Vast open plains where bison roam freely, hoodoo-speckled badlands, vast expanses of boreal forests and lakes lit by the glow of the Northern Lights… Saskatchewan has always had a natural charm, but now a food and culture scene booming begins to embrace the province’s long history, and it opens up new ways to experience the “Land of Living Skies”…
Ideal for culture lovers
The “Paris of the Prairies,” as Saskatoon is called, began life as a poor, arid farming community in the late 1800s. Canadian dollars would be built here was beyond fantasy. But in 2017 came the Remai Modern, a low, Lego-like building made of meshed copper and glass. Its 8,000-piece international collection includes more than 400 linocuts by Pablo Picasso, but the gallery is also committed to bringing indigenous art from the region to the fore.
The arrival of settlers saw the lives of the Indigenous peoples of the Northern Plains changed forever. Wanuskewin is one of many sites to address this difficult past. Located north of Saskatoon, what was once a sacred First Nations gathering place is now home to interpretive trails and cultural performances offering a connection to its history. The plains have even been re-saved with bison, so you get a glimpse of life here.
Nearby, the stories of settlers and Indigenous peoples intertwine at Batoche National Historic Site, where trails and guided tours uncover the Northwest Resistance of 1885, which reached its climax here. Batoche saw Métis (people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry) and First Nations defeated by Canadian Forces in a battle that effectively ended the resistance, but not the struggle.
A chapter of RCMP history is reflected at Fort Walsh, near the Cypress Hills Massacre National Historic Site. The fort was a North West Mounted Police (NWMP) post established in 1875 and played a key role in imposing law and order in the West. Costumed staff share enriching stories about the many peoples who called Cypress Hills home in the 1870s. Stories about the lawless days of the rotgut whiskey runners and Canada’s role in the aftermath of the Battle of Little Bighorn are also relayed.
Finally, prehistory is explored at the T.rex Discovery Center in Eastend, where the world’s largest tyrannosaur (known as ‘Scotty’) was discovered in 1991. His skeleton now sits at the heart of a museum that dive into the impressive Saskatchewan fossil.
Ideal for nature lovers
All that is wild doesn’t have to be away. Like many border towns, Saskatoon was built on a river. Today, its banks form the 80 km Meewasin Trail, which cuts deep into the valley. Walks to the Beaver Creek Conservation Area are a delight, especially in late spring and summer, when you can spot birds such as chickadees and migrating ruby-throated hummingbirds.
North of Saskatoon, where the golden drift of the prairie melts into a lush smother of jack pine and white spruce, lies the 3,875 km² Prince Albert National Park. Come summer, its plains fill with hundreds of calving bison, with horseback rides through secluded meadows offering a chance to spot the first steps of wobbly-legged newborns. The park offers true wilderness to explore. On foot, its more than 150 km of trails offer sightings of moose, deer and black bears. Or head to the waters of the Bagwa Canoe Route, where kayak tours loop the lower lakes, scouting for nesting red-necked grebes and white pelicans. As night falls, the sky becomes a panorama of stars with meteor showers and flashes of aurora reflecting in the clear waters.
For pure stargazing, however, nothing beats the grasslands of Grasslands National Park, southwest of Regina. By day, its wildest trails wind through the Valley of 1,000 Devils, revealing an alien world of giant red clay hoodoos. At night, the West and East Blocks are home to the darkest skies in Canada, conjuring up rare glimpses of colorful nebulae forming in distant galaxies.
Other hikes can be found at Cypress Hills, which spans the Alberta border. It adds a touch of history to its trails, with a route exploring the tragic Cypress Hills Massacre. There is also adventure to be discovered in the zipline circuits that crisscross the pine forests.
If you’d rather paddle than fly, book a multi-day Churchill River tour. This river route cuts through boreal forest, Precambrian rock and grassy plains, leaching into many of the region’s large lakes. The portage between the shores allows you to roam the province scouting for osprey, moose and wild bear from the water in some of the region’s most remote corners.
Some 100,000 lakes and rivers dot the province, often emptying into vast inland seas like the Athabasca and Reindeer. Even the smallest stretches have their quirks, and Little Manitou Lake is Canada’s answer to the Dead Sea. Enveloped by fine sandy beaches, its mineral and salty waters are renowned for their healing properties. When not hiking the surrounding trails or paddle boarding, bathers can easily float on the surface of the lake without even trying, a relaxing end to what is bound to be an adventurous experience.
make it happen
Where to eat
Local produce and creativity are at the heart of Saskatoon’s growing culinary reputation. Home restaurant, for example, is run by a pair of avid foragers who revel in old-school prairie cuisine. They have made it their calling card, with many invigorating dishes made with locally collected morels. Or pass Odla, whose field-to-table menu owes much to its connection to a local farm not far from town. Equally creative is odd couple, an Asia-by-way-of-Canada restaurant in Riversdale (the city’s old Chinatown). His maple-glazed bacon fried rice is one of many inventive recipes.
Further south, Regina’s culinary reputation is also on the rise. Street is the latest opening from Top Chef Canada winner Dale MacKay, who learned from the acerbic tongue of Gordon Ramsay and filters his French/Asian influences via the Prairies. Meanwhile, the two Crave Kitchen and Wine Bar and the seed to the plate Skye Cafe & Bistro make the most of the province by sourcing directly from local farms – they even grow their own herbs.
This sustainable approach can also be found outside the big cities. harvest restaurant at Shaunavon (en route to Cypress Hills) selects its menu from chef Garrett Thienes’ family cookbook, using only local produce and herbs and flowers they grow themselves. Or head northeast Mabel Hill at Nipawin, a “Farm Kitchen & Marketplace” that supports an ambitious menu with fruits and vegetables from its own garden.
Regina was home to one of the first craft breweries in the province, then Rebellion Brewing Co. opened and started making craft beer, and the industry exploded. Its beers have all the restless curiosity of the home brewer, with unusual flavors such as lentil cream beer (made with coral lentils) capturing the imagination.
Location is everything here. East of Saskatoon, Nokomis craft beers uses water from the region’s renowned aquifer (filtered through permeable rock) for its beers in small batches, while the founders of the nanobrewery The 9 Mile Legacy grew just nine miles apart. Their creative beers range from Australian style lagers to Belgian ales triplets.
This sense of “place” takes on a whole new meaning with the city of Saskatoon. Black Fox Farm and Distillery, run by fifth-generation farmers who produce most of their own fruit, flowers and grains, distilling them on site into whisky, gin and liqueurs. Visits and tastings are a must.
Finally, a visit to Over the Hill Orchards & Winery, northeast of Regina, uses its own organic fruit trees to craft a range of dry fruit and semi-sweet wines, from peach chardonnay to cherry pinot noir. Their dinner in the orchard is a summer tradition.
Where to stay
the Historic Reesor Ranch has stood on the edge of the west block of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park for over a century. It’s a fun introduction to ranch life, with horseback riding exploring a landscape where prairie slowly exhales into vast expanses of evergreen forest.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Dakota Dunes Resort it’s modernity in a nutshell. Located on Whitecap Dakota First Nation territory, this is ostensibly a casino and golf resort, but offers great day outs, such as cultural encounters, birding tours and wagon rides.
To get away from it all, the province’s major parks offer many camping opportunities. From the incredible dark skies of Prairie NP to the lodgepole pine forests of Cypress Hills and the lake shores of Manitou Beach, it’s easy to find a wilderness escape.
How to get there
Major international airports are in Saskatoon and Regina. Flights from Europe usually connect via Vancouver or Calgary, with a network of regional and charter aircraft connecting smaller cities.
By train, VIA Rail makes stops throughout the province and serves stations such as Saskatoon, Melville, Biggar, Unity and as far as Hudson’s Bay. If you’re traveling further a Canada Pass offers multi-stop discounts.
Intercity bus travel is limited to private minibus and shuttle companies, such as Rider Express, Beam Shuttle and KCTI Travels, which offer pick-up and drop-off services. The former also operate interprovincial bus routes linking Winnipeg to Regina and Edmonton to Regina/Saskatoon.
The car is perhaps the best way to get around here. Trans-Canada Highway 1 connects Winnipeg to Calgary via Regina and Cypress Hills; Yellowhead Highway 16 connects Winnipeg to Edmonton via Saskatoon. Most major rental companies are located in major centers in Saskatchewan.
Do you feel inspired?
For more inspiration and information about Saskatchewan, visit the official Saskatchewan website.