Today we are heading up north! In particular – the Canadian Province of Saskatchewan. And I have to tell you – if this destination wasn’t on your radar prior to you reading this – I bet it will be after you see all that this hidden gem has to offer.
To fill us in, Heidi Wesling, Travel Trade Market Consultant at Tourism Saskatchewan joined me recently to chat about her home province. And by the end I was totally in love with Saskatchewan and cannot wait to visit.
Let’s take a look so that you can share in my excitement!
To Begin With… Quite often Saskatchewan is known primarily for its agriculture. And it’s true –
they’ve got a lot. In fact, they are actually the world’s largest exporter of things like peas, lentils, canola, wheat, flaxseed and about seven different types of oats. But they have so much to offer! Like…
- Cypress Hills – which they share with Alberta and boasts the highest point in elevation between Labrador and the Rockies
- 100,000 lakes and rivers in the northern portion of the province – yes – 100,000!
- Grasslands National Park – one of two national parks – this one preserves the prairie grassland that once covered all of Saskatchewan and was lost with development – making it like a step back in time when you visit
- And much, much more!
Heidi summed it up quite nicely with the following quote: Driving through or rushing over Saskatchewan would be like rushing through the Louvre to get to the Mona Lisa all the while passing by all the lesser-known works of art. Saskatchewan is extraordinarily beautiful, you just have pay a bit more attention. Yann Martel, Award Winning Author
So Where Exactly Is It? If you look at a map you will see they are just north of Montana and North Dakota making it an easy opportunity for you guys to get there. Plus, I was super excited to learn that they have the most sunshine of any Canadian Province – 2500 hours per year – and given all the agriculture that sun comes in handy!
So, to give you an idea distance wise – let’s use Minneapolis as an example because you can also fly from the Minneapolis. So just to gage it, to get to Regina it would be around a 12-hour drive. Or – you can fly through Delta into Saskatoon and that flight would be about two hours. Depending on how much time you have you can decide whether to drive or fly into the province.
Let’s Talk About Why You’ll Want To Visit.
- It’s the best province to learn about agriculture.
- It has varied scenery, urban and rural experiences in conjunction with a strong outdoor product.
- It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise.
- It’s the best province to watch a Canadian football league.
Now – per Heidi all of these are correct but during this particular conversation she focused on number two. Because even though we know they are thought to be only an agricultural destination that is only a third of it. Half of Saskatchewan is covered by forests and the remaining is water. Which of course opens it up to a whole bunch of outdoor experiences – but there are also a lot of urban and other rural experiences to balance that out.
What Exactly Does Saskatchewan Offer?
- Space, Friendliness, Safe, Unexpected and Diverse Landscape
- Outdoor Adventure Paradise
- Plenty of Parks
- Authentic Western Adventures
- Dark Skies
So how awesome is this you guys. You have all those lakes and all of the great outdoors but then you’ve got these authentic western adventures and the dark skies – so for those of you who are into using travel as a living classroom like me – you’re going to learn so much. And for you guys who are homeschooling – take the kids – put the textbook s aside and let them live life – and what an amazing place to do so!
Tell Me About The Dark Sky. Heidi explained it as such. For comparison Texas is a bit bigger than Saskatchewan. But the population is vastly different. They have 1.2 million people versus the 29 million we have in Texas. In terms of light pollution – they have an urban center, but they are not dealing with a large urban center that takes over the sky. So, there are massive pockets of complete darkness and it’s really special how the world above opens up.
How Many Provincial And National Parks Does Saskatchewan Have? Let’s start by stating the statistics – there are more than five million acres of parkland preserves in Saskatchewan. Thanks to that fact there are numerous beautiful environments of swirling grasslands, tall trees, abundant wildlife, pristine lakes and quick moving rivers. That being said – there are 36 provincial parks in addition to the two national parks. Note – I guessed wrong but hey – we’re learning together how much of this is vast land that you have access to! But there’s more – in addition to the provincial and national parks they have 100 regional parks so there is plenty of room for everybody! And again, because the population is only a small percentage of what we have here in Texas – you are going to have tons of room for social distancing – I can feel the wellness running through me now! But it’s important to add that Heidi noted that if you want to come for a camping experience to be sure and book in advance and of course your Travel Guru can plan that for you!
And For Your Inner Cowboy…Yes – there are opportunities for a western experiences and Heidi shared that those are by far her favorite type of experiences in the province as she loves to ride horses. In fact, there are two ranches. The first is historic Reesor Ranch, located in the Southwest portion of the province. There are numerous activities you can do while there – and lots of space to do them in. It’s a great place for those of you looking to disconnect as Heidi informed us that the cell service in this particular ranch isn’t great which is a blessing in disguise as it allows parents to actually talk with their children instead of having them off on their own glued to a screen. It’s a great place to reconnect as a family. In addition to horseback riding there’s tons of other things you can do in the area – like hiking and ATV tours, zip lining and more.
The second ranch – La Reata Ranch – has a totally different landscape than Reesor. La Reata Ranch is more focused on riding, so while the Reesor is good for families or those just wanting to incorporate a bit of riding into their stay La Reata gives you the opportunity for longer riding periods as it’s more of a working cattle ranch. The owner – George Gabor – actually originated from Germany and when he came to Saskatchewan on vacation, he loved the land so much that he has been calling it home for more than 25 years now. It is a very peaceful atmosphere with lots of room and is quite popular.
So, here’s a great opportunity to create a dude ranch themed itinerary for you that would include experiences at both ranches to give you different adventures while experiencing this amazing land.
What’s In This Maple Creek Town? Maple Creek is an hour and a half from the ranch – so if you are staying at the ranch it would make for a nice day trip. You can head out early and grab breakfast – per Heidi The Daily Grind makes the best specialty coffees around! And you must make a stop at Cowtown Toys and Candy. Heidi explained this as a two story toy store that is super cool. Here you will find puzzles and all sorts of toys from back in the day – and she admitted she is just as excited to go there as her kids are! They also stock different old-fashioned candies which is another trip down memory lane. There’s a bookstore in town as well as a spot to buy some souvenirs and some great activities to keep the kids busy on the road while you’re driving. It’s just a super awesome place for kids of all ages.
Any History Lessons? Fort Walsh National Historic Site is a place where you going to have a lot of living classroom opportunities. It is located just 30 minutes outside of Maple Creek so it’s another great extension to your ranch day or if you’re staying at the Cypress Hills provincial park it would be a nice little day trip to take as well. You could easily spend several hours at Fort Walsh as its history dates back to 1870 when it was the first fort for what was then called the northwest mounted police. Here you can learn about the history of how the force was started and how law and order was kept back in the day. Note: Later on we’re going to be talking about Regina which will compliment your stop at Fort Washington. So, it’s a great idea continue on to Regina from here as a part of your itinerary as there you will learn more about the history that ties it all together.
But before we get to talking about Regina, we do have another really cool thing that you can do in the area and its goat yoga! This popular new yoga style has you stretching and posing with mountain goats! So cute! Plus, you’re giving yourself breathing space because you’re in a wonderful area for wellness and it’s such a great opportunity to just reconnect with nature. Not to mention the goats are so helpful and so fun – it’s basically goat therapy and physical therapy combined into one. PS – They also make homemade baked goods and coffees on site which is a great way to wind down after yoga!
What Is The Story With The License Plates? So obviously the area has so much to offer, and I really love the question Heidi posed in terms of the quotes that can be found on their license plates. I thought – and Heidi agreed that everyone was relevant – but you can’t fit them all on one plate! The options are Rider Nation, Pride Lives Here or Land of the Living Skies and Heidi actually informed us you can pick the plate that that best suits you – what you want representing you on your vehicle. But…she said they really do hang their hat on the living skies there. And that has to do with the fact that the Dark Sky Preserve is just as active during the day – especially during thunderstorms or during sunsets or sunrises. The color is just phenomenal – pinks and blues and peaches – and just so beautiful that they we call it the living skies because there’s always life up there – just as much there as there is on the ground so it’s really, really cool place.
And Grasslands National Park? Here you will have amazing hiking opportunities where you can actually see the bison out in their natural habitat and all sorts of nature. So once again we can focus on that travel as living classroom concept as this is truly a science class right at your fingertips. It’s actually a part of Parks Canada meaning they are responsible for them and they have a great deal of programming going on basically from the May long weekend which would be Memorial Day until the September long weekend which would be Labor Day. Through these programs you can see things like the Dark Sky as they host astronomy nights where they’ll bring out these huge telescopes and you can see planets like Saturn – which is so cool to actually see the ring around it. You can also see hundreds of thousands of a stars, the Milky Way and more. There are other types of programs available like those that reflect how they take care of the bison and many more. And I really can’t emphasize enough to you guys that this is living science – no textbooks – you can go and experience in real time and you have all this just north of us!
What Else Is Unique To Saskatchewan? The wonderful folks who serve and protect – the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – where they train is actually located in the capital city of Regina. It’s the RCMP Heritage Center and Training Depot and it’s referred to as the cradle of the people. Anyone who wants to become an RCMP officer comes to Regina to have their basic training and then they get posted throughout Canada. It’s really neat because they offer behind the scenes tours via a motorized tram where you get to see how and where they train and it’s just neat to be a part of that process. They have daily driving tours of the depot division and self-guided audio tours are available as well. It’s a special place to go to and learn more about the RCMP – who you would have already learned a little bit about at your stop at Fort Walsh – so this kind of just closes that that gap.
While in Regina why not stay longer and visit the legislative building where all of their policy takes place as well as the science center and museum that speaks to other parts of Saskatchewan that you may or may not be able to get to. It’s a great place to come and spend some time following your RCMP tour.
What’s The Scoop On The Landmark in Moose Jaw? Basically, each town has a different type of landmark. For instance – 45 minutes west of Regina you can find a gigantic moose statue! His name is Mac and he’s a great host in the city of Moose Jaw. And Moose Jaw is a great place with a population of 35,000 except during the summer months when it swells to around 500,000! Needless to say, it is an active hub of activity and attractions and is home to the Tunnels of Moose Jaw, Moose Jaw Trolley Car, the Western Development Museum and the Yvette Moore Gallery. You can also find the Temple Gardens Mineral Spa Resort there – which is a luxury accommodation located in downtown Moose Jaw and features Canadas largest therapeutic geo-thermal mineral water indoor /outdoor rooftop pool. That mineral pool brings in mineral water from 4500 feet under the surface by the way! They also have a full selection of spa services making it a great wellness piece. And you’re going to get that true small-town hospitality in Moose Jaw too.
Tell Me About Saskatoon. There’s so much culture here as well so you really have the best of both worlds where you can enjoy all of that – plus it’s Canada so the people are amazing! Saskatoon is about a two hour and 15-minute drive from Moose Jaw making it a great leg to your itinerary. Saskatoon – nicknamed the City on the Edge of Nature – is their largest city with around 310,000 people. Yes – you read that right. That’s the population of their largest city. Saskatoon is easy to get around especially if you are staying right downtown in the city center. Which really is where you want to be because you can park your vehicle, and then walk to a lot of nearby places. Saskatoon has grown to be a hub for breweries, distilleries and restaurants and in being an agricultural province it really is a dream for chefs because they have access to everything they need to create these wonderful meals. It’s very fresh and bold – amazing food, amazing beer, amazing activities – and great people too –
what more can you ask for?
In Saskatoon you will find the Remai Modern Art Gallery – a contemporary museum that’s unique because they happen to have the most comprehensive collection of Picasso linocuts. Which means you get to see the process of this artistic master – you’ll see final prints, you’ll see prints that are work in progress and special edition prints making this a really unique cultural aspect.
On To Manitou Springs! I loved learning about the water here – it actually has more salt than the Dead Sea – so it’s just like the Dead Sea of Israel but it’s a shorter trip! It seems like every time we turn around there’s just more wellness opportunities here! We really need to start thinking about how we’re going to position this so you can have this great experience. Obviously, this isn’t just a weekend trip – it’s a good seven to 10 days – so you can fully immerse yourself in this hidden gem.
Next Up – Wanuskewin. This is where you are going to find Saskatchewan’s indigenous culture and it is on the list to become a designated UNESCO site. Right now, it is tentatively accepted so nothing official yet, but they are well on their way! So, dating back 6400 years- if you can believe that! – there’s an active archaeological dig site that people can visit and that is filled with history and just so many stories. It is located just five to 10 minutes outside of Saskatoon so it can definitely be a part of your city experience. In fact, you can even stay in teepee out there giving you a break from a hotel and giving the kids something to really look forward to in terms of accommodations! I mean staying in a teepee is an amazing memory – definitely something you will talk about for the rest of your life.
The other thing that’s really cool about this property are the bison. There used to be 30 million bison that roamed this land very freely and the indigenous people would use the bison to live off of. Everything they used came from the bison, so they were especially important to their sustenance. There came a time though when they were almost extinct as the numbers dipped down to about 1000 from 30 million. But in December of 2019 through their UNESCO bid they were able to raise funds to prepare the land again and bring a herd of bison back. They received 11 bison and four were pregnant females and so in April of 2020 they got these little gifts with one being born on Mother’s Day and one on Red Dress Day which honor’s missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. It really just touches your heart and it’s just so exciting as these specific days that they were born have meaning to the indigenous people.
Heidi also told us about an amazing experience you can have within the indigenous culture. It is attending the Han Wi Moon Dinner and it happens from May to September on the nights of the full moon. It starts at dusk and when guests arrive, they go for a 45-minute walk and learn about the science and the culture of the land, after which they are guided up to the top of the hill where it’s beautifully set for dinner. Here you are welcomed by roaring campfires where you can cook fresh bannock over an open fire. The dinner is lovingly prepared by Wanuskewin chefs – who forage for gradients like spruces and sun chokes and other items from the land that they create a beautiful meal from. At the conclusion they have a Dakota Star Storyteller who talks about the stars and the meaning of the culture and it’s just really a deeper connection to the culture itself, the land and the indigenous people.
Next Stop – Prince Albert National Park. Here you can enjoy many different activities – including water activities and even golf. I loved the shot that Heidi showed where you see people golfing with wildlife right at the same spot. And she admitted that sometimes it’s delay of game not because of the weather but because of the wildlife as you’ve gotta wait for them to move aside! The only town / hamlet in Prince Albert National Park is Waskesiu where you can do some shopping, hit some parks, watch a movie, grab some ice cream or just enjoy the beach. There’s plenty for families and couples alike to do.
Saskatchewan’s North – Churchill River And Other Bodies Of Water. Thanks to all the amazing rivers and lakes in Saskatchewan there are many opportunities for water activities and again it’s perfect for social distancing. If you are a canoe enthusiast, you have options. You can do it on your own but be sure to stop at Churchill River Canoe Outfitters in Missinipe as they will make sure you have all the routes that you need to know about and make sure they set you out on your way. If you prefer to be guided there’s that opportunity as well so it really just depends on what type of adventure you’re looking for but certainly a lot of water to be able to do it!
Now, with 100, 000 freshwater lakes and rivers, Saskatchewan is an outdoor adventure paradise for fisher people and canoeists alike. Heidi asked – with this much water how many years would it take somebody to actually run out of new lakes to fish? The answer – 270 years – a few generations! So, all you fishermen and fisherwomen who want to make sure you don’t have to fish the same place twice this is a place! They have both fly-in fishing resorts or drive in accessible ones – the choice is yours depending on how much remoteness you want on your vacation. In either case you will be very well looked after and the fish are going to be huge – Heidi can guarantee you that. Plus, at a lot of these places whatever you catch if you don’t release it back you can eat it and we can help coordinate to make sure that they’ll cook which you catch.
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing the CDC recommends unvaccinated travelers should avoid nonessential travel to Canada. Canada will begin allowing entry to fully vaccinated American citizens and permanent residents (currently residing in the US) for discretionary travel as of August 9, 2021. If they meet the entry criteria, fully vaccinated travellers will not have to quarantine upon arrival to Canada.
And with that Heidi and I invite you to get off the beaten path and explore Saskatchewan – a province that might be a little lesser known than others in Canada – but no less special! Heidi is my go-to person on the ground to help me make sure that your itineraries are amazing – so let’s get this conversation started and get you to this beautiful destination!
For more details on things to see and do in Saskatchewan, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!