communities, with a wide variety of services in all of them – accommodations, restaurants, gas, and groceries. You can also camp in the Park and it is recommended to make reservations in advance.
** To start this trip, from Trans Canada Highway, set your GPS to East Block or West Block of Grasslands National Park depending on the direction you are coming from. The map given at the end of the article assumes that you are starting from East Block. **
There are lots of opportunities for wildlife viewing in both sides of the park. The best times to see wildlife is around dawn and dusk, and keep in mind that if you see bison, you need to stay at least 100 meters away from them.
The East Block is wilder and more remote than the West Block, which means there are less tourists and it is a bit harder to get to, but well worth it in the end. Start off at the Visitor’s Center to get the maps and information that you might require.
Visitor’s Center – The Rock Creek Visitor Centre is the place to go to get any information about this block. As well, you can view informative displays on the Indigenous Peoples of the area, the famous paleontology and geology of the area, ranchers and early homesteaders, and the early development of the province.
Badlands Parkland – The Parkway is an 11 km, single lane, paved road designed for two-way traffic, with 20 pull-offs placed strategically along the route to allow for passing traffic. There are 6 viewpoints along the route that provide views and highlights of the features of the historic trail the road follows, along with westward views across a wild prairie expanse. Take your time and enjoy the unique habitats, rare and common wildlife species, hidden archaeological secrets and a timeless horizon.
Red Chairs – As with a lot of the National Parks in Canada, there are some of the iconic red chairs set out in spectacular places so that visitors can sit and enjoy the scenery. The East Block is home to three locations of fun red chairs. Make sure you take a picture and share it with Parks Canada! You can find them at the Ta Sunka Watógla, Zahurksy Point, and the Valley of 1000 Devils.
Hiking – There are only two official trails in the East Block. The moderate Creek to Peak trail is only 750 meters each way and gives you an opportunity to reach a summit to have a view of the Rock Creek Valley. The Rock Creek Loop trail is 2-kilometers in length and is an easy path to enjoy a view of Rock Creek.
Back Country Hiking – There are two challenging routes available here for backcountry hiking. The Red Buttes Route is 16 kilometers round trip, and the Valley of the 1000 Devils Route is 12 kilometers round trip. Each of these has their challenges and need to be prepared for ahead of time. Check with Parks Canada or the Visitor’s Center for more information.
The dominating feature of the West Block is the Frenchman River Valley. This incredibly, undisturbed space has 70 different types of native grasses and an amazing number of wildflowers, not to mention the 1,200 or more tipi circles that dot the landscape. The wild bison run free here, creating an atmosphere that will take you back to the days before the settlers came. Keep your eyes open for the beautiful and unique Pronghorns or the black-tailed prairie dogs, along with other wildlife. Explore this area by hiking, on horseback or driving.
Visitor’s Center – The West Block Visitor’s Center is located in Val Marie, where you may want to stop and get any paper maps or additional information you require for your stay in the area. While you are there you can check out the visual displays and the grasslands movie.
Ecotour Scenic Drive – This is an 80-kilometer round trip from Val Marie, so make sure you have sufficient gas to get you through the 20-kilometer ecotour route and back to town. You need up to 2 – 3 hours to complete the entire journey. This is a self-guided tour that will take you through the gorgeous landscape with its history and conservation. You can pick up a guide at the Visitor’s Center, as well as enjoy the information panels located along the roadside. Take your time and enjoy the picnic areas or the walking trails.
Red Chairs – In the West Block, you can find them in three locations – the Belza Day Use Area, the Borderlands Lookout, and the Broken Hills Trail.
Hiking – There are 10 official hiking routes listed for the West Block. Most of these are accessed from day use areas or off the ecotour scenic drive route. They range from 750 meters to 17 kilometers long and from easy to difficult. Use the Parks Canada website for exact details or ask at the Visitor’s Center.
Back Country Hiking – The most rugged route that can be done in the Park, you should expect difficult conditions and be prepared for a higher elevation (3300 feet). You can do this 15 kilometer loop in a day, or choose to spend the night in your tent overlooking the Otter Basin escarpment.
II. Grasslands National Park to Swift Current
Distance from Val Marie: 120 kms or 268 kms
Drive time: Approximately 1.25 hours or 3 hours
If you would like to go straight through to Swift Current (or farther) you can take the direct route from Val Marie. Head north on SK-4 and you will arrive into Swift Current in just over an hour. There are several accommodations available to choose from and several sites you can enjoy if you choose to spend the night.
The second choice of route will take you off to the west, on Highway 18 to Sk-614 N and turn right. You will arrive into the town of Eastend and you will need to follow signs for the T. Rex Discovery Center. This museum exhibits feature Saskatchewan’s dinosaurs, marine reptiles and prehistoric mammals and a real meteorite!
When you are ready to continue on to Swift Current (or go a driving tour of the area), take SK-13 E for 43 kilometers to SK-37 N. At Highway 16 turn right and follow it for 55 kilometers to your destination.
Check out some of the historical buildings here, or spend the night to visit some of the nearby sites.
Mennonite Heritage Village – This is a historical Mennonite Village depicting the life and times of early settlers in the Swift Current area, and to develop appreciation for the contributions made to this country by Mennonite immigrants. Enjoy authentic artifacts at this Living Museum depicting the historical era from the 1880s to the 1920s.
Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame – If you want to take a break from the typical Saskatchewan history, head on over to the Hockey Hall of Fame, which is open Tuesdays through Saturday from 1 – 5 pm.
Swift Current Museum – Located in the same building as the Visitor’s Center, this museum has been around since 1939 and has an amazing collection of exhibits on the history and settlers of the area.
Doc’s Town – This Heritage Village consists of eight heritage buildings and three modern buildings constructed with heritage features. Each building contains exhibits and collection items that relate to its original use and look. The buildings have come from various places in the southwest, including Leinan, Tuberose and Swift Current.
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III. Swift Current to Diefenbaker Lake
Distance: 395 kms
Drive time: Approximately 5.25 hours
Head out of Swift Current on Highway 32 W to the town of Sceptre, about 1.5 hours down the road. The area of Great Sand Hills is a unique 1,900 sq. km area of active desert-like sand dunes. For an overview of the region’s natural and human history and to obtain a directional map to the dunes, visit the Great Sandhills Museum in Sceptre (open mid-May to Labour Day weekend). To access the Great Sandhills from Sceptre, take the grid road on the east side of the village (off Hwy 32) for 9.6 km, follow the curve to the right at the T junction, travel west for 1.6 km, then south for approximately 10 km to the parking lot with interpretive signs. Walk approximately 0.5 km on a narrow sandy trail to the dune formations, climb to the top of a huge sand dune and simply enjoy the view. Windy conditions are common.
Or you can skip the Sandhills visit and continue north on Highway 4 from Swift Current. This highway will take you through Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park, which is a historic area and a beautiful place for a stop. The Goodwin House, just off the highway, is home to the Visitor’s Center as well as an interpretive center. There are interpretive trails, a boat launch and other historic sites to enjoy here.
If you choose not to stop, or once you are finished enjoying the park, continue north to the town of Kyle, just beyond which you will turn right onto SK-342, turn right onto SK-42. At Lucky Lake, turn left on SK-45 and follow signs for Lake Diefenbaker and/or Coteau Beach.
Lake Diefenbaker is a 225-kilometer-long reservoir and bifurcation lake that was formed by the construction of Gardiner Dam and the Qu’Appelle River Dam across the South Saskatchewan and Qu’Appelle Rivers. The 800-kilometers of shoreline creates a fantastic area for tourists and locals alike, who can enjoy the seven beautiful parks, the abundance of wildlife and birds, the lovely sandy beaches and, of course, the amazing, record-breaking trophy fishing.
To stay in the area, there are camping spots, cabin rentals and a few nearby hotels. Small towns around the area provide the services that you may require –such as gas or food.
Gardiner Dam – A must-see when in the area, the Dam is the largest dirt filled dam in the country. The Gardiner Dam Interpretative Centre in Danielson Provincial Park has everything you need to know about the dam including footage of the construction and informational displays. This is located at the north end of the lake.
Fishing – There are Walleye, Rainbow Trout, Northern Pike, Lake Trout, Sauger, Yellow Perch, Lake Whitefish, Burbot and Goldeye to be caught here. There are three full-service marinas and numerous boat launches on the lake to get you into the water if you don’t have your own boat. Don’t forget that you need a license from Saskatchewan in order to fish here.
Water Sports – You can’t visit such a large clean lake without thinking about hopping in or on the water. There are boat rentals if you want to hop on some skis, or take your own kayak, canoe, or paddle board to spend a morning, afternoon, evening, or a couple of days on the water. This is also a great lake for sailing!
Beaches – It makes sense that the 800-kilometers of shoreline will offer up some gorgeous beaches to be enjoyed. Play in the sand or soak up the rays, no matter how you choose to enjoy your time it will be amazing.
Danielson Provincial Park – On the northern edge of the lake you will find this lovely provincial park. This is a good area for hiking, as it is home to part of the Trans Canada Trail and the Prairie View Nature Trail.
Douglas Provincial Park – This provincial park features a nice sandy shoreline for relaxing and massive inland sand dunes that you can hike to. There are also other interpretive hiking trails and a nearby 18-hole championship golf course.
IV. Diefenbaker Lake to Saskatoon
Distance: 106 kms
Drive time: Approximately 1.25 hours
This route is going to start from the Tourist Center in Danielson Provincial Park. This is pretty much a straight shot to the city of Saskatoon, along a very pretty route. From the Visitor’s Center, head out on SK-44 E for about 5-kilometers, which turns into SK-219 N. You will have to turn left, watching for signs for SK-291 N. This route will take you straight into the city.
Saskatoon is the largest city in the province but easy to get around and has some great accommodation and restaurant options. It also has a beautiful river valley that can be enjoyed by walking or biking. Saskatoon is named after the local Saskatoon berry – a sweet, violet coloured berry that grows wild. This city is the hub of the province and is well known as the “Paris of the Prairies” referring to the 7 bridges that cross the South Saskatchewan River, or POW, referring to potash, oil and wheat, after the natural resources the city and area is famous for.
There are a number of interesting sites in and around the city that you may want to visit while you are here. As well, check out some of the unique eateries in the area, such as Babas Homestyle Perogies, probably one of the only places in the world where you can get Perogies through a drive-thru. There are lots of great accommodation options in and around the city for you to choose from.
Prarie Lilly – Go on a one hour South Saskatchewan River cruise on Prarie Lilly. Choose from sightseeing or dining cruises and see the natural beauty of the Meewasin Valley, and the Saskatoon downtown.
Western Development Museum Saskatoon – There are four Western Development Museums in Saskatchewan, dotted around the prairies. Each one has unique exhibits of each area. This is part of the largest human history museum in Saskatchewan, with a collection of over 75,000 artifacts ranging from pins to locomotives, this museum shares the Saskatchewan story from the beginning of settlement to present day.
Beaver Creek Conservation Area – Located 13 km south of Saskatoon off Highway #219, this gorgeous area was established in 1979. Take some time to visit the interpretive centre before exploring the zone. Habitation and kill sites found here indicate the area has been occupied for more than 5,000 years. One of a small number of uncultivated short-grass prairie areas preserved in Saskatchewan, the current site has been used as a nature park since 1913.
Wanuskewin Heritage Park – About fifteen minutes from downtown Saskatoon, you will find this heritage park, which allows visitors to have a view into the history of the area including some of the most exciting archaeological finds in North America, many of which pre-date the pyramids of Egypt. Open to the public since 1992, the interpretive center and trails allow visitors to experience this unique site.
Ukrainian Museum of Canada – This museum offers a diverse collection of Ukrainian artifacts collected from the first, second and third waves of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada. Textiles such as shirts, weavings, and embroidery make up the bulk of their collection, but the museum also houses thousands of pysanky (Ukrainian Easter eggs), religious items, wooden carvings, postoly (shoes) and beadwork. First opened in 1936, this was Canada’s first Ukrainian museum.
Saskatchewan Railway Museum – A 20 minute drive out of the city, this site is home to an impressive collection of railway artifacts from the province. Climb aboard locomotives, cabooses, a 1911 Canadian Pacific sleeping car, or a Saskatoon Municipal Railway streetcar! Ride down the track on the museum’s own “speeder” and learn all about the railway in the museum’s interpretive centre.
Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo – This site began with a tree nursery, but millions of saplings and a hundred years later, the Park & Zoo remains a cornerstone of ecology, inspired learning and lasting memories in the Prairies. Today, this National Historic Site boasts carefully crafted gardens, restored heritage buildings, a great new naturally themed playground and Saskatchewan’s only CAZA-AZAC accredited zoo where you can see over 300 animals.
Remai Modern – This building includes 11 gallery spaces, a 150-seat theatre, a restaurant, and outdoor terraces. Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and other 20th-century artists have a home here and the Remai Modern has been listed at no. 18 in the New York Times “52 places to go in 2018.
V. Saskatoon to Prince Albert
Drive distance: 192 kms or 207 kms
Drive time: approximately 2.25 hours or 2.25 hours
There are two different routes that you can take to arrive to the city of Prince Albert, or if you prefer, take the direct route and drive the distance between Saskatoon and Waskesiu all in one day.
Depart Saskatoon on SK-11 N and travel for about 66 kilometers to turn off to the right on SK-312, signs for Batoche National Historic Site. Travel for another 15 kilometers and turn left onto Sk-225 E to reach the site itself. The views along the river are fantastic, and you have the chance to meet characters of the time as you take a guided tour through the site. The history here is incredible. Louis Riel selected Batoche as the headquarters of his “Provisional Government of Saskatchewan” from where he could negotiate with the Dominion of Canada for the rights of the Métis, the settlers and First Nations of the territories.
Retrace your steps to SK-11 N to continue to Duck Lake. Turn left off the highway at signs for Duck Lake Regional Interpretive Center. The museum is set up to take visitors on a journey through the Métis’ first days of the resistance in the area around Duck Lake to the final days, the European pioneers’ everyday struggles, and the First Nations struggles with the disappearance of the buffalo, along with a viewing tower to see the surrounding area, and a gift shop featuring local artists.
After you have enjoyed this site, return to SK-11 N and turn left to continue to your destination of Prince Albert, travelling 49 kilometers to Highway 2 where you will turn left to arrive into the city.
The second route you can choose to take will approximately the same amount of drive time but if you choose to see the sites you may need the whole day. Travelling north on SK-11, keeping left to continue on to SK-12. Watch for signs for Doukhobor Dugout House or Tree Road on the right side (use your GPS if you don’t want to miss the turn). This road takes you by the old cottonwood/balsam poplar hybrid has been growing since before the first settlers came to this area. Continue to the
Dugout House site, where you can enjoy a visit and tour of this incredibly unique place. The lives of the Russian Doukhobors who made this place their home make an amazing story of the tenacity of the settlers of the time. Please note that this site is only open on specific days.
Return to SK-12 and continue west to arrive into Blaine Lake. If you want to take another quick break, check out the 13 murals here that depict rural life and were painted by local artists. You will want to turn onto SK-40 E, signs for Prince Albert. At the town of Parkside, you can stop and take a pic at the World’s Largest Lily! It was built to recognize an area settler, Dr. A. J. Porter, the founder of the nearby Honeywood Heritage Nursery where over 30 lily varieties were developed by him and to this day the site flourishes with lily blooms and other florals during the summer.
From Parkside you will travel just a couple of minutes up to the major intersection of Highway 3 to turn right to travel onwards to Prince Albert.
VI. Prince Albert
Prince Albert is the third-largest city in the province, this city is commonly referred to as P.A. There is some history here as well as some lovely outdoor areas to enjoy. The Visitors Center has a nice gift shop with locally made items, including chocolates, along with all the info you might need on the area. There are plenty of places to stay in the city, including hotels, campgrounds, and bed and breakfasts.
Diefenbaker House – It is not too often that you get a chance to visit a former Prime Minister’s house, so take advantage. John Diefenbaker donated this to the city in 1975 to become a museum and it is an interesting look into the 1950’s life and his time as an MP in the city. The building is from 1912 and is filled with period furniture and items as it would have been when he was living there. Visits are by appointment only in the winter, call 306-953-4863, and open daily from May to September.
The Historical Museum – An old fire hall, this museum has three floors of exhibits to enjoy. Their exhibits cover military, Indigenous, fire department and civic history, early settler history dioramas, sports history, and religious information, early business and industry history, and during the summer you can find a nice tea house on the second floor.
Rotary Museum of Police and Corrections – Originally a guardhouse for the F Division of the Northwest Mounted Police, a tour guide will show you artifacts and archival documents which tell the story of law enforcement in Prince Albert and Western Canada since 1884. Open daily during the summer and by appointment during the winter.
The Evolution of Education Museum – This building is a fine example of the one room schoolhouses which dotted the prairies in the mid-twentieth century. It was constructed in 1920 and used as a school until 1963. This building tells the story of early rural schooling and some of the first teachers in Prince Albert. A tour guide is available to show you the site which tell the story of how students were taught in the early 1900’s. During winter months an appointment is required to visit.
Downtown Walking Tour –A Walking Tour is available to take you through one of the most historically significant settlements in western Canada. The unassuming buildings tell a story of the clash of cultures and the desire to build a successful city.
Keyhole Castle – If you want a unique place to stay, consider Keyhole Castle. Built in early 1910s by Prince Albert businessman Samuel McLeod, this Queen Anne Revival style building is a B&B and one of the finest heritage homes in Canada.
Prince Albert to Waskesiu (Prince Albert National Park)
Drive distance: 90 kms
Drive time: approximately 1 hour
From Prince Albert, follow the signs for SK-2 North – La Ronge. About 80 kilometers farther you will look for the signs indicating the left turn to SK-264 W (signs for Waskesiu/McPhee Lake). There is an entrance fee to get into the Park, so be prepared to pay at the booth or the machines before entering. If there is no one at the booth, or if you can’t pay at the machine, just head into town and pay at the Parks Canada office.
Prince Albert National Park was created in 1927 and covers an incredible amount of area – 3,874 square kilometres in total. The gorgeous lakes, rivers and surrounding boreal forest, with a multitude of activities and chances to see wildlife, offers an escape from the prairies of the southern part of the province. You may be able to glimpse animals such as black bears, moose, deer or even wolves. One of Pelicans, loons, mergansers, ospreys, and bald eagles are commonly seen in summer. Otters are seen regularly, year-round.
There are endless outdoor opportunities in the Park with 120 kilometers of hiking trails and 7 lakes that offer many secluded canoe or kayak routes. The small town of Waskesiu is the only one which supports the area, so within the park this is the only place to find services such as a grocery store. There are both campgrounds and hotels in which to stay, and several restaurants to enjoy. The town has a lovely beach where you can relax or play in the sand and water. The following suggestions are only a small portion of what you can enjoy in the Park area, so make sure you go to the Visitors Center at the Parks Canada building to get maps or other information. If you are planning an overnight canoe or hiking trip, it is a good idea to check in with Parks Canada before departing.
Waskesiu Heritage Museum – This museum has displays depicting the human history of Waskesiu Lake and Prince Albert National Park since its creation. It features an original canvas-roofed shack tent and a replica camp kitchen, a fire tower cupola, a portable cabin and shed fondly known as a dog house, a rail cart portaging a canoe, and an original log building.
Grey Owl Cabin Hike/Canoe – Classified as difficult, this route can be achieved by either hiking or canoeing, will take you at least two days to go in and out. The Grey Owl Cabin is a historic site where the famous man, dubbed “caretaker of the animals” spent his days writing and giving tours. An incredible adventure into the wilderness and a once in a lifetime experience.
Ziplining – Located only 5 minutes away, at Elk Ridge Resort, there are 7 ziplines that zoom you through the boreal forest, along with multiple skybridges. The tours take anywhere from 1.5 hours to 2 hours in total.
Golfing – There are two places to golf here, one right beside town and one just outside the Park. The Waskesiu Lobstick Golf Course has been in place for more than 75 years now and was designed by legendary Canadian architect Stanley Thompson. The clubhouse has a great restaurant as well, so a good choice to enjoy lunch. Elk Ridge Resort also is home to an excellent course, along with other activities.
Hiking Boundary Bog Trail – There are an amazing number of hiking trails in the area, but this is one of the favourites. The boardwalk takes you through the unique black spruce fen with its carnivorous plants, dwarf birch and golden tamarack. This easy trail takes about an hour to complete.
Fishing – There are a number of closed areas for fishing, as well as limits in the areas that you can fish in, so the best thing to do is go to the Parks Canada office before heading out. As well, you will need a license to fish in the province which can also be obtained from the office. Lake trout, northern pike and walleye are just a few of the game fish species that can be found in the waters in both summer and winter.
Other Hiking – There are 17 trails that vary in length and level of difficulty, so you can choose from a short walk, day hike or an overnight backcountry excursion. Although you will encounter steep hills on some trails there is little overall change in elevation throughout the park.
Bird Watching – There are more than 200 species of birds in the Park to observe. The spruce forests, aspen woods, fescue meadows, lakes and wetlands all add to the diversity of bird life found within the park.
Paddling Routes – You can rent canoes, kayaks and boats in the area if you don’t have your own. If you do, enjoy the on the water routes that will take you to some spectacular regions of the lakes in the park.
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Winter Activities – For those who love travelling in the snowy months, the good news is that the Park is open year-round. Try some ice fishing, snowshoeing, cross country skiing or skating. There aren’t as many services available in the winter, so make your plans ahead of time.