A Guide to Exploring the Best Hidden Gems in Southwest Saskatchewan

For 8 days, I road-tripped across southwestern Saskatchewan visiting the 6 communities of Maple Creek, Eastend, Frontier, Shaunavon, Gull Lake and Hazlet.

Not only is planning a trip to the region an epic way to kick off the summer, but there are some incredible hidden gems in this corner of the province that are worth exploring.

After visiting dozens of places during my travels, I’ve curated a list of some of the most unique activities, shops, restaurants, campgrounds and locations you can experience in the southwest.

This post was created in collaboration with the six communities. But as always, all thoughts, opinions and experiences are genuinely my own. All COVID-19 restrictions, precautions and regulations were followed in the creation of this content.

This is your official guide to exploring the best hidden gems in southwest Saskatchewan.

Maple Creek

Maple Creek is an eclectic yet entrepreneurial town combining cowboy culture, boutique shops and creative artists from across the Cypress Hills destination area.

1. Cowtown Kids Toy & Candy is an unexpected surprise in this small community. Not only do they have Canada’s largest puzzle collection with more than 10,000 puzzles (including a 32,000 piece puzzle) but they’re Western Canada’s largest independent toy store.

They also have a 26 pound, 7-foot long gummy python on display that they jokingly refer to as the town celebrity. Visitors travel from all over just to get a look at the python but also have the opportunity to purchase a 5 pound gummy bear. You’ll want to leave several hours to explore every room and corner in this extensive toy and candy store.

2. Grotto Gardens is a family-friendly farm that combines animals with unusual yet adorable activities like goat yoga, a therapeutic alpaca walk and feeding goats on the roof.  Kids can hop on an interactive train ride pulled by a tractor while parents browse the goods at Grotto Gardens boutique and treat themselves to a meal at the on-site restaurant and bakery.

Other locations worth stopping in at in Maple Creek:

Accommodation: Cobble Creek Lodge is a locally owned hotel. The beds are comfortable and breakfast is provided. There are several cute Airbnb’s including the Tiki Trailer and The Nest Guesthouse.

Dining: The Daily Grind makes London fogs with real tea and their paninis are some of the best. Rafter R Brewing combines the region’s cowboy culture with locally made seasonal beers to be enjoyed on their outdoor patio or in their tasting room. While they don’t serve food, they allow you to bring in meals. I recommend snacking on the deep-fried bannock from the Round-Up down the street. If you have a sweet tooth, a stop at Caroline’s Drive In is a must. The local favourite is an Oreo fudge twister.

Activities: The art community in Maple Creek is bursting with creativity (so much, in fact, that they’re holding an annual Southwest Art Fest in September). Stop into Broken Spoke Fine Art Gallery and pop by the artisan gallery at the Jasper Cultural and Historical Centre. Nearby Cypress Hills Provincial Park is not only a designated dark sky preserve but has one of the highest points in Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. It also has the largest population of cougars in the country yet you’d never guess.  Highlights include walking amongst the lodgepole pine forests and visiting the Conglomerate Cliffs (drive-up viewpoint) and Hidden Conglomerate Cliffs (hike-in viewpoint).

For more information, make sure to stop in at the Maple Creek Trans-Canada Visitor Reception Centre on Highway 1.

READ MORE: A Complete Guide to Winter in Cypress Hills

Eastend

There is so much going on in the small town of Eastend, you’re going to want to plan several nights on your trip – from duelling waterslides in their outdoor water park and some of the most complete dinosaur skeletons in the world to an art-gallery-by-day-turned-guesthouse-by-evening and a night sky observatory. The unique places to visit in this town of 500 residents are truly surprising.

  1. They’re not kidding when they say the Frenchman River Valley is the “Valley of Hidden Secrets.” Not only is this area home to several of the most important dinosaur discoveries in the world, but it has some of the best viewpoints in all of Saskatchewan. Driving through the valley is unlike anywhere else in the province. The views of rolling hills streaked with pockets of white clay culminate at Jones’ Peak which is perfect for an evening picnic. But there’s also a rich Metis history here and an important provincial historical site northeast of town that became known as Chimney Coulee that’s worth exploring.

For those that are up for the adventure, the Frenchman River can be paddled. The best drop-in point is at the bridge at Ravenscrag and the pull-out point is at the dam at Eastend. Be aware of low water levels and some damming over several spots in the river, mostly within the first four kilometres from Ravenscrag. Be careful of fencing that crosses the river in two locations, including right after a rapid.

2. Silver Willow Gallery and Guest House is an art gallery by day that displays works of those that have an intimate relationship with the area. By night, the two-story house with a backyard and side patio is available to rent as a guesthouse. This is one of the most unique places to book for a night away.

3. The Wilkinson Memorial Observatory was built by amateur astronomer Jack Wilkinson – a local blacksmith and machinist. He also crafted his own 8-inch reflector telescope that can still be seen in the local history museum (alongside a nearly complete skeleton of a Brontothere found by a local grader operator). The Eastend Astronomy Club is active and takes visitors (by appointment only) out to view the constellations and planets in the night sky.

4. The T-Rex Discovery Centre is like something straight out of Jurassic Park. A gigantic skeleton (the world’s largest in fact) of Scotty the T-rex plus displays of reptiles from the Cenozoic and Cretaceous dominate the room. The museum’s new hands-on Paleo Lab feature allows you to dig your own fossils. It’s just like experiencing what a day in the life is like as a paleontologist.

Other locations to check out while in Eastend:

Accommodation: Pine Cree Regional Park between Eastend and Shaunavon is one of my favourite parks in the province. There’s a hermit’s cave to visit and hiking trails that lead to the top of the coulee.

Dining: Grab a beer on the outdoor patios of the Eastend Hotel or the Clubhouse at the Streambank Golf Course. Pick up Asian cuisine from Jack’s Café or samosas and tandoori chicken at Charlie’s Café.

Activities: Shop for handthrown pottery at both Whitemud Clay and Nixavl – Pottery by Nick Saville.

Frontier

Located between Grasslands National Park and Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Frontier is a perfect stopping point on your way through to either park.

1. Old Man on His Back Conservation Area is the province’s only nocturnal preserve. An old homestead acts as the well-thought-out Interpretive Centre. There’s a herd of free-roaming bison that call this area home if you’re lucky enough to see them. But even if you don’t, views of the grassy prairies and high hills (called hummocky moraines) formed by the glacier 10,000 years ago are worth a trip. This 4300-hectare property is one of the best remaining expanses of northern mixed-grass prairie in Saskatchewan.

2. In town, End of the Line Coffee Bar & Gifts serves a variety of functions in the community, including a small boutique giftware shop with locally made goods. But most unique of all is a small back room that caters exclusively to the talented quilters in the region. It’s the closest place to pick up patterns and materials. During winter, locals put on quilting lessons and workshops.

Other locations to check out while in Frontier:

Accommodation: The Frontier Motel offers comfortable accommodation on the southern edge of town.

Activities: Pop by the town’s recreation centre for some bowling in their double lane bowling alley, pick up fresh flowers at Frontiers Flower Patch or play a round at one of the few sand link golf courses left in the province at Frontier Golf Club.

Shaunavon

Shaunavon has a little something for everyone – whether you’re interested in history, food, shopping or green spaces to enjoy a bit of physical activity with friends and family.

1. One of my favourite restaurants in the province is in Shaunavon. The talented Chef Rusty and his partner Kristy are the creative masterminds behind Harvest Eatery. It’s big city dining with small town hospitality and the menu is quite simply a work of art.

For those that are curious, I ordered Sea and Soil for a starter. It was sumac roasted baby carrots & parsnips, wild blue crab cakes, romesco sauce, harissa mayo, fennel, honeycomb and dill. For my main dish, I ordered the Smoked Duck Breast. It came with beet & potato mash, grainy mustard, creamed lentils, Saskatoon berry relish, ginger & yam puree.

2. Shaunavon has a new 9-hole disc golf course on the west edge of town. I might have to work on my skills, however, as I managed to land my disc in the “water feature” on hole three. The UDisc Golf App shares all the details of the course.

3. The Shaunavon Plaza Theatre has been privately owned in the same family for 91 years. Alli, the current owner is a 4th generation operator. Once a week, they sell hot, buttery popcorn to residents. On some evenings, local businesses pre-purchase popcorn for the town.

Other locations to check out while in Shaunavon:

Accommodation: Drive out to Pine Cree (mentioned above with more details in Eastend). Or spend a comfortable night in at the Canalta Hotel.

Dining: While you might not expect it, Shaunavon Pizza and Chicken has some of the best Mexican food in the southwest. Their made-from-scratch hot sauce is spicy and tasty with options for a milder version (for people like me who are very sensitive to heat). Meeting Grounds Coffee House is a cute café and local giftware store. Intentionally curated newspapers decorate the walls and share funny and interesting tidbits of town history while you enjoy a coffee. Ranch House Meat Co. has high-quality meats perfect for an outdoor BBQ. Just down the street is 306 Cafe and Bistro.

Activities: Studio South West Salon & Shop is a new boutique that carries fashionable clothing options for women. Enjoy a picnic in front of the Grand Coteau Heritage and Cultural Centre. Then tour the centre and check out their newly launched sensory sidewalk.

Gull Lake

The town of Gull Lake takes great pride in preserving and sharing the unique history of the area as well as promoting locally made products. While anytime is great to visit, in particular their market days show off all the town and nearby region has to offer.

1. It’s not every day you can explore an abandoned shoe repair shop. But you can in Gull Lake. More than 40 years ago, Wu Guy left the shop as it was and never came back. It’s fascinating and eerie at the same time and perfect for those who appreciate Saskatchewan history or abandoned Saskatchewan buildings. The shoe shop is available to tour on Gull Lake’s market days or feel free to reach out to the town directly.

2. Tripvia Tours offers GPS-guided historical walking tours. They take you through the history of several of the towns iconic prairie buildings. The walk is a kilometre long and takes about an hour to complete.

3. The 5km Kiaskus walking and running trail circumnavigates Gull Lake. The terrain varies from prairie grassland and fields to gravel and paved road. There are several sections where you run between rows of shaded trees (with picnic tables if you’re looking for a nice lunch spot).  There’s also a section where you can enjoy the views of the old elevators on the edge of town. It’s well signed so you won’t make a wrong turn.

Other locations to check out while in Gull Lake:

Accommodation: While there’s an excellent campground within the town, 25 kilometres northwest is a tropical oasis called Antelope Lake Regional Park. There’s a small pond with a fountain and a rope swing and a few sandy beaches. You can tent nearby or pull a camper in. The trees are big and lush and it’s perfect for a calm paddle – even when it’s windy out.

Dining: Order a teriyaki rice bowl from the newly opened Mount Everest, grab a pint at The Last Chance Bar or load up on baking at the Lyceum Theatre from the soon-to-be-opened The Grainery Bakery.

Activities: Stop in for a quick round at the Kinette’s mini golf or the new disc golf course. Plan a picnic in Little Green on the Prairie Park while you’re there. The Lyceum Theatre also plays movies on weekends and Gull Lake’s historic buildings make for a great photo-op.

Hazlet

Driving into this small village felt like driving into the very tiny town I grew up in. Hazlet is full of people with big hearts and a focus on community. You can see it everywhere in the care and pride they take in everything – from decorating the town streets and buildings to the nearby regional park.

1. It’s worth a drive out to the giant glacial erratic southwest of the Regional Park. From the road, Standing Rock doesn’t look big. But as you walk out to it – you realize just how huge it is. It was deposited 12,000 years ago by the glacier that covered the province and makes for a great place to enjoy the sunset

How to get there: Standing Rock is located 7km west of Hazlet on Highway 633, south of the highway

2. One of the most unique event centres in the province also happens to be in this little town. The Bethany is a former church converted into a social house. From live music events and markets to long-table dinners, weddings and reunions, it’s become the gathering place for people from across Saskatchewan.

3. Hazlet Regional Park is a hidden gem. The park is quiet and has lots of amenities for kids and families, including a playground and dock. There is both tenting and RV camping. The sand green golf course costs $5 for 9 holes and has spectacular views over the lake. For those that prefer to paddle the water rather than hit their golf balls into it (like I did more than half a dozen times), the lake is ideal for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, particularly at sunset or sunrise.

Other locations to check out while in Hazlet:

Accommodation: The Big Blue House is Hazlet’s first guest house with access to three bedrooms and five beds.

Dining: Stop by the Hazlet Café for quick and hearty homemade meals.

There are SO many amazing places to discover. It was such a delight getting to see as many as I could! Let me know what other hidden gems you’ve discovered in Saskatchewan’s southwest.

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