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How To Backpack Grasslands National Park

If you’ve only seen Saskatchewan from the passenger seat of a vehicle speeding along the Trans-Canada Highway, you’re missing out! This limited glimpse of the province is apt to leave one with a skewed perspective of its remarkable natural beauty. Saskatchewan’s landscape is varied with Canadian shield, boreal forest, sand dunes, badlands and watersheds draining into the Arctic Ocean, Hudson Bay, and Gulf of Mexico. But when we think of ‘The Bread Basket’ of Canada, we most often think of its expansive and beautiful rolling interior plains. Few places in Canada showcase these majestic plains while also providing opportunities for a truly raw adventure like Grasslands National Park.

Grasslands National Park is one of 47 prestigious national parks in Canada, but it only receives about 10,000 visits per year. Odd, considering any section of land deserving of a “National Park” designation is certainly deserving of a visit, especially the only national prairie park in the country.

I could not have predicted this bison would move towards me seeking a drink of fresh snow melt and the abrupt change in his behaviour left no time to switch lenses. Ideally this composition would be slightly wider, allowing you to see the other animals to his left and more of the surrounding landscape. It was still pretty interesting watching a few of these big beasts grab a quick drink. Until this evening, I hadn't ever seen a bison drink in person. It’s situations such as these that drive home the flexibility of having two camera bodies, each with a different focal lenses mounted… #OneDay #BisonNotBuffalo #Bison #GrasslandsNationalPark #PrairieLife #GrasslandsNP #Saskatchewan #Wildlife #Nature #Saskatchewan #ExploreSask #ExploreCanada #GetOutside #GetDirty #PhotoOfTheDay #Instadaily #Instagood #OurPlanetDaily #ShareCG #Jaw_Dropping_Shots #EarthCapture #EarthOnLocation #NatureLover_GR #PhotoTag_It  #KeepExploring #TravelPhotography #NoFilter

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Taking up two plots of land near the Montana border, this landscape is as home-on-the-range as you’re going to find in Canada: big skies, 70 species of grasses, badlands, abundant fossils, native prairie ecosystems and deep, dark night skies. In addition to the natural beauty, the expansiveness of the park makes for some of the best wildlife sightings you’ll ever witness. Bison, pronghorn antelope, black tailed prairie dogs, mule deer, American badgers, howling coyotes, rare yellow-bellied racer snakes, a myriad of birds, and the most endangered mammal in North America, the Black-footed Ferret, are native to these lands.

Before considering this adventure, be forewarned that there isn’t public transportation to Grasslands National Park so you’ll need access to a car, or alternatively will have to try and arrange a rideshare. On your way there, consider detouring to the Red Coat Inn in Hazenmore, where a fellow named Gary will fill your belly for adventure with one of the finest steaks in Canada. You’re also going to want to allot ample time for your trip, because although the park has short front country hikes, it is relatively remote. Additionally, the night skies are among the best and darkest in North Americaand as such, it’s best if you can afford a couple of days to explore the area.

When planning this trip be prepared for a true adventure. The park is only open from May to October, and although there are no entry fees, there are overnight fees so bring some cash. Make sure to fuel up your car beforehand, as gas stations in the area are limited. Bring your standard backcountry camping setup and gear, and be sure to bring plenty of water as almost all freshwater in the region is too salty to drink. In addition to your food and water, be sure to bring a headlamp with extra batteries, as most of us don’t experience the kind of deep dark that Grasslands National Park provides.

Finally, know that this isn’t your standard backcountry experience; these trails are truly wild country and are unmarked. You’re going to need maps, a compass, and a GPS, and you’re going to have to know how to use them. Watch for rattlesnakes, check yourself for ticks, steer clear of cactus, and remain at least 100 meters away from Bison; who are known for random charges at hikers and vehicles.

Now that we have the cautionary list out of the way, it’s time for you to explore the land of early ranchers and settlers, see some of the 12,000 tipi rings left behind by Saskatchewan’s aboriginal peoples and find fossils and bones on the same site that the first land and aquatic dinosaur bones were found in Canada.

The Frenchman River meanders through Grasslands National Park before turning south into Montana, where after 341 kilometres it meets the Milk River. The trees that line the river banks in the national park are dead and blackened by fire. In 2013 a massive grass fire fueled by tinder dry conditions and 80kmph winds scorched a 20 kilometre long path through the park. Of course, whether it’s forest or grassland, fires are a natural part of any ecosystem – and within weeks the grasses in the park were growing back lush and green. #FrenchmanRiver  #FreshWater #River #GrasslandsNationalPark #PrairieLife #GrasslandsNP #Saskatchewan #Nature #Saskatchewan #ExploreSask #ExploreCanada #GetOutside #GetDirty #PhotoOfTheDay #Instadaily #Instagood #OurPlanetDaily #ShareCG #Jaw_Dropping_Shots #EarthCapture #EarthOnLocation #NatureLover_GR #PhotoTag_It  #KeepExploring #TravelPhotography #NoFilter

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For those after a more mellow adventure, the West Block visitor centre provides information on an 80-km driven Eco-tour, which presents ample opportunity for spotting bison and barking prairie dogs. For those who would prefer to explore the park by foot, there are 14 front country hikes that we highly recommend. If you prefer easy access, there are also many notable hikes accessible from Highway 4 south of Val Marie, Saskatchewan. These hikes include the 70 Mile Butte Trail (which is actually only 5K), the Two Trees Trail, and the River Walk trail. Exploring all three trails will give you an authentic sense of the landscape, but if you’re only in the mood for one hike, drop in on the 70 Mile Butte Trail which includes a hike to the high point of the park, and a serving of some amazing vistas. If you would prefer not to camp in the park, the Val Marie hotel is relatively inexpensive, as well as the Convent Country Inn, which has been known to offer hostel rates during slow periods. The East Block also offers some incredible trails, so be sure to check out the Rock Creek Trail or Zahursky Ridge Trail.  Also, don’t miss a drive to experience the Million Dollar Viewpoint!

Special Places #explorecanada #exploresaskatchewan #nightsky #longexposure #milkyway #grasslandsnationalpark

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Now, if you’re one of the bold (and lucky) adventurers who aren’t fearful of wide-open solitude and desolate, wild, backcountry adventures, then buckle up; Grasslands National Park offers epic backcountry experiences. It’s just you and the open country, cowboy. Backpacking here is just like Western movies; you’re going to be home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play. While passing through Val Marie, visit the Schoolhouse Gift shop and pick up Guide to the Hiking Routes of Grasslands National Park, which provides rough guidelines for hikes and includes interpretive text, topographical maps, and landscape illustrations. The visitor centres may have copies to lend, but there is potential for all issues to be signed out. Call ahead to ensure you can borrow a copy. Lastly, we’ve been told that the Valley of 1,000 Devils is absolutely teeming with fossils, and rugged badlands terrain, offering unparalleled backpacking experiences that are accessible from the East Block visitor Centre, approximately one and a half hour hike in.

When: May – October

Cost: Free entry into the park. Overnight fees.

Time Required: At least one – two overnights to catch the gorgeous night sky.

Remember: Bring a lot of water, a headlamp, and gas for your vehicle.

Safety: Be cautious of rattlesnakes, ticks, bison, and cactus.

Eat: Redcoat Inn, Harvest Moon Cafe

Stay: Val Marie Hotel (306-298-4888), Convent Country InnThe Crossing Resort, Cypress Hills Destination Area

 

Like this post? Check out The Best Backpacks For Any Type Of Adventure and Don’t Leave Home Without These Essential Packing Hacks, too!

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