by Jenn Smith Nelson
Think you know Saskatchewan? Think again. One of the things I relish most is sharing facts about my home province that defy people’s perceptions and expectations. Saskatchewan is more diverse than many know. With rare flora, abundant wildlife, unexpected landscapes and a variety of incredible adventures, its hot spots are sure to please (and perhaps, surprise) any nature lover or traveler.
It's time to go beyond the beautiful and iconic wheat fields, get off the number one highway and explore some lesser known, but very cool wild areas you might not know about in the Prairie province.
You may be surprised to learn that:
It’s a paddler’s paradise
Tucked into the mighty Churchill River system, amid the beauty of the Canadian Shield, Lac La Ronge Provincial Park is a paddler’s paradise. Home to a tenth of the lakes found in Saskatchewan and over 1,300 islands, the water is undoubtedly the park’s shining feature. Find 30 documented, historic canoe routes, Class III rapids and abundant fishing opportunities. While visiting, make your way to one of Saskatchewan’s highest waterfalls, Nistowiak Falls, and nearby Nipekamew Sand Cliffs, found just outside the park.
Jenn Smith Nelson
The southwest is home to some unusual wildlife
On the hunt for the unusual? Grasslands National Park is the place to look for cool species such as the black-footed ferret, short-horned lizard and prairie rattlesnake, the only venomous snake on the Prairies. But that’s not all. Nearby, in the Great Sandhills where one can roam atop 1,900-plus square-kilometres of active sand dunes, is where the nocturnal and endangered, Ord’s kangaroo rat, nests. The most bizarre by far though, is the northern or boreal scorpion found in the South Saskatchewan River Valley. The only one of its kind in Canada, these amazing critters have evolved to survive winter by hibernating!
You can find Canada’s Dead Sea
Unique to the western hemisphere and one of only three lakes in the world where the water’s salt levels are so high that it makes floating effortless, is Little Manitou Lake. Found between Regina and Saskatoon, Canada’s largest saltwater lake also boasts healing properties and provides therapeutic benefits. So lay back, enjoy the buoyancy and use the mineral-rich water to help heal that sunburn, boost your immune system or even tighten your skin!
Gary Bergen/Watrous Manitou Marketing Group
Challenging mountain biking trails exist
Sure, it’s true the province isn’t home to mountains; however the hills found in the beautiful Qu’Appelle Valley in the southern part of the province provide a beautiful backdrop and a surprising challenge for mountain bikers. Once used as an old ski hill in Buffalo Pound Provincial Park, riders can find over 30 kilometres of well-marked, semi-technical trail ranging in difficulty from winding and casual to fast and steep. While there, keep your eyes peeled for the park’s captive herd of plains bison hat roam the hillsides.
Shutterstock Kerry Hargrove
There are several hot spots for world-class birdwatching
Birdwatchers may be familiar with North America’s oldest bird sanctuary and waterfowl-rich, Last Mountain Lake. Or perhaps they’ve heard of Chaplin Lake, one of only three Canadian spots designated as a site of hemispheric importance, home to rare piping plovers. Less known however, is the UNESCO-designated Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve. The only of its kind in Saskatchewan, it’s found in the central region and features lakes, marshes, rolling hills stretching over 112,000 hectares. Warblers, waterfowl and shorebirds love this hot spot as do nine endangered species such as Sprague’s pipits and loggerhead shrikes.
Expect a few surprises about the province in the newly released book, 110 Nature Hot Spots in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, co-authored by Doug O’Neill and Jenn Smith Nelson.