As you may have noticed, this summer is shaping up to look a bit different than usual. Considering pandemic concerns, travel restrictions and limited tourism opportunities, many people are going to be spending their 2020 summer vacation close to home. Most provinces – including Saskatchewan – are only allowing residents to overnight in provincial parks, which makes now the best time to explore these oft-overlooked gems. Over the years, we have focused on international travel but that hasn’t stopped us from exploring our own backyard from time to time. Lake culture is truly revered in Saskatchewan, so most people are quite familiar with the endless variety of outstanding water hotspots around the province. However, there are also plenty of lesser known locations that also offer terrific and unique experiences. Here is just a taste of the many possibilities available right here in Saskatchewan:
Meadow Lake Provincial Park – This underrated park provides a little bit of everything when it comes to outdoor fun – camping, hiking, fishing and even a couple of the best golf courses in the province nearby. The renowned Boreal Trail is an epic long-distance trek that covers 120-kilometres of breathtaking northern scenery passing through 12 different picturesque camping spots along the way. Bring bug spray.
Lac La Ronge Provincial Park – With gorgeous island-filled lakes, stunning scenery and terrific fishing, La Ronge manages to somehow be both well-known and criminally underappreciated. Many rave about the houseboating on Lac La Ronge and Nistowiak Falls is another scenic highlight. Adventurous types should tackle the overnight backpacking hike to gorgeous Nut Point (30km round-trip).
Narrow Hills Provincial Park – Located about an hour and a half northeast of Prince Albert, this is as close as you can get to the remoteness of the true north without having to rely on a floater plane. There are many picturesque lakes and fun hiking trails, but the main highlight is the short but scenic Gem Lakes hike.
Duck Mountain Provincial Park – For some reason known only to government officials of yesteryear, rather than being designated an interprovincial park like Cypress Hills, Duck Mountain is simply divided into two separate parks – one in Saskatchewan and the other in Manitoba. Despite being easily accessed by a simple 4-hour drive from Saskatoon, Duck Mountain also features the kind of thick forests and multiple lakes that make it feel like you’re in some remote corner of northern Saskatchewan. While this spring the park has been ravaged by some of the largest forest fires seen in the area since the 19th century, none of the main tourist areas have been affected. The 14-kilometre Sergeant Lake Loop trail is a fan favourite, offering tremendous scenery and easy hiking.
Grasslands National Park – Switching from the far north to the deep south, Grasslands may just be the most underrated national park in the country. This impressive collection of spectacular buttes, maze-like badland canyons and expansive prairie vistas is split into two distinct blocks, each with its own unique features. Breathtaking views from the top of 70-Mile Butte and the extraordinary hoodoos of the Valley of 1,000 Devils Trail both deserve to be at the top of any list.
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park – Like Duck Mountain, Cypress Hills is also split in two, with one section located just south of Maple Creek and another that straddles the Alberta border, making it the only officially interprovincial park in the country. More surprising, with spots that reach nearly 1,400 metres above sea level, Cypress Hills boast the highest point east of the Rockies. Flat prairies, indeed. Conglomerate Cliffs and Bald Butte viewpoints, in particular, shouldn’t be missed. Avid hikers should also check out the 16-kilometre section of the famed 27,000-kilometre Trans-Canada Trail that passes through the park’s centre block.
Five Other Sort of Cool Spots
1. Crooked Bush – Near Hafford, these wildly disformed trees look like something out of an animated Halloween special, but without Ichabod Crane and his creepy Adam’s apple.
2. Popoff Tree – The largest and oldest tree in the province may owe its longevity to the somewhat hidden location down a quiet dirt road south of Blaine Lake.
3. Dukhobor Dugout House – Also located south of Blaine Lake, this obscure historic site showcases the diligence and inventiveness required to survive as an early settler on the Prairies.
4. Castle Butte – A short, steep climb to big views in Big Muddy Provincial Park west of Estevan.
5. Cochin Lighthouse – Yes, I know Jackfish Lake is not an ocean and, logically, does not require a lighthouse to steer ships away from danger. Nonetheless…
Dean Johnston is the author of three travel books, including Roam: The 9 Greatest Trips on Earth. He is currently gazing deep in thought at a bird outside the window, but while you wait you can read about all his travels at routinelynomadic.com.