You must have been wondering where the famous Grasslands National Park Saskatchewan is located. The reason why you are here. But do you ever wonder why national parks are so special? Or what is so special about this national park in particular? Is it the magnificent view, the adventurous campgrounds, the numerous trails, or simply the flat prairie landscapes?
This post is going to be the perfect guide for you to know every interesting thing about the Grasslands National Park of Canada. Just like the fact that it is recognized as the darkest Dark Sky Preserve in Canada, making it the most suitable for astrophotography. Or that in French, it’s called the Parc national des Prairies.
Head on the head, the Grasslands National Park of Canada is one of the forty-four National Parks of the country, with its location alongside the Val Marie village in Saskatchewan, an exquisite landscape, front and backcountry camping grounds, wildlife viewing sites, prairie dog colonies, and trails.
Unlike the other national parks of the country, the Grasslands National Park is the only national park in the country that was established with the aim of preserving the prairie grasslands of the region.
1. Grasslands National Park – Location
Starting with your very intrigue, the Grasslands National Park Saskatchewan is situated in Canada. Alongside the Saskatchewan-Montana border, this national park of Canada, which is home to the fascinating dark sky preserves, is in southern Saskatchewan, more precisely, in its southwestern region. As per the parks Canada location, Val Marie is the city nearest to the national park.
- Co-ordinates: 49.1693°N 107.6269°W
- State/Province: Saskatchewan (Rural Municipality)
- Country: Canada
The park is situated north of the state of Montana in the United States of America. It is quite interesting how the Grasslands National Park of Canada lies very close to the international boundary between the Canadian state and the United States of America.
Saskatchewan is a province in western Canada that is bordered by the United States of America in its south by its Montana state. On its west, it is bordered by Alberta, and to the east lies Manitoba. It has its capital in Regina. The Grasslands National Park covers the southern region of the province, while the northern region of the province is covered by rugged rock. Interestingly enough, this province of Canada has a population who are known as the “people of Canada’s First Nations.”
2. Area and establishment
One of forty-four national parks and park preserves the system of the National Park System of Canada, the Grasslands National Park was established only as early as 1981. In fact, you will be surprised to know that it is also the second national park in the Saskatchewan province of Canada.
Covering an area of 907 square kilometers, the Grasslands National Park is a protected prairie with the campgrounds national park of Canada. And if you wonder, what is a prairie? It is one of the many temperate grasslands found the world over in continental climates marked by extremely warm and cold temperatures.
- Year of establishment: 1981
- The area occupied: 907 sq. km
Before the establishment of the Grasslands National Park, the Saskatchewan state of Canada only had one national park which is the Prince Albert National Park, a destination known for its year-round scenic recreation. Now, after Grasslands National Park covering the prairie temperate grassland area, the province encompasses two national parks, the presence of which is a representation of the diversity and great landscape features of the region.
Established in 1981, IUCN category II national park – Grasslands National Park is governed by “Parks Canada.” Just as you guessed, other national parks of the country, like this one, are looked over by the Parks Canada association too.
But, did you know that Parks Canada is an agency of the Government of Canada that maintains all its National Marine Conservation regions (three in number), more than hundred and fifty National Historic sites, a National Urban Park, and its National landmark, besides looking over the national parks?
3. History, and features of the landscape
Even the smallest patch of ground has some history. Then how can we miss the history of the vast prairie Grasslands National Park of Canada?
Every feature that can be seen today is owed to the numerous geomorphological (endogenic and exogenic) processes which shape it over years of time. Similarly, there are certain processes that shaped the topography, relief, and landscape features of the Grasslands park to form what we see today as beautiful, and magnificent.
The geological landscape of this Canadian national park has been formed over years of time by the erosional process carried by the melted waters of the glaciers. Geographically, Canada is located in the north Northern Hemisphere in North America, much closer to the geographical north pole, and in the close vicinity of the cold Arctic region. Because of the Canadian location of the Grasslands park, it was more prone to erosion by the glacial waters.
Park’s characteristic features include its Frenchman River valley, badlands parkway, badland topography of Rock Creek, and its Seventy Mile Butte.
You would be amazed to know that the park is the land of Treaty 4 – a treaty between Queen Victoria and the band governments of the Cree and Saeulteaux First Nation people. It was signed in 1874.
Moreover, the Grasslands National Park is situated in the North American plains on the ancient traditional land of Nitisitapi or the Blackfoot or Blackfeet people who established the Blackfoot Confederacy. Today, many of these Blackfoot people live in Canada, while many of them are recognized as a Native American tribe in Montana in the United States of America.
4. East and West blocks
The Grasslands National Park of Canada is bifurcated into two regions – the West Block Grasslands, and the East Block Grasslands region. While visiting Grasslands National Park, information regarding both regions must be calculated from the West Block Visitor Centre and the East Block Visitor Centre. To be honest, this information is very handy.
The West block of the prairie grasslands is located in the fourth Census Division of the eighteen census divisions of Saskatchewan province of Canada. Moving one hour south of the Swift Current, one can find the west block grasslands national park region easily.
It is home to the famous Frenchman River valley, which is also known as the Witemud River valley locally. The Frenchman valley campground is an important tourist spot there that offers tourist sites that are serviced, along with teepee camping, and backcountry camping.
Besides its glorious campgrounds and hiking trails, the area accounts for a herd of more than 300 plains bison, one of the subspecies of American Bison, and colonies of prairie dogs. And you must not misunderstand the prairie dogs as dogs, because hey, they are squirrels!!
The park’s West block grasslands also encompass the IBA (Important Bird and Biodiversity Area) of Canada, which stretches on either side of the Whitemud River. It is to be noted that this stretch is a ten-mile long stretch in width.
The East block of the grassland is located in the third Census Division of southern Saskatchewan, Canada. It is south of the Wood Moutain Hills, and approximately one hour’s drive south of Assiniboia, a small town in the province of Saskatchewan.
While the visitor information center of the east block region is situated at the museum in the Wood Moutain Regional Park, the interpretive center lies in the McGowan House at the new Rock Creek campground. Similar to the West block, the east block also has an Important Bird Area.
Unlike the west block, the east block is wilder. It has Rock Creek badlands traversed by eleven kilometers of one-lane parkways, prairie skies, and Cretaceous–Paleogene (K-Pg) or Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary.
5. Wildlife – Grasslands National Park Saskatchewan
Did you know that the Grasslands National Park is home to the last remaining colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs? One of the major features of any National Park is the variety or amount of flora and fauna available in its region. The biodiversity of any national park adds specialty to it. It is exactly this variety of fauna found in the Grasslands park which makes it so special.
Diverse fauna can be seen in and around the vast lands, dry hills, eroded river valleys, and badlands of the Grasslands National Park which includes prairie dogs, greater sage grouse, pronghorn antelope, prairie rattlesnakes, and more.
As mentioned before, the Grasslands National Park encompasses an Important Bird Area in both the east block and the west block of the park. This ensures the protection of the birds and makes sure that they are getting a proper environment to thrive in.
Major birds of the park include Burrowing Owl, which is found in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and Greater Sage Grouse, which is known for its incredible courtship. The Greater Sage Grouse is one of the iconic species found in Canada.
Bats, swift foxes, bison, and black-tailed prairie dogs are the important species of mammals found in the Grasslands national park. You will be surprised to know that of the 19 Canadian bat species, 7 alone are found in the Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan.
Black-tailed prairie dogs are daytime species, and the favorite of the Grasslands park’s visitors because of their cuteness and playful and social nature. Hanging near the prairie dog colony, the coyote is found.
Once Canadian Prairies were home to foxes but changes in environment and landscape led to their demise. The ones found here today are brought from Alberts and the United States of America.
Amphibians, reptiles, and aquatic life
Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer and Greater Short-horned Lizard are important in this regard. The introduction of exotic plants, invasion, habitat change, and extreme weather conditions are threats to these species.
Due to limited water sources in the parking area, the aquatic life of the park is not very wide. However, catfish and carp are the two common fish species found in the Rock Creek and the Frenchman River, and a few tributaries. Painted turtles and leopard frogs are also found in some regions of the parking area.
The park’s geological landscape has a rich biodiversity which also incorporates about twenty species that are at risk of being extinct in near future. An example of it is the plains bison, which was re-introduced in the mixed grass prairie Saskatchewan area in 2005 when it was near extinction there. They were brought from the Elk Island National Park in Alberta and now reside in a 181 sq. km area of the west block of the grassland. By 2015, the herd grew from 71 originally to 300.
Also, black-footed ferrets were re-introduced after an absence of more than half a century in the prairie dog towns on the occasion when the park was declared a dark-sky preserve in 2009 in a ceremony at Belza House.
Moreover, practices to improve night lighting under the dark-sky agreement make sure that dark is maintained in the park in the nigh-time, so as to preserve a natural environment for the nocturnal wildlife.
6. Hiking trails in Grasslands National Park
All hail down to the epitome of fun. Adventures!! When it comes to making the most out of life, traveling, touring, camping, and following adventurous paths serve the best. Well, what could be better than worrying about a path seen forward than mentally tormenting yourself about a job, or tiresome schooling?
Besides the exquisite wildlife, unique location, and intriguing history, the Grasslands National Park is the abode to beautiful, and scenic hiking trails and routes.
The West block of the Grasslands park has one backcountry hiking trail and ten front country hiking trails. So let us first look over the trails of the west block, and what it has to offer us. Please note that the information and services regarding these trails can be found at the West Block Visitor Centre. Here are the WEST BLOCK HIKING TRAILS:
Eagle Butte Trail
With its trailhead at the parking area gate, the Eagle Butte Trail is a wonderful trail that covers a 2 km loop path and offers a magnificent view of wildflowers and the soaring prey birds.
70 Mile Butte Trail
A comparatively more difficult trail than others, the 70 Mile Butte Trail starts from the branches of the Eagle Butte trail and covers a 2 km long loop that requires at least one and a half an hour to hike. It has a beautiful view of the Frenchman River Valley to offer to you, whose beauty is enough to take your breath away.
Two Trees Trail
Following a 4 km long loop, this trail is sufficiently good for people with short time commitments. Its trailhead lies at the Two Trail Use Day Area, and it goes on covering the scenic view of the prairie grasslands.
Similar to the Two Trees Trail, the Riverwalk Trail also begins at the Two Trail Use Day Area. Following a loop of 3 km, hike this grassy trail for an introduction to the riparian plant life, and observe the birds as they use riverbank cliffs.
Three Sisters Trail
As a 4 km one-way, this moderate hiking trail requires at least 2-3 hours and begins from Rosefield Grid. This old vehicle trail leads to the Saskatchewan Natural History Monument. It marks the establishment of the first Black-tailed Prairie Dog Sanctuary in the country.
Top Dogtown Trail
Shortest of all the ten west block front country hiking trails, the Top Dogtown trail covers a 750-meter loop with its trailhead at the Ecotour pull-off 2. A 20-minute hard-surface, level trail that showcases the black-tailed prairie dogs as you hike.
Longest of all the ten west block front country hiking trails, this trail requires 5 to 6 hours of a long time to cover the 17 km difficult loop. Glacially created Timbergulch trail with its coulee bottoms has the perfect habitat for bison. Its trailhead lies at the Ecotour Pulloff 3.
Bearpaw Sea Trail
A 10 km one-way difficult trail that branches from the 70 Mile Butte Trail or the Ecotour Pulloff 3. The Bearpaw Sea Trail is perfect to look over the variety of habitats found within the grassland, which includes all from valley bottoms to tabletops.
Broken Hills Trail
11 km loop of this trail offers an unobstructed view of the scenic grassland. Its trailhead lies at the Belza Day Use Area.
Have only a little time? This trail is for you then. Larson trail is a thirty-minute, easy, and mowed hiking trail which offers shreds of evidence of early ranching, and a magnificent view of the Frenchman River. It covers a 1.5 km loop and begins from the Ecotour pull-off.
Those were some really great trails, no? It is amazing how the west block of the park alone offers so many adventurous and diverse hiking trails for every visitor to find an exhilarating experience. But then, there is no way for us to miss the wonderful hiking trails of the east block.
So here we go: EAST BLOCK HIKING TRAILS
Creek to Peak Trail
With its trailhead in the south of the kitchen shelter, this mowed path covering 750 m one way up the hill leads to the Rock Creek valley and the badlands which lie beyond it.
Rock Creek Trail
As suggested by the name, the Rock Creek Trail has its trailhead around the Rock Creek bridge. It’s one hour easy way along a 2 km loop. And this, my friend, offers the most astounding view of Rock Creek.
Valley of 1000 Devils Trail
You must agree with me on this: this trail jas a really fascinating name! Jokes apart, the Valley of 1000 Devils Trail is a 111 km loop that begins from the northwest off of Rock Creek Trail. The trail has a path meandering through coulees, and mixed grass prairie, and goes along the Hellfire Creek basin accessing the Rock Creek Badlands.
The prairie grasslands of Canada are engrossed in the wilderness. This is what makes proper preparation a necessity for an enjoyable, safe, and happy experience. And more happy experiences there are for you to make your own if you camp at these spots.
7. Grasslands National Park Camping
Be it front-country camping, backcountry camping, equestrian camping, or oTENTik, camping at the Grasslands National Park of Canada is a hundred percent sure exhilarating experience.
Front country camping
While making reservations, it is highly important to note what campgrounds in which block you are choosing. You can make reservations at the West Block Visitor Centre, Val Marie, also known as the Val Marie Visitor Centre, for the Frenchman Valley Campground. Whereas to make a reservation at the Rock Creek Campground in the East block, reach out to the Rock creek visitor Centre.
Frenchman valley campground, West Block Visitor Centre
With a peaceful setting in the prairies, a location in the heart of the West block, and a scenic view of the Frenchman valley, sunsets, sometimes bison, and rolling hills, this campground is the perfect site for your front country camping experience. Additionally, you get to watch the brilliance of the skies at night. That definitely is a sight to remember!
Rock creek campground, East Block
The Rock Creek Campground is the abode of the Rock Creek Visitor Centre where the reservations for camping at this campground are made. At this campground, you are sure to enjoy the elegance of the prairies, see the alluring skies during the day and night as well, and watch leopard frogs.
Drop all your work, if it’s possible, and pitch a tent where no one has camped for about a thousand years in the past now, and look forward to the sunsets and all there is to explore in the wilderness of the prairie grasslands of Canada. Because that is exactly what backcountry camping offers. But do not forget to respect the environment!
You can make reservations at the visitor center or the campground office to pick a spot in the backcountry where you hope to camp. Look into the guidelines, follow designated trailheads by making use of maps or GPS, pack out all you had packed in, and gift yourself a fun experience for a lifetime.
If you are a big fan of horse riding, this one is exactly for you. Equestrian camping involves camping with your horse!
In the west block, you can have the experience of equestrian camping south of the Belza Day Use Area, while in the east block, you would have to go east of the rock Creek Visitor Centre and the Rock Creek Campground for a similar experience.
If all that feels like too much, do not miss trying the oTENTik. Especially, if you are somebody who does not want to go through the trouble of setting up a camp or tent, and seeks the comfort of the bed, while still wanting to experience camping, this one is definitely a blessing to you.
Parks Canada staff and team offer oTENTik in the Frenchman Valley Campground, West block, and the Rock Creek Campground, East block for an easy and relaxed camping experience. Do remember, the oTENTik is exclusive to Parks Canada, and can be an exclusive gift to yourself too.
8. The Darkest dark sky preserve in Canada
Beyond the shallow heights of the hills, tops, and mountains, lies what is one of the most beautiful and fascinating to almost everyone, at least me. It’s the sky! The night sky is just so much more intriguing.
It is sad how the sky has changed so much because of the varied changes in climate, the atmosphere, and the environment. But, it is extremely hopeful to know, if not equally, that the Grasslands National Park in Canada is the darkest dark sky preserve there is in the whole country. It was designated so in 2009 by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, which was the International Year of Astronomy.
Preserving the dark sky ensures better living conditions while maintaining the age-old day and night cycle for the flora and fauna of the national park. Additionally, the park is perfect for astrophotography. It is advisable to check the weather and choose a suitable spot to stargaze the breathtaking view of the dark skies of the national park.
The Grasslands National Park is located in southern Saskatchewan along the international border of USA-Canada (Montana-Saskatchewan) in Canada. It is one of the best national parks in the country, and unique in the sense that it has the darkest dark sky preserve.
The exquisite wildlife, beautiful landscape, adventurous hiking trails and camping grounds, and peaceful atmosphere leave no doubt in saying so. All this sign on only one thing, it’s a must visit and you need to visit it too!!