*This is an update on our Western Canada camping trip. Check out the first update here.
We liked Saskatchewan a lot more than we expected. Originally, we were only supposed to stay in this province for two or three nights as more of a stopover region to get to Alberta and BC. But because we cruised through Ontario and Manitoba in three days, we had some time to kill before our Alberta reservations.
We ended up spending eight nights in the Land of the Living Skies (their licence plate moto) and we didn't regret it. After our two night stay in Moosomin right on the border with Manitoba, we spent three nights at another regional park in Estevan. We chose the Woodlawn Regional Park in Estevan simply because of its location; however, it was one of our favorite campgrounds we ever stayed at. Again this park had many playgrounds as well as trails and as a bonus, a huge outdoor cross fit gym, which Danielle described in her post the other day. This park also had hot showers and plenty of friendly people. We even met a local French speaking family with kids the same age as Mia and Caleb, which is super rare (the 2016 census revealed that only 1.4% of Saskatchewanians identified French as their primary language). Unfortunately, our stay here was during a very cold and windy week. It felt like the wind never stopped. It didn’t seem to bother the kids who wanted to be outside all the time. Danielle and I would take shifts following them around while the other relaxed a bit, sheltered in the RV.
We had gotten pretty used to driving the motorhome and were even able to handle it going up to 110km/h on a nice stretch of the Trans Canada highway in Manitoba. However, on one of the driving days here, the wind was so strong that I could barely keep us going 80km/h in a 90km/h zone. The roads didn’t help. While crossing this province we didn’t take the Trans Canada highway and we were expecting some sub par roads, however we had some stretches that were worse than the middle of Mexico. At first, I didn't like the occasional dirt roads in rural Saskatchewan but then I welcomed their predictability, which was better than craters shaking every inch of the RV every four seconds.
But the province made up for the wind and poor roads with some pretty nice scenery and lots of wildlife. While crossing, we saw deer, coyotes, foxes, even some antelopes along with about five thousand prairie dogs (they literally crossed the road every few minutes when we were in very rural areas). The vast open fields made for some unique driving. Especially when we approached Grasslands National Park, then it became scary how alone and off the map we were.
Grasslands National Park
To begin, we arrived on a Thursday and there were only 4 campsites booked for the night with a total of 11 campers in the entire campground (we represented 5 of those campers). On Friday, only one extra spot was filled….So yeah, we were really in the middle of nowhere. No reception and the nearest town was about an hour away. There are only 24 campsites at this campground so I guess they really don’t expect that many people to be crazy enough to drive all the way here even during the peak of summer.
Although I really doubted Danielle on our drive here, the detour to see this park was certainly worth it. On our first day we hiked one of the longest trails, which was 12km. Danielle and I took turns carrying Quinn and Caleb and Mia hiked the whole thing alone. During our four hour journey we saw dozens of free roaming cattle, another thousand prairie dogs, and only one other human. This trail even brought us into the badlands terrain of the park where we saw another unique ecosystem, which even had cactus.
The wind was still pretty fierce in the grasslands. Our motorhome shook all night and it took us nearly 30 minutes to start our campfire at night, but the sun was out nearly the whole time so we couldn’t complain. One of the highlights of this park is that it is designated a Dark Sky Preserve because of the lack of light pollution in this remote region. We weren’t tough enough to stay out late enough to see the sun set which felt like 10 or 11 oclock at night, however the adults got up in the middle of the night on day two to experience the millions of stars exposed by the clear skies.
I thought arriving at this remote park was intimidating because our GPS and Google maps couldn’t figure it out. Fortunately, there were enough signs marking the National Park. Unfortunately, when leaving the park we were heading in a different direction on route to Southern Alberta and experienced our scariest moment of the trip so far. We knew we wouldn’t have reception at this park so we pre-downloaded maps from Google to be used offline. We seemed to have a pretty good route mapped out to exit the park and get back to a highway that would bring us to our next destination. But we didn’t…
Google brought us on dirt roads that are, I believe, only to be used by local ranchers and their tractors. We were on a particular dirt road for 9km and I couldn’t go more than 40km/h in fear of losing the road and couldn’t go less than 30km/h in fear of getting stuck. Eventually I had to stop to let a herd of cows cross the road. It took us about an hour to get back to a “real road” and during that whole time we didn’t see another vehicle and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time terrified of getting lost or getting stuck or both. But in the end, we did get to our destination and probably did end up taking the shortest route to get there. However, I’m certain it wasn’t the road we were supposed to take and I’ve learned a lesson. In rural Saskatchewan with a 23 foot motorhome, don’t trust Google. Just look at the map and stay on paved roads.
We decided to spend our last night in Saskatchewan in Eastend. This tiny town of 500 people near the Alberta border is known for being home to the World’s largest T.Rex ever discovered. Its remains are on display at a dinosaur museum in the town that we visited. It was really cool and the staff explained that they have found many dinosaurs in the area and are still finding them today. We camped at a small self-serve campground (you pick a site and put money in an envelope) next to the museum which had a great playground and only cost $20 (no tax). The park was nearly empty so we picked the best spot; right along the river and across from the playground.
Today we start the Alberta part of our journey. For our first week we are heading to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park for a couple of nights before visiting Waterton Lakes National Park.
A couple more interesting facts about our journey so far:
1. We don’t speed so we are not worried about police on the roads, however that was one thing that surprised me about Saskatchewan. We drove over 10 hours and crossed over 800km of the province and we never saw a single police car. None in towns, none on the side of major roadways, no speed traps. Just passing through Northern Ontario we must have seen at least 5 to 6 police cars per day. I guess people are so nice in Saskatchewan that no one would dare speed or drive recklessly so there is no need for cops on the road.
2. We have driven about 3000km so far on our trip and have just passed $1000 in gas receipts. I guess we didn’t pick the best time to cross the country since we haven’t filled up for under $1.30 a litre yet.
3. On our first night in Grasslands National Park, while reading books before bed, Danielle discovered a tick on Caleb's scalp. It was really burrowed under his skin but Danielle and Caleb didn’t panic and she was able to get it out with the tweezers. Luckily, we had been checking the kids each night so we knew this one had latched on recently. We also had a pamphlet about ticks in Saskatchewan. In this area 96% of ticks found are American dog ticks which cannot carry Lyme disease and are not much of a concern (4% are blacklegged deer ticks). The pamphlet helped us confirm it was clearly the safer one. We brought the tick to the park office the next morning. They were really helpful and even reported the tick to the health unit and said they would get back to us if we should be concerned.
4. Quinn had a hard time adjusting to the time change and was needing a nap every day and was getting up at 4:30am for the first 3 mornings here. But then she found her rhythm, stopped napping, and has been sleeping in till nearly 7am for the last 3 mornings.
5. At first I was a little concerned of what people would think of Ontarians travelling across the country against most public health guidelines to avoid non essential travel, but that certainly has not been the case in Saskatchewan. We haven’t run into any negative comments or people. Many people even inquired about our trip seeing our plates are from Ontario and show genuine excitement. One museum staff today even showed us sympathy saying “boy must you be glad to be out of Ontario”.
6. We still do homeschool every morning for about an hour. In Grasslands, the lessons kept getting interrupted by animals the kids would notice out of the window.