Estevan is a mecca for those that love the outdoors. In particular, the city has taken winter activities to the next level. (And I am so here for it!)
Tagged as the Energy City, Estevan is tucked into the southeast corner of Saskatchewan and is known for coal mining, power generation, oil and gas. But there’s so much more to this city and the surrounding region.
I got to spend four days discovering all the surprising things it has to offer as a guest of Tourism Estevan.
Here is my guide to 5 unusual activities to experience in Estevan including where to stay and dine.
This post was created in collaboration with Tourism Estevan. 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.
5 Unusual Activities to Experience in Estevan
1. Polar Bear Swim
If you’re brave enough, a refreshing polar bear dip from the beach at Boundary Dam at Woodlawn Regional Park is the perfect way to invigorate your senses (or just down-right shock them).
The cool part is this part of the Boundary Dam Reservoir doesn’t freeze over during the winter months because of the nearby power station. So although the water is still quite cold, it’s a bit above freezing and possible to polar dip throughout the winter.
I joined the Estevan Road Runners for a 5 kilometre run beforehand. After we had worked up a sweat, we all ran into the open water just off the beach. A big thanks to the kind souls who came out to watch the event and organized a bonfire afterwards to help thaw us out and warm us up.
My top 3 tips when working up the courage to polar dip:
1. Plan to do it with friends as it makes it easier and more fun.
2. Don’t overthink it – just run in!
3. Bring sandals for your feet after as the ground is especially cold (as well as a towel to dry off with).
2. Paddle In Any Season
Yes, that means you can kayak in wintertime!
At Boundary Dam you can drop a kayak, paddleboard or canoe in the water and paddle along the cliff edges exploring in the snowy shoreline.
Brady Johnson, a community leader and entrepreneur who owns Encompass Fitness in Estevan came out to join me. Her and I have known each other for about half a decade and she’s the reason I’ve visited Estevan in the past. She’s always up for any type of adventure and was the perfect person to have show me around.
Photo Credit: Campfire Stories Video Production Photo Credit: Campfire Stories Video Production
We geared up in wet suits and paddled our way out to the ice that can be found further down the reservoir. I’ve never paddled in the winter or close to ice before so it was particularly neat to move past floating chunks and see the melting ice up close.
What made the experience even more unique was knowing that less than a kilometre away from where we were paddling, there were people out ice fishing in their shacks. There aren’t many locations in the province where you can access multiple-season activities in one day.
*Safety Note: while I always encourage outdoor activities, winter kayaking, canoeing and paddleboarding should only be done if you have the proper gear. At the very least, I recommend wearing a 5mm or 7mm wetsuit including booties, gloves and a hood. Even better, a dry suit is the best way to gear up appropriately.
Water temperatures during this time of year (including anything 15C and cooler) are just above freezing and survival is a very real concern if the kayak tips – even if you’re close to shore. Take appropriate gear, layer as needed and let people know your plan or have someone onshore for safety. Knowing how to self-rescue and practicing the procedure in cold water will help in the event you tip.
3. Hike La Roche Percee Rocks
Between the spoil piles in the area created by coal mining and the natural formations of La Roche Percee Rocks, there are some pretty unique geographical features around Estevan.
The rock formations near the small town of Roche Percee are soft sandstone and have been eroded by wind and water over the years. There are small caves and tunnels within the rocks that are fun to crawl through and it’s worth hiking beyond the main rocks to find more unusual formations further back from the fenceline. It’s a great location to freely explore as well as share a picnic lunch. While parts of the badlands-esque and hoodoo-like rocks are easily climbable, they can be slippery, particularly when wet.
This site has both First Nations and Northwest Mounted Police historical significance and is considered a provincial historic site. To read more about the history of the area, check out Kenton de Jong’s blog.
*Sightseeing Tip – Pullover safely in an approach to view the draglines actively at work near the coal mine along Highway 39 on your way out to Roche Percee. These massive machines scoop up the earth to harvest coal from it. It’s hard to tell from a distance, but the bucket on a dragline is so big it can hold a huge truck. If you want to see a dragline bucket in person, you can stand next to one at the Souris Valley Museum on Highway 37.
4. Find the Hidden Swinging Bridge near Roche Percee & the Riverbend Bridge near Estevan
There are two hidden bridges near Estevan worth checking out.
The first one is the Riverbend Bridge just south of town that leads to the site of the old Riverbend Tree Nursery. It’s a popular spot with locals who frequently set up hockey nets for shinny on the frozen river as well as ice fish near the bridge.
A bit harder to find is the “suspension bridge to nowhere” about 25 minutes east of Roche Percee. If you take the road east immediately before La Roche Percee Rocks and follow it for 20 kilometres, you’ll spot the lonely bridge south of the road along the Souris River.
On Google Maps you can still see what appears to be a farmhouse on the north side of the river with a low-lying concrete road crossing the river east of the bridge. The farmhouse is no longer there but there is a small parking lot. It’s said the suspension bridge was built to access the pastureland on the other side after a boating accident occurred on the river. (Please note I was unable to verify this story as fact before publishing this blog).
5. Go Bass Fishing
Estevan is the only place in the province where you can fish for largemouth bass. Because of the warmer water temperatures, the bass are able to survive year-round and can be fished through the seasons.
I wasn’t able to get out fishing this trip but I did meet local fisherman and angling guide Ralph Smart of Prairie Pro Outfitters. He invited us for a quick ride on the water on one of the boats he uses for guided trips.
A few fishing tips when it comes to largemouth bass include using leeches or worms, fishing near sunrise or sunset when the bass are most active and focusing on reedy areas, near docks and close to the residential cabins.
In partnership with Tripvia, the City of Estevan has created a free self-guided audio driving tour. While you can automatically listen to the audio through Bluetooth in your vehicle, you can also stop at each site and read the description and history of each location on your phone. The tour includes points of interest like the Taylorton Cemetery, Shand Power Plant and (my personal favourite spot and a great place for a picnic) the Woodend Lookout. It’s a great way to spend the afternoon and discover a few hidden gems around the city.
Check out the Back Roads of Estevan audio driving tour here.
A Guide on Where to Eat in Estevan:
When I arrived in Estevan, I went for a run with the Estevan Road Runners and took the opportunity to ask everyone their favourite places to eat. I got all their insider tips including what the best items to order were. (Spoiler: their recommendations didn’t disappoint!).
Here is a quick guide on where to eat in Estevan:
The Tower Café
The Tower Café is so well known for its pizza that people take it to-go on flights across the country just to deliver it to loved ones in other provinces. Many say it’s the best pizza in town so I took the opportunity to try their unique Dill Pickle Pizza as well as their most popular, the Tower Special. Its secret is in the flavourful combination of mushroom, pepperoni, ham, green pepper, pineapple, cheese and tomato sauce.
Black Beard’s Family Restaurant
Attached to the Days Inn Hotel, Black Beard’s is where the locals go to eat (since 1966!) – which means you should too. The restaurant is famously known for their hand-cut French fries and homemade gravy. Their breakfasts (included with my stay at the Days Inn) were massive. One serving could easily have fed two people.
Jino Asian Delight
Jino’s was the perfect spot to pick-up supper to-go and enjoy back at my hotel. I ordered a Bento Box with a variety of tempura, salad with peanut sauce and I substituted their regular roll with an Estevan roll which has cream cheese, avocado, cucumber and crab meat. It was one of my favourite places to grab a meal during my visit.
Michael’s Coffeeshop and Bakery
Michael launched the Estevan coffeeshop and bakery location in 2020 after finding success with his original coffeeshop in Carlyle. The bakery is best known for its massive, freshly-baked cinnamon buns. I timed it well and walked in just as a fresh tray was coming out ready to be served. Michael’s also supports local and small businesses as well as ethically sources coffee beans from around the world and roasts the coffee on-site.
*The cinnamon buns were so good, I stopped in at the Carlyle location to sample them a second time.
Fired Up Grill
Fired Up Grill was a great place to grab lunch for takeout and enjoy a picnic with Brady. She and I both ordered the chicken wrap because of their tasty house dressing. They prepare a variety of meals including pasta, pizza, burgers, salads, entrees and appetizers.
Where to Stay In Estevan
There are several hotels to choose from when spending a night in Estevan. I’ve personally stayed at Microtel Inn & Suites and the Days Inn.
Microtel is one of the newer hotels in town and has recently launched a new lobby bar and lounge which makes a perfect spot to grab a drink with friends.
On this trip, I stayed at the Days Inn and discovered a gem of a room. As a bonus, the hotel is pet-friendly. If you’re going to stay, an upgrade to the deluxe jacuzzi suite is so worth it and warmed me up every evening after my full days spent outside.