To paraphrase an old line, there are no boring parts of Saskatchewan, just boring visitors. Yes, the terrain lacks drama, there's not a lot of people here, the two major towns define the vaguely complimentary 'nice,' and so on. But that simply means that the savvy visitor can dig deep to discover the province's inherent appeal.
Start with all that flat: those rippling oceans of grain have a mesmerizing poetry to their movement, the songbirds and crickets providing accents to the endlessly rustling wind. If you're ready for the sheer tranquility of solitude, pick any unpaved road and set off across the country – and delight when you find water-dappled coulees and tree-covered hills.
And don't forget the province's people. Not just the plain-spoken residents of today, but also the people who populate Saskatchewan's story, whether eking out a living off the land, fomenting revolution or taming a frontier.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Saskatchewan.
A virtual civil war was fought here in what is known as the Northwest Resistance of 1885, when Louis Riel led the Métis in defending their land from the government. Once-prosperous Batoche was devastated and within a few years almost nothing was left except for the church you see today. This historic site is an auspicious place to contemplate the events of 1885, as silent waves of prairie grass bend in the wind. Batoche is 70km north of Saskatoon, east of Hwy 11.
The undisputed centerpiece of this très jolie little town is the disproportionately large and beautiful Our Lady of the Assumption Co-Cathedral, built in 1919 in a Romanesque and Italianate style. It was designated a National Historic Site in 1995. Enter if it's open and crane your neck to marvel at the Sistine Chapel–esque frescoes. Monsignor Maillard, who not only designed the chapel's interior and presided over the parish, painted the frescoes himself, from 1921 to 1931 – an astonishing feat.
The Meewasin Valley, formed by the South Saskatchewan's wide swath through the center of town, is named for the Cree word for 'beautiful'. Mature trees populate the riverbanks, while sections of the 60km Meewasin Trail, extend from downtown paths, winding through forests and along the riverbank. It is popular with walkers, cyclists and wandering travelers, and picnic areas line the trails. Further north, Mendel Island is home to abundant wildlife. The website has downloadable maps and info.
Grasslands National Park is a sprawling place of isolation and beauty, where treeless hills meet the endless sky. The visitor center is an essential port of call for advice on where to camp and how best to experience the full majesty of the park. Prepare well for expeditions and BYO shade – Grasslands is wild and lonely; there's the potential for rattlesnake encounters. If you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the resident herd of bison. Park accommodations include campsites ($30) and tipis ($45).
Amid rolling prairies at the eastern edge of the Western Block is this interesting historic site. Established in 1875 and operational for eight years, this outpost had a small yet significant role in the history of the west. After the battle of Custer's Last Stand, Chief Sitting Bull and 5000 of his followers arrived in the area. The local mounties moved their headquarters to Fort Walsh and maintained peaceful relations with the Sioux while they remained in Canada.
The geographic and cultural center of Regina, this sprawling public nature haven has miles of lakeside walking trails and is home to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, Saskatchewan War Memorial and Saskatchewan Science Centre. Public events and celebrations are held by Wascana Lake's clear waters, which mirror such vistas as the stunning Provincial Legislature building and the Spruce Island bird sanctuary. Park residents include mink, hare, beavers and countless geese.
The flagship Saskatoon branch of the province's Western Development Museum is a faithful re-creation of Saskatoon the boom town, c 1910. Inside Canada's longest indoor street, you can roam through the town's many buildings, from a dentist's office straight out of a horror film to the pharmacy, the walls of which are lined with hundreds of vintage concoctions. There are trains, tractors, buggies, sleighs and a jail. It's about 4km south of downtown.
The Royal provides a great insight into the people and geography that make up Saskatchewan. Galleries focus on earth and life sciences and indigenous history. Prairie dioramas tell the story of the native flora, fauna and cultures that lived off the harsh land. See Scotty, the biggest T.rex ever discovered – this skeleton replicates that in the Museum's T-rex Discovery Centre in Eastend.
In the old train station in Rosthern, the Station Arts Centre is a beautiful gallery showing the works of local artists, plus a tea room offering lunch and baked snacks. There is also a 160-seat theatre with a strong line-up of events and a small museum in a train caboose on the tracks side of the station. The caboose was donated by Canadian National Railway and a 'caboose club' of locals set it up as a small museum.