The Canadian Prairies (usually referred to as simply the Prairies in Canada) is a region in Western Canada. It includes the Canadian portion of the Great Plains and the Prairie Provinces, namely:
- Alberta – a province floating on an underground sea of oil and gas. The Rocky Mountains and foothills on its western flank, two metropolitan cities in the middle, cowboy culture in the south, vast forests to the north, and green farmland in the center and east.
- Saskatchewan – Canada’s agricultural breadbasket with wide-open skies, thousands of recreational lakes, huge natural parks, and two compact main cities.
- Manitoba – home to more history and heritage, plus several of the continent’s largest lakes. The south is mostly farmland with some woodlands, and in the north, you have vast forest wilderness leading to tundra, polar bears, and beluga whales along the Hudson Bay coast.
Welcome to Canadian Prairies
Map of the Canadian Prairies
Photo by Wikiepedia under CCBYSA 3.0
These provinces are partially covered by grasslands, plains, and lowlands, mostly in the southern regions.
Though the word “prairie” means grassland, this region also contains mountains, hills, lakes, shoreline, and metropolitan cities.
Viaduct Bridge Valley Railroad, Alberta, Canada
Before You Go
Travel to the Prairies is precisely the opposite of an archetypal British “city break” to Spain, Central Europe, etc., with its cheap short-haul flights and railways, compact historic city centers full of castles and churches, and cheap drinks and accommodations.
Here distances are vast, prices are high, and the architecture is…functional. But what the region does have to offer in spades is the unique freedom that only wide-open space can provide, like a cool climate version of the Australian Outback or American Southwest.
A lightning strike in the Prairies
In fact, the best international equivalents to the Prairies in terms of landscape and climate are the Taiga and Steppes of Russia but here you’ll find a Canadian level of amenities and services, and all in English if you desire.
You can drive for an hour without seeing anyone
How To Get Here
Sunset in Manitoba
International and transcontinental flights go to Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, and to a lesser extent, Regina and Saskatoon.
You can enter from the United States at numerous land crossings. Roads through the Rockies include the Trans-Canada Highway, Yellowhead Highway, and Crowsnest Pass Highway.
From Ontario, the Trans-Canada or a detour through the United States is the only land options.
The Via Rail services from Vancouver and Toronto to Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Edmonton run twice a week on The Canadian service. Because the service is limited, the train provides more of a sightseeing service and is not practical for day-to-day traveling.
The best way to travel in the Prairies is by car. The Prairies are served by Highway No 1 and 16 from west to east.
There are also Via Rail services in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Edmonton. The Canadian connects these cities twice a week.
Rider Express: Bus service along the Trans-Canada Highway from Vancouver to Calgary, and between Edmonton and Regina via Saskatoon.
Other bus companies provide limited service on some other routes. Transit in the largest cities is good and it is not necessary to have a car, but in other places, it is highly recommended.
Sunset in prairies
The most famous day trip in the region is also a north-south route through the Rockies: the Icefields Parkway, which is considered at “must-do” drive between Jasper and Lake Louise.
Jasper National Park, Alberta
If you’d rather see the Rockies on the horizon but drive through the Foothills where cattle ranches predominate, take the Cowboy Trail (Alberta Highway 22). A further extension north from either the Icefield or Cowboy routes this is the so-called “Scenic Route to Alaska” on Alberta Highway 40 leading to Northern Alberta.
Note: Long-distance travel by bicycle, horse, or on foot on these highways is legal but almost impossible for most people because of the distances involved. Try the Trans Canada Trail, instead, but again be mindful of the vast distances involved.
Bison in prairies
A bison herd in the prairies
Other Things To See In Canadian Prairies
- Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park – a hilly island surrounded by a sea of grasslands, straddling the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, as well as the famous Dinosaur Museum at Drumheller, and the World Heritage dig site at Dinosaur Provincial Park near Brooks.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
- The Alberta Rockies, including Banff National Park the oldest and most popular national park in Canada, famed for stunning mountain scenery such as world-renowned Lake Louise, and Jasper National Park a less crowded alternative to Banff for mountains and wildlife.
Cabin life at Lake Louise
- Riding Mountain National Park is renowned for its “watchable” wildlife and forms the core of the Riding Mountain Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Wood Buffalo National Park – home to the rare wood bison or “buffalo”, the largest national park in Canada and UNESCO World Heritage Site, mostly inaccessible by road, but great for trekking or canoe camping.
A Bison by the water
- Churchill – claimed as the Polar Bear and Beluga Whale Watching Capital of World, this is where the cold Arctic waters of Hudson Bay touch the Prairie provinces. Go here for a cold-weather safari.
- Do a canoeing circuit at Lac La Biche, Alberta.
- Shop at West Edmonton Mall, North America’s largest which includes an indoor roller coaster and waterside park, cinema, bowling alley, ice rink, shooting rang, go-kart track, and more than 500 shops.
- Try whitewater rafting in Kananaskis, Alberta.
Kananaskis Lake, Alberta