I Backpack Canada » Saskatchewan http://ibackpackcanada.com A backpackers travel guide to Canada Mon, 26 Jan 2015 19:54:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 5 Jaw Dropping Canadian RV Road Tripshttp://ibackpackcanada.com/5-jaw-dropping-canadian-rv-road-trips/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/5-jaw-dropping-canadian-rv-road-trips/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 13:57:25 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=5804 Canada is a mecca of jaw-dropping road trips, from east to west, to way up north, there’s something for everyone. Given an appropriate amount of time, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself on the highways of this large nation. Unfortunately, many of us are limited to a couple of weeks off per year, and every […]

5 Jaw Dropping Canadian RV Road Trips is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Canada is a mecca of jaw-dropping road trips, from east to west, to way up north, there’s something for everyone. Given an appropriate amount of time, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself on the highways of this large nation. Unfortunately, many of us are limited to a couple of weeks off per year, and every day counts. Covering an entire country is not for the time-constrained, so in an effort to help point you in the right direction, I’m going to share some of my favourite Canadian Road Trips, perfect for RVer’s or anyone with a set of wheels.

Winnibego - J-Jay - RV motor home road trip

Big J-Jay The Motorhome – Photo by Trent Fraser

My RV Motor Home Experience

I have a long standing love affair with RV Road Trips. My first taste of extended travel occurred at a young age. I would have been around 8 or 9, maybe 10 (those early years all blur together unfortunately). My Dad surprised my Mom and us kids by bringing home a 1972 Winnibego Motor Home. Straight out of the Griswolds Family Vacation (Remember Cousin Eddie’s Motorhome?), or the early meth-cooking episodes of Breaking Bad. We jokingly called it a box on wheels. It was an absolute eyesore, and I’m sure our neighbours were none too pleased when he pulled it into our driveway. My mom, laughing, shook her head in disbelief, and I recall my siblings and I climbing into the RV and running around the interior, crawling into the brown faux-leather lined top bunk, jumping on dual-purpose furniture, and admiring the 1970’s yellow shag carpet found throughout the interior.

During the first 5 years of ownership, it became a tradition to spend a few weeks on the road throughout the summer. Be it camping, exploring the Rockies in Alberta and BC, or heading south to the Black Hills of South Dakota. We grew up with that motor home, and it grew old with us. Those Motor Home trips are likely what caused my love affair with extended travel, history, and run down beat-up vehicles.

Road Trip #1 – The Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia

nova scotia shore

My first visit to Nova Scotia included a superb trip on one of Canada’s most famous Road Trips. The Cabot Trail is located in Northern Victoria County & Inverness County on Cape Breton Island. While not necessarily an Island (it is connected to Nova Scotia after all), you’ll be hard pressed to believe it, as the highway follows the coastal hills and cliffs of the Cape Breton Highlands with a near constant view of the Gulf of St Lawrence.

The Cabot Trail measures 298km (185 miles) and loops around the tip of the the island, passing through Baddeck, St. Anns, Ingonish, Chéticamp, Dingwall, and the world famous Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Expect to see a tremendous amount of wildlife, some world class panoramic views, and some traditional maritimes towns. Note that from Halifax, a route to and from the Cabot Trail will be closer to 935km as seen in the map below.

Recommended amount of days to spend in the area: 3 – 4 days

Cabot Trail Road Trip Map

Road Trip #2 – Coast Cariboo Circle Route, Vancouver/Vancouver Island BC

bc road trip

The Coast Cariboo Circle Route is a whopping 2110.86 km (1311.63 miles) Road Trip is sure to keep you busy and experiencing all that BC has to offer. This stunning adventure takes you from Vancouver through small coastal Vancouver Island villages, exploring the remains of the Gold Rush Trail, hiking on volcanic mountains, and experiencing some of the best beaches in Canada.

This route is guaranteed to provide you with ample photo opportunities of wildlife, amazing sunsets, and really provide you with a thorough understanding of why BC folks are so laid back.

Recommended amount of days to spend on the road: 7 – 10 days

Coast Cariboo Circle Route Road Trip Map

Road Trip #3 – Southern Saskatchewan Discovery Loop

Sask Road Trip

The flatlands are often overlooked as your typical Road Trip destination. People immediately think of flatlands and think boring. But spend any more than a few hours off the trans Canada and you’ll soon realize why it’s on this list. Explore rural Saskatchewan towns, quaint cafés and hotel bars, scenic panoramas of valleys, miles upon miles of flax, canola, wheat, and barley, and discover what western Canada really looked like before agriculture dominated the land.

The Southern Saskatchewan Discovery Loop is 1,659km (1,030.85 miles) of driving. This route is a bit of a DIY route that I regularly share to friends, family, and curious Saskatchewan visitors.

From Regina head south to the Big Muddy Badlands. This scenic transition from flatlands, to rolling hills, to desolate badlands shows you the stark contrast of Southern Saskatchewans topography. Climb Castle Butte (vaguely similar to Uluru of Australia), a world famous landmark carved by ice ages thousands of years ago. Sid Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once roamed these parts, relive it by riding horses at one of the ranches in the area. Continue on to the Val Marie & the Grasslands National Park, home to a wild herd of Bison, and countless other critters, both large and small. Don’t forget to camp out at Grasslands National Park under the Milky Way and shooting stars at one of Saskatchewans best kept secret dark sky preserves. Wake up slow and find work up a thirst, then stop for a beer and a burger at the Cadillac Hotel and catch some live country music.

Continue on to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, and partake in Ziplining, hiking, or relaxing at the lake. Head north to Leader, and explore the Great Sand Dunes of Saskatchewan, a tremendous and curious sight to see amongst all the farmland. Start your trip back to Regina, but be sure to stop at Moose Jaw to explore the historic downtown, cheese it up at the Moose Jaw Tunnels, and don’t forget to stop at Bobby’s Place, my favourite Moose Jaw pub. Make the final trip back to Regina and pat yourself on the back for seeing more of Saskatchewan than most locals ever get to see!

Recommended amount of days to spend on the road: 4 – 5 days

Southern Saskatchewan Discovery Loop Road Trip Map

Road Trip #4 – St Johns to Central Newfoundland

central-newfoundland-panorama-2

I had the pleasure of exploring Central Newfoundland with Candice of Candice Does The World, and Riley of Riles for Miles. It was one of the most memorable road trips I’ve had out East. I will never forget how many times I said “Wow” during our five day trip. It was this road trip that led me to not only fall in love with this province, but also admit to falling in love with Riley – we’ve been together since and recently got engaged.

This trip is approximately 1,401km (870.54 miles) in total, and lets you experience world famous icebergs, small fishing villages, cod kissing kitchen parties, delightful Newfoundland dishes like Lobster Chowder, or more curious (but equally delicious) dishes such as Cod Tongues and Fish and brews. You’ve probably seen those famous Newfoundland commercials at the movie theatres and on TV. Central Newfoundland is featured several times throughout those spots, and you’ll see why as you explore the area.

From St Johns, travel to Twillingate to explore the small Maritime town made famous by countless folk songs. Get your stomping feet and kissing lips ready for a good ol’ fashion Kitchen Party and Screechin’ In at the Anchor Inn Hotel & Suites then sleep off the hangover and revel in the laughs from the night prior.  Sample wine at Auk Island Winery, and find out why the Wine Connoisseurs are taking notice on Newfoundlands exports. Get your sea legs on, and begin ferry hopping from Farewell, Newfoundland. Stay in quaint bed & breakfasts on Fogo Island, and check out the growing arts scene,but whatever you do, don’t forget some of the most breathtaking hiking trails, including BrimStone Head, one of the four corners of the world according to the Flat Earth Society. Nurse your sore legs and body on the way home to St Johns and revel in seeing some of the most unique and traditional Newfoundland sights.

Recommended amount of days to spend on the road: 5 – 7 days

St Johns to Central Newfoundland Road trip Map

Road Trip #5 – Calgary, Banff and Jasper Trip

banff jasper road trip

While easily one of the most popular road trips in Canada, you’ll soon realize it’s popular for a reason. The Calgary-Banff-Jasper trip covers just about everything you could want from an Alberta road trip. Wildlife, blue shale lakes, a mountain backdrop, world class hiking, and some of the best sights in Western Canada.

This ~953km (592.16 miles) road trip can be built upon to create anything form a 3 – 7 day road trip, depending on how many stops you make and how busy the season is. Something to be very wary of is that in the busy summer months, tour buses and RV Holiday Tourists can slow down highway travel, and the dreaded bear-traffic-jams are all but too frequent. But despite the crazy busyness, once you’re off the highways and have found your own solitary place amongst the mountains, it’ll be all too easy to forgot the chaos that can sometimes be seen on the roads. This region is setup great for extended travel. Both Jasper and Banff have something unique to offer. Either or can be a great temporary headquarters to branch out and explore the Rockies. Calgary is a great place to stop and pickup an RV Rental if you want a bit more room for this trip. There are countless RV Parks and Camp sites setup for RV Vacationiers and tent campers, as well as several discount hostels, budget hotels, and enough high-end hotels to keep all types of travellers happy.

Recommended amount of days to spend on the road: 3 – 7 days

Calgary, Banff and Jasper Road Trip Map

Road Trip #6 – Quebecois Rivers, Mountains, Lakes & Fjords

quebec road trip shipwreck

I’ve had a long standing crush on Quebec. I truly feel that if Canada ever lost Quebec, a large part of Canada’s cultural identity would go with it. As many people know, nothing breaks down barriers like travel. I strongly feel that if more western Canadians would brush up on their french and give this region a go, we’d be able to bridge the divide in language and culture and I wouldn’t have to listen to so many gomers that think the french are all jerks. Someone once said you can’t fix stupid though, so maybe it’s pointless. For those more refined in the art of tolerance, this trip is for you!

I’m fortunate in that I’ve been able to explore Quebec several times, each visit is a constant reminder of the beauty of this region. The Quebecois Rivers, Mountains, Lakes & Fjords Road trip is filled to the brim with culture. From delightful microbrews, luxurious wine, delicious foods, friendly people, stunning views of the Gulf of St Lawrence, and countless museums and art galleries.

This trip can be anywhere from 7 – 16 days, and is approximately 1,600 km (994.19 miles).

Quebecois Rivers, Mountains, Lakes & Fjords Road Trip Map

There is absolutely no shortage of road trips and routes to check out in Canada. These are just a handful of my favourites that I think about often. If you have any other ones you recommend checking out please be sure to leave a comment below or let me know by Twitter!

5 Jaw Dropping Canadian RV Road Trips is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Safari in Saskatchewan at Grasslands National Parkhttp://ibackpackcanada.com/safari-saskatchewan-grasslands-national-park/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/safari-saskatchewan-grasslands-national-park/#comments Fri, 16 Aug 2013 14:46:41 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=5591 Finding wildlife in Saskatchewan isn’t particularly hard; however, one will note that cattle and horses often spot the prairie fields and pasture land more often than those more wild. Finding eagles, osprey, bison, moose, bears, and coyotes sometimes takes hours upon hours of driving, and usually quite a bit of luck. For the animal enthusiast, […]

Safari in Saskatchewan at Grasslands National Park is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Finding wildlife in Saskatchewan isn’t particularly hard; however, one will note that cattle and horses often spot the prairie fields and pasture land more often than those more wild. Finding eagles, osprey, bison, moose, bears, and coyotes sometimes takes hours upon hours of driving, and usually quite a bit of luck. For the animal enthusiast, it can be slightly disheartening. Given the size of Saskatchewan (651,900 km²), it’s to be expected. With that being said, there is a clever way to guarantee seeing some unique wildlife.

grasslands-national-park-sunset

Grasslands National Park

Grasslands National Park is a Saskatchewan staple. While it does require some driving (it is Saskatchewan after all), it does mean you have a much higher chance of seeing something photo worthy. Four and a half hours south west of Regina, a stones throw from Montana, USA, Grasslands National Park is one of the truest forms of prairie landscape. This preservation is not only home to some beautifully unique flora, it’s also home to countless species of birds, wild bison, rattlesnakes, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, short-horned lizards, black footed ferrets, and many more.

grasslands-national-park-hills

Untouched Prairie Beauty

The drive south from Regina will lead you through some of the flattest lands, which evolve into gentle rolling hills, only to be suddenly changed into a grass valley carved out by ancient glaciers. Dry cliffs and rocky buttes poke out from the landscape, creating a beautiful view that many would describe as “non-saskatchewan”. What many people often forget is that before large scale agriculture was introduced to Saskatchewan in the late 1800’s, much of the Saskatchewan landscape was exactly what you see at Grasslands National Park. Raw, untouched prairie beauty. A topography that evolved hand in hand with the flora and fauna of the region.

Frenchman River

A Hiker’s Paradise

During the day, there are countless hikes for every skill level, from quick jaunts, such as the Rock Creek Trail (2km loop) to the more skilled trails, such as the Butte Creek / Red Buttes Trail (16km loop), or the Zahursky Point Route (11km loop). There’s also countless square kilometers of back country hiking for those interested on exploring the park without trails. Each hike offers a different view of this beautiful locale. From stretching landscapes of the badlands of Saskatchewan, to creek crossings and surreal views of the Frenchman River.

Pro Tip

For more information on Hiking Trails at Cypress Hills, grab a copy of the Grasslands National Park Visitors Guide at Parks Canada.

Saskatchewan’s Darkest Dark Sky Preserve

Come nightfall, you’ll be in for one of the starriest nights of your life (clear skies depending of course). The Grasslands National Park is the Darkest Dark Sky Preserve in Canada. For astronomers & amateur stargazers, this is one of the best places to be on a clear night. The recently announced Dark Sky Preserve is not only good for bringing in additional tourists, it’s also good for the habitat of nocturnal species, such as the black footed ferret, which was recently re-introduced into the area.

Grasslands Macro

Snakes, Safety, and Friendly Park Staff

My girlfriend and I had the pleasure of camping in the Park a few weeks back. Park staff at Val Marie were immensely knowledgable and friendly, and ran through all the safety procedures before setting out to hike the Grassland trails. It’s made very clear once you’re this far south in Saskatchewan that you’re in rattlesnake country. My girlfriend, having never entered a land dominated by poisonous reptiles morbidly laughed, “Great, so this is the way I’m going to die!“. The Parks Canada staff laughed and reassured her that it’s fairly rare to come across them, and even if you do, giving the snakes their distance will ensure everyone leaves safe.

The Park Staff even went so far as to offer her snake garders, which are basically thick reinforced fabric leggings which they claim will protect you if one of the slithering fellows decide to strike. The Visitor Center at Val Marie offers anyone who’s going to be doing a lot of hiking the garders, but they’re strictly optional. We decided not to take the leggings, being risk takers & all.

Wild Plains Bison

Wild Plains Bison

After leaving the Parks Canada Visitor in Val Marie, we were fully supplied with maps, visitors guides, and a couple of safety brochures. We drove into the park, and without even trying, came across our first group of wild plains bison. Technically, it was just a pair; however, they seemed content to claim their part of the gravel road as their own. Our car approached them slowly, we both nervously laughed, “I hope they don’t charge the car“. Fortunately, they didn’t. Rather, they moved as slow as possible out of the way. During which time we managed to get a few photos. We high-fived over the first encounter. Success! 

History of the Bison in the Area

Back in December 2005 the Plains Bison were re-introduced to the park. Prior to European Settlement, Bison dominated this region. With millions upon millions of herds stampeding across the country. A significant animal in first nations history, it was one of the first to be effected by European Settlement. By the 1880’s, most of the Bison were gone, due to over hunting, and due to their natural habitat being transformed into agricultural land. What was once 71 re-introduced bison, have now become over 300 bison and 40 calves. Without a doubt, one of the most majestic creatures you can find in Saskatchewan. For more information on the Plains Bison, check out Parks Canada’s Bison Updates.

Camping Grasslands National Park - Tent Sunset

Camping in Grasslands National Park

We setup camp just before sunset in a small campground with a handful of lots. Located a kilometer or so from the Frenchman River, we opted to save the hiking for the next day. We were the only ones camping that weekend, and an eerie soundscape of prairie noises calmly sang to us. Waving grass, crickets, gentle blowing wind, soothed the often stressful time known as tent setup. Looking out from our campsite, a 360 degree view of grasslands and rolling hills surrounded us. Parks Canada had setup an in-ground binocular set to allow the viewing of animals slightly further than the eye could make out. In one spin of the metallic eyepiece, I spotted bison, antelope, and a group of kayakers who recently packed up from the Frenchman River.

Antelope Grasslands

Pro Tip: Ask Park Staff About Fire Regulations

Due to the dry nature of the grasslands, there is typically a fire ban in the area. Propane camping stoves are allowed, but open fire’s are not. Park’s Canada will advise you to be as careful as humanly possible. A handful of years back a large part of the park burned away due to fire, and they’d really like to prevent that from happening again.

Sunset Grasslands

Sun Setting Over Grasslands

As the sun dropped below the horizon, it’s remaining light shone through purple, pink, and orange clouds, covering the park in a warm orange glow. Our mosquito net was propped up, keeping the blood suckers out while we waited for stars to come out. Within an hour, the twilight exploded in a vivid starscape. The milky way spread across the sky. The grasslands began to erupt in activity. Panning my head, I noticed how completely alone we were in the park. There wasn’t a single light to be found. A band of coyotes began howling from the north east, not more than a handful of kilometers away. Their dog like calls echoed through the valley. Then like clockwork, another band of coyotes from the north west, joined in, howling for comfort, for territory, or just because it was a nice night out.

Prairie Dogs

Saskatchewan Prairie Dogs

Day finally broke, and we drove to the Prairie Dog sanctuary. These cute little critters are often seen as enemies by farmers, due to their innate ability to turn a perfectly healthy field into a labyrinth of holes. With agriculture dominating Saskatchewan, there aren’t many places they can safely call home; however, in Grasslands National Park, they seem to have found a corner (or two) to call their own. As we pulled the car over and stepped out of the vehicle, we began to walk along the road. Prairie Dog’s barked, alerting their family & friends of our presence. We gave them their space, feeding into their apparent confidence. This was their land, and no camera touting tourist was going to take it from them. We smiled, snapped a few pictures, and left.

Bison Grazing

Plains Bison Grazing

As we packed up for the day, we went on one final hike, one of the quick 2 kilometer loops. We stepped off the trail in hopes of finding more bison, rather than a snake. As we hiked over a hill, making careful progress, a plains bison was grazing within thumb-covering distance (the scientific measurement of safety with wildlife). It’s surprising how easy they are to spot. We stopped, ensuring we wouldn’t spook him. The last thing we’d want is a charging buffalo coming out way. We snapped our pictures, stared on the open landscape, and began our travels back home. A superb weekend trip that will surely be done again.

Safari in Saskatchewan at Grasslands National Park is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Canoeing The Churchill River System in Northern Saskatchewanhttp://ibackpackcanada.com/canoeing-churchill-river-northern-saskatchewan/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/canoeing-churchill-river-northern-saskatchewan/#comments Thu, 01 Aug 2013 15:20:22 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=5527 Settling back into the prairie life after nearly 5 years of living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I was determined to truly take in life the flatlands of Canada. What many people often forget is that Saskatchewan has over 100,000 lakes, and countless rivers, each more unique than the next. While this square shaped province might […]

Canoeing The Churchill River System in Northern Saskatchewan is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Settling back into the prairie life after nearly 5 years of living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I was determined to truly take in life the flatlands of Canada. What many people often forget is that Saskatchewan has over 100,000 lakes, and countless rivers, each more unique than the next. While this square shaped province might be landlocked, you’d have a tough time telling as you drive from lake to lake. Knowing full well that I wanted to be on the water as much as humanly possible this summer, it seemed logical to buy a canoe. So I did.

After a few trial runs in Wascana Lake (Regina’s beautiful man made lake in the middle of the city), followed by a couple trips to Echo Lake, it was time for something a little more rugged, a little more historic, and a lot more north. My girlfriend and I loaded our red canoe on top of my little Ford Focus, and proceeded to strap it to the roof of the car, ensuring it’s tight enough that it won’t take flight along the long stretches of highway. 8 hours later we found ourselves on a lake side campsite at the Missinipe Campground in Lac La Ronge Provincial Park. Smack dab in the middle of voyageur territory.

Otter Lake

Photo by Kristian Platt

A sudden change in scenery

It’s incredible watching the change in scenery. Driving north from Regina, the topography changes from flatlands to rolling hills, eventually exploding in a panorama of rocks, trees, and pristine waters. The boreal forest that covers most of Northern Saskatchewan certainly plays against the Saskatchewan stereotypes. I like to remind people about this little fact whenever I hear “Don’t stop in Saskatchewan” from a traveller. My know-it-all attitude tends to force me to say something along the lines of:

“Don’t stop!? Are you crazy? Do you know why the Saskatchewan flag has a Green and Yellow Stripe Mr/Mrs Too-Cool-For-Saskatchewan? It’s not just because we love John Deers dontchaknow! That top green stripe represents the lush forests of Northern Saskatchewan while the yellow represents the rolling fields of Southern Saskatchewan. You’ll be missing out on a seriously beautiful landscape if you opt to skip this province.”

Rocks and Trees in North Sask

Photo by Kristian Platt

Camping in Missinipe

The Missinipe Campground in Lac La Ronge Provincial Park is relatively small, but has all the modern amenities you’d look for in a campground. Flush toilets, a couple showers, a sink that spits out clear water, large campsites, oh! – and jurassic sized mosquitos eager to drink your precious blood. Bathing in bug spray calms them down temporarily, but be warned. These northern mosquitos are like nothing you’ll find in the southern parts of Canada. They’re vicious. Skeeters aside, it’s a great place to set up camp before a 2-3 day canoe trip along the majestic Churchill River System.

At the crack of dawn, we packed up our camp and threw our valuables into a 65L yellow dry sack. Tipping wasn’t on the agenda for the weekend, but better to be safe than sorry. We stopped at the Churchill River Canoe Outfitters, owned and operated by Ric Driediger and his wife Theresa since 1987. Ric & Theresa are the local experts on canoeing the Churchill River System. Need a canoe map? Insight into which islands to camp on? Which rapids to steer clear of, and where to find the historic sites along the Churchill River? Or even just reassurance that even novice canoeists can spend a weekend in these parts without any issue? Ric & Theresa are it! They wished us a warm and happy “Good Luck!” as we left their shop with a canoe map in hand and a good idea of where we’ll be camping that night.

Pro Tip:

There is plenty of wilderness camping in northern Saskatchewan, particularly in the Lac La Ronge Provincial Park. While it’s not often publicized, after all, official campgrounds earn the park money, but you can camp just about anywhere in the park, including the 1000+ islands that are scattered throughout the area. Just remember the old adage: Take only photos, leave only memories. Be sure to check the fire restrictions with Park Staff before starting a campfire. Visit Ric & Theresa at Churchill River Canoe Outfitters for a map of the area and they can show you some great places to camp for the night.

Corbin canoeing

Photo by Kristian Platt

A Warm Weekend Canoe Trip

We drove to the boat launch, hauling our big red canoe from the top of the car to the edge of the water. After parking the car, we balanced the canoe with our camp gear. 20L of drinking water, a cooler with food & beer, our backpack, the dry sack, then finally us. Kristian was seated in the bow of the canoe, smiling at me, and perhaps the warm weather. Knowing this was going to be a superb adventure, I pushed off land with my left foot, my right foot keeping balance inside the stern, I sat gently and we were off.

The sun was beating down on us, the wind barely a breeze, the sound of our paddles cutting through the water, pulling our canoe further out into the wilderness with each stroke. For the first 30 minutes, we watched as sea planes came and went from a few hundred meters from us. These vintage planes were filled with fisherman trying to get as north as possible, to relax in a boat with a few friends, drink a couple beers, and fish. I smirked, having been on the exact plane I saw taking off before us only a few weeks before on a big fishing trip.

bald-eagle-churchill-river-north-saskatchewan-1-w650

As we passed the second inlet, the small town of Missinipe had completely disappeared. We were paddling with the current, making good speed. Kristian pointed above us, a bald eagle was riding the updrafts of warm wind. She zoomed in with her camera and snapped a few photos. This area is the second largest nesting area for Bald Eagles, making them fairly easy to spot throughout the provincial park.

churchill-river-otter-lake-missinipe-north-sask-6-w650

“Bear Rock” or just a Bear Shaped Boulder?

While canoeing I explained to my girlfriend about the first european explorers who visited this area. I read about this one particular tale of  Alexander Mackenzie’s first voyage to this region. With a canoe and a  first nations guide, he was shown “bear rock”, a large boulder that looked like a bear. Local first nations even painted it. Apparently nobody has seen it since, but it was written about in detail in his notes. We laughed, thinking it would be very cool if we stumbled across it. A kilometer of paddling later, we came across a boulder that looked almost identical to a bear, and even appeared to have been painted. Could this be it? Or just us just seeing things that we hoped for. Either way, we took pictures, laughing at the strange coincidence.

churchill-river-otter-lake-missinipe-north-sask-4-w650

A little Saskatchewan island to call our own

5 hours of paddling later, after winding through dozens of islands both large and small, waving at a handful of other canoeists & smiling at a few fishermen, we pulled onto an unnamed island a couple kilometers in diameter, dragging our canoe up a rock ledge and tying the boat to a fir tree. After setting up the tent, and cooling off in the frigid waters of the Churchill River, we made a quick meal over the campfire. As dusk approached, the sound of trees falling into the water erupted around us. It sounded as if it was coming from the inlet opposite from us. A beaver was hard at work until just after midnight, no doubt doing some home renovations on his dam. Stargazing while enjoying the busy beaver fast became moongazing as a red lunar eclipse ignited the sky.

red moon saskatchewan

Photo by Kristian Platt

We considered the possibility of playing hooky from work and continuing on towards Robertson Falls, and trying to find some of the old rock paintings left centuries ago; however, our shoulders begged us not to. This area is far too large to tackle every bit of it in just a weekend, and no doubt we’d have to come back for more camping and exploring. The history buff in me was craving to see Saskatchewan’s oldest building, the Holy Trinity Church at Stanley Mission. Next time!

This area was first occupied by the first nations people of Canada. Canoeing wasn’t just a leisure activity then, it was a way of life. While many explorers since have came and went, the area still feels rugged, wild, and serene. While you’ll certainly come across a handful of boats while canoeing this area, come nightfall it feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere. It’s no wonder why so many people call this place a canoeists paradise.

Canoeing The Churchill River System in Northern Saskatchewan is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Horseback Riding in Prince Albert National Park with Sturgeon River Ranchhttp://ibackpackcanada.com/horseback-riding-prince-albert-national-park-sturgeon-river-ranch-photo-essay/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/horseback-riding-prince-albert-national-park-sturgeon-river-ranch-photo-essay/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2011 14:50:41 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=3748 If you’re from Saskatchewan, chances are there’s a little cowboy running through your blood. Be it the whimsical nature that we seem to have when it comes to long road trips (ie “It’s only an 8 hour drive, easy as pie!), or the general love affair most prairie folk seem to have with country music. […]

Horseback Riding in Prince Albert National Park with Sturgeon River Ranch is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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If you’re from Saskatchewan, chances are there’s a little cowboy running through your blood. Be it the whimsical nature that we seem to have when it comes to long road trips (ie “It’s only an 8 hour drive, easy as pie!), or the general love affair most prairie folk seem to have with country music. Everyone from this little prairie province loves to claim they’re a little more cowboy than the next guy or gal. You wouldn’t believe how many arguments I’ve heard where people are arguing who’s hometown is smaller. No matter how cowboy you might think you are, chances are you’re not even playing in the same league as Gord Vaadeland, owner and operator of Sturgeon River Ranch.

This past Thanksgiving was hands down one of the most memorable I’ve ever had. I convinced my old man to take some time off work and join me up north for some fall horseback riding in the boreal forest. The goal was to catch sight of the 400+ free range plains bison that roam Prince Albert National Park. Little did we know how close we’d end up getting.

These brick-walls of beasts have had a tough go, yet despite their near extinction, they seem to be thriving in Prince Albert National Park since their re-introduction in 1969. They’ve come a long way since the first 50 were brought back. That’s partly due to the preservation efforts of Gord Vaadeland, Founder and Executive Director of the Sturgeon River Plains Bison Stewards. That’s only one of his gigs, he’s also the ED of CPAWS-SK and Watershed Awareness Coordinator for Provincial Council of Agriculture Development and Diversification. Say that 3 times fast… (Can’t be done!)

I got in contact with Gord while I was still in Halifax and asked if he’d be keen on showing me around his parts. He gladly obliged, and within weeks we had a unique tour of the area setup, which included Horseback Riding the western part of Prince Albert National Park in search of the bison, and sleeping in a traditionally built tipi at Ness Creek.

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A short 6 hour drive from Regina got us near Big River Saskatchewan. We pulled into Sturgeon River Ranch and were finally introduced to Gord. I soon learned that his skills extended beyond being an outfitter, a cowboy, and a bison steward. Turns out he’s also a bluegrass musician, and a bit of a TV Celebrity (What’s up Mantracker!?). We all hit it off and it wasn’t long before we had the horses in the trailer and ready to roll.

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Welcome to Prince Albert National Park

We pulled up to the edge of Prince Albert National Park and saddled up. It’d been a couple years since I’d ridden horse, but I managed to shake the cobwebs after the first mile or so. Gord led us through trails that wove through birch and spruce, our horses powered through the thick. Watching Gord lead us slowpokes, I couldn’t help but think “Shoulda found a cowboy hat!”. That thought was interupted as I was forced to dodge a low hanging branch. I chuckled to myself, “Keep cool Corbin, pay attention…”

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Our horses began to slow down, and suddenly became a bit nervous. You could feel the tension in the air. These horses knew something was up a ways. We all stopped in our tracks. A gentle breeze blew through the trees, the sound of rubbing leather mixed with the loud breathe of the horses made that moment feel like it lasted a lifetime. Gord whispered “They’re up there. You hear that?”. Large crunching snaps echo’d back our way.

Gord Vaadeland - Sturgeon River Ranch

We slowly pressed on, nobody said a word. We didn’t know if we’d get a second chance to spot the bison up ahead. As we continued through the trail, the bush got thicker. Gord lead us in the direction of the breaking trees. We slowed down again, and Gord explained “We usually recommend people keep a safe distance from the bison. If you can cover them with your thumb, you’re close enough. But since you’re with me, we’ll be using our elbows and putting that thumb a little closer to your face, which means we’ll be getting a bit closer. Hope that’s okay!” I nodded my head with a huge smile “Of course!”.

Wild Free Range Bison Saskatchewan Prince Albert

Spotting the Wild Plains Bison

The sound of snapping trees got louder, but the bush was so thick you could hardly tell how close you were. Gord offered to hang onto our horses to see if we can get a clear photo. I climbed off Applejack (a trustworthy steed if I may say so) and nervously moved toward the sound of wild bison. My old man was right behind. Creeping towards the bison soon became a game of “Oh yea? I dare you to keep going!” I’d take one step, my Dad would take two. Soon we were lookin in the eyes of at least eight free ranging plains bison (there may have been dozens more behind them). We couldn’t have been more than 30 feet away from the small herd.

Blue-skies-Birch-Trees-Saskatchewan

A final tree snap stopped me dead in my tracks. I looked at my old man and made eye contact, implying “If they move, I’m so out!” Several grunts and loud thumps on the ground forced me to take a step back. Then two. I looked up and blue skies and birch trees surrounded us, making a fast escape nearly impossible. Their noises progressively got louder, and I decided I had enough of playing chicken with thousand pound bisons. Another grunt & crack, and I was out! “Only gotta be faster than the guy behind you” I remember hearing. We laughed as we got back to our horses, blown away with what we’d just done. Needless to say my Dad gave me a hard time for backing out before him.

I was completely speechless as I tried to thank Gord. “Awesome. Wow!”. He laughed and said “I didn’t realize how close you guys were!”. He laughed as he handed us back our reins. Had that been anyone else I’m sure he would have Clint Eastwood stared us so bad for getting that close. But Gord seemed to trust us. Nothing like having a cowboy on your side!

Long meadow prince albert national park sk

Long Meadow – Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan

We pushed forward, following a few rough trails. Gord warmly told us about the history of the bison and shared some of the incredible preservation work being done with bison. This man is clearly passionate about his work. Who else but a Saskatchewan Patriot would come out on Thanksgiving Day to show a couple outta-towners around. As the conversation died down, the scenery opened up. A natural clearing called “Long Meadow” greeted us.

Horseback riding prince albert national park moose antlers

It was a breathe of fresh air to see the flatlands again and to set my eyes on the big blue sky. As we entered the meadow a White-tail deer skipped back into the cover of the trees. We followed Gord and picked up our pace. Just a few prairie boys wandering the land by horse. We stopped a mile or two up the meadow as Gord pointed out some moose antlers. A mile up and he stops to point out another sign of wildlife. The remains of a bison.

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Bison Remains

He explained what makes Prince Albert National Park so different from all the rest with one word. “Predation.” There’s a couple wolf packs in the area that hunt the weak, injured, and the old. It’s a common sight in the park. It’s pretty wild to think that something could actually take a bison out.

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We stopped for lunch in the middle of Long Meadow and Gord continued to share stories. The mans got a bunch, but you’ll have to book him yourself to hear them all. The horses fueled up on wild grass while we gorged on sandwiches and some of the best home made cookies I’ve ever had. Then it was back in the saddle.

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Another herd of Bison

A few miles up we had our second encounter with another small herd of bison. Once again they were hidden in the trees. If my camera had a fist, it would have been shaking it vigorously at them. I wanted to see them in the wide open, but I suppose it wasn’t meant to be! More the reason to come back again!

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It was coming on the 5th hour of riding, and the sun was just beginning to set. We had one last leg of trails to hit before calling it a day. We found our way onto a rough dirt road. Gord explained that a lot of these roads were actually started by the Bison. When people started showing up in the area, they picked up where the bison left off and turned the rough trails into drive-able roads.

Stoney Plain Meadow Prince Albert National Park

Stoney Plain Meadow – Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan

Our fearless leader wandered into rougher terrain. Steep hills and fast slopes was the name of the game. Rocks, trees, and the odd patch of mud reminded our horses not to stumble. The horses pulled through with ease, and we soon found ourselves on top of a hill, overlooking Stoney Plain Meadow. Gord pointed out where his family’s land was and we enjoyed the start of sunset. Good company, great ride, and one helluva view. The definition of a great way to end the day!

Sturgeon River Ranch, Saskatchewan

Back at Sturgeon River Ranch

We loaded up the horses and dropped them off at Sturgeon River Ranch. I bid farewell to my new four legged friend Applejack and thanked Gord for sharing his wealth of expertise. He gave us directions to Ness Creek and said he’d meet up with us shortly. We drove 20 minutes on gravel roads and eventually found the right road.

Ness Creek Awaits

As we pulled into the Ness Creek grounds, you could see that it was a place for artists, free thinkers, and eco-friendly community leaders. The craftsmanship in everything from the signs, to the cabins, to the pieces of outdoor art located throughout the grounds make you stop and think “I wish I did more stuff like this!”

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We turned the bend and saw our accommodations for the night. Standing in the middle of a field was a traditionally built dakota tipi. The wooden poles pierced the orange sky, a light breeze blew the doorway gently. I stopped in my tracks to stand and take it all in before snapping a photo. Wild bison, a full day of riding in the boreal forest, and now a night under the stars. I thought to myself “I have this moment to be thankful for.”

Big thanks goes out to Gord & the Gang at Ness Creek for showing me around their little slice of heaven. If you want to see more wildlife photos be sure to check out the Bison Stewards Facebook Page. Same goes with the Sturgeon River Ranch Facebook page! Stay tuned for an upcoming post on Ness Creek, in the mean time, check out Gord Vaadeland’s appearance in Mantracker.

Horseback Riding in Prince Albert National Park with Sturgeon River Ranch is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Relax in the Little Resort Town of Manitou Beach, Saskatchewanhttp://ibackpackcanada.com/relax-in-the-little-resort-town-of-manitou-beach-saskatchewan/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/relax-in-the-little-resort-town-of-manitou-beach-saskatchewan/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2011 13:35:01 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=3724 Relax in the Little Resort Town of Manitou Beach, Saskatchewan is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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In the 1800’s, First nations tribes were being wiped out at an alarming rate by the european settlers. War, disease, and famine were tearing apart an entire civilization. For most of those who came down with smallpox, death followed soon thereafter. However, there were exceptions. According to the local stories, there was once an Assiniboine tribe who had several tribe members come down with smallpox. They somehow came upon Little Manitou Lake, and after drinking and bathing in the healing mineral waters, were completely cured from this disease. Stories eventually spread of this little Saskatchewan wonder. People from all over the country were coming to check it out, it wasn’t long before development began in the area.

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Studies were eventually done on the water in Little Manitou Lake. They discovered several things. The water in this lake is 5 times more saline than the ocean, making it almost half as dense as the Dead Sea. In total, the gravity of Little Manitou Lake’s water is 1.06, which allows for some incredibly easy floating, even for you non-swimmers.

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On my recent travels throughout Saskatchewan I was driving towards Saskatoon but was being completely thrown off schedule with a sudden rainstorm. The storm had gotten to the point where driving was beginning to get dangerous. It was my intention to check out Little Manitou Lake anyways, but I wasn’t sure exactly for how long, nor what I’d find. As I pulled into town I realized there was enough to see and do in town to warrant taking a half day off driving, and hope for the rain to pass.

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Little Manitou Lake, Saskatchewan

I drove through the small town of Watrous (5km from Manitou Beach) & made my way slowly down the hills towards Manitou Beach, one of Saskatchewans oldest and most unique resort towns. As I parked my vehicle, I casually strolled towards the sandy beach. The wind and rain made for thousands of small waves covering the entire lake. Grey skies were all around, yet despite the lack of colour, the area was still beautiful. Foam caused from the crashing waves and salt water algae covered parts of the beach. Despite the cold weather & occasional burst of rain, I removed my shoes and socks and dipped my feet in.

Pins and needles soon forced me to get out of the frigid waters to seek warmth. I figured I could find that up the road so I proceeded to walk. The rain picked up again, and it was then that I realized that my rain jacket wasn’t nearly as waterproof as it was supposed to be. I was soaked to the bone. Thankfully my camera was protected in its bag, but I didn’t have that luxury. I made my way around around a couple bends in the road and then suddenly the rain stopped. As I turned one last bend I saw it. Danceland, Home of the world famous dance floor built on horse hair.

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Danceland, Home of the World Famous Dance Floor Built on Horse Hair

I wasn’t sure if they’d be open, but I saw one vehicle parked near the hall and hoped it was one of the owners. I strolled up with camera in hand, and gently pushed the creeking screen door open. It was pretty dark inside the dancehall. Concerned I might be breaking and entering, I warmly called out “Hello?”… Out of the kitchen came both of the owners. Arnold and Millie Strueby introduced themselves and were happy to show me around. Within minutes we were talking about the history of Danceland.

Danceland-Manitou-Dance-Floor

The first dancehall was built in 1919, then rebuilt as “Danceland” in 1928 as one of the first dance floors built on top of horse hair. I was completely lost about this whole Horse Hair shenanigans, thankfully the Strueby’s explained its purpose. Dancers can apparently go for hours without getting sore due to the bounce caused by the horse hair. They say when the dancehall is full you can actually see the floor bounce. Danceland still uses the original 5,000 square foot maple hardwood floor that was installed in 1929.

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There has been countless owners throughout its history, and a huge variety of acts have played on stage at Danceland, including Wilf Carter, Don Messer, Bobby Gimby, Mart Kenny, and my personal favourite, the Inkspots. Back in those days it was common to get big names in town. At the time there was nothing like Manitou Beach, and trains were coming in and out of town bringing in loads of people.

Danceland-Manitou-Watrous-SK

Despite its age, Danceland has this jaw dropping feel about it all. You can’t help but stare in amazement at the structure of the building. Everything from the lights, to the beams, to the sheer size of the building, you can’t help but smile. Danceland continues to operate to this day. They’re open year round, with dances on Friday and Saturday, followed by Gospel shows on Sunday. There’s buffets, weddings, social events, you name it! It’s a pretty wild little Saskatchewan gem, and stepping onto that Horse Hair infused floor, you can’t help but want to shake and jive.

I said farewell to the owners who encouraged me to warm up in the Manitou Springs Spa. It was still drizzling outside so I figured “What the hey! Why not?”

The Manitou Springs Spa & Resort

I grabbed my swim trunks from the car and wandered into the Manitou Springs Spa. I decided I’d pass on the swedish stone massages and facials, and just skip right to floating in the mineral rich waters. As I finished changing I realized I probably shouldn’t be creeping about a spa with a camera in hand. I can’t imagine I’d get anything but strange looks from people, and who wants to get kicked out into the rain. I decided it was safer to lock up my gear and just relax.

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After a quick shower, I slowly eased myself into the hot and murky lake fed mineral waters. There was maybe 12 other people in the pools, and I was quite visibly the only person below 55. I laughed it off and decided to give this whole floating gig a try. I dunked my entire body, and within micro-seconds I bounced back up. It was like swimming in a new breed of water. I felt alien, light, almost hollow. This 1.06 gravity thing was completely blowing my mind. I spun onto my back and let the water do all the work. Heal me water, heal me good!

What’s in the mineral water?
Grams per Gallon

  • Magnesium Sulfate – 308.38
  • Magnesium Bicarbonate – 63.42
  • Sodium Sulphate – 50.92
  • Potassium Sulphate – 116.62
  • Sodium Chloride – 1405.60
  • Calcium Sulphate – 104.96
  • Oxide of Iron & Aluminum – 0.28
  • Silica – 0.69

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After almost two hours of floating I was a mineral infused prune. I wandered out of the water and decided I had to risk it. I needed a picture. I unlocked my gear, and did a dash. As I entered the pool area with a camera I got one weird glance, but nobody else seemed to notice. I quickly snapped, and realized my camera was fogging up like crazy. I had to hope for the best that one of three photos would look okay.

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As I left the Spa I felt like a new man. I was completely relaxed, stress free, and ready to hit the road to continue my journey throughout Saskatchewan. Manitou Beach is one of those strange aging gems in Saskatchewan. It might not be as popular as it was back in the day, but there is still plenty going on in the area. If you’re heading north from Regina to Saskatoon, you’d be crazy not to stop and check it out.

 

For more information on Manitou Beach check out The Watrous Manitou Website.

 

Relax in the Little Resort Town of Manitou Beach, Saskatchewan is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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6 Reasons You Should Visit Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatchewanhttp://ibackpackcanada.com/6-reasons-you-should-visit-wanuskewin-heritage-park-in-saskatchewan/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/6-reasons-you-should-visit-wanuskewin-heritage-park-in-saskatchewan/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2011 15:28:10 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=3686 6 Reasons You Should Visit Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatchewan is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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I’ve always had a fascination with history. I suppose I have my folks to thank for that. They always made an effort to stop at every historical point of interest during family road trips. As kids, my folks would have my siblings and I read the signs that would explain where we were, and what we were looking at. I’m sure as little snots we didn’t seem all that interested, but somewhere along the road to “adulthood” this interest of theirs must have buried its way into my own behaviour. While this fascination may not have transfered so well in text books & school, to this day, I still love seeing, breathing, and experiencing the history of a region. On a recent road trip through the Saskatoon area I looked up an old childhood friend and decided to check out Wanuskewin, a Heritage Park dedicated to First Nations history in Saskatchewan. Along the way I came up with 6 reasons you should visit Wanuskewin Heritage Park.

1. The Wanuskewin Restaurante – First Nations Food with a Modern Twist

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One of the first things you’ll notice as you walk into the Visitor Centre is the clean and beautiful decor of the building. However, you’ll soon be distracted by the second thing you’ll notice. The food! The Wanuskewin Heritage Park has it’s very own restaurante which serves an assortment of traditional and non traditional first nations food. They serve everything from Rabbit Stew, to Wild Rice Salads, or if you want to play it safe, try their incredibly delicious Bison Burger. But don’t forget to order a plate of Bannock to spread an unhealthy amount of butter and jam on. What better way to start a hike & a tour than on a full stomach.

2. The Historical First Nations Artifacts & Art Pieces

First Nations Artifacts Saskatchewan Wanuskewin

The museum & gallery in the Visitor Center of Wanuskewin has a variety of beautiful and incredibly fragile pelts. The art and craftsmanship that went into every day to day item used by the First Nations people is astounding. Each item has this strange ability to take you back to a time when these items were necessary for survival. When these historical items were designed and built, I’m sure the First Nations had no idea they would end up on display. They were tools, yet here they are behaving very similar to how I see the art hanging on the walls. It’s easy to forget there’s more to Wanuskewin than old items & ornate pieces of first nations art.

3. The Bison Pounds

Buffalo Pound Saskatchewan Wanuskewin

It’s been long known in the First Nations community that Wanuskewin was a place of gathering and of spiritual healing. In the 1980’s archeologists began to confirm these findings with a multitude of incredible finds. One of my personal favourites was the remnants of several Bison Pounds. A Bison Pound is essentially a wooden gate that First nations hunters would use to hunt bison with. Thousands upon thousands of wild bison would stampede, and upon seeing these wooden gates, would be confused and disoriented. In an attempt to go around these blockades they would be guided to their fate at the bottom of a Buffalo Jump. I don’t care how many animals you’ve skinned, even the bravest warrior had to have been scared trying to herd stampeding buffalo off a cliff.

4. The Traditionally Built Tipis

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Wanuskewin has several large tipis errected around the park which allow visitors to see what it would have been like to live in one. They’re an incredible piece of human ingenuity. Knowing that the tradition and knowledge of how to build Tipis has been preserved and handed down throughout the years, despite the pain and suffering the First Nations have gone through, is heart warming. If you plan your visit to Wanuskewin appropriately, you can actually get the opportunity to watch an elder setup a tipi as well.

 5. The Trails to Archaeological Finds

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There are 4 very scenic trails you can take as you exit the Wanuskewin Visitor Center; however, if you have an extra couple of hours in your day I highly recommend doing them all. They can easily be done as long as you’re in relatively good shape. I confess I did have sore legs after the entire hike; but nothing I wasn’t able to walk off. The scenic trails include

“The Trail of Discovery”

which takes you from the ampitheatre to the first bison pound and the Tipi Village. As you continue uphill, you’re given a scenic panorama of the Opimihaw Creek which includes seeing almost the entire Wanuskewin Park. As you finish the Trail of Discovery you’re able to connect to the “Path of the People” for a few minutes, which then turns into the “Trail of the Bison” (My personal favourite) as you climb uphill in an eastern direction.

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“The Trail of the Bison”

On the “Trail of the Bison” you’ll see this massive Bison Rubbing Stone along with some of the most beautiful grasslands. Further on you’ll see several small cliffs that drop down to the Saskatchewan River. The vista at the top of this trail is breathtaking to say the least. The prairie harsh winds make it difficult to stay up there long, but the view is second to none. As you loop around the “Trail of the Bison” you’ll reconnect with the Path of the People.

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“The Path of the People”

This path gives you the opportunity to explore the lush vegetation along the Opimihaw Creek and take in the dry valley walls. This leads eventually to the Juniper Flats, a dry desert like area that seems oddly foreign after walking through the flatlands then a lush wetland. The Path of the People eventually leads to the “Circle of Harmony”

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“The Circle of Harmony”

This particular trail leads to some incredible archeological finds and some more great views of the area. Expect to find a tipi ring, a medicine wheel, and another bison pound. There’s a very interesting history behind the tipi rings and medicine wheel (or sacred hoop). If you’re really into the spiritual side of history, this will no doubt be a great place to stop and absorb your surroundings.

6. First Nations Hoop Dancers

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As you finish the last of the trails you’ll no doubt be aching to sit down for a bit, which gives you the perfect opportunity to learn about and witness the famous First Nations Hoop Dance. This dance is incredibly old, and has been past down from generation to generation. The skill and finess behind it is simply amazing, words really don’t do it justice. If you’re brave enough the kind dancers will even show you some of the basics.

Have you ever been to Wanuskewin? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

For more information on Wanuskewin be sure to check out their website!

6 Reasons You Should Visit Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatchewan is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Chasing Prairie Skyscrapers across the flatlands of Saskatchewanhttp://ibackpackcanada.com/chasing-prairie-skyscrapers-across-the-flatlands-of-saskatchewan-photo-essay/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/chasing-prairie-skyscrapers-across-the-flatlands-of-saskatchewan-photo-essay/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2011 04:24:45 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=3604 The dry, arid winds of Saskatchewan hammer against my left arm. My hand is curved into a wing-like shape as I hang my forearm out the driver’s side window. I entertain myself with the magic of lift. It’s late September and I’m watching the yellow dashed lines extend into the horizon. The highway is empty and the […]

Chasing Prairie Skyscrapers across the flatlands of Saskatchewan is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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The dry, arid winds of Saskatchewan hammer against my left arm. My hand is curved into a wing-like shape as I hang my forearm out the driver’s side window. I entertain myself with the magic of lift. It’s late September and I’m watching the yellow dashed lines extend into the horizon. The highway is empty and the land is flat. I stare at the small formation of clouds in what has to be one of the worlds biggest skies and breathe in the smell of gravel roads and fresh cut fields.

Flatlands of the Saskatchewan Prairies

Driving through the Saskatchewan prairies can at times feel like you’re completely alone in the world. You begin to notice things. Things you might have overlooked, things you might take for granted. You notice your head swivelling slowly, scanning the horizon and looking for something, but you’re not sure what. When your eyes spot it, you pull over. Jutting out of the miles of flatlands is a wooden skyscraper.

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The Saskatchewan Grain Elevators

While they may not break any world records for building height, and they sure aren’t the most sophisticated pieces of architecture. They’re different. And they’re disappearing one at a time. The Grain Elevators of Saskatchewan are an endangered species. What was once a common sight across Saskatchewan has now become an opportunity to see an era fade into the history books. Something people may someday see in pictures but never get the opportunity to see with their own eyes.

Kinistino-Saskatchewan-Elevator

Chasing Prairie Skyscrapers

During my recent travels throughout Saskatchewan I made an effort to find as  many of these dying creatures as I could. The Grain Elevators of Saskatchewan offer a unique look at an important time in human civilization. These wooden castles helped feed the world. Before elevators, grain was hauled in bags and towed by horse and carriage. The idea of modern farming we see today didn’t begin until the late 1800’s with the invention of the Grain Elevator.

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Wood Mountain Elevator

The Elevators are in my blood

My Grandpa was one of the thousands of labourers who helped construct the Grain Elevators in Saskatchewan throughout the mid 1900’s. He died at a fairly young age due to lung complications caused by breathing in mass amounts of grain dust throughout his life. This was a danger that was unknown back in those times. While I never really got to know him, I do know that some of the elevators built with his hands still stand today. Others he worked on have met their fate on the ground which they proudly stood over for decades.

Prairie-Skyscraper-Saskatchewan-Elevator

The Grain Elevators Are Vanishing

In the 1930’s there was said to be over 3,300 grain elevators in Saskatchewan. That number has plummeted to roughly 450 in recent years. It’s my hopes that more will be done to protect and preserve these unique pieces of Saskatchewan history. Unfortunately they’re being demolished at an alarming rate due to concerns for safety and cost of maintenance. Some call them Tinder Boxes, others call them an Eye Sore; however, there is growing support to save them. Many communities are coming together to protect them.

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Protecting the Prairie Elevators

It’s an uphill battle, but the local Saskatchewan community is coming together to try their best to protect the grain elevators. The Western Development Museum in North Battleford currently has a working 1920’s elevator on display. Several small communities have also converted their elevators into museums and restaurantes. Rural communities with a strong enough voice continue to partner with the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation to save their local elevator. This problem of the disappearing elevators isn’t unique to Saskatchewan. Alberta & Manitoba face the exact same problems.

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Morse Elevators

The Prairie Skyline is Changing

Time is running short for the prairie skyline. Most of the wooden-cribbed grain elevators are showing wear and tear. The province of Saskatchewan is changing fast. Rural areas are growing smaller and smaller while the 5 urban city centres of Saskatchewan continue to grow each year. In response to this exodus, ghost town’s continue to be born.

Prairie-Grain-Elevator-Saskatchewan

I fully understand that there is no way for all of the elevators to be saved. Times will always be changing, and newer elevators are needed in order to meet the demand of a growing population. However, these elevators are a piece of the past, and a past that in my eyes is worth preserving. There is really no time like the present to see and photograph what’s left of the Prairie Skyscrapers. Chasing them can become an addiction and can easily be the basis to one of the greatest Saskatchewan road trips you’ll ever take.

 

For more about the problems facing the Grain Elevators check out the National Film Board’s documentary “Death of A Skyline“. I managed to find it online on Vimeo, and while it’s a little dated, you do learn a lot more about the locals plight. Be sure to check out some of the demolition videos, its oddly depressing to see them fall.

 

Chasing Prairie Skyscrapers across the flatlands of Saskatchewan is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Exploring The Big Muddy Badlands & Castle Buttehttp://ibackpackcanada.com/exploring-the-big-muddy-badlands-castle-butte/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/exploring-the-big-muddy-badlands-castle-butte/#comments Tue, 08 Nov 2011 18:57:40 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=3559 Over the years I’ve become quite good at explaining to others what Saskatchewan looks like. It’s more than just 7 hours across and a whole bunch of farmland. If you take the time to get off Highway 1 you’ll find yourself in one of the most unique and beautiful provinces in Canada. Case and point, […]

Exploring The Big Muddy Badlands & Castle Butte is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Over the years I’ve become quite good at explaining to others what Saskatchewan looks like. It’s more than just 7 hours across and a whole bunch of farmland. If you take the time to get off Highway 1 you’ll find yourself in one of the most unique and beautiful provinces in Canada. Case and point, drive south to the Big Muddy Badlands and see what I mean.

Prairies-in-Saskatchewan

Country Roads, Take Me Home

On my recent trip back to my home province of Saskatchewan I decided it was time I get photographic proof of my explantations. My solo mission through Saskatchewan was to be a rediscovery of my home province. I made sure to take in parts of Saskatchewan I hadn’t seen in years, and some I’d never seen at all.

Saskatchewan-Prairie-Fields

Drive South on HWY 6

Driving south from Regina will gradually take you through a sequence of topographies. Now you might be laughing at the use of the word “topographies” while describing Saskatchewan. “Isn’t it pretty flat there?” is the typical response from someone who’s never seen much of the prairies. Sure, we’ve got a few hundred thousand square kilometers of flatlands, but there’s more to it than that.

Rolling-Hills-Prairies-Saskatchewan

Rolling Prairie Hills

After roughly 2 hours of driving south, you’ll come across the rolling prairie hills. They’re still farmed like the flatlands, and still feel like “Saskatchewan”, but these hills have an uncanny ability of stealing your attention. As you continue driving, these rolling hills turn into something totally different. The fields of wheat, canola, and barley begin to disappear as you arrive in one of my favourite regions of Saskatchewan. The Big Muddy Badlands! Even saying it aloud makes you feel like a cowboy.

The Big Muddy Badlands

The Big Muddy Badlands are located along the Big Muddy Creek and extend all the way to Montana. They’re located inside the Big Muddy Valley. This unique valley is 55 kilometres [34 mile] long, 3.2 kilometres [2mile] wide & 160 metres [520 feet] deep. It’s one of the driest and most rugged regions of Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan-Badlands

What Goes on in the Big Muddy?

Bandits! Well, there used to be bandits. Back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the Big Muddy Badlands formed the northern tip of the Bandit Trail. This trail was used by world renown horse bandits Sundance Kid, Dutch Henry, Pigeon Toed Kid, Coyote Pete, and my personal favourite, Sam Kelly (more on him in a later post).

Nowadays the Big Muddy is known for its Horseback riding, cattle ranching, farming, and some of Saskatchewans most exciting highway drives. The rocky cliffs and carved out valleys are so foreign after hours of flatland, that its hard to believe you’re actually still in Saskatchewan.

It’s easy to get distracted in the Big Muddy. I had to remind myself that I was here for a reason. I was trying to find Castle Butte, a 70 meter relic from the ice age; similar to Uluru (In Australia), only on a smaller scale. I had stumbled upon it years ago online and decided I had to check it out.

Big-Muddy-Badlands

Finding Castle Butte

One would assume that it’d be easy to spot, but it’s actually surprisingly tricky to find. Highways in this part of Saskatchewan can be tough to navigate, signs tend to be few and far between. While some may find this to be a minor inconvenience, I quite enjoy getting lost and finding my way back onto the correct path. It typically leads to a few self deprecating laughs.

Turning onto Highway 34, south of Bengough, I finally see a sign indicating I’m on the right track. I drive through a texas gate, and begin to wonder if I’m trespassing on someones property. I ignore that thought and continue on. Signs don’t lie, do they?

Castle-Butte-highway-34

Thar she be!

As the gravel road curves, I spot it. Looming over the dry pasture land is Castle Butte. I snap a few pictures from afar and continue on. As I drive up the winding road a welcome sign greets me. I park my car at the base of the ancient monument and look up.

Castle-Butte-Sign

Welcome to Castle Butte

Gazing up at this massive prairie goliath I laugh in excitement. I start by doing a full lap around the perimeter of Castle Butte, deciding whats the best route to begin the climb. As I complete the full 360 degree circle I realize that the first walkway up was the best. Before setting out to climb, I decide to check out some of the small caverns that have been erroded into the sandstone & clay.

Castle-Butte-Big-Muddy-Badlands

A Small Saskatchewan Cave

I climb into the darkness, using the flash of my camera to see how far this Saskatchewan cave goes. It appears to narrow out at about 12 feet at which point it stops. The cave juts in and out at all angles, making for an awkward crawl. I bump my head twice and rub the location of impact. I’m clearly not cut out for spelunking.

Castle-Butte-Cave

Ryan Was Here

I feel my way out and spot several carved names inside the cave. Looks like “Ryan” beat me here. I exit the tiny cave and breathe a sigh of relief for not being crushed to death by Castle Butte. The sun is still shining and this giant piece of rock is calling my name.

Castle-Butte

Commencing the Climb

I began climbing, carefully stepping between crevices, hoping with each step that I don’t lose my grip and roll to the bottom. The first half of the climb is mostly just a steep walk. As I get about halfway up it picks up in difficulty. While it’s by all means not the toughest climb, there are a several spots that require all four limbs and a decent balance.

Castle-Butte-SK-From-Top

Pause & Picture

I paused to catch my breathe and snap a couple photos as I approached the top of Castle Butte. Looking back down below provided an incredible view of the Big Muddy Badlands. I smiled and pushed on. “Only 15 feet or so before I’m able to comfortably stand and relax.” I thought to myself.

Corbin Fraser Hiking Castle Butte

King of the Castle

I reached the top of Castle Butte and pulled myself up. As I regained my posture I commenced the first among many 360s. The vista that was before me was a mix of prairie flatlands, harsh rocky cliffs and badlands. The blue sky above shined down on what had to be one of the warmest fall days in Saskatchewan history.

I snapped a few photos and found a spot to place my backpack. Just as I was about to relax my phone began kicking off in my pocket. I laughed to myself “Looks like I’m back in cell phone reception“. I opened a newly received email from my Grandma. “Hows the trip going?” she asks. I decided to take advantage of the reception and send her a few photos and explain exactly where I am, knowing she’ll get a kick out of it. Bernice is awesome that way!

Castle-Butte-Drive

I must have spent nearly an hour on the top of Castle Butte. During that hour I didn’t see a single human soul. Not even one car drove by. The closest thing to company was a small herd of black angus cattle a couple miles away who would occasionally hollar out “hello” to me. Sitting on the top of Castle Butte I said a quick thank you to the last ice age for being so awesome and carving this giant monster out of the prairies. This relic of a landmark is hands down one of the coolest places I’ve ever been to in Saskatchewan.

Note: Castle Butte isn’t pinned on Google Maps yet  so I managed to use my phones GPS to grab the coordinates and mapped them below. This might be the only modern map to Castle Butte so use it wisely. If you get lost there are a few service stations in the area that might be able to offer directions. The town of Coronach is the tourism hub for this region so they should be helpful as well.

 

 

Exploring The Big Muddy Badlands & Castle Butte is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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