January 2009: Grasslands National Park

Val Marie, Saskathewan

By the late 1880s, cattle were replacing bison on the Canadian Plains. The Homesteading Act of 1908 hurried things along but Grasslands National Park in southwestern Saskatchewan remains a land of prehistoric badlands, lush coulees and broad river valleys sweeping to distant horizons. This is one of the largest pieces of virtually undisturbed mixed-grass prairie in North America. Animals seen here are likely to be seen nowhere else in Canada.  

There are two vast units of several hundred square miles that comprise Grasslands National Park. The most user-friendly of the two is the West Block but don’t expect groomed trails and amenities familiar in most national parks. There are no facilities, no toilets and no potable water outside the small Visitor Center in Val Marie. The two trees Interpretive Trail is a narrow band that crosses the prairie as the only designated park hiking trail. Instead you are encouraged to explore the park on your own by hiking the valleys and bounding down into the coulees from the sparse parking lots. And your dog is welcome to come along. Bring plenty of water if you plan any extended outings with your dog out on the prairie.  

This is the only place in Canada where colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs still exist in their native habitat. You can hike out among the burrows for an up close look. The prairie dog villages are part of the park’s Ecotour that travels through the West Block.

The park can be entered from the north on Highway #18 - a circuitous single road winds through Frenchman River Valley with pull-offs available to begin your dog’s hiking day.