Saskatchewan‘s Big Muddy Badlands is truly an exciting one to explore. The natural architecture and desert like landscape are unique in the province. There really isn’t anything like the Big Muddy. Rich in history, the Big Muddy area once comprised part of the Outlaw Trail, a system of caves and trails which extended all the way from Canada down to Mexico. Tours are offered during summer of the trails and caves where outlaws like Sam Kelly once walked and sheltered in.
The Big Muddy Badlands extend along the southern part of the province and into Manitoba. Formed through erosion and time, and the with structures like the towering Castle Butte- which dates back to the last Ice Age, the landscape and natural architecture are truly wondrous.
Things to Do in and around the Big Muddy Badlands
1. Castle Butte – Coronach Big Muddy Tours
Rising 70 meters straight out of the prairies, a monument from another time and age, Castle Butte was carved out by the last Ice Age. The towering sandstone and clay structure has attracted people from all walks of life throughout history. An important landmark for Canada’s indigenous peoples, and later, early settlers, Castle Butte is a unique, must see structure.
Guided tours of the area, which include Castle Butte, are available in summer months. You do have to pre-book though and tours leave Coronach Tourist Information Booth located on Highway 18. Book by calling (306)-267-3312.
If you’d like to see it yourself, the best recommended times to do so are also spring through fall (June 1 to November 1). Located 22km south of Bengough on Highway 34, watch for the signs for the gravel road access. The natural landmark is located on private land and the owners graciously allow the public to visit from June 1 to November 1.
2. Outlaw Caves – Coronach Big Muddy Tours
Nestled amidst rolling hills, towering structures like Castle Butte, ravines, and caverns, are the amazing Outlaw Caves and Trail. In the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s, the Badlands comprised part of the Outlaw Trail. The caves and trails were part of a system that outlaws used which extended from Canada, all the way down to Mexico. You can still tour the caves and pathways that real outlaws, includes ones like Sam Kelly, walked. Tours can be pre-booked from June to September and tours leave Coronach Tourist Information Booth located on Highway 18. Book by calling (306)-267-3312.
You can also visit indigenous sacred sites like buffalo effigy in Big Beaver that showcase the important role of bison in First Nations culture, tipi rings and ceremonial circles.
3. Avonlea Heritage Museum
The Badlands cover a lot of land. While Castle Butte and the Outlaw Caves and Trail tours are closer to the Coronach area, the Avonlea Heritage Museum is worth checking out as well. Not only does the museum feature artifacts and recreated buildings from early life on the prairies, they also offer hikes into the Avonlea Badlands during the summer so you can explore and learn firsthand about the amazing plant life and fossils found in the area.
4. Southern Prairie Railway
If you’re in the area, make the Southern Prairie Railway a destination stop. While they don’t give tours of the actual Big Muddy, (it’s located about an hour away) the historical train tours takes you through Prarie landscapes of Southern Saskatchewan. The train depart from Ogema (401 Railway Avenue, Ogema) and run for approx. 2.5 hours. You’ll get a wealth of information about life on the prairies and enjoy an exciting train ride.
Choose from sightseeing tours, featuring grain elevators and or the one that gets you robbed by outlaws! If you are a foodie, go on the Prairie Pitchfork Fondue tour and taste Western steak oil fry or enjoy a delicious yesteryear spread on the Settler’s Supper tour.
4. Town of Willow Bunch
Located near the Big Muddy Badlands on Highway 36, it’s worth stopping and checking out the town of Willow Bunch, home of the Willow Bunch Giant, Edouard Beaupre. The museum is definitely worth checking out and if you’re an avid golfer, the town has a beautiful course. Jean-Louis Legare Regional Park has campsites and you can hike the coulees that are a part of the Big Muddy Valley.
St. Victor Petroglyphs Provincial Historic Park: Located 2 kilometers south of St Victor, South of Assiniboia off Highway 2, is St. Victor Petroglyphs Provincial Historic Park. See the unique rock carvings, carved upon a horizontal surface on the Canadian Plains.
The origin of the carvings are unknown, but it is estimated that the petroglyphs were carved between 500 – 1700 A.D. The area is fenced off to prevent damage, hence you can not really make out the carvings, but there are interpretive panels and reproductions that will help you learn more about the place.
5. Gravelbourg Cathedral
Though it’s located a little further from the Big Muddy area (and not part of the area), if you’re travelling, it’s worth marking the town on your route. Gravelbourg truly offers a unique experience. Known as ‘a touch of Europe on the prairies,’ the town is a fascinating gem rich in cultural and historical significance. If you’re visiting, you can’t miss the incredible Cathedral.
Located right near Main Street, the massive, nearly one hundred year old building is a wonder of architecture both from the outside and on the interior. It can hold up to 1500 people.
Where to Stay: The Big Muddy area offers a plethora of opportunity for exploring and discovery. The landscape is as varied as the amount of activities you can do! The Big Muddy area is quite large, so the number of accommodations in the area is wide and varied. If you want to camp out under the stars, there is the Assiniboia Campground, near Assiniboia or the Jean Louis Legare Regional Park near Willow Bunch.
There are also at least four bed and breakfasts in the area, if camping out isn’t for you. Many towns in the area offer hotels and motels.
The iconic Temple Gardens Hotel & Spa, located in Moose Jaw is within driving distance of the Big Muddy as well.
The Big Muddy Badlands extend over an area of fifty-five Km along the very southern part of the province and into Manitoba. Located in the Big Muddy Valley, it follows the Big Muddy Creek.
There are quiet a few cities and towns within driving distance of the Big Muddy area, or are located along the way. These include, Assiniboia, Gravelbourg, Willowbunch, Moose Jaw, Bengough, Coronach, Mossbank, Ogema, Avonlea, and Lafleche.
Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan is about 200 kms aways (~ 2.5 hrs drive) and about 150 km from Trans Canada Highway (from Moose Jaw). All the locations mentioned are great day trips from Moose Jaw. So if you are travelling on Trans Canada, why not make layover at Moose Jaw, and explore the area!