Despite its harsh-sounding moniker, the Valley of 1,000 Devils in southern Saskatchewan, Canada, is downright heavenly. Nature flourishes in the valley thanks to its protected location within Grasslands National Park. But it hasn’t always been the most accessible of destinations -- that is, until Canada’s newest scenic drive opened up. It’s time to make room on your travel bucket list for this remarkable destination.
Grasslands National Park
Grasslands National Park is the only park in Canada to represent the country’s vast natural prairie grasslands. It’s located in southern Saskatchewan, and it shares a border with Montana. This remote location means that Grasslands is one of the least visited of Canada’s national parks, receiving only about 15,000 visitors each year. By comparison, Banff National Park in nearby Alberta receives several million visitors annually. No matter when you visit Grasslands, you can expect a peaceful experience.
Grasslands National Park is broken into two sections. West Block is well regarded for its horseback riding and wildlife viewing (including bison and prairie dogs). East Block is known for the Valley of 1,000 Devils and for dinosaur fossils. A small section of non-park land divides the two halves, and the park as a whole has the distinction of being Canada’s darkest dark sky preserve.
Like many national parks, Grasslands National Park features several scenic drives. The East Block’s Badlands Parkway drive overlooks the Valley of 1,000 Devils and is the newest and most spectacular of them all.
East Block is the smaller of Grasslands National Park’s two areas, and its amenities and services, including Rock Creek Campground, are located near the visitor center. This campground has basic supplies on hand for campers, including ice and drinks. In addition to Rock Creek’s 24 camping sites suitable for tents and RVs (with 50 amp electrical outlets, fire pits, and picnic tables), there are eight oTENTik units, or glamping units that are a cross between a tent and a cabin (including one pet-friendly and one wheelchair-accessible unit). There are also three walk-in teepee accommodations. Both campers and day trippers can use the summer kitchen and picnic area, restrooms, and potable water taps.
Overall, the visitor center and Rock Creek have just about everything you could need while exploring East Block. And that’s a good thing, since there are no services or amenities anywhere else in this section of the park. East Block is unaltered and untamed. Backcountry camping is permitted, but be sure to take the safety precautions advised by the park staff.
Having only one service area within this section of the park may bring occasional challenges for visitors, but fans of Grasslands National Park say the experience is well worth the trouble. The list of East Block’s attractions reads like a dream travel checklist, the kind some people spend their entire lives trying to track down. There are dinosaur bones here, and they’re here in abundance. It’s not unheard of to see fossils just lying on the ground or sticking out of the sides of rocks.
Speaking of rocks, in East Block, they often take the form of hoodoos, or tall, spindly spires of rock that clearly show layers representing millions of years in the making. Along with hoodoos, you’ll find honest-to-goodness quicksand, 10-point mule deer, golden eagles, rattlesnakes, indigenous teepee rings thought to be 7,000 years old, sacred burial sites, and jackrabbits the size of small dogs.
The crown jewel of this remarkable environment is the Valley of 1,000 Devils itself, whose barren beauty represents the best of East Block’s attractions. Until recently, there was just one way to access the Valley of 1,000 Devils. If you couldn’t explore on foot, you couldn’t explore East Block. But all that changed in 2019, when Badlands Parkway opened.
Badlands Parkway is a 6.8-mile, single-lane paved road designed for two-way traffic. Open seasonally from June through mid-October, Badlands Parkway offers 20 scenic lookouts that allow road trippers to enjoy the otherworldly scenery of the Valley of 1,000 Devils and the rest of East Block.
The creation of Badlands Parkway didn’t happen overnight. It took nearly 13 years of planning and two years of construction. Every foot of the road was meticulously planned to protect the natural environment, the local archeological sites, and the many groups that have a stake in the land.
The result is nothing short of spectacular. With its sweeping views of the Valley of 1,000 Devils, Badlands Parkway has been compared to the Grand Canyon.
Here’s what to see and do when you’re exploring East Block via Badlands Parkway.
Sip Some Cowboy Coffee
Cowboy coffee is made by combining coarsely ground coffee beans with boiling water and letting the thick, heavy grounds settle naturally so that one can pour the drink with no need for a filter or strainer. Both a pinch of salt and crushed eggshells are frequently cited as the drink’s secret ingredient -- but you’ll have to try it for yourself to see if there’s really much of a difference.
You can sip cowboy coffee with the national park’s staff every Sunday morning at East Block’s East Creek Campground.
Pose For A Photo At The Red Chairs
Two jaunty red Adirondack chairs are positioned at six different locations in Grasslands National Park (three in each block) and at national parks all across Canada. The colorful and comfy chairs aren’t just placed to give hikers a rest stop. They’re designed to encourage fun interaction between visitors and the park. Visitors are encouraged to share their snaps on social media using the hashtag #sharethechair. If you’re feeling ambitious and want to extend your Saskatchewan road trip, you can find a full list of red chairs across Canada here.
Celebrate Lakota Legends
Art, history, and community come together at Rock Creek Campground with the Lakota First Nations artist and storyteller Kim Soo Goodtrack. As Kim speaks, she illustrates her story with pastels. Afterward, she walks visitors through the process of creating their own artwork using Lakota design techniques. The schedule for this program varies, and the East Block visitor center details upcoming workshops.
Explore On Foot
Badlands Parkway has made the scenery of the Valley of 1,000 Devils and East Block more accessible than it’s ever been. Still, many wish to explore the Valley of 1,000 Devils on foot.
The 7.5-mile Valley of 1,000 Devils Route round-trip hike brings many rewards. In the summer, the air is fragrant with wildflowers, and animals and birds too small to see from the road are visible.
But the hike is anything but relaxing -- it’s rated very difficult by Parks Canada. There are no markers or signposts along the route. In some places, the trail is all but invisible, and hikers are strongly encouraged to bring along a map and compass (and know how to use them!).
There is no shade along this hiking route, nor is there any water. The area is regularly 10 degrees hotter than the rest of the park. Furthermore, there is no side path or service road. Once you go in, you’re on your own. Even experienced hikers have found themselves in trouble under these circumstances. To say that it’s essential to bring ample water and snacks is an understatement.
Still, for all its challenges and downright dangers, there’s something about the Valley of 1,000 Devils Route that many travelers find irresistible. Many describe it as both the worst and best hike they’ve been on!
If you’d like to explore Grasslands National Park on foot but would prefer a less challenging trail -- and the skills of a park guide leading the way -- the Footprints in Time guided walk program is a safer, more comfortable alternative.
What To Know Before You Go
It costs $5.90 (plus tax) per adult and $5 per senior to visit Grasslands National Park. Youth admission to all Canadian national parks is free. With prices that low, it might be hard to see the value of a year-long, cross-Canada Discovery Pass for $69.19
Indeed, a Discovery Pass wouldn’t make financial sense if you were only paying $5 or so per park. However, Grasslands is one of the least expensive national parks in Canada. Banff National Park charges $10 per adult, and the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site charges $17.90. If you’re planning to visit several national parks, a Discovery Pass might make sense, even if Grasslands itself isn’t exactly a budget-buster.