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The Complete Guide to Grasslands National Park Saskatchewan

Grasslands National Park Saskatchewan

When we were looking for a truly unique place to go camping during our road trip, Grasslands National Park Saskatchewan stood out as a total winner! With their Dark-Sky Preserve designation, as well as the oTENTik glamping option, we were not only sold but truly looking forward to the experience!

Where is Saskatchewan Located?

Saskatchewan is located to the east of Alberta and to the west of Manitoba. The province sits to the north of both Montana and North Dakota, and to the south of the Northwest Territories. As a result, Saskatchewan is one of only two landlocked provinces in Canada.

How Do You Get to Saskatchewan?

Getting to Saskatchewan By Car

If you are planning on driving to Saskatchewan from elsewhere in Canada, the easiest way to get there is via the Trans Canada Highway. The highway will bring you into Saskatchewan from either the east or west.

If you are coming from the US, there are 12 border crossings into Saskatchewan, from North Dakota and Montana.

There are public transit buses in Saskatchewan which connect major cities and towns. But having your own vehicle is definitely the best way to explore this province. 

Getting to Saskatchewan by Plane

Saskatchewan is home to two international airports; Saskatoon John G. Diefenbaker International Airport and Regina International Airport (YQR). Although these airports are easily accessed from other Canadian airports, due to their small size, they only service a select few other destinations.

Both airports, however, offer rental car services. This makes it easy to grab your own transportation before heading out to explore the province.

When is the Best Time to Visit Saskatchewan?

Depending on the type of activities you are looking to try, will determine which season is best to visit. But keep in mind, Saskatchewan has some pretty extreme weather!

Summers are usually warm, dry, and sunny. Temperatures normally range from 15 C (60 F) in May, to the mid-30s C (90-95 F) in July and August. The evenings, however, tend to be cooler.

And although Saskatchewan is prone to frequent thunderstorms, the summer months are the most popular time to visit. Not only is the weather at its most predictable, but the greatest number of attractions are open at this time of year.

Late Spring and early Fall also tend to be nice times to visit Saskatchewan. The weather is not as hot, but still very comfortable for sightseeing.

Of course, if you are willing to brave an extreme winter (the coldest temperature recorded in Saskatchewan was −56.7 °C or −70.1 °F), then you may want to visit between November and March. Dog-sledding, cross-country skiing, or ice fishing, are excellent activities to try during the winter months!

Where is Grasslands National Park?

Grasslands is one of two National Parks located in Saskatchewan. The park can be found in Southern Saskatchewan and runs all the way to the US border with Montana.

Grasslands National Park was established in 1981 and is actually divided into two specific areas: The East Block and the West Block.

How to Get to Grasslands National Park Saskatchewan

The entrance to Grasslands National Park West Block can be found near the village of Val Marie on Hwy #4 and Hwy #18. It is about a 1.5-hour drive south of Swift Current, and a 3.5-hour drive southwest of Regina.


If you are heading to the Park’s East Block, it can be accessed near the town of Wood Mountain on Hwy #18.

Just be aware, that access to both blocks, as well as to the Park’s interior roads, are gravel and have cattle gates. We found them to be in good condition, but you may not want to bring a low-riding vehicle.  

When did Grasslands Become a National Park?

Grasslands was officially proclaimed a national park on February 19, 2001. One of 44 National Parks in Canada, Grasslands is considered pretty new.

What is Grasslands National Park Known For?

Grasslands National Park is known for its unique landscape and dark night skies. Its harsh and semi-arid climate is also something that makes Grasslands stand out from the rest.

As far as wildlife goes, Grasslands is the only place in Canada where you will find black-tailed prairie dog colonies. It also has successfully reintroduced Plains Bison, of which there are now 400-500 in the park.

Grasslands National Park-Badlands-Parkway-Mauvais-point-view

How Big is Grasslands National Park?

Grasslands National park is quite large, at over 900 square kilometres. During our visit, we drove from the West Block to the East Block where we were camping for the night, and it took over 2 hours to get there!

Grasslands is also off the beaten path, which makes it pretty quiet compared to some of the other National Parks in Canada.

Why is the Grasslands National Park Protected?

Grasslands National Park is dedicated to preserving prairie grasslands, is home to wildlife that can’t be found anywhere else in the country, and is the darkest Dark-Sky Preserve in Canada.

The park is home to a unique blend of common and endangered species, from the Pronghorn Antelope, Black-tailed Prairie Dogs, Sage Grouse, Burrowing Owl, and Ferruginous Hawk to the Prairie Rattlesnake and Greater Short-horned Lizard.

Grasslands National Park-Badlands-Parkway-survival-sign-1

Grasslands’ unique combination of landscape and climate creates niches for specially adapted plants, animals, and endangered species.

And because native grasslands have become one of the most endangered biomes in the world, Grasslands is very proactive in developing and delivering prairie conservation actions that are both effective and efficient.

Things to Do in Grasslands National Park Saskatchewan?

Whether you are looking for an epic backcountry adventure or want to enjoy some glamping, hiking, and local wildlife, Grasslands has you covered.

1. Stargaze in a Dark-Sky Preserve

Grasslands National Park is the ultimate big sky destination. With nothing resembling a city within 100 kilometres of any point in the park, it’s no surprise that Grasslands is one of the largest and darkest Dark-Sky Preserves in Canada.

And as impressive as the “Land of Living Skies” is during the day, the Park really takes it to a whole new level at night. It is definitely an astronomer’s or photographer’s absolute delight!

The park was officially declared a Dark-Sky Preserve in 2009 by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. And with several options for camping; like backcountry camping, front country camping, equestrian camping, electric RV sites, and oTENTik campsites available, there is no shortage of ways to enjoy the stars.

Grasslands National Park-oTENTik-dark

Covering approximately 900 sq km, Grasslands National Park also has several car-accessible stargazing locations. Two Trees Trail, Frenchman Valley Campground, and Rock Creek Campground are all excellent places to see the stars, planets, and the Milky Way, even if you are not camping.

Another great way to stargaze and enjoy the beauty of the night sky is to take part in the Annual Star Parties that are held in the East and West Blocks of the park. You can ask park staff for details, or check the website for a list of events.

2. Do a Little Wildlife Viewing

Grasslands National Park is the perfect place to do some wildlife viewing. Because of its remote location and unique landscape, you can view several species of prairie wildlife in their natural habitat.

Look for herds of Plains Bison and Black-tailed Prairie Dogs near the Frenchman Valley campground. If you drive slowly along the Ecotour Scenic Drive, you are sure to see tons of wildlife.

While you are hiking in the Park, American badgers, beavers, short-horned lizards, and several species of snakes can be seen along the trails. Just be aware, Rattlesnakes are also prevalent in the prairies.

Grasslands National Park-Camping-visitor

Your best chances of spotting wildlife are close to dawn and dusk. If you happen to be out and about during these times, coyotes and foxes, as well as pronghorn antelope, mule, and white-tailed deer can be seen throughout the Park.

Grasslands is also a great place for birdwatching. With many interesting types to spot, like ferruginous hawks, burrowing owls, long-billed curlews, greater sage grouse, and Sprague’s pipits, this would be a great way to pass some time.

3. Take a Scenic Drive

The Ecotour Scenic Drive in the West Block is an 80km self-guided loop through the Frenchman River Valley. The road is marked in yellow on the park maps. It features amazing landscapes, fascinating history, and tons of wildlife.

The drive takes approximately 2 hours if you drive slowly and stop to read all the information panels along the way. There are also several short walking trails and a few pleasant picnic areas.

There are 7 official ‘stops’ on the Ecotour Scenic Route. Along the way, there are plenty of viewpoints, hiking trails, and excellent wildlife spotting opportunities.

The Ecotour Drive is perfect if you’re short on time, or to make a day of it by walking some of the hiking trails.

Grasslands National Park-Badlands-Parkway-Gateway-to-Grasslands-kids-with-telescopes

Stop 1 – Boundary Gate

The first stop on the Ecotour drive is at the boundary entrance gate to Grasslands National Park. It has a nice view of the 70 Mile Butte.

Stop 2 – Top Dogtown Trail

The next stop is the short Top Dogtown Trail. Top Dogtown is a huge colony of black-tailed prairie dogs.

Stop 3 – Turgluch Route

Stop 3 is the start of the Turgluch Route, and the end of the one-way Bearpaw Sea Trail. You will also find a few information boards about the Grasslands here.

Stop 4 – Views

This stop is perfect for photography! You find some amazing views of the endless prairies here.

Stop 5 – Cattle Ranch

Stop 5 is the site of an old cattle ranch. A short 100-meter walk will take you down to some excellent views of the river.

Stop 6 – Larson Interpretive Trail

The Larson Interpretive Trail is a short easy track around an old cowboy ranch.

Stop 7 – Larson Dogtown

Larson Dogtown is a large colony of prairie dogs. The park provides telescopes for views over the plains.

4. Search for the Red Chairs

Looking for that perfect Instagrammable location to document your time at Grasslands? Be sure to search for Parks Canada’s big red Muskoka chairs!

And Grasslands National Park makes it easy for you to find them! There are 7 incredible locations; 3 in the West Block and 4 in the East Block. Have a seat, relax, and truly discover the amazing sights that Parks Canada has to offer.

5. Take Advantage of All the Activities for Children

If you are visiting Grasslands National Park with kids, there are so many additional activities available to keep them entertained.

Club Parka

Parka the beaver is eagerly waiting to introduce your kids to the wonders of Grasslands National Park! Recommended for children ages 2 to 5, the club is free to join.

Club Parka is a series of activities that encourage kids to explore, discover, learn and have fun. Pick up your special Parka activity in the Visitor Centre. 

Activities for Explorers

The Xplorer program is designed with young people in mind. It is a collection of fun and educational activities that will enable kids to explore the natural and historical treasures of each park.

The Xplorers Booklet is designed for children aged 6 to 11 years and encourages them to have fun while learning about their surroundings.

Once you arrive at the park, kids can pick up their booklets from the West Block Visitor Centre in Val Marie, or the Rock Creek Visitor Centre in the East Block.

All young explorers who have completed at least three of the booklet’s proposed activities before the end of their visit will get a surprise. They just need to show their completed booklets at either Visitor Centre location to collect their prize.

Grasslands National Park-Rock-Creek-Trail-looking-at-interpretive-material

Geocaching for Kids

Did you know that you could go geocaching in Grasslands National Park? Discover three hidden caches around both the Frenchman Valley Campground in the West Block, and along the Creek to Peak Trail at the Rock Creek Campground in the East Block.

Grasslands Geocaching encourages kids to watch for wildlife, learn about the Indigenous Peoples, and maybe even discover a dinosaur fossil! GPS units are available to borrow from either Visitor Centre location.

Discovery Packs

Discovery Packs are full of fun, hands-on activities that teach kids about the history of the Indigenous Peoples, the dark sky, as well as the wildlife found in the prairies.

The Discovery Packs can be picked up from the West Block Visitor Centre in Val Marie or the Rock Creek Visitor Centre in the East Block.

6. Try Out Glamping for the First Time

If you are not the type of person to enjoy ‘roughing it’ but still want to experience camping at Grasslands National Park, they have the perfect solution! Have you heard of an oTENTik??

Saskatchewan-Grasslands National Park-oTENTik

The oTENTik units are half tents, and half A-frame cabins and come equipped with comfortable furniture and real beds on a raised floor. They have electricity and come with a fan as well as a heater.

You need to provide your own bedding and cooking utensils. There is no fridge or stove, so you will need to bring a cooler for your food.

The oTENTiks do not have running water or private restrooms. But each property is located in very close proximity to the wash-up sinks as well as the vault toilets.

Each oTENTik also comes with a gas BBQ, a fire pit with several Adirondack chairs, and a picnic table. A parking pad is also close by.

We stayed in an oTENTik while camping at Grasslands, and totally fell in love with the experience! The space was comfortable, but we still felt like we were having a camping experience.

We also found the amenities to be super clean (the immaculate bathrooms were a pleasant surprise!), well cared for, and easily accessible.

I could totally get on board with the idea of Glamping!

Grasslands National Park Saskatchewan – East Block

The East Block is located about an hour’s drive south of Assiniboia. It takes approximately 2-hours to drive from the West Block to the East Block, passing through farmland and flat prairie landscapes along the way.

The East Block is smaller than the West Block, making it easier to explore. It is also the quieter section of an already very quiet national park.

Grasslands National Park-Rock-Creek-Trail-campground-views

The East Block visitor center is located right in Rock Creek Campground. This is actually pretty convenient, as you can buy ice and drinks, and talk to Parks Canada staff within walking distance of the campground.

The East Block is similar to the West Block in terms of landscape but has the addition of the badlands. The hiking trails, as well as the Badlands Parkway, all start conveniently near the campground and visitor centre.

7. Camp in the East Block of Grasslands National Park Saskatchewan

The East Block has one option for front-country camping, and that is the Rock Creek Campground. And if you are a little more adventurous, there is also backcountry camping in the East Block.

Rock Creek Campground offers:

  • 100% reservable
  • 24 Tent/RV electric sites (all 50 amp) with fire pits and picnic tables
  • 8 oTENTik units with gas BBQs (#31 accessible, #28 pet-friendly)
  • 3 walk-in tipi accommodations
  • Summer kitchen for shade and cooking
  • Day-use picnic area
  • Vault toilets
  • Wash-up sinks
  • Potable water (RVs must fill up tanks in advance)
  • RV dump tank
  • Community fire pit

8. Hike in the East Block of Grasslands National Park Saskatchewan

There are only two front-country hiking trails in the East Block. We were able to do both of the hikes and really enjoyed it. And if you are more adventurous (and experienced), there are also 2 backcountry trails.

Rock Creek Trail

This trail takes you to a scenic lookout where you can see Rock Creek and possibly spot some wildlife. The hike was easy but beautiful!

Distance: 2 km loop
Time: 1 hour
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: West across Rock Creek bridge

Creek to Peak Trail

This trail takes you up the hill along a mowed path to a rewarding peek of the Rock Creek valley and badlands.


Distance: 750 m one-way
Time: 30 minutes
Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: South of kitchen shelter

9. Explore the Badlands Parkway in the East Block

The Badlands Parkway is a scenic 11 km, single-lane, paved road designed for two-way traffic. It travels along a historic escarpment trail, with westward views across the prairies.

There are six unique viewpoints along the Parkway that overlook the grasslands and badlands of Rock Creek. Marvel at the amazing collection of coulees and buttes as you drive this amazing route.

You will find about 20 pullouts along the Parkway, which allow oncoming traffic to pass each other. We did the drive in just over an hour, which includes getting out at each viewpoint to explore the area.

The Parkway is actually an out-and-back route, and the views were absolutely stunning! Each viewpoint had signs which provided a wealth of information about the history, the land, and its peoples.

Grasslands National Park Saskatchewan – West Block

The West Block visitor center is located in the town of Val Marie. The town is small but you will find pretty much anything you may need. There is a small grocery store, a restaurant, showers (at the local campground), and fuel.

The West Block is definitely the more popular of the two sites within Grasslands National Park. It features the informative Ecotour Scenic Drive, the Frenchman Valley campground, a wide range of hiking trails both short and long, the largest herds of buffalo, and the largest prairie dog towns.

If you only have time for one section, we would recommend the West Block which provides more variety of landscapes with both grasslands and coulees.

Grasslands National Park-Rock-Creek-Trail-grasses

Some of the wildlife you might see in the West Block include bison, pronghorns, coyotes, deer, a variety of birds, and of course, the black-tailed prairie dogs. There are also rattlesnakes, which is something to definitely keep in mind!

The main part of the park is situated around the Frenchman Valley Campground. However, some of the trails, are accessed on the opposite side of the park, closer to the Tipi campground of the Two Trees Day Use Area.

10. Camp in the West Block of Grasslands National Park Saskatchewan

The West Block has three options for front-country camping. These include the Frenchman Valley Campground, the Two Trees Day Use Area, which is South of Val Marie, and the Val Marie Campground, which is actually a private campground within the town. The West Block also offers backcountry camping.

The Frenchman Valley Campground is the main campground. It is close to the Frenchman River and has wonderful views of the prairie.

The Frenchman Valley Campground offers:

  • 20 electrical sites (3 pull through, and 1 wheelchair accessible area)
  • 4 oTENTik units (#25 accessible, #28 pet-friendly)
  • Fire pits
  • Lantern hangers
  • Picnic tables
  • Easy access to vault toilets
  • Easy access to potable water for small drinking jugs (RVs must fill up tanks in advance)
  • Close proximity to Coulee Centre (The West Block’s Summer Kitchen)

If you are looking to stay in a Tipi, the Two Trees Day Use Area is where you will find them. This campground is also run by Parks Canada and is a wonderful place for stargazing at night.


11. Hike in the West Block of Grasslands National Park Saskatchewan

There are 10 front country hiking trails in the West Block and one backcountry hiking trail. The trails range in length from just 750 meters to a whopping 17 kilometres.

Eagle Butte Trail

This is an easy, well-graded hike with great views and interpretive panels describing prairie vegetation, human history, and intriguing geology.

Distance: 2 km loop
Time: 1 hour
Level of Difficulty: Easy

70 Mile Butte Trail

This hike is a little more challenging. It is also well-graded but has short, steep sections and switchbacks. There are awesome views of the Frenchman River Valley, as well as interpretive panels along the way.

Distance: 2 km loop
Time: 1 to 2 hours
Level of Difficulty: Difficult
Trailhead: Branches from Eagle Butte Trail

Two Trees Trail

This is a great trail for bird watching, as well as having views of the prairie grasslands.

Distance: 4 km loop
Time: 1 to 2 hours
Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: Two Trees Day Use Area

Riverwalk Trail

The Frenchman River, formed by the runoff of glacial meltwaters, is important to the local ecosystem. This mowed, grassy trail follows the river, allowing for great views of the riverbank cliffs, and all the flora and fauna that call this area home.

Distance: 3 km loop
Time: 1 hour
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: Two Trees Day Use Area

Three Sisters Trail

An old vehicle trail leads through open grasslands to the Saskatchewan Natural History monument that marks the establishment of the first Black-tailed Prairie Dog sanctuary in Canada. The colony still exists and surrounds the monument. Enjoy a river valley view before visiting the monument.

Distance: 4 km one-way
Time: 2 to 3 hours
Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: Access from Rosefield Grid

Grasslands National Park-Rock-Creek-Trail-kids-on-trail

Top Dogtown Trail

Listen to the rare Black-tailed Prairie Dogs bark at your approach as you stroll across the Top Dogtown on this hard-surfaced, level trail.

Distance: 750 m loop
Time: 20 minutes
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: Ecotour pull-off #2

Timbergulch Trail

This is one of the most challenging trails in the park. Be prepared for exposure, wind, and unstable footing. The views of the three prominent, glacially created, coulee bottoms are amazing, and make the journey well worth the effort! Look out for Bison, who occasionally like to knock down the trail markers!

Distance: 17 km loop
Time: 5 to 6 hours
Level of Difficulty: Difficult
Trailhead: Ecotour pull-off #3

Bearpaw Sea Trail

This trail explores a wide variety of habitats found within the park. You’ll encounter a prairie dog town, coulees sheltering deer, and plenty of songbirds.

However, you will also travel near a snake hibernaculum area that may have access restrictions or warnings. Although snakes can be encountered at any time, be extra cautious during April-May and September-October. Protective gaiters are available for loan from the Visitor Centre.

This is a long hike. We would recommend planning a vehicle shuttle at the opposite end to avoid a return hike.

Distance: 10 km one-way
Time: 4 to 5 hours
Level of Difficulty: Difficult
Trailhead: Branches from 70 Mile Butte Trail

Broken Hills Trail

This trail is perfect on horseback, especially given its proximity to the equestrian campsites. Enjoy an uninterrupted, 360-degree view of grasslands, before taking a rough and challenging route to the incredible overlook of the Frenchman Valley. You will then follow the nearby riverbank.

Distance: 11 km loop
Time: 4 to 5 hours
Level of Difficulty: Difficult
Trailhead: Park at Belza Day Use Area. Travel west back towards the entrance to cross the road to the trailhead.

Larson Trail

Walt Larson and his family ranched in this area from the 1920s until 1984 when his land became the first purchase to form the park. This mowed trail takes you past signs of early ranching along with wonderful views of the adjacent Frenchman River.

Distance: 1.5 km loop
Time: 30 minutes
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: Ecotour pull-off #6

Discovery Pass Canada

Like all national parks, there’s a fee to enter. If you are only looking to spend the day at Grasslands, then a single Day Pass will be sufficient.

However, if you’re spending more than a week throughout the year at any national park or historic site in Canada, you should definitely look into purchasing a Discovery Pass. The Pass is valid for an entire year and can be purchased for a single person, or for an entire family. We suggest the family pass, which is good for our entire vehicle.

Discovery Passes can be purchased online or at any Parks Canada location.


Final Thoughts on Visiting Grasslands National Park Saskatchewan

We really enjoyed our visit to Grasslands National Park Saskatchewan. Not only did we have a fantastic camping experience, but we really enjoyed the hikes, the scenic drive, and the fact that the Park was not as busy as many of the others we have visited.

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