The past few weeks have been really busy for me, with a lot more time at the office and a lot less time travelling. Thankfully, the weekend is just around the corner and with it comes the possibility of a two day vacation. Having traveled to Lac La Ronge earlier this month, I've been thinking more and more about these short trips and how rejuvenating they can be.
Unfortunately, I haven't done as much travelling around Saskatchewan as I'd like, so I wasn't sure what the best places to visit were. There were of course the obvious choices such as Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw, but I wanted someplace remote, yet somewhat close. For this project I approached some of my fellow travel bloggers and I got some ideas of what to go do and see for a weekend. I went through their ideas and came up with this short list of 5 weekend destinations in Saskatchewan.
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With a population less than 400, it would be pretty hard to spot Ogema on a map. Being so small, the town is often overlooked by travelers. However, for those looking for an adventure of a lifetime, Ogema has an attraction that can be found nowhere else in Saskatchewan: the Southern Prairie Railway.
While the railway has been part of Saskatchewan's life since the late 1800s, its importance today has very much dwindled. Many communities around the province have found alternative uses for the old train stations, such as turning them into casinos or town halls. Having lost their train station in the 1960s, Ogema decided a new train station would be perfect for their community, and they began a province wide search in 1999 for a new train station. They found one identical to their former station in Simpson, Saskatchewan, a town 370 kilometers away. They purchased the station, transported it across the province and set it up in their own community. This set the stage for the Southern Prairie Railway, a train that runs out of Ogema that is open to tourists. There are several different tours available, such as the Heritage Train, the Settler's Supper, the new Pangman Market Train and the Robbery, where your train is held up by gun-totin' criminals who donate all the money they "steal" to charity.
There are several other tours, such as Murder Mystery tours, brunch tours and Father's Day tours worth checking out as well. These tours range anywhere from two and half hours to nine hours in length, allowing for all kind of adventures!
Distance from Regina: 116 km or 1 hour and 14 minutes
Distance from Saskatoon: 373 km or 3 hours and 38 minutes
Home to the tallest point east of the Rocky Mountains, Cypress Hills sits across the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan, being the only interprovincial park in Canada. Home to over 700 species of flora and fauna, it has a habitat found nowhere else in Saskatchewan. Ranging from 200 feet to 4,816 feet above the ground, Cypress Hills is a geological phenomenon that was created during the rise of the Rocky Mountains millions of years ago. These hills are also responsible for the division of a single river, which redirects water to both Hudson Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Cypress Hills is also very important to Canadian history. After the birth of Canada in 1867, discussions were underway to expand west and connect with British Columbia. Unfortunately the dream of a cross-country railway wouldn't be possible without surveying the area first. Things changed in 1873 when word arrived in Ottawa of a violent shooting in Cypress Hills. This shooting, known as the Cypress Hills Massacre, left 20 Aboriginal people dead after a group of bison and wolf hunters began firing upon an encampment. After hearing about the massacre, and hearing the stories of "fire water" destroying lives in what is now called Saskatchewan and Alberta, the government founded the North-West Mounted Police to march west and correct the problem, along with surveying the area for the potential railroad. Remnants of the massacre can be seen at Fort Walsh, as well as reenactments of the arrival of Sitting Bull and the Lakota people following the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876.
Besides historical reenactments, Cypress Hills is also home to a plethora of hiking trails, along with places to kayak and horseback ride. If star gazing is your thing, Cypress Hills is also home to their own Observatory and Dark-Sky Preserve, which is an area 39,600 hectares (or 97,850 football fields) wide to use to watch stars.
While the park itself is very impressive, there are several interesting towns nearby as well, such as Eastend, home to the T. Rex Discovery Centre, and Maple Creek, a city stuck in the days of the Wild West, with cowboys included.
If you're looking for history, adventure, relaxation or a trip back through time, Cypress Hills is one of the best places in Saskatchewan worth visiting!
Distance from Regina: 454 km or 4 hours and 52 minutes
Distance from Saskatoon: 480 km or 5 hours and 18 minutes
With Saskatchewan known globally for its fertile fields, lush forests and sparkling lakes, it would seem to be the last place one would expect a desert, let alone actively moving sand dunes. However, the Great Sand Hills of Saskatchewan, just west of Swift Current, is a phenomenon that is almost 2,000 square kilometers in size, and has sand dunes up to 20 meters in height.
While most of the area is covered in soft, smooth lightly blowing sand, there are also shrubs and small trees that have managed to live in this harsh landscape. Due to the extreme dryness of the area, camp fires and smoking is strictly prohibited in the area. Camping is also prohibited in the Great Sand Hills, but it is allowed in the nearby town of Leader.
Another nearby community, Sceptre, is home to the Great Sandhills Museum & Interpretive Centre. This museum showcases the natural forces that shaped this dynamic landscape, the Aboriginal peoples that once lived in the area, the impact of the Empress Line on early pioneers and some of the first structures that were built in the area, such as houses, churches and barns.
Distance from Regina: 375 km or 3 hours and 34 minutes
Distance from Saskatoon: 306 km or 3 hours and 12 minutes
There is a common misconception that Saskatchewan is strictly prairie, and that just isn't true. Northern Saskatchewan is home to an abundance of trees, hills and lakes. For those who are used to an ocean of grain, it is these lakes that seem the most incredible. One of these lakes is Christopher Lake, and it is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in Saskatchewan.
Luckily, Christopher Lake is very close to Emma Lake, another beautiful lake, and Tuddles Lake. Between these three lakes is Flora Bora, a beautiful forest paradise. While there are many cabins and camps in the area, Flora Bora approached the idea of lodging differently and went with Asian circular wooden dwellings called "yurts". While traditional yurts are temporary shelters, these are permanent, modern houses. Equipped with a skylight, a kitchen, a hot shower and a private deck, these yurts are large enough to hold up to four people. With glamping ("glamor camping") replacing the traditional form of camping, the yurts at Flora Bora and the three nearby lakes allow somebody to vacation in comfort, while still immersing themselves in nature.
Open all year long, staying at the yurts during different seasons can offer a variety of different activities to do, such as canoeing, hiking, quading, ice fishing or cross-country skiing. The high-season is from May 16th to September 15th, at $196 a night (or $1,176 a week) while the low season is from September 16th to May 15th at $164 a night (or $984 a week).
For more information about Flora Bora, check out their website or the experience that the 2015 Saskatchewanderer, Ashlyn George, had while staying there.
Distance from Regina: 400 km or 4 hours and 6 minutes
Distance from Saskatoon: 180 km or 1 hours and 48 minutes
While not at the top of most people's list of places to visit in Saskatchewan, it was in Batoche where a new era in Canadian history began. The year was 1885 and Louis Riel was leading the Metis people in a rebellion against the Canadian government. Riel had successfully completed one rebellion in Manitoba several years earlier, and was attempting to win another rebellion by creating his own independent state, the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan. The capital city of their state was the town of Batoche.
Following several defeats at the battles at Fish Creek and Cut Knife, General Sir Frederick Dobson Middleton and his men formulated a plan to attack Batoche and end the rebellion. A vessel was to come down the river west of the town and his men were to come from the east, catching the town in a crossfire. This would, hopefully, lead to a quick surrender without the loss of many men. Due to the difficulty of the terrain, however, Middleton's men were delayed and the vessel fell under fire by the Metis without any pressure from the east. The vessel was damaged and was unable to dock, so it carried down the river to escape enemy fire. Once Middleton arrived on the edge of the town, he realized what had happened and began his attack. For four days the two forces fought over the city, with Batoche being pummeled by artillery fire. The tides of battle switched several times, with no certainty on how it would end. On May 12th, however, after another attempt to attack Batoche failed, Colonel Bowen van Straubenzee assaulted the town directly while the Metis were still recovering from the previous wave of shellings. Fighting bravely, and with the use of a Gatling gun for cover fire, the Canadian militia were able to push out the Metis, capturing many in the process, including their leader Louis Riel.
The Battle of Batoche cost between 34 and 60 lives, and injured around 200 people. The capture of Batoche not only ended the North-West Rebellion, but also brought an end to the traditional way of life for Aboriginal people in Saskatchewan. The trial and execution of Louis Riel would mark a new era in Canadian history, and one that is still controversial today, over a century later.
Batoche was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1923. A visitor center in the community can be found in Batoche, showcasing several restored buildings that depicts the lifestyle of the Metis around 1880, along with a Northwest Mounted Police encampment, a church and a farm house. Some of these buildings still contain the original bullet holes from the battle, a permanent reminder of the history that was made that fateful day in 1885.
Tours of the community are available 7 days a week in July to August, from 9 AM to 5 PM, and Monday to Friday between May 23rd and June 30th, and September 6th to October 7th.
Distance from Regina: 333 km or 3 hours and 26 minutes
Distance from Saskatoon: 92 km or 1 hour
There is of course a lot more to see and do in Saskatchewan than just these five places. What are your favorite places to visit? Let me know in the comments below!
Because I've never been to these locations, I want to thank Ashlyn George from Lost Girl’s Guide to Finding the World for her pictures at Flora Bora and Christoper Lake.
Other pictures belong to Cypress Hills, Parks Canada, Southern Praire Railway, Wikipedia User Drm310 and Flickr user Danrmg.
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.