Grasslands National Park


On assignment for Canadian Geographic for a feature story focusing on the sounds of the Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan. Gordon Hempton from the United States was conducting recordings from various locations around the park.


Grasslands National Park is a Canadian national park located in southern Saskatchewan, and one of 44 national parks and park reserves in Canada’s national park system. It is north from the American state of Montana.

Grasslands National Park represents the Prairie Grasslands natural region, protecting one of the nation’s few remaining areas of undisturbed dry mixed-grass/shortgrass prairie grassland. The park is located in the World Wildlife Fund-defined Northern short grasslands ecoregion, which spans much of southern Saskatchewan, southern Alberta, and the northern Great Plains states in the USA. The unique landscape and harsh, semi-arid climate provide niches for several adapted plants and animals. The park and surrounding area house the country’s only black-tailed prairie dog colonies. Rare and endangered fauna found in the park include the pronghorn, greater sage-grouse, burrowing owl, ferruginous hawk, prairie rattlesnake, black-footed ferret and greater short-horned lizard. Flora includes blue grama grass, needlegrass, plains cottonwood and silver sagebrush.

Erosion by glacial meltwater formed many of the park’s characteristic features. Highlights of the park’s geological landscape include the Frenchman River Valley, the 70 Mile Butte, and the badlands of Rock Creek.

In 1874, Sir George Mercer Dawson discovered western Canada’s first dinosaur remains in the Killdeer Badlands during the International Boundary Survey. Later, in 1877, Sitting Bull took refuge in the area with around 5000 Sioux after the defeat of General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

The West Block of the park is located one hour south of Swift Current, and the main visitor reception centre is located in the town of Val Marie. Highlights of the West Block include the Frenchman River Valley, a herd of over 300 Plains bison as well as prairie dog colonies. A new campground called the Frenchman Valley Campground offers visitors serviced camping sites, teepee camping and a cook shelter. Backcountry camping is also available.

The East Block of the park is about 1 hour South of Assiniboia near Wood Mountain Regional Park. The interpretive centre is in the McGowan House at the new Rock Creek Campground. The East Block is more of a wilderness area but offers spectacular views of the badlands of Rock Creek, the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary and prairie skies.

In 2006, Plains bison from Elk Island National Park in Alberta were reintroduced to Grasslands. On October 2, 2009, in a ceremony at Belza House, the park was declared a dark-sky preserve, and a small population of black-footed ferrets was reintroduced into the prairie dog towns after a 70-year absence. Improved night-lighting practices under the dark-sky agreement ensure that the park remains dark at night, preserving a natural environment for all nocturnal wildlife.

The park annually receives about 6,000 visitors. Its official name in French is Parc national des Prairies.