If you ever want to see the true Saskatchewan you should get off Highway #1 and get on the dirt roads. The beauty of the landscape, wilderness and people will make you fall in love with this province.
I suspect when most people take a road trip across Canada they try to get through Saskatchewan as fast as they can. Flat roads with barely any turns will allow you to pass through the province within about 6 hours. But, it may just be our special little secret that we don’t want too many people to truly discover how wonderful this province is.
This past summer the kids and I took on the Southern area of Saskatchewan to explore and find new roads that we have never travelled on before. We were pleasantly surprised with how much there is to see and do only a few hours from our home.
Why had we never been to these places before?
This was also another travel first for me – driving 1500 KM with just the kids and I!
This trip was all about the journey and enjoying the road! If you are open to venturing just a little bit off Highway #1 here are a few stops you can check out.
What You'll Find in This Post
Day 1: Regina to Assiniboia
Driving south from Regina the flatness of the prairies begin to disappear and the winding roads with hills begin to take shape. The first place on our list to check out was Castle Butte in the Big Muddy area. The area is something out of the Ice Age days. Castle Butte was used as a landmark by the Native people, North West Mounted Police and settlers in the badlands. It’s composition is from sandstone, clay, alkali and coal deposits.
We explored Castle Butte area for just under and hour and climbed around before the thunderstorm came in. Most definitely worth a stop to explore. I wish we had more time, but sometimes mother nature doesn’t cooperate. All we could do was be grateful for the time we did have to explore.
After Castle Butte we stopped in Big Beaver and tried to go to Aust’s General Store but it wasn’t yet open, but we did bump into a family travelling from the United Kingdom just outside the store. Made me wonder why people from far away will visit these places and find them fascinating, but those close by take them for granted.
Continuing onto Coronach we stopped in for lunch and enjoyed the small town hospitality that Saskatchewan people can’t help but share. A rainy drive kept us from exploring Rockglen and the Wood Mountain uplands but the weather cleared and allowed the kids to stretch their legs and do some climbing on some fun local parks in Assiniboia.
We stayed at the Canasta hotel and enjoyed a bit of time in the hot-tub and great selection of breakfast before we headed off the next morning.
Day 2: Assiniboia to Cypress Hills
This day was all about the dinosaurs! We made our way down Red Coat Trail (Highway #13) to Eastend and visited the T-Rex Discovery Centre. One of the best things I liked about the discovery centre is that it is located in the town and area where the exhibit was discovered. Within the hills that surround Eastend and along the Frenchman River Valley is where Scotty the T-Rex was discovered. For kids, it makes it seem very real to understand that this very spot is where dinosaurs roamed a long time ago!
We were also lucky enough to get a private tour with one of the guides who provided a “kid-friendly” (ie. condensed version) of the exhibits and focused in on things that kids would related to…. like coprolite… otherwise know as dinosaur poop!
We picnicked just outside the centre and then headed on to Cypress Hills. My recommendation is to take the gravel road (706 through Ravenscrag) along Frenchman River Valley from Eastend to Cypress Hills to see some spectacular views. I think I stopped about 10 times to take pictures and gasp at the scenery. How have I never seen this before?
As you leave the cliffs of sandstone you stumble upon a pocket of lodgepole pine and white spruce in the middle of the prairies. You have reached the Centre Block of Cypress Hills!
Day 3-5: Cypress Hills
We spent 4 nights in the Interprovincial Park of Cypress Hills. Jamie was able to meet us for the first two nights when we camped under the trees in a tent where the kids had the “tent giggles” and would not stop laughing every night before bed.
A new experience for the kids and it had been years since Jamie and I had spent a night in a tent. But, we loved it! It is remarkable to truly realize what you ONLY need to be happy and have a great day with your family! We even had rain for the two days we tented but it was still so much fun. The other bonus was how cost-effective it was for us to camp, only $66 for 2 nights! We stayed at the Warlodge area which I would recommend with kids since they had an awesome play structure for the kids.
The other two nights we stayed at The Resort at Cypress Hills, which is nice if you are only staying a couple of days and/or don’t want to camp but still want to enjoy the area. Another place when we go back that I would love to stay at would be Ghosttown Blues, this place looks awesome… next time.
So many things to do in Cypress Hills that I started to write this up and figured it was worth an entire post on its own. So go check out this post all about things to do in Cypress Hills.
Day 6: Cypress Hills to Swift Current
I really wanted to go see The Great Sandhills in Saskatchewan. I heard about this spot only a few months ago and I have been determined to go see it. So head north up to Sceptre and check out the Great Sandhills Museum first and then a short drive from there is the Sandhills. The museum is setup like a typical small Saskatchewan town back in the day and divided up into the different shops, buildings and areas of towns. Our favourite was looking in the one-room school house setup that used to be typical for the area. Very cool to see!
In the sweltering sun we rolled down the sandhills, cartwheels and did snow-angles in the miraculous sandhills in the middle of the prairies. There is much more to the Sandhills than what we were able to explore, but with the extreme high temperatures and the kids we just stuck to the area easily accessible by car.
We then headed out to our relatives family farm in the Swift Current area. This city gal got lost on the way to the farm and I couldn’t stop laughing at myself the entire time. Luckily my uncle did not have to come find me and I used my directions to sort through the dirt roads.
Day 7: Saskatchewan Farm Life
We spent two nights living farm life and visiting with family. Where neighbours stopped by and visited unexpectedly, making homemade ice cream on the porch and eating fresh Saskatoon berries from their sister’s yard. Beautiful scenery where your backyard allows you to see for miles and miles. I enjoyed my morning cup of coffee looking out on the porch and relaxing with the tranquility.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit a Saskatchewan farm and walk a day in their life – do it! Otherwise you may not get the opportunity to try something new, like Skeet shooting! Thanks Uncle for the lesson – a highlight of my trip!
If you don’t have any family to stay with in the area, staying at a hotel or camping in Swift Current will let you check out the city and area. Try heading down to the local farmers market, which is usually filled with fantastic local foods. I also want to visit the Mennonite Heritage Village next time we are there.
I would recommend one night in Swift Current and then onto Moose Jaw for another night to check out that area. Moose Jaw has lots to offer including the Tunnels of Moose Jaw, Temple Garden Mineral Spa and Western Development Museum.
Day 8: Heading Home
As we headed home on the last leg of our journey we travelled along Highway #1 from Swift Current to Regina. Yes, it was faster with more amenities easily accessible, but I was already missing the dirt roads and single-lane highways. The heritage of our province and backbone to the Saskatchewan culture is hidden among the roads less travelled in this province. Even us Saskatchewan city folks have it ingrained in our culture of helping people, a sense of community and pride within our work. That culture comes from our Saskatchewan heritage and it shines bright in the people you meet along your journey in Saskatchewan.
Someone asked me if I was scared or worried to travel 1500km with just me and the kids down dirt roads in the backcountry of Saskatchewan. My immediate response was “No, it’s about the safest place you could be!”
Road Trip Travel Tips:
- Get a map of Saskatchewan that has the dirt roads! Some spots have no data services for google maps.
- Hours of operation are limited in small towns. So places are only open certain days for certain hours; if there is something specific you want to go to call ahead and make sure they plan on being open.
- Always stop for gas when you see a station. Many small towns have limited hours, you don’t want to get stranded without gas.
- My kids are used to travelling by car, but check out some of the tips we share for driving with kids here.
- Line up a some music playlist, audible books and travel podcasts for the road. The kids watched a few movies on their iPads and I was able to have time to enjoy the road and listen.