Did you know that you can travel a third of the way across Saskatchewan while staying in the scenic Qu’Appelle Valley? The route parallels the Trans Canada Highway, just to the south, but is a world away. Despite this being one of the Canadian Prairie’s most stunning landscapes, travellers tend to see only bits and pieces, since most highways simply cross the valley, such as Highway 11 between Regina and Saskatoon, which crosses at Lumsden.
Fortunately, it’s possible to travel in the valley from here to just short of the Manitoba border. It’s the ultimate road trip, taking you past historic sites, provincial parks, beaches, nature reserves, and long sections of lonely backroads with little traffic. The roads are a mixed bag, with a few paved sections, some gravel, and stretches that are fine in dry weather but best avoided when wet.
From Lumsden, head northeast along the valley to Craven, then just before entering the town, turn east, staying on the south side of the river. Two highlights are along this short scenic stretch — Hidden Valley, a nature preserve ideal for hiking in the hills, and beautifully situated St. Nicholas Anglican Church, among the most photographed country churches in Saskatchewan.
From the church, cross to the north side of the river and follow the gravel road (Highway 99) northeast to Highway 6. Here we find Fairy Hill, where an excellent hiking trail runs along slopes on preserved land owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
A short stretch of the Qu’Appelle River just east of Highway 6 is the only section where we can’t follow roads in the valley. The most direct detour, about 50 km, is along grid roads just north of the river, which soon drop back into the valley between Echo and Pasqua Lakes.
The chain of the four Fishing Lakes — Echo, Pasqua, Mission, and Katepwa — is the busiest part of the Qu’Appelle Valley. It’s home to historic Fort Qu’Appelle (the largest community in the valley), cottage developments galore, and provincial parks such as Echo Valley with its large campground and splendid views, and the popular beach at Katepwa Point.
History abounds. Fort Qu’Appelle was an early Hudson’s Bay Company post and site of the signing of Treaty 4 with the Cree and Salteault. Nearby Lebret, dominated by an impressive stone church, was founded in 1865. A must-do here is to walk along the Stations of the Cross up to the hilltop chapel for commanding views.
Fort Ellis Trail
At the eastern end of Katepwa Lake, the drive changes dramatically as we leave the pavement, traffic, and cottage developments to meander along the Fort Ellis Trail. While this is among the prettiest sections, parts of the road could be iffy in wet weather. A highlight is the tiny, picture-perfect community of Ellisboro, with two churches dating to the 1890s.
After crossing Highway 47, our route runs along paved Highway 247 as the Qu’Appelle River expands into Crooked and Round lakes. Here we find Crooked Lake Provincial Park, as well as a string of other recreation areas, resorts, and scenic lookouts over the lakes. The route turns back to a gravel road shortly after Round Lake, and the valley becomes more heavily forested. A special feature is stands of Burr oak, the only oak tree indigenous to the Canadian Prairies and near the western extent of its natural range here.
After the small community of Tantallon, we pass a historic marker for Hamona, founded in 1895, and site of the first co-operative established in Saskatchewan. The site also commemorates the first harvesting of grain in Saskatchewan using a combine, which took place near here in 1910.
The route ends at Road 600, just short of the Manitoba border. Fort Esperance National Historic Site is a short drive west of #600 on the south side of the valley. Built in 1787, it was the North West Company’s chief pemmican provisioning post during the fur trade. While the site is fairly low-key, it really brings home the Qu’Appelle River’s long history.
This is only a small sample of the numerous points of interest along this route. For detailed directions to this and many other awesome road trips, see the guidebook Saskatchewan’s Best Scenic Drives by Robin and Arlene Karpan.