Beautiful beaches, charming towns, delectable food, and stunning landscapes—this list might make you think of Vancouver Island or the Rockies, but we’re here to tell you that in 2018, it’s all about the prairies. In fact, some of our readers have been wondering: Why do the coasts get all the attention? Sure, the Maritimes are pretty, and Vancouver is great, but literally everyone has been there. You know where they haven’t been? The world’s most northerly active sand dunes, that’s where. Or the country’s largest Dark Sky Preserve. Or a lake that changes colour before their very eyes.
We think it’s time this area got some love, so here, in no particular order, are 12 awesome places to visit in the Canadian prairies. Whether you’re in search of amazing eats or incredible Instas, Canada’s breadbasket has plenty of opportunities to keep on givn’r. That means giving it 110 percent, and these adventures will inspire you to do just that.
1. Little Limestone Lake, MB
Experience the tropics—without leaving Canada
This little piece of paradise is the world’s biggest marl lake. Marl is a byproduct of limestone, and long story short, when the sun shines, this lake changes colour in the most brilliant way. Little Limestone Lake can go from bright turquoise to deep blue and back again, making you feel like you’re on the shores of the Caribbean. It’s one of the most unique things to do in Manitoba, as the lake is still relatively unknown to outsiders. There aren’t any official facilities, but that just makes it the perfect spot for cooking bush pies and telling campfire stores. Get here before the secret is out.
2. Athabasca Sand Dunes, SK
Discover Canada’s most epic natural landscape
If you think the prairies are all, well, prairies, you’re actually mistaken. They’re also home to world’s northernmost active sand dunes—and they are truly epic. The Athabasca Sand Dunes are only reachable by float plane or boat, but you don’t have to go it alone. Churchill River Canoe Outfitters runs a weeklong experience taking you to the dunes by boat, where you’ll camp and hike to your heart’s content, exploring the petrified forest and finding the area’s many plants that exist nowhere else in the world. We bet you didn’t know that holidays to Saskatchewan could be so legendary.
3. Gravelbourg, SK
Travel to Europe in your own backyard
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You don’t have to travel to Quebec to while away the days in a café, surrounded by Francophones. Gravelbourg is known as “A Touch of Europe on the Prairies,” and its decidedly French feel is the result of early 20th century settlement from Quebec and Europe. On the Heritage Walking Tour, snap images of the classic architecture of Jardin Notre Dame, College Mathieu, and the Convent of Jesus and Mary. Enjoy a cappuccino on the patio of Café de Paris, then catch a movie or show at the Renaissance Gaiety Theatre—stopping for a pic of its brightly painted façade, of course. Your friends will be wondering if you really are in Europe.
4. Vulcan, AB
Beam yourself up to “Canada’s Quirkiest Town”
There are loads of eccentric attractions and strange things to do in Alberta, and Vulcan has really taken this unconventional ethos to the next level. Embracing its unique name, this town took on the Enterprise (get it?) of constructing a “Trek Station” with a replica of the famous starship, tons of memorabilia, and a virtual reality game. Be sure to snap some pics in the otherworldly Vulcan Solar Park, too. If all that nerding out has you hungry, stop by The Great Full Cup for a Cuban sandwich and a coffee—and if there’s a crafting night happening, even better.
5. Minnedosa, MB
Explore classic Manitoba activities
Minnedosa is a quintessential place to visit in the prairies, filled with friendly faces and classic winter activities. Drop your line through the ice at Minnedosa Lake, fuel up the snowmobile, or try out the nine ski and snowboard runs at Ski Valley. The town is also a great home base for day trips to Riding Mountain National Park, where you can spot black bears, bison, and elk. Hot tip: You can now rent “fat bikes” in the park and go cycling in the snow! If you can’t get here until summer, no worries. You’ll be just in time to explore the Minnedosa Heritage Village, take a historic walking tour, and enjoy a beer on the patio at Corner Stone Grill. That’s the Manitoba life.
6. Mortlach, SK
Taste the berry taking the world by storm
What looks like a blueberry and packs a punch of antioxidants, but is actually closely related to an apple? The Saskatoon berry! This berry is on its way to full-blown super-fruit status in the prairies of Canada, and getting your hands on some is one of the most important things to do in Saskatchewan. Mortlach celebrates its native berry every July with the Saskatoon Berry Festival, where you’ll find pies, jams, ice cream, a pancake breakfast—and plenty of purple teeth! Need deliciousness in your life right now? Little Red Market Café has a pecan pie with Saskatoon berry pesto on its winter menu, so dig in.
7. Candle Lake, SK
Dig your toes into a purple sand beach
It may not have the ocean, but Saskatchewan still has some of Canada’s most beautiful beaches. They’re not plain old white sand, either—even better, they’re purple! Purple sand beaches are the result of garnet particles carried in by glaciers, and can be found all over the province. But if you want awesome amenities, too, a trip to Candle Lake is in order. This vacation town is home to Candle Lake Golf Resort, where you can find a marina with boat rentals, golf, a restaurant, and accommodations all in the same place. In the summer, grab a sweet treat from Quincy’s Corner and pick up a souvenir at Timberland Gallery.
8. Wood Buffalo National Park, AB
Get lost in the world’s largest dark sky preserve
Wood Buffalo National Park is one of Canada’s newest Dark Sky Preserves, designated in 2013. It’s also the largest in the world, beating out the previous record-holder, Jasper National Park. That’s a whole lot of room for the buffalo to roam, along with the park’s owls, bats, and nighthawks, who are protected by the new designation. It also makes this park one of the best places in Canada to see the Northern Lights. Think you’ve seen them before? Not like this you haven’t. You can also snowshoe, cross-country ski, and ice skate on the pond while surrounded by all that incredible wildlife.
9. Pinawa, MB
Snap some of Canada’s coolest photo ops
If you’re in search of totally original selfies with an avant-garde air, you need to get to Pinawa. The old Pinawa Dam was closed in 1951 and later partially destroyed. Today, water runs through the ruins, creating waterfalls and rapids amongst the concrete and providing you with edgy Instas for days. The Pinawa Suspension Bridge is an equally stunning backdrop, and in town, there’s also a sundial and a beach for extra photo ops. Make sure you take home a piece of real art, too (not that your selfies aren’t real art)—the Pinawa Art Gallery has photography, paintings, and more to help you commemorate your trip.
10. Fairview, AB
Take a haunted trip back in time
You might think provincial parks are only home to birds and wildlife, but in Fairview, there’s a park with more otherworldly inhabitants: ghosts. The spiritual residents of Dunvegan Provincial Park include a priest who lives in the rectory, writing letters at the desk and walking around upstairs, and a woman with a lantern who stands on North Hill, eternally waiting for her husband to come home. In the summer, you can take a tour of historic Dunvegan with costumed interpreters for the full effect; but in the winter, the creepiness factor is off the charts. Once you’ve had your fill of ghostly beings, fill up on slices at Pizza Haven. The only mysterious thing about this place is how fast that pizza will disappear!
11. Saint Paul, AB
Visit the World’s First UFO Landing Pad
Another nerdy destination in Alberta is Saint Paul, home of the world’s first UFO landing pad. It’s certainly out of the ordinary—you could even say it’s out of this world! The landing pad was unveiled in 1967 for Canada’s centennial, with a visitor centre added in the 1990s. Do your best ET impression on the landing pad, then check out the exhibits to see flying saucers and crop circles from around the world. Don’t forget to write down the UFO hotline number in case you ever see one for yourself. Then head to U.F.O. Pizza, where the only strange encounter you’ll have is with their delicious pies.
12. Narcisse Snake Dens, MB
See this famously strange attraction for yourself
They’re just harmless garter snakes at the Narcisse Snake Dens, but if you’re an ophidiophobe, you’ll probably still want to stay far away. (That’s a person who is scared of snakes.) For those willing to brave the slithering masses, this strange spot is one of Canada’s weirdest and most wonderful attractions. Each spring, tens of thousands of snakes gather to mate, returning in the fall before going underground for the winter. The best time to visit is late April and early May, as well as warm, sunny days in early September. The dens are an easy day trip from Winnipeg and Gimli, so you can check this one off your bucket lissssst, no problem. (See what we did there?)
From scenic landscapes to charming villages, from unique roadside attractions to famous foods, there’s a lot to love about Canada’s middle. So bust out your bunnyhug, grab a two-four, and hope your trip doesn’t turn into a total gong show. Don’t know what any of that means? You’ll have to visit to find out.