Feel at Home at Grasslands National Park

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These tipi rings, over 7000 years old, were once used to anchor a tipi. Tipis are a portable conical tent made of skins, cloth, or canvas on a frame of poles, used by North American Indians of the Plains and Great Lakes regions. There are thousands of rings like these at Grasslands National Park. (Rod Charles/Vacay.ca)

The people who lived within these tipi rings at Grasslands National Park have been gone for 7000 years yet as silly as it sounds I couldn’t shake the ridiculous feeling that I was standing in someone’s home.

These rings are more than rocks on a rustic plain. These stones are a testament to people who roamed this part of the country and called it home before Canada was a nation. Remarkably, there are are 12,000 confirmed tipi rings just like these and what’s even more remarkable is only 50 per cent of the park has been surveyed so far.

The rings aren’t the only remnants of abandoned homes at Grasslands. The weathered remains of long forgotten ranches like Larson Homestead stand as an eerie reminder of ranchers who worked this isolated, demanding environment. At one time there were more than 50 homesteaders living here.

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The former home of Walt Larson is preserved by Parks Canada at Grasslands National Park. (Rod Charles/Vacay.ca)

The valleys, grassy hills, crevices and rivers that define Grasslands creates a connection to the past and a feeling of being close to the earth. I remember feeling conflicting emotions. I felt a blast of energy and awe as my eyes took in the wide, rolling green, light blue and grey expanse yet I also felt a deep sense of calm. I would never dream of pulling out a blanket and going for a nap on the ground in the middle of a grassy plain but here in the heart of Saskatchewan at this park I felt as though I could.

Another connection to the past are the animals. Visitors from around the world come to Grasslands National Park to see the Burrowing Owl, Swift Fox, Sage-Grouse and the Short-horned Lizards. The park is home to over 20 federally listed Species at Risk (SAR) and of course, there are always the black-tailed prairie dogs who kept a watchful and wary eye on us during our visit  to their home.

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You can see for miles on a a clear day at Grasslands National Park. Those three tiny dots on the background are people. (Rod Charles/Vacay.ca)

There are also bison, impressive animals that made a triumphant return to Grasslands when they were re-introduced to the park in December 2005, after a 120 years of absence. Prior to European settlement, the prairies were home to millions of free-roaming bison but by the 1880’s the large herds that once roamed were nearly gone. The initial herd consisted of 71 bison, including 30 male calves, 30 female calves and 11 yearlings. Today there are approximately 350 adult bison in the park. You won’t get close to them so make sure to pack a pair of binoculars.

Fossils are another connection to the park that have been around since the beginning. This area, once home to prehistoric jungle-dwelling creatures, is the site of one of the first discoveries of dinosaur fossils in Canada. Today small groups can accompany a crew of paleontologists from the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and McGill University on a dig. 

Another cool thing that has been around since the beginning are the stars. Grasslands National Park is a Dark Sky Preserve, and in fact is one of the largest and darkest in Canada. For astronomers, or just people who enjoy seeing the night sky without light pollution, this is one of the best places to observe deep sky objects.

Grasslands drew 15, 782 visitors in 2018 and it’s not difficult to see why this park is growing in popularity as there are several opportunities for hiking, camping and stargazing.

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Parks Canada has chairs set up throughout the park. There is no better way to feel at home. (Rod Charles/Vacay.ca)

“Visitors from within Canada and abroad come to Grasslands to experience our unique mixed- grass prairie. In the West Block, our Ecotour Scenic drive is very popular with it’s amazing view of the Frenchman Valley as well as the Plains Bison and the Black Tailed Prairie Dogs,” said Carmen Hanson, Interpretation Coordinator, Grasslands National Parks Canada Agency. “This season we’re excited to offer our new Badlands Parkway road in the East Block with its tremendous views of the fossil rich badlands there. I’m proud to share this incredible place with others and call it home!”

As I left for home I thought of the people who play, work and study at Grasslands National Park. I also reflected on the people over the centuries who have settled these lands or just passed through.

As always, I salute those who have made their mark here and called it home. But with respect to those who have planted tipis and ranches I have to say that Grasslands National Park will always feel like home to me as well.


Website: www.parkscanada.gc.ca/grasslands

Phone: 1-888-773-8888

Email: grasslands.info@pc.gc.ca

Prices: Free Admission
Frount Country, Serviced with electricity $ 29.40
Equestrian Camping $ 21.50
Overflow Camping $ 15.70
Diverse Accommodation
Per Tipi, per night $ 45.00
Equipment Rental for Tipi Camping (optional) $ 10.00
oTENTik, per night $ 100.00

Parks Canada Reservation Service

The 2019 reservations service was launched in January! Reservations will be available in January 2019 for visits between April 2019 and March 2020. Search the following link for details, including the specific operating and reservable dates for each location: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/voyage-travel/reserve

Rod has previously worked for Canoe.ca and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.

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