Everything You Need to Know About Grasslands National Park – East Block
Grasslands National Park is an absolute must-visit for camping and backcountry enthusiasts seeking a truly unforgettable experience. The park's unique landscape, ranging from vast prairie grasslands to stunning badlands, offers a captivating backdrop for outdoor adventures.
Moreover, the park's rich paleontological history allows visitors to feel like they're walking back in time, with the chance to discover dinosaur fossils and explore the remnants of a mass extinction boundary. Camping in this extraordinary park is a journey into both the natural wonders of the present and the ancient wonders of the past.
Overview of the Location
Grasslands National Park is located in the southern region of Saskatchewan, spanning 730 sq. km. of diverse prairie landscape. This protected area is renowned for its unique features, including rolling hills, expansive grasslands, and striking badlands formations. As a designated Dark Sky Preserve, the park offers unparalleled opportunities for stargazing, with minimal light pollution and a remote location enhancing the celestial experience.
The park's climate is characterized by hot summers, cold winters, and low annual precipitation. This, coupled with the vast grasslands and distinct geological formations, contributes to the park's captivating atmosphere. Grasslands National Park is home to a variety of wildlife, such as cattle, coyotes, rattlesnakes and prairie dogs.
Visitors to Grasslands National Park can immerse themselves in the untouched beauty of the prairie, where they can explore the expansive grasslands, witness stunning sunsets, and experience a sense of tranquility in nature. Grasslands National Park offers a truly unforgettable destination for outdoor enthusiasts seeking to connect with the natural wonders of the prairie landscape.
Grasslands National Park has two main entrances: the West Block and the East Block, each offering unique landscapes and experiences. When booking your campground, double-check to ensure you select the correct entrance, as they have separate facilities and amenities.
Within the park, you'll find an array of camping options tailored to suit different preferences and needs. Whether you prefer the simplicity of tent or RV camping, the immersive experience of backcountry camping or the unique comfort of an oTENTIK, there's a perfect spot for every type of camper. We opted for two nights in the backcountry and our final night in an oTENTIK. Reservations are required, along with a valid Parks Canada Park Pass.
Frenchman Valley Campground is nestled on the West Block of the park and provides a tranquil setting for campers. The campground provides basic amenities such as pit toilets, potable water, and garbage disposal facilities. With its scenic surroundings and easy access to hiking trails, Frenchman Valley Campground is an ideal choice for those seeking a peaceful camping experience.
Rock Creek Campground, located in the East Block, was our chosen base for exploration. Each site is thoughtfully equipped with firepits and picnic tables, providing the perfect setting to embrace the natural beauty of Grasslands National Park. The campground also features a kitchen shelter for shade and cooking, a day-use picnic area, and a vault toilet. While potable water is easily accessible for small drinking jugs from May 19 to September 4, 2023, there is also an RV dump tank and a community firepit for your convenience.
Backcountry camping in Grasslands National Park offers a thrilling opportunity to immerse yourself in the untamed wilderness. We embarked on an unforgettable backcountry hiking adventure along the renowned Valley of 1000 Devils Trail, spending two nights surrounded by the awe-inspiring beauty of nature. As we dropped our packs after an exhilarating hike, we pitched our tents in areas where it felt as if no one had camped for centuries, adding a sense of historical significance to our experience. Anticipating the vibrant sunset, we eagerly listened for the distant howl of a coyote, truly feeling like we had the entire park to ourselves.
Both sections of the park offer unique backcountry experiences. To ensure safety and compliance with regulations, all backcountry campers are required to register at the visitor centre or campground office and receive orientation prior to your departure. You must chose a backcountry zone and reserve through Parks Canada for a permit. The two backcountry zones in the East Block are Valley of 1000 Devils and Red Butte. There are no dedicated backcountry camping spots. Here, you must camp at least 1 km away from the trail. You can camp where no one else has, enjoying the seclusion and serenity that the wilderness provides. It's important to note that open fires are not permitted in the backcountry, and during the summer, fire bans, including restrictions on camp stoves, may be in effect. Staying informed about these conditions is crucial, so we made sure to contact Parks Canada for the latest updates.
Respecting the environment is of utmost importance when engaging in backcountry camping. To prevent the spread of invasive plants, we ensured our gear and clothing were clean upon arrival and departure. As responsible campers, we meticulously packed out all garbage, including food waste and hygiene products. When it came to disposing of human waste, we adhered to the guidelines by selecting a spot at least 70 m away from trails, campsites, and water sources. With a simple hole dug using a stick, the heel of our boots or a trowel, we covered it with soil afterward and packed out any used toilet paper.
While exploring the backcountry, it is vital to uphold the principles of conservation. Pets must be kept on a leash at all times, respecting the prohibition of pets on prairie dog colonies. Furthermore, we refrained from disturbing or removing any natural or historical objects, such as wildflowers, horns, antlers, rocks, fossils, arrowheads, or tipi rings, recognizing that they are protected by law and deserve to be preserved for others to discover and appreciate.
Water management is a critical aspect of backcountry camping in Grasslands National Park. Since all surface water in the area is unfit for human consumption, we planned to carry sufficient water for our entire stay. Treating water by boiling, filtering, or adding iodine might remove some bacteria, but it will not address the salinity issue. As responsible campers, we packed out everything that we brought in, leaving no trace of our presence in the pristine wilderness. To navigate the backcountry confidently, we carried a map and relied on a GPS for guidance. When speaking to the Parks Canada Rangers, we learned that it is safe to store food by your tent. There are no bears in the area, and the wildlife in the area are not at risk of getting to your food.
Backcountry camping in Grasslands National Park offers a unique opportunity to connect with nature, revel in solitude, and appreciate the untouched beauty of the prairie landscape. By adhering to the principles of respect, responsibility, and preparedness, we can ensure a memorable and sustainable experience for ourselves and future adventurers.
Staying in an oTENTik at Grasslands National Park's Rock Creek Campground provided us with the perfect retreat after spending three adventurous days in the backcountry. With the oTENTik already set up, we didn't need to worry about pitching a tent or arranging our campsite. It was a welcome respite, allowing us to relax and rejuvenate in a cosy and comfortable space. The oTENTik provided a homey and unique experience, combining the best of camping with the comfort of a cabin.
Inside the oTENTik, we found a variety of amenities that enhanced our stay. The spacious and well-appointed interior included sleeping accommodations for up to six people, with a combination of bunk beds and a double bed. We appreciated having a wooden floor, which added to the cosiness and cleanliness of the space. Additionally, a table and chairs were provided for dining or relaxing, and a small heater ensured warmth during cooler evenings. There is even a BBQ that can be used for cooking some delicious meals.
With a wide variety of hiking trails, the options of exploring this scenic landscape are endless. Embark on a short and sweet 1.5-km hike along the Rock Creek Trail, where you'll discover a magnificent bird's-eye view of Rock Creek. Indulge in the awe-inspiring sights that unfold before you, treating yourself to an unobstructed panorama of the prairie horizon that stretches boundlessly behind.
For those seeking a more challenging adventure, venture beyond this path and embrace the exhilarating journey through the Valley of 1000 Devils Trail (10 km) or Red Butte Trail (16 km). The Valley of 1000 Devils Trail is an otherworldly paradise that transports hikers to an alien-like landscape. With its rugged terrain, bizarre rock formations, and vast stretches of barren land, it feels like stepping foot on another planet. Despite its eerie name, the trail offers breathtakingly beautiful views and is a haven for outdoor explorers seeking a unique and unforgettable adventure. Afterwards, you can embark on the Red Butte Trail, and witness the captivating sight of buttes adorned with hues of red, a result of oxidized iron carbonate activity. This challenging trail guides you though creek bottoms and alongside cattle fence lines, adding to the rugged allure of the journey. However, the ultimate reward awaits at the trail's end, where you'll be greeted with breathtaking panoramic views that make the arduous trek more than worthwhile.
When venturing into the captivating wilderness of Grasslands National Park, it is essential to keep certain safety considerations in mind. The park's unique environment and diverse wildlife require visitors to be well-prepared and informed. Here are some important safety tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience:
Be Prepared for the Weather
Grasslands National Park experiences extreme weather conditions throughout the year. Summers can be scorching hot, with temperatures reaching high levels, while winters can be bitterly cold. It is crucial to pack appropriate clothing, sun protection, and extra layers for sudden weather changes. Stay hydrated by carrying enough water, especially as potable water is not available after September 4. Plan your activities accordingly, avoiding outdoor exposure during the hottest parts of the day.
It's important to note that after September 4, no water will be available at the Frenchman Valley or Rock Creek Campgrounds. Therefore, ensure you bring all the water you will need for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. This includes carrying sufficient water for backcountry camping and hiking trips. Be mindful of the limited availability of potable water and plan accordingly.
Grasslands National Park is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including bison, cattle, rattlesnakes, coyotes, and numerous bird species. While encountering these animals can be a thrilling experience, it is essential to observe them from a safe distance and avoid approaching or feeding them. Respect their natural habitat and refrain from disrupting their behaviors.
Navigation and Communication
The vastness of Grasslands National Park can sometimes make navigation challenging, especially in the backcountry areas. Always carry a map, compass, and GPS device to aid in navigation. It is also advisable to inform someone about your itinerary and expected return time. In case of emergencies, ensure you have a reliable means of communication, such as a fully charged cellphone or a satellite communication device.
Leave No Trace
As responsible visitors, it is crucial to practice Leave No Trace principles to minimize our impact on the environment. Pack out all garbage, including food waste and hygiene products, and dispose of them properly. Follow the park's guidelines for waste disposal and ensure that your camping area is clean before leaving. Respect the protected status of natural and historical objects within the park and avoid removing or disturbing them.
By keeping these safety considerations in mind, you can fully enjoy the mesmerizing beauty and tranquility of Grasslands National Park while ensuring your own well-being and the preservation of this remarkable ecosystem.
Experience the captivating Badlands Parkway 11-km drive, a carefully curated route that offers breathtaking vistas while preserving the essence of this remarkable landscape, including its unique habitats, wildlife, archeological wonders, and timeless horizon. Along the route, six distinct viewpoints showcase the remarkable features of the grasslands and badlands of Rock Creek.
Make sure to stop at Castle Butte, located one hour and 45 minutes away from the East Block. With its towering elevation of 200 feet and a sprawling circumference of 1/4-mile, this natural marvel, comprised of sandstone, clay, alkali, and coal deposits, holds a rich history as an iconic Ice Age relic.
Grasslands National Park in southern Saskatchewan offers a truly unforgettable experience for outdoor enthusiasts seeking to connect with the natural wonders of the prairie landscape. From its stunning location and diverse camping opportunities to captivating hiking trails, the park has something for everyone. Immerse yourself in the tranquility and awe-inspiring beauty of the prairie landscape, whether under the warm embrace of daylight or the mesmerizing allure of the night sky. Don't forget to venture beyond the park and discover extra stops like Castle Butte and the scenic Badlands Parkway. Plan your adventure to Grasslands National Park and embark on an unforgettable journey into both the natural wonders of the present and the ancient wonders of the past.
Nadine is a Manitoba-based content creator with a love for the outdoors, adventure and travel. As a weekend warrior, she knows time off is precious and utilizes that time wisely to go on some wild adventures. She's passionate about capturing and sharing adventures from the places she has been fortunate to visit and aims to inspire others to get outside and explore the outdoors responsibly and safely.
Follow along with her on Instagram!