A Complete Guide to Grasslands National Park

A Complete Guide to Grasslands National Park

We stumbled across Grasslands National Park in southern Saskatchewan last september on our 100 day ultimate Canadian road trip. Our plan was to stop for a few nights before moving east but instead 8 days later we found ourselves unwilling to leave. If the urge for a long hot shower hadn’t become all encompassing we would have easily stayed an extra few days so you can tell we were seriously smitten!

 

We’ve written a couple of blogs about Grassland’s and we’ve had a lot of people asking us for more information about it. After putting our heads together we’ve created this all-encompassing  piece: A Complete Guide to Grasslands National Park. We’ve made it as detailed and as informative as possible in the hope that it gets you there sooner.

 

For a more romantic glimpse at the Grasslands read our post The sounds and the Silence of Grasslands National Park or our collaborative post with Feathery Travels: Top Camping That Make You Wonder Why You Ever Slept Indoors. The latter describes why the Grasslands is one of our most favourite places to camp (and we camp a LOT!).

 

For the rest of you eager to get to know the park inside and out then you’ve come to the right page…

 

A Complete Guide to Grasslands National Park

As its name suggest the Grasslands National Park is one of the worlds best preserved examples of wild grasses but if you think there’s only grass to be found here, then think again.

 

Did you know:

*Archaeologists say that the Grasslands has one of the best preserved records of the dinosaur era.

*Meteorologists say that Grasslands has Canada’s best KPG matter, matter from space!!

*Astrologists claim that Grasslands is one of Canada’s dark spots

*Audio specialists are claiming that Grasslands is one quietest places in North America

*And as for animal enthusiasts, well they love access into Canada’s only example of a unique species set.

*Historian revere it’s teepee rings and other artefacts for their links with Canadian history

 

A Complete Guide to Grasslands National Park, Canada, Saskatchewan

 

How to Get to Grasslands National Park

Grassland National Park is consists of two blocks, the East Block and West Block. These have recently been connected however treating them as separate entities is beneficial because the entrances are a two hour drive from one another on highway 18.

Public transport is void, to access the park you’ll need a car.

*Take extra care after rainfall when the roads, especially gravel roads, are incredible slippery.

 

 

How to get to the West Block:

The roads aren’t immaculate by any means but any 2WD will be able to handle them. Highway 4 gets a bad rap so perhaps consider taking the lesser known highway 18, this will be a slightly longer trip with less time on the Trans Canadian but the scenery is infinitely better. If coming from the West head south through Maple Creek, it took us a little over 3 hours but having the roads to ourselves was pleasant and getting to soak up the endless open expanse was bliss.

If coming from the East use highway 2 heading south through Moose Jaw and then onto Assiniboina.

 

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How to get to the East Block:

The visitor centre is located at the McGowan visitor centre. To get there from the West Block, take Highway 18. There is great signage to make this drive as simple as possible. Once you intercept with highway two turn right (head south) for 3.5km, you will then turn right (west) on a grid road towards Lonesome Butte.

Follow the signs for 8.5km which will take you towards the McGowan visitor centre.

 

A Complete Guide to Grasslands National Park, quicksand, hiking
Testing Out The Quicksand

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Animals of Grasslands National Park

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs

Pronghorn Antelope

Coyote

Sage Grouse

Burrowing Owl

Ferruginous Hawk

Prairie Rattlesnake

Greater Short-horned Lizard

Plains Bison

Porcupine

Skunk

Racoon

Black-footed Ferrets

Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer Snake

 

A Complete Guide to Grasslands National Park, coyote

 

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Other things to Look Out For

Northern Lights

Incredible Sunsets and moon rises

Teepee rings from historic indigenous tribes

Marine fossils

Mammal fossils

Dinosaur fossils

Quicksand

K-Pg layer

The milky way

 

A Complete Guide to Grasslands National Park, dinosaur fossils
Looking at a radius of a triceratops

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What’s at West Block?

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Accommodation options: 

Val Marie town is the gateway to the West Block, housing the parks visitor centre and situated only 10km from the parks gates.  Within the quaint, bubbly little town you can find accommodation to suit your budget from fully serviced campsites to Budget Hotels and B&B’s.

 

Here is a list (not extensive, there are plenty more!)

  •  The Convent Inn (a stunning converted masterpiece) offers double rooms for $80 incl. breakfast

  •  The Crossing at Grasslands (5km south of Val Marie) offers Teepee’s for $20 or rooms for $90

  •  Village of Val Marie Campground offers camp sites for $25 incl. hot water

  •  Val Marie Hotel offers budget doubles for $60

 

Inside West Block:

Parks Canada offers front-country camping at the Frenchman Valley Campground.

* Serviced sites: $15.70

*Unserviced sites: $15.70

*Teepee camping: $45 per Teepee/night

*OTENTik unit’s are also available from 2016.

 

Services: Clean ‘drop’ toilets, large cooking shelter, barbecues, power, water, fire pits and phone

Backcountry camping is also welcomed, costs $9.80 per person per night and campers must settle at least 1km from any road.

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A Complete Guide to Grasslands National Park, teepee
Our accommodation for the week

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Facilities: 

Val Marie offers two restaurants, the Harvest Moon Cafe offers exquisite meals and caters to all dietary requirements where as the Val Marie Hotel offers hearty breakfasts, lunches and dinners from within its local pub.

The one ATM is within the hotel and there is a small supermarket, all within meters of one another.

Inside the park there are no food services although barbecues and a large shelter are available at the campsite.

 

A Complete Guide to Grasslands National Park, sunset lookout
Sunset at the Badlands Lookout Area

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Activities:

Self-Guided Hikes

  • 70 Mile Butte (5km loop)
  • Eagle Butte (2km loop)
  • Broken Hills Loop

 

Guided Hikes

  • 70 mile butte (May 21- June 25 in 2016 on Saturdays, 9:00 am from West Block Visitor Centre) (fees apply)

  • Haven of Species (approx 4hrs, 7km) (fees apply) (July-August 2016  on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8:00am) Explore nature at its finest deep in the heart of the park, including life on a prairie dog colony and the snake hibernaculum

 

Self-Guided Drives

  • Ecotour Loop, $5 for a booklet. Signposted with interpretive panels

 

Cowboy Experience (fees apply)

Head out and trail cattle on the open plains with a local rancher on 2day/2night adventure

 

Astronomy: Behind the big dipper (July 23rd 2016 at 10:00pm)

Team up with astronomical society and their telescopes and take advantage of the dark sky reserve.

 

Sunset Horseback Adventure ($66p/p) (Saturdays 7:00 pm July 2, 9, 16, 30 and Aug 6 in 2016)

Spend 2 hours on horse back with a guide looking for some of Canada’s rarest animals and chasing magnificent sunsets.

 

Prairie Cinema (Saturday, Dusk, July 2nd, July 30th, September 3rd in 2016)

Just your old classic movie under the stars!

 

A Walk in the Park – Where the Buffalo Roam (May-August on Sunday’s at 9am) (fees apply)

 

Fireside chats, stories and S’more (Friday’s 7pm from May 20 – September 2)

Join an interpreter by the campfire, share stories, learn a little and eat as many marshmallows as you possibly can!

 

Bison Backstage Tour (fees apply) (June-August 2016 on Wednesdays 9:00am)

A VIP backstage experience delving into how the plains bison was brought back from near extinction and how its continued safety and health are ensured. Go behinds the scenes at the bison facility in the park, and meet the man behind the program.

We did this tour and loved it.

 

A Complete Guide to Grasslands National Park, bison tour
Bison tour: learning about the reintroduction of the plains bison

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What’s at East Block

Accommodation options: 

The west block is more isolated with the nearest town being 47km away at Wood Mountain.

  • Rock Creek Campground

  • Front-country camping and backcountry camping is offered within the parks boundaries.

  • Or south of the Belza day use area you can try Equestrian Camping.

 

Facilities: 

Front-country camping offers unserviced sites plus teepee camping. Clean ‘drop’ toilets, cooking shelter, barbecues, power, water, RV campsites, fire pits, picnic tables, sheltered picnic tables, community fire put, WI-FI

 

A Complete Guide to Grasslands National Park, Black-tailed Prairie Dog
A Black-tailed Prairie Dog

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Activities:

Self-Guided Hikes

–  Badlands Trail

–  Badlands Lookout area (best sunset view!)

  • Valley of 1000 Devils (just ask the lovely staff at McGowan visitor centre where to walk)

 

Walking with Dinosaurs (approx 3 hrs and fees apply) (May-June in 2016 Saturdays, 9:00 am and then July-August on Tuesday and Thursdays, 9:00 am)

Uncover dinosaur fossils, quicksand, ancient teepee rings and the KPI!)

 

Fossil Fever (11-15th August)($73.60p/p)

Take the unique opportunity to dig for a day with McGill University Palaeontologists as they retrieve 65.5 million year old fossils.

 

Fireside chats, stories and S’more (Friday’s 7pm from May 20 – September 2)

Join an interpreter by the campfire, share stories, learn a little and eat as many marshmallows as you possibly can!

 

Wood Mountain Wagon Train (July 3rd-8th 2016)

Delve into the history of the homesteaders up aboard a horse drawn wagon.

 

A Walk in the Park – Eagle View (fees apply) (May-August on Sunday’s at 9am) (fees apply)

Enjoy 360 degrees of grasslands. Learn more about the flora and fauna, the land and the rolling plains.

 

Astronomy: Behind the big dipper (May 28th 2016 at 8:00pm)

Team up with astronomical society and their telescopes and take advantage of the dark sky reserve.

 

Haven of Species tour: Hiking to the rattlesnake hibernaculum
Haven of Species tour: Hiking to the rattlesnake hibernaculum

 

 

Written by

Prue Sinclair is a twenty-eight year old Aussie who for the past seven years has been exploring the furthermost reaches of the World. Living anywhere but her homeland, she now resides somewhere in the UK where she writes about the adventures of her Ultimate British Road Trip. Her message is simple: You can get anywhere on any budget, you just need to think outside the box. You can trust she's finding her way to somewhere lesser-known and writing a 'How To' guide.

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Hi we're Prue and Becks, travel writers and photographers who have been travelling the world together since 2012. Without taking ourselves too seriously, we divulge the lesser known, out of the way places and give you the tools to replicate it. Want to know more? Click on our pic.