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Bison herds, dinosaur digs and prairie skies in Canada’s Grasslands National Park

A look inside the natural splendour and ancient wonders of Saskatchewan’s iconic park

18 March 2016
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Centuries ago, when the plains bison were plentiful, First Nations bands in present-day Saskatchewan in Western Canada gathered on unending seas of grass to hunt, feast and celebrate the land's bounty.

Today, visitors to Grasslands National Park can relive those timeless rhythms in the most expansive intact prairie ecosystem in Canada. Marvel at revitalized bison herds, hike and explore vast grassy plains, buttes and badlands (complete with dinosaur fossils) and soak up a piece of Canadian history under wide-open skies.

Reintroduced to the park in 2005, a large herd of 2,000-pound bison now roam as they once did among the park’s 70-plus species of grasses. Take advantage of summer activities like A Walk in the Park, which tells the story of bison and the early First Nations peoples who depended on them. Or try the new Bison Backstage Tour, which offers an inside look into the secrets of this conservation rescue mission.

Animal lovers may also be lucky enough to spy prairie species ranging from the pronghorn antelope, the fastest land animal in North America, to the burrowing owl. And the park is the only place in Canada to see black-tailed prairie dogs, know for their distinctive barks and yelps.

Apart from its iconic grasslands, the park also offers plenty of unique natural terrain to explore. Carved from glacial meltwater thousands of years ago, 70 Mile Butte rises 100 metres (328 feet) above the surrounding plains. Accessed via a 5- kilometre hike, the summit offers panoramic views, especially gorgeous at sunset.

To the east, in the park’s Killdeer Badlands, the first Canadian dinosaur remains were found in 1974. Today, visitors can take wagon tours of the badlands, where 60 million years of history is preserved in striated rock. Or join a real McGill University dig site for a day, hunting for fossils with world-renowned paleontologists.

Adventurers can also saddle up for Cattle Trails and Cowboy Tales, a unique two-day excursion that harkens back to an era of open ranges and cattle drives. Visitors have the chance to trail cattle on horseback, enjoy cooking from a chuckwagon and share stories under the stars

But it’s after dark that Grasslands truly shines. In 2009, 729 square kilometres (281 square miles) of the park was declared a dark sky preserve (Canada’s darkest, in fact). Far from city light pollution, see stars twinkling in endless profusion. In summer, travellers can even enjoy the Sleep-Under-The-Stars Party and Concert Weekend. By day, kayak the Frenchman River and take wagon tours of the open range, before camping under the night stars and waking up to a fire-orange sunrise.

Though it rarely fails to mesmerize onlookers with its natural beauty, Saskatchewan’s Grasslands National Park has far more to offer. Explore fossil beds, traverse centuries-old First Nations camps filled with tipi rings, immerse in cowboy culture or simply admire the roaming bison in one of the few remaining natural grasslands on the continent. 

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