Bisected by the Trans-Canada Hwy (Victoria Ave, at this point), the provincial capital is by default the primary destination of visitors to Saskatchewan. There's heady rivalry with Saskatoon, the attractive city 230km to the north, ever since it was a hunting ground for the Cree, who called Regina Wascana, or 'pile of bones.
North of Saskatoon, driving options funnel into one northern route as the scenery changes around you. Gone are the vast wheat fields of the south, replaced by rugged boreal forests and myriad lakes. There is a cultural shift up here, too: an independent spirit that carved a life out of the rugged landscape.
Moose Jaw is a welcome island in a prairie sea, a rough diamond with surprising charm. From grassroots beginnings as a Canadian Pacific Railway outpost, the town grew steadily in size and infamy, earning a reputation for rebellion, corruption, brushes with the KKK and even slavery.
Prince Albert (PA) has a dilapidated yet evocative old brick downtown in a pretty location beside the North Saskatchewan River. This is the gear-up spot for trips to the forested and lake-riddled north and Prince Albert National Park. Established in 1776 as a fur-trading post, PA became a real town, named after Queen Victoria's husband, in 1904.
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park
The contrasts within this isolated interprovincial park straddling the Alberta–Saskatchewan border are arresting: endless prairies turn to undulating hills forested with cypress, harboring inland lakes. Elk, deer, moose and birdlife flourish in this fertile sanctuary. Each of the two sections has a distinctly different feel.
Prince Albert National Park
Prince Albert National Park is a jewel in the wild. Just when you thought the vast prairie would never end, the trees begin, signaling the start of the vast boreal forest. This national park is one of those special places that will give you the feeling that you are truly on the edge of the known world.
La Ronge & the Far North
La Ronge (www.townoflaronge.ca) is the southern hub of the far north – your last chance for supplies before heading off the grid. It's a rough, basic town, popular with anglers, hunters and folks on the run. It's hard to believe that almost half of Saskatchewan still lies further north. This is frontier territory, the end of the paved road.
The Qu'Appelle Valley's wide river and gently rolling hills highlight Saskatchewan's remarkable contrasts. Heading northeast from Regina on Hwy 10, don't be afraid to get off the main road and explore. After 70km, pass through Fort Qu'Appelle and turn right on Hwy 56 toward the village of Lebret and the beautiful fieldstone Sacred Heart Church, completed in 1925.
About 190km southwest of Regina, delightful Fransaskois Gravelbourg is one of the last places you'd expect to find a taste of Europe, adrift on a vast sea of prairie. Lavish buildings designed to lure French settlers date to the early 1900s. Palatial buildings are scattered along 1st Ave, including the tiny community's elementary school, École Élémentaire de Gravelbourg.
Yorkton (www.tourismyorkton.com) is a typical prairie town. It's a no-nonsense place that makes a good pit stop as you pass through on any one of the many converging roads. Out on the plains, look for old Orthodox churches amid the amber waves of grain, especially on Hwy 16 heading northwest.