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Hiking In Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan

Hiking in Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan

Hiking in Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan won’t win any popularity awards. In fact only about 10,000 people per year see fit to visit the place. Yet it deserves a trip. It’s a quiet landscape best appreciated by hiking an extensive network of trails.

Beautiful prairie skies and colours in Grasslands National Park in the fall

Beautiful prairie skies and colours in Grasslands National Park in the fall

Front-country and backcountry hiking 

The park provides both front-country and backcountry hiking experiences. But the backcountry ones are for the truly adventurous as none of the trails are marked and a GPS, map and compass are essential. Check-in at the Visitor Center for up to date information and detailed maps and trail descriptions.

Read: The 10 Hiking Essentials Everyone Should Carry

Hiking in Grasslands National Park

Three front country hikes – all accessible from side roads leading off of Highway 4 south of the town of Val Marie are recommended. They include the 70 Mile Butte Trail, the Two Trees Trail and the Riverwalk Trail. If you spend 3 ½ – 4 hours walking these trails you’ll get a real sense of the emptiness of the land on one hand and the diversity within the prairie ecosystem on the other. But you have to look closely.

"Plants still thrive in the barren looking landscape"

Plants still thrive in the barren looking landscape

The 70 Mile Butte Trail

The 70 Mile Butte Trail includes a climb to the highest point in the park. Big, sweeping vistas, striking badlands and more types of prairie grasses than you probably knew existed greet you on this loop hike. You can’t help but be surprised at the sheer variability of texture and the subtleties in colour of grasses, rocks and lichens.

"Fantastic coloured lichens on rocks"

Fantastic coloured lichens on rocks

"Wonderful textures in the grasses"

Wonderful textures in the grasses

The other two hikes start from the same trailhead but head off in opposite directions. The Riverwalk Trail takes you along the banks of the Frenchman River whereas the Two Trees Trail leads you up into rolling hills with impressive views of the Frenchmen River Valley.

"small prairie river"

All three hikes offer the chance to see wildlife. Look for white tailed and mule deer, Pronghorn antelope and lone coyotes. Watch for snakes including the threatened Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer that can move up to 70 kilometres an hour – or the venomous prairie rattlesnake. Birds are plentiful too especially the Lark bunting and Baird’s sparrow. But you may also see raptors, owls, ducks and pheasants.

"The deer melt into the landscape"

The deer melt into the landscape

"Big eared owl"

Big eared owl – perhaps??

These hikes aren’t for everyone. But if you’re one of the lucky ones – who isn’t afraid of solitude, or wind as your constant companion, if you know how to appreciate the lonely, wild spaces and if you’ve learned to value the small details, then you will feel at ease in the untouched landscape of this park.

"Big vistas, quiet spaces"

Big vistas, quiet spaces

Trip Details for Hiking in Grasslands National Park

Highlights: Wildlife including bison, black tailed prairie dogs, mule deer, American badgers, coyotes, badland topography, native prairie ecosystem, big skies, some of the darkest skies in Canada

Grade:  Easy, family friendly

Distance: The Riverwalk Trail is 2 kms (1.2 mi), the Two Trees Trail is 3.5 kms (2.2 mi) and the 70 Mile Butte Trail is 5 kms (3.1 mi)

Where:  Southwestern Saskatchewan near the Montana border. The West Block can be accessed via Highway #4 and #18 near Val Marie.

Time Needed: A solid half day of at least four hours to do the three hikes

When: May through to October

Cost: There are no entry fees. There are fees if you want to camp overnight in the park.

Don’t forget: Fill up your car well before you get near the park. Gas stations are few and far between.

Safety issues: Watch for rattlesnakes. Check yourself for ticks. Stay at least a 100 metres away from bison.

Options: Don’t miss the Ecotour – an 80 kilometre round-trip driving adventure that starts and ends in Val Marie. Check out the signed stops – and learn more about the history of the area. This road allows you to see the endangered Black-tailed prairie dog and there’s a good chance to see bison too.

Interesting Fact: Less than one quarter of the original mixed grass prairie in Canada remains in its natural state. It is this habitat that is so important for burrowing owls.

Need more information on Grasslands? Visit the national park website.

Have you been to Grasslands National Park?

 

 

 

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 12 Comments
  1. Thanks for all of this great information – so useful. I’m moving to Canada for a year at the end of this month so always like to hear about places to go hiking and trails that are quieter. I can see what you mean from the photos about the emptiness of the landscape – must be quite eerie but beautiful. The picture of the owl is fantastic, too!

    1. @Emma A warm welcome when you get here. You didn’t say where you would be staying but I’m happy to offer outdoor ideas for wherever you might be. I visiting Grasslands by myself and loved the peace and solitude – as well as a couple of owls late in the afternoon one day.

      1. I’ll be out in Toronto but will be doing plenty of exploring around the country I hope. Depending on the work I find myself in. I’ll definitely drop by for outdoor ideas, thanks!

  2. As much as I love the mountains, the flatlands can be beautiful, too. And fewer than 10,000 visitors?? My kinda place!

  3. Hi all, I agree Grasslands National Park is amazing! It definitely has places to find incredible solitude, but also has lots going on for people that want to join the fun. Check out their website at http://www.parkscanada.gc.ca/grasslands for 2013 events, programs and experience information. I’m headed down to Grasslands in the few weeks I think and can’t wait to go back!! Happy trails 🙂

  4. Great photos. This looks like an amazing experience for those looking to try something a little different. Good breakdown and advice for the trip. Looks like this adventure requires some serious hiking shoes or boots.

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