Saskatchewan licence plates proudly proclaim the “Land of Living Skies,” a poetic salute to the province’s big open skies, clear air, dancing northern lights, and breathtaking spectacles during bird migrations. Sunrises and sunsets have a well-deserved reputation as the most dazzling on the planet.
NATURE AT ITS FINEST
Head south to ride the open range in some of the largest expanses of rare native grasslands left in North America, explore rugged badlands or venture north to choose among 100,000 lakes famous for fishing, and a boundless network of unspoiled wild rivers. Then there are unique landscapes such as the Cypress Hills with its enchanting mix of highlands, grasslands and forest (www.cypresshills.com), or the mysterious Crooked Bush in the Thickwood Hills.
Saskatchewan is the sand dune capital of Canada, boasting both the largest and second largest dunes in the country, plus a few others thrown in for variety. The vast, other-worldly Athabasca Sand Dunes are some of the largest active dunes this far north anywhere in the world. Situated along the south shore of Lake Athabasca in a pristine northern setting, these dunes support some 50 rare plants and offer the ultimate wilderness adventure.
A RICH LEGACY
With locations in Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, North Battleford and Yorkton, the Western Development Museum is the most prominent chronicler of Saskatchewan’s early years (www.wdm.ca). The Hepburn Museum of Wheat, a half-hour north of Saskatoon, makes it easy to experience that most iconic prairie symbol—the traditional wooden grain elevator. Two national historic sites, Fort Walsh and Fort Battleford, bring to life the early days of the North-West Mounted Police, and their role in establishing law and order in the West (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/fortwalsh; www.parkscanada.gc.ca/battleford). Visitors are always awe-struck by the remarkable rare book collection at the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, just south of Regina. It houses the largest collection of 13th to 17th century books and manuscripts in Canada—everything from original treatises of philosophers and saints to handwritten decrees by popes and kings. To really go back in time, as much as 6,000 years, head to Wanuskewin Heritage Park in a scenic valley on Saskatoon’s northern outskirts (www.wanuskewin.com). It is considered among the best examples of pre-contact occupation sites on the North American Great Plains. Ancient archaeo-logical finds including a bison kill site and medicine wheel meld with a vibrant present-day Indigenous culture. Wanuskewin Heritage Park has been named to Canada’s tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage sites.
ENJOYING THE BEST
Given that Saskatchewan is a major food producer, it is not surprising that folks here like to eat well. With a cuisine reflecting local products and the province’s diverse ethnic makeup, there are more food-centred events than you can shake a skewer stick at. Try Mortlach’s Saskatoon Berry Festival (www.mortlach.ca) or vote for your favourite ribber at Saskatoon’s Rotary RibFest (www.saskatoonribfest.com).
Calling Saskatchewan golf-crazy is an understatement; the number of courses per capita is among the highest in the country. Choose from hidden gems in small communities to famous award-winners such as Dakota Dunes Golf Links (www.dakotadunes.ca), Saskatchewan’s #1 Ranked Public Course according to SCOREGolf. For an extensive listing, see www.saskgolfer.com.
Nutrien Wonderhub is Saskatchewan’s new Children’s Museum. Attractively situated on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River near downtown Saskatoon, it fosters creativity and discovery through hands-on exhibits, programs and special events (www.wonderhub.ca).
Glamping Resort on Buffalo Pound Lake north of Moose Jaw provides the opportunity to camp in style without the fuss of bringing or setting up your own gear. Choose from well-equipped geodesic domes, yurts, or trapper tents (www.glampingresorts.com).
“Fun begins where the pavement ends” is the slogan of SK Jeep Tours. Off-road adventures in the Prince Albert area take you on exciting backcountry sand trails and to spectacular hilltop views (www.skjeeptours.com).
Regina’s heart is Wascana Centre, one of the largest urban parks in North America and home to several key attractions including the Saskatchewan Legislative Building, lined by an impressive summer flower garden; the Saskatchewan Science Centre and Kramer IMAX Theatre; and the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, interpreting everything from the Age of Dinosaurs to Saskatchewan’s diverse landscapes and wildlife, and Indigenous Peoples link to the land (www.wascana.sk.ca). Government House, with its impressive Edwardian Garden, captures a bygone era when this was the residence of the Lieutenant Governor (www.governmenthousesk.ca). Regina is famous as home of the RCMP, where Mounties have trained since 1885. The RCMP Heritage Centre showcases the history of this world-renowned police force (www.rcmphc.com).
Saskatoon’s most defining feature is its beautiful riverbank along the South Saskatchewan River—home to parks, walking trails, numerous festivals and the popular River Landing development in the south downtown (www.tourismsaskatoon.com). For a different perspective of the heart of Saskatoon, climb aboard the Prairie Lily riverboat for a one-hour river cruise, or opt for a Sunday brunch or dinner cruise (www.theprairielily.com).
Moose Jaw has capitalized on its Roaring Twenties’ past when it was a hotbed for Prohibition-era bootlegging and gangster activity. The Tunnels of Moose Jaw runs tours recreating this colourful time when Al Capone was rumoured to have been a regular visitor (www.tunnelsofmoosejaw.com).
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Saskatchewan is known as a stellar canoeing destination with everything from adrenaline-pumping whitewater to tranquility in stunning wilderness. Churchill River Canoe Outfitters is the go-to source for guided trips, equipment rentals and advice (www.churchillrivercanoe.com). Get a taste for ranch life in Cypress Hills’ cowboy country where the Historic Reesor Ranch offers everything from trail rides to cattle drives (www.reesorranch.com).
The fishing in Saskatchewan is legendary, where trophy-sized catches are practically taken for granted. For the ultimate experience, head to a remote fly-in lodge for a combination of exceptional fishing and resort-style pampering in pristine forested lakelands. The Saskatchewan Commission of Professional Outfitters lists sport fishing operators that meet high standards (www.scpo.ca).
Situated on the Central North American Migratory Flyway, Saskatchewan is a birdwatcher’s dream. Among the easiest hot spots to visit is Chaplin Lake, right beside the Trans-Canada Highway. The lake is so significant that the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network named it a Site of Hemispheric Importance. Each spring, a hundred thousand migrating shorebirds of some 30 species stop here to feed on their northward migration, including half the world’s sanderlings. Learn more from the exhibits at the Chaplin Nature Centre or take in a tour (www.chaplintourism.com).
HERITAGE AND CULTURE
Follow driving tours through the Trails of 1885 to relive a challenging era in the development of the West, when disappearance of the buffalo and the increasing pace of settlement led to unrest by some Indigen-ous bands and the Métis under Louis Riel (www.trailsof1885.com).
A great way to get in touch with Saskatchewan’s contemporary Indigenous culture is to attend a powwow. Powerful drumming, chanting singers and swirling dancers in brilliant outfits make for an unforgettable experience. Powwows carry on traditions, but also serve as social gatherings and dance competitions. Above all, they are a lot of fun. One of the biggest is the annual Spring Powwow at Regina’s First Nations University (www.fnunivpowwow.ca).
Saskatchewan culture is defined by its rich mixture of ethnic backgrounds. Saskatoon’s Ukrainian Museum of Canada, for example, chronicles the contributions of this prominent segment of Saskatchewan’s makeup (www.umcyxe.ca). In northeast Saskatchewan, find out more about the Doukhobors at the National Doukhobor Heritage Village at Veregin.
MUST SEE, MUST DO
Camp, rent a teepee, or stay in an oTENTik in Grasslands National Park to experience the wild prairie at its finest (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/grasslands).
Witness one of Nature’s most awesome spectacles as hundreds of thousands of migrating geese, cranes and other waterfowl stage in late September and October. Hot spots include Last Mountain Lake National Wildlife Area and the Quill Lakes International Bird Area.
Challenge yourself on Saskatchewan’s longest documented hike, the 120-km (75-mi.) Boreal Trail across Meadow Lake Provincial Park’s picture-perfect forested lakelands. Dedicated backcountry campsites make for a true wilderness experience.
The Great Sand Hills are Canada’s second largest sand dunes, eclipsed only by Saskatchewan’s remote Athabasca Sand Dunes. These, however, are easily accessible; simply drive right up to massive walls of sand beside the road, then go for a hike. Set the stage with a stop at the Great Sandhills Museum & Interpretive Centre in Sceptre, then follow the signs south to the magical landscape (www.greatsandhillsmuseum.com).
With diverse landscapes and enough roads to circle the equator four times, Saskatchewan is tailor-made for hitting the open road.
Drive a third of the way across Saskatchewan while never leaving the picturesque Qu’Appelle Valley.
Wander Cactus Hills backroads through one of the world’s largest glacial push ridges, surprisingly close to Regina and Moose Jaw.
Rather than the busy main highway between Saskatoon and Regina, take a route past the eastern edge of Lake Diefenbaker. Enjoy lakeshore and river valleys, spectacular sand dunes, and parks offering hiking, golfing, and fishing.
Several routes are outlined in the guidebook, Saskatchewan’s Best Scenic Drives (www.parklandpublishing.com).
While youngsters may be impressed by dinosaur replicas, nothing compares to seeing the “real” thing moving and roaring. Named Megamunch by local school children, the half-sized robotic Tyrannosaurus rex is the most kid-friendly highlight of Regina’s Royal Saskatchewan Museum. Kids are even invited to friend Megamunch on Facebook—if they dare (www.royalsaskmuseum.ca).
PRINCE ALBERT NATIONAL PARK
Grey Owl called it one of Canada’s greatest wilderness playgrounds. Saskatchewan’s largest protected area is almost smack in the centre of the province, preserving a transition zone from southern aspen parkland and fescue grasslands to northern boreal forest. Almost a third of the park is water, with huge lakes, small ponds, rivers and streams and wildlife-rich wetlands galore. Canoeing and other watersports are especially popular. Tiny Ajawaan Lake is where Canada’s famous conservationist, Grey Owl, lived, worked, wrote his bestselling books and was finally buried. The hike or canoe trip to his cabin is a pilgrimage to the home of a Canadian icon (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/princealbert)..
National Parks and Historic Sites: www.parkscanada.gc.ca 1-888-773-8888