Why to Visit Grasslands National Park: Best Guide 2022

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Grasslands National Park

All About Grasslands National Parks Canada

Grasslands National Park is a Canadian national park in the community of Val Marie, Saskatchewan. It is one of 44 national parks and parks reserves in Canada’s national park system (though only two in Saskatchewan).

The Grasslands National Park is located north of the US state of Montana, near the international border.

The Park was founded in 1981. Before this, Prince Albert National Park was the province’s sole national Park. Grasslands attract around 12,000 visitors every year.

History of the Grassland’s National Park

During the International Boundary Survey in 1874, Sir George Mercer Dawson discovered the first dinosaur bones in western Canada in the Killdeer Badlands.

After General Custer’s loss at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1877, Sitting Bull sought safety in the region with around 5000 Sioux.

The Grasslands National Park was created in 1981. 71 bison were brought to the Park in 2006. Following the herd decrease in 2015, the Park now has roughly 310 adult bison.

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By: Benkrut on Unlimphotos

Climate

The weather at Grasslands National Park is semi-arid. It may be a severe climate, cold and windy in the winter and typically quite dry for extended periods, sometimes interrupted by exceptionally powerful rainfalls in the summer.

On a particular summer day, nearby Val Marie is occasionally the national hotspot in Canada. Val Marie has more daylight days per year than any other city in Canada.

What does Grassland’s National Park represent?

The Prairie Grasslands natural region is represented by Grasslands National Park, which protects one of the country’s few surviving regions of unspoiled dry mixed-grass shortgrass prairie grassland.

Grasslands National Park lies in the World Wildlife Fund-defined Northern short grasslands ecoregion, encompassing much of southern Saskatchewan, southern Alberta, and the northern Great Plains states in the United States.

The distinct topography and severe, semi-arid environment provide various flora and animals. The Park and surrounding region are home to the only black-tailed prairie dog colonies in the country.

How to Get to there?

The West Block of the Grassland Nature Reserve is accessible by Hwy #4 and Hwy #18 in the community of Val Marie, about a 1.5-hour drive south of Swift Current.

Val Marie is a tiny town with a cardlock petrol station open to the public. We also filled up our water bottles for our wilderness camping trip at the park office in Val Marie.

The East Block of the Reserve is accessible through Highway #18 near the village of Wood Mountain. It is crucial to note that the access and roads within the two blocks are gravel and have livestock gates but are in decent shape overall.

Activities to enjoy

You can enjoy a wholesome range of fun activities once you reach this beautiful place. Some of the major fun, inclusive activities include:

  1. Primitive camping
  2. Hiking
  3. Horseback riding
  4. Bird  watching
  5. Wildlife viewing
  6. Cross-country skiing
  7. Nature photography
  8. Self-guided auto tour

Distinctive Features

Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan is among the country’s least-known national parks, despite its enormous grassland panoramas and distinctive topography that spans over 700 square kilometres.

Grasslands National Park is an excellent spot to explore, camp, and observe a broad range of species in their natural habitat. One of the most remarkable things about Grasslands National Park is, of course, the absence of tourists.

This prairie environment has many unique and magnificent natural characteristics. You’ll see a lot of endangered grassland birds on your avian expedition. Thick-billed Longspurs, Long-billed Curlews, Burrowing Owls, Rock Wrens, and Ferruginous Hawks have been sightings.

With or without the birds, this national Park is breathtaking. Explore dinosaur bones from the Mesozoic Era or view relics of tipi rings from Pre-colonial Turtle Island.

You may also embark on a classic wagon ride, make a comfortable campfire, or explore the dazzling night sky with all of your bird-watching equipment.

East and West Block of the Park

Grasslands get only a fraction of the summer visitors found in larger mountain parks like Banff and Waterton, making it an ideal area to explore the wide-open landscapes and undisturbed trails.

As if Grasslands wasn’t already isolated enough, it’s divided into two different blocks known as the East Block and the West Block.

The West Block of the Grasslands National Park is located one hour’s drive from Swift Current, and the primary tourist welcome centre is in Val Marie.

The Frenchman River Valley, a population of nearly 300 Plains bison, and prairie dog colonies are among the West Block’s highlights. The Frenchman Valley Campground, a new campground, provides tourists serviced camping spots, teepee camping, and a cook shelter.

There is also backcountry camping accessible. Division 4 Saskatchewan is home to the West Block.

The Park’s East Block is located approximately an hour south of Assiniboia, near Wood Mountain Regional Park. The interpretive centre is located at the new Rock Creek Campground in the McGowan House.

The East Block of Grasslands National Park is a wild region, yet it offers the Rock Creek badlands vistas, the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary, and prairie sky. Division No. 3 in Saskatchewan is home to the East Block.

Flaura and Fauna

Bison, pronghorns, burrowing owls, coyotes, ferruginous hawks, swift foxes, prairie rattlesnakes, blac-footed ferrets, and more fantastic short-horned lizards are among the species found in the Park.

The flora is blue grama grass, needlegrass, plains cottonwood, and silver sagebrush.

How is it a special place to visit?

The Grasslands National Park is famous for its distinctive scenery, night skies, and harsh, semi-arid climate. It is the only area in Canada where you may locate colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs. It has also successfully reintroduced plains bison, which currently number 400-500 in the Park.

Wildlife View to experience

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By: James Gabbert on Shutterstock

Grasslands National Park is home to various animals, including over twenty threatened species. Once on the verge of extinction, Plains Bison were reintroduced to the mixed-grass prairie of southern Saskatchewan by Parks Canada in 2005.

This conservation herd can considerably contribute to the species’ continental restoration by playing an essential role in altering the prairie ecosystem.

Because of its isolated position and absence of urban development, Grasslands National Park is famous for seeing grassland species in its natural environment.

Plains bison herds are frequently observed next to the roadway to Frenchman Valley campsite, followed by many large black-tailed prairie dog colonies. If you drive slowly and keep a close eye out, you can see many animals right alongside the Ecotour Scenic Drive.

Maintain a watch out for American badgers, short-horned lizards, woodpeckers, and a variety of snakes (including rattlesnakes — keep your distance if you hear that unmistakable rattle).

Coyotes, foxes, pronghorn antelope, mule, and white-tailed deer are regular sights (and sounds, especially at night).

The greatest times to see living creatures are near dawn and dusk. These are excellent times to camp near one of the prairie dog communities and observe the interesting, busy, and slightly restless little critters go about their daily tasks (whatever these maybe).

There are too many bird species in the Grasslands to name them all, but some of the more intriguing include ferruginous hawks, burrowing owls, long-billed curlews, greater sage grouse, and Sprague’s pipits.

Aquatic life

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By: Benkrut on Unlimphotos

Water sources are few in the Park region. Surface waters are formed mainly by spring runoff and change periodically.

Many streams run in the spring and early summer but dry up in the hot, windy summer. Since so much of the substrata consist of marine shales or soft clays with significant concentrations of salts or mud in suspension, the effectiveness of surface water sources is severely limited.

The Park does not have access to potable water.

Catfish and carp are two of the most prevalent fish species found in the Frenchman River, Rock Creek, and a few tributaries that hold water for a portion of the year.

Painted turtles can be seen in tiny doses around the Park’s fresh and standing ponds. There are also leopard frogs and chorus frogs.

Environment Features

Many faunas, including pronghorns, greater sagegrouse, prairie rattlesnakes, and the only remaining black-tailed prairie dog colonies in Canada, may be found in and around Grasslands National Park’s parched hills, badlands, and eroded river valleys.

The highland prairie sections and portions of the vast valley bottoms are covered with cool and warm-season grasses, as well as sagebrush, greasewood, and prickly pear cactus. The treeless, windswept plains emerged with grazing, drought, occasional fire, and a fluctuating continental climate.

This area is a safe sanctuary for prairie endemic species that lost their home elsewhere. As a result, Grasslands National Park is home to several endangered species.

Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex fossils have been unearthed here as the subject of some of Canada’s early palaeontological study.

Visitors to Grasslands National Park make a particular choice to journey off the main road to this wide expanse to observe and enjoy the Park’s unique ecological, cultural, and palaeontological legacy.

Grasslands National Park Camping

Many people associate camping with deeply covered forest campgrounds surrounded by towering trees and chattering squirrels.

Grasslands camping, on the other hand, isn’t like that. These are broad open landscapes with few trees exposed to the light and breeze.

On the other hand, the positives include vistas of vast horizons in all directions and the ability to watch the sunset and rise from the comfort of your tent.

Backcountry Camping

Backcountry camping in Grasslands National Park is a fantastic experience. In contrast to other Canadian parks, which rigorously limit where you may camp, you are free to pitch your tent wherever you see fit in the Grasslands.

Absolute freedom and liberty, giving the impression of having gone back in time before paved roads, towns, and worldwide information networks.

Basic Rules to Follow

  1. Camp away from any road or main trail (at least 1 kilometre away).
  2. Composition varies, but you should carry a camp stove if you cannot use open fires.
  3. Carry as much water as you need because few water sources in the Grasslands backcountry. Those available are not drinkable owing to cattle and high salinity.
  4. Even if it has been filtered and treated, do not consume water from streams or ponds.
  5. Pack anything you brought with you (including toilet paper).
  6. Carry a map, a compass, and GPS maps for offline usage (cell coverage is sporadic at best).

How to Contact the team?

If you have any questions, you can contact the visitor centres and talk to the helpful staff.

Phone number: (West Block visitor centre): 1-877-345-2257

Phone number: (East Block visitor centre): 1-306-476-2018

Toll-Free: +1 (888) 773-8888 (Toll-free)

Email ID: www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/sk/grasslands

Other Places to Visit Nearby

Despite our tiny population (a little more than a million people), Saskatchewan is a large province. Consequently, outsiders may occasionally feel that nothing can be compared to anything else.

If you discover yourself in far southwestern Saskatchewan to explore Grasslands National Park, make an effort to explore some of the region’s other beautiful sites as well.

Castle Butte

Castle Butte is a beautiful rocky protrusion about 1.5 hours east of the East Block, with an easy trek up to spectacular views.

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is divided into two distinct areas, similar to Grasslands, except that the Central Block is in Saskatchewan and the West Block is in Alberta.

The Saskatchewan area includes a lovely little lake, short walks, and a surprisingly Scottish vibe.

Great Sandhills Ecological Reserve

The Great Sandhills Ecological Reserve is a fun stop on the way north from Cypress Hills.

The second-largest dunes in Canada appear to belong in Morocco or Mongolia, not just a quick walk of a gravel road in southern Saskatchewan.

Conservation Pattern in Grasslands National Park

In much less than a century, natural grasslands have become one of the world’s most vulnerable biomes.

The Park is home to a varied range of prairie-adapted common and endangered species, including the Pronghorn Antelope, Sage Grouse, Burrowing Owl, and Ferruginous Hawk, as well as the Prairie Rattlesnake and Greater Short-horned Lizard.

Grasslands and the immediate surrounding region are the only areas in Canada where Black-tailed Prairie Dogs may be found in their natural environment.

Grasslands National Park has a track record of successfully recovering threatened species. Parks Canada is a pioneer in ecological restoration and management.

Grasslands have had a great deal of success in planning and implementing prairie conservation measures that are efficient, economical, and involve Canadians. Grasslands maintain and monitor a diverse range of grassland flora and wildlife via collaborative efforts with partners and stakeholders.

Conclusion

Grasslands National Park, one of only two Saskatchewan national parks (Prince Albert National Park in the northern woods), should be a must-see for every Saskatchewan nature enthusiast.

Grassland is a good diversion for those travelling through on the Trans-Canada highway or a special goal for those searching for a distinct slice of grassland terrain, with plenty of animals, boundless sky, breathtaking prairie views, and some of the most stunning sunsets in Canada.

So, what are you waiting for? Visit Grasslands National Park, now.

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