Parks Canada Grasslands National Park is a stunning and special place in Canada, as it is the only National Park in Canada that represents the prairie grasslands natural region. It is considered to be one of the finest examples of mixed-grass prairie, of which over 70% has disappeared from North America. The prairies are an endangered ecosystem because of how they attract developers and settlements that threaten the existence of native prairie specimens. Parks Canada Grasslands National Park is vital in preserving some of the last remaining mixed-grass prairie in its natural state, while also being home to a large variety of plants and animals – some of which are not found anywhere else in Canada.
Grasslands National Park is one of Canada’s most prestigious National Parks, but only receives about 8000 visitors each year. Taking up two large plots of land near the Saskatchewan-Montana border, this landscape provides an opportunity to look into the past of the true wild, wild west of Canada’s native prairie ecosystem, with over 70 species of grasses, rolling hills, badlands, vast open and stunning dark night skies. The beauty of the natural aspects of Grasslands ensures that this park is home to some of the best wildlife you will ever see.
— ECOTOUR DRIVING ADVENTURE —
The Ecotour drive is an 80-km round trip that takes you through the National Park and allows you to experience the immense beauty of the Grasslands. During this drive you will pass multiple prairie dog colonies, various hiking trails, as well as a look into the history of the Parks Canada Grasslands National Park. Make sure you have enough fuel to complete the 80 km trip, especially if you plan on exploring beyond the Ecotour Drive. The drive is incredibly well mapped out with has trail markers all along the road that allows you to pull off and learn of the history and importance of each of the areas you pass through.
— FIND THE RED CHAIRS IN PARKS CANADA
GRASSLAND NATIONAL PARK —
The iconic Parks Canada Adirondack chairs are found throughout all of the National Parks. Grasslands National Park has six of these chairs located throughout the park, with three each the West and East Blocks of the park. The chairs are strategically placed in locations that have a special meaning, or breathtaking views. Parks Canada consider the chairs to be an opportunity to remind visitors to slow down, relax, and discover the best that each of the parks have to offer. Below are the locations of the red chairs located in the park:
— WATCH FOR WILDLIFE IN PARKS CANADA
GRASSLANDS NATIONAL PARK—
Grasslands National Park is one of the notable places in the Canada where wildlife outnumbers humans. You could drive through the entire park without catching sight of another passing vehicle. But, you will have the opportunity to see a variety of animals that are on the endangered and threatened species list, including the Burrowing Owl, Grater Sage-Grouse, Ferruginous Hawk, Swift Fox, Common Nighthawk, Black-tailed Prairie Dog, and Plains Bison. If you are lucky, you will also come across a Black-footed Ferret. This species is considered extirpated, as these ferrets actually no longer exists in the wild in Canada, but are currently in the progress of being re-introduced into the National Park.
Other animals you will find in the park include Pronghorn Antelope, Coyote, Prairie Rattlesnake, Greater Short-horned Lizard, Porcupine, Skunk, Raccoon, Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer Snake, Mule Deer, and White-Tailed Deer.
— CAMP IN THE WILD WEST AT PARKS CANADA GRASSLANDS NATIONAL PARK —
Looking for a remote and unique camping experience? Then Grasslands National Park is the place for you. In the West block the Frenchman Valley Campground has 20 tent/RV campsites (including 4 electrical, 3 pull through, and 1 wheelchair accessible area). There are an additional three tipis that can be booked from May-October. The Frenchman Valley Campground has many amenities, from fire pits, and places to hang your lanterns, to picnic tables for each of the sites, easy access to portable water, and vault toilets. The new Coulee Centre building serves as a rest building to warm up in, an area to cook and eat, as well as attend the park programs that are run through this facility.
In the East Block there is the Rock Creek Campground which includes 10 RV sites, additional areas for tenting, picnic tables, a cook shelter, and a vault toilet.
Are you looking for something a little more rugged? Would you like to pitch a tent outside of the confines of a standard campground? Then back-country camping is right up your alley. To back-country camp in the National Park, all you need to do is pay your overnight fee at the Visitor’s Centre, park your car, and begin your journey. The only rule for back-country camping in the park is that you must camp at least 1 km away from any of the roads.
— LISTEN TO THE CHATTER IN DOGTOWN —
As you drive through the Western Block, you will notice small mounds of dirt everywhere along the side of the roads. These dirt mounds are home to thousands of endangered Prairie Dogs. As a matter of fact, Grasslands National Park is the only place that Prairie Dogs exist in the wild in Canada. Throughout Grasslands National Park you will find more than ten large Black-tailed Prairie Dog colonies. In the early morning, you can see thousands of these animals emerge from their homes, foraging and eating, barking and playing with each other. It is definitely something you have to stop and watch for a few minutes before continuing on with your journey. Don’t be worried about missing them if you take the Ecotour drive – you will drive past at least 3-4 massive colonies.
— TAKE A HIKE IN PARKS CANADA GRASSLAND NATIONAL PARK—
Hiking is a must try while in Parks Canada Grasslands National Park, and there are a variety of trails for all abilities. There are 10 front-country hikes in the West Block ranging from 0.74km to 16.8km. If you are looking for easy access, there are also a few popular hikes accessible from Highway 4 (south of Val Marie). These hikes include the 70 Mile Butte Trail (which is actually 5km), The Two Trees Trail, and the Three Sisters. If you only have time for one hike during the day, The 70 Mile Butte Trail takes you to the highest points in the park and gives you an amazing view of the surrounding prairies. If you are looking for a bit more of a challenge, take to the East Block where you will find the opportunity for a much more back-country-style adventure. The East Block has 6 front-country trails that range from 1.3 km to 16km, but also offers lengthier hikes that will take you on single to multiple overnights. During these extended hikes, you will most likely find yourself alone in the park to enjoy the solitude and wilderness that is the Grasslands. Backpacking through these trails is just like being in a wilderness movie! If you plan on doing these back-country hikes you can pick up rough guidelines for hikes at the Val Marie Visitor Centre.
— WATCH THE SUNRISE / SUNSET —
A sunrise or sunset on the prairies is unlike anywhere else. With a largely flat landscape stretching before you in all directions, this truly is the land of the living skies. A sun rise or set will treat you to the beautiful golden and pink hues that come before and after the sun, and then a dramatic beginning or ending to the day as the sun moves above or beyond the horizon. Drive to the top of a hill or position yourself facing east in the morning or west in the evening, and you will not be disappointed.
— DRIVE THROUGH THE IN-TRANSITION LAND —
Once you leave the West Block you enter land that is currently in transition. This land was acquired by the park to help continue to protect the land and the wildlife that lives within the area. Currently, however, the land has been temporarily leased to ranchers for grazing their cattle. There are two routes you can take once you are in the transitional land heading north or south. Taking the southern route will allow you to drive up a hill to view the breathtaking Molestead Coulee. From there you can head north along the ridge towards Mankota. This drive feels more rugged than the route through the park, as the roads turn into real dirt roads with cows often blocking the path, making it an authentic western experience that is not to be missed.
— STARGAZING AT PARKS CANADA GRASSLANDS NATIONAL PARK—
Parks Canada Grasslands National Park has been designated as a Dark Sky Preserve as of 2009 and it is one of darkest areas in Canada. It is one of the best places to star gaze, watch a meteor shower, and enjoy the true experience of pitch-black sky at night. The park runs programs at night during the spring and summer months that guide you through the constellations, let you look at stars and more.
— ENJOY THE PEACE AND QUIET —
Grasslands National Park has been deemed the quietest, purest soundscape in North America by audio specialists. It is the least noise-polluted grasslands in North America. Anywhere in the park that you are able to sit down or just stand and listen, you will most likely just hear the wind moving through the rolling hills, maybe the chatter of a prairie dog, or the movement of an animal, or if you are lucky, you will hear the bone chilling call of the coyotes. Parks Canada Grasslands National Park is the true place to go to sit back, relax and enjoy the breathtaking vastness of the prairies.