Grasslands National Park - Adventures in the West Block
In some ways, Grasslands National Park’s two distinct blocks are like fraternal twins – different in looks but sharing a deep bond in their relationship to Mother Earth and their survival over time.
The West Block’s distinguishing feature is the Frenchman River Valley. Its voice echoes choirs of birdsong, early morning chatter of black-tailed prairie dogs and thundering movement of bison across the plains. Wind rustles across this rare tract of undisturbed mixed-grass prairie, home to 70 types of native grasses and a variety of vibrantly coloured wildflowers. More than 12,000 tipi rings dot the vast landscape.
Plan your visit to the West Block around some of these activities.
Several trails provide choices for exploring the West Block on foot, by vehicle or on horseback (equestrian camping is available).
The Eagle Butte Trail is a 2-km loop that is perfect for families or novice hikers. For a more challenging experience, take the 70 Mile Butte Trail. It branches off of the Eagle Butte Trail and leads to some of the most breathtaking views of the valley. Other trail options with shorter distances include Top Dogtown Trail, Riverwalk Trail or Larson Trail.
Block off at least 2.5 hours for the Ecotour Scenic Drive, a 20-km self-guided driving tour through the West Block. Pack a picnic lunch, take your time and fully appreciate the natural beauty and features of the prairie ecosystem.
For a deeper dive into the West Block, travel the 5-km Back Country Loop, which is the park’s most rugged experience. It travels along a dirt road and is only accessible when weather conditions are agreeable and the road is dry. The route climbs to an elevation of more than 1,000 m (3,300 ft.). Make it an overnight adventure and pitch your tent along the Otter Basin hiking route and beneath the brilliant starlit sky.
Beyond the Big Dipper
A designated Dark Sky Preserve, Grasslands National Park has the perfect conditions for viewing the night sky. Join Royal Astronomical Society astronomers for an entertaining evening of stargazing and more.
Sunday mornings in the park start with a cup of traditional, campfire-brewed coffee and some lively storytelling. Park interpreters share tales from ranching days and evoke vivid scenes and the spirit of life on the Western frontier.
The West Block is an area steeped in legend. Tales of cowboys, homesteaders and ranchers paint a lively picture of bygone days. The Cowboy Way sessions treat park visitors to stories about local ranching families who lived off the land, endured harsh challenges and were able to thrive in an unforgiving landscape.
A popular offering on Wednesday and Friday evenings, Fireside Chats bring park visitors together to enjoy good company, campfire snacks, and stories and songs inspired by the surroundings.
Offered Wednesday afternoons throughout the summer, Métis Connections sessions are led by local Métis heritage presenters. They share their special connections to the landscape through storytelling, interpretation, music and art.
Thursday mornings provide an opportunity to catch a glimpse of bison that roam the West Block. Explore the history of the Plains bison and their remarkable comeback with a tour of the park’s handling facility. Learn about the importance of the bison to the Indigenous peoples during a post-tour hike. Fees apply.
Going, Going, Gone programming explores a serious topic – the fate of native grassland species in an endangered ecosystem. Offered on Saturday mornings in May and June, and on Mondays and Fridays throughout the summer, these tours offer rich food for thought and inspire park visitors to make a positive difference.
A new Saturday evening feature, Circling Back tours offer an exclusive journey to the Turkey Track Ridge where participants learn ancient secrets of the land as shared by an archaeologist. Space limited. Pre-registration is required.
A Saturday evening feature, the Junior Naturalists program examines the park’s main themes, including endangered species and spaces, geological and palaeontological history and more. Participants venture out on a short hike, discovering wildlife, wildflowers, fossils and tipi rings along the way. The program is recommended for children between the ages of 5-12 years. Fees apply. Pre-registration is required.