Fall colour season is here. Great places to explore abound, from the mixed woods forests of the north, to aspen parkland, river valleys, and prairie coulees. Conditions vary from year to year, but these are a few of the places that we have found to be the most reliable for dazzling displays.
Prince Albert National Park
Smack in the middle of the province, the park is in a transition zone between the aspen parkland and boreal forest, so this mix of habitats results in an attractive mix of colours. It’s also very accessible, with roads, several hiking trails, and numerous places to explore by water.
The southern reaches of the park along Hwy #263 are the best areas for a sea of gold from the deciduous trees, while farther north it’s more a mix of gold and green. Excellent vantage points are the towers at the Height of Land (where the Saskatchewan River and Churchill watersheds divide) and near the start of the Spruce River Highlands Trail, both offering sweeping views. While any of the hiking trails are rewarding, the Boundary Bog Trail is in a class by itself, with the tamaracks and other moisture-loving plants turning rich shades.
Narrow Hills Provincial Park
This is one of our favourite northern parks for fall colours. At the southern end of the boreal forest, there’s a nice mix of deciduous trees and evergreens, and the hilly nature of the park offers several excellent vantage points for photography.
While practically where in the park is great, two areas are absolute musts in the fall. One is the Narrow Hills Scenic Drive, which starts near the core area at Lower Fishing Lake and heads up a narrow push moraine with excellent views over the forest and lakes. It ends with an especially nice view over the Grace Lakes.
The other must-visit spot is the Gem Lakes, five tiny picture-perfect lakes named after gemstones. Hiking trails take you around all the lakes, but the best vantage point is close to the beginning, where the upper trail runs between Jade and Diamond Lakes. If you want to stay longer, there are beautiful walk-in camp sites.
Our favourite fall campground is at Baldy Lake. The six lake-side sites are right beside the water. It’s very popular and usually full during the summer, but in the fall we have sometimes had it all to ourselves.
This area is not well known or travelled, but boasts a bounty of wonderful backroads to explore. As the name suggests, there are plenty of hills and plenty of trees, along with an incredible number of wetlands for waterfowl, songbirds, and forest-dwelling birds. The Thickwood Hills are roughly northeast of the Battlefords and northwest of Blaine Lake. In our new guidebook, Saskatchewan’s Best Scenic Drives, we’ve mapped out a number of choices for driving routes in the area.
Practically any river valley is colourful in the fall, but the Qu’Appelle Valley is special. The best part is that you can drive along the valley almost a third of the way across Saskatchewan, so it is literally one scenic view after another. We always stop at Hidden Valley and the Kennel Church, both a bit east of Craven. Other prime spots include Buffalo Pound Provincial Park (especially the hills lining Nicolle Flats Marsh) and Echo Valley Provincial Park. But you can drive practically any stretch of the valley and not be disappointed.
The hills are spectacular at any time, but they can be outstanding in the fall. The best part is that the hilly nature of the terrain makes it easy to get excellent vantage points for photography. Practically anywhere can be rewarding, but we always head to the West Block of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. Aspen trees usually turn various shades of yellow and gold, though here we also found that many had a distinct orange tinge as well.
Duck Mountain Highlands and Porcupine Forest
The eastern side of Saskatchewan is fabulous in fall. Duck Mountain Provincial Park is a definite highlight, and especially the Ski Hill Road in the southern part of the park. Also cruise some of the backroads just south of the park near Runnymede.
A highlight of the Porcupine Forest is the Woody Lake Road which runs north of Duck Mountain close to the Manitoba border. The area is heavily forested with several small lakes along the way.
Prairie Coulees and River Valleys
Thought you needed forests for great fall colours? Visit a prairie coulee and you’ll find that the array of colours can be more dazzling than in the trees, due in large part to the wide variety of shrubs that each have their own hues in the fall. Good bets are Grasslands National Park and Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park, although you also find a lot by simply wandering prairie roads.
Another of our favourite prairie spots does have large trees. It’s not unusual to find cottonwood trees along the flood plains of rivers, but near the Estuary Ferry, west of Leader, we find an especially magnificent stand that is outstanding when the trees turn golden. Take the main road across the Estuary Ferry, and if conditions are dry, there’s wonderful backroads through adjoining Chesterfield Flats (opening photo)
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