Earlier this month, I met up with travel photographer Brendan Van Son for a week-long camping adventure to truly explore Saskatchewan. It was my second experience working with Tourism Saskatchewan, but my first time exploring the southern portion of the province.
As we headed east from Calgary, Brendan and I had few expectations for the week, but we looked forward to exploring both Grasslands National Park and Cypress Hills Provincial Park. By the end of the trip, we couldn’t hide our surprise at the diversity of the images we captured. We’d hiked through badlands, spotted wildlife, watched thunderstorms, and slept beneath the stars. It was a solid week that left me convinced more people should explore Saskatchewan.
Seven Reasons to Explore Saskatchewan
Grasslands National Park’s Dark Skies
For the past five years, I’ve lived within the Jasper National Park Dark Sky Preserve. I figured there were few better places to watch the night sky; however, Grasslands changed that. It’s home to the darkest sub-arctic skies on the continent and the benefit of that is it’s possible to see more stars than nearly anywhere.
Being on the Prairies brings two distinct dark-sky viewing advantages:
- The stars stretch to the horizon, making the sky appear impossibly big
- Cloudy skies clear quickly, as steady winds tend to push storms through.
We spent four nights in Grasslands National Park and despite daily thunderstorms, we had clear skies each night. Our timing was perfect, too, as the Perseid Meteor Shower peaked during our visit.
Hiking the Valley of the 1000 Devils.
Backcountry hiking in Grasslands National Park is decidedly different than any previous park experience. There are no designated campsites or hiking routes, so we simply bought the required overnight permit and headed out across the grasslands. We were eager to explore the Valley of 1000 Devils Badlands, which are the newest addition to Grasslands National Park.
In less than two hours, we’d left the prairies behind and entered the Badlands. It was a stunning collection of hoodoos and tiered hills that stood in stark contrast to the rest of the national park. Because there is no ground water in the park, staff has built a water drop at the edge of the badlands. It’s practically required, as the temperatures in southern Saskatchewan are hot enough and it’s routinely 5 degrees hotter within the badlands. We opted to camp nearby, right beside a set of red Parks Canada chairs.
Getting high in Cypress Hills
From Grasslands National Park, we jumped west to Cypress Hills Provincial Park and discovered a wildly different environment. Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park marks the highest point in Saskatchewan and a continental divide that sends rivers flowing either towards the Gulf of Mexico or Hudson Bay. For geography geeks, Cypress Hills is a nunatak. Assuming few people will recognize the term nunatak, it’s used for any piece of land that was never buried by glacier ice during an ice age. Essentially, Cypress Hills is one of the few regions of Canada with this distinction, so its landscape is naturally quite disconnected and distinct compared to its lower lying regions.
Paddling Lock Levin
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is essentially divided into three zones in two different provinces. We explored the eastern block of the park, which is disconnected from the true interprovincial section of the park located on the Alberta Saskatchewan border. Although Loch Levin is a small lake, it’s the focus of the action in the eastern block. We spent time on the water everyday we were in the park. Check out the fun in this short video:
Saskatchewan has always been called The Land of Living Skies. Hell, it’s even on their license plates and it’s for good reasons. Dramatic skies are the rule rather than the exception. We watched thunderstorms roll across the prairies almost everyday.
And Wilder Wildlife
Hailing from Northern BC and with fiver years in Jasper National Park, I am used to seeing wildlife on a regular basis. In Saskatchewan, the species were prairie dogs, burrowing owls, bison, white tail deer and antelope.
And you can get to Climax
Climax is a small town in Southern Saskatchewan, about an hour west of Grasslands National Park. In truth, the majority of towns in southern Saskatchewan are similar. They’re small, chock full of character and look a touch like the old west. Rather than chain restaurants, locally owned cafés and diners serve up quality meals.
If you want to see more images that’ll encourage you to explore Saskatchewan, check out these links:
Our road trip and this post was supported by Tourism Saskatchewan.