Just like that, the summer has passed us by. Labour Day long weekend has come and gone and the kids are settling into a new school year. Us adults, well, we are preparing for the cold weather of winter to freeze our summer memories and make us long for our sunburned skin.
Even though the sun is setting a little faster than any of us may enjoy, it is still the perfect time to go on a road trip. Yes, I am finally talking about travel that you can do this weekend. No flights to be booked, no long layovers in strange cities to be had. Rather, it’s time to explore our own backyard.
If you’ve read my bio, you know I’m not originally from Medicine Hat. I grew up in Newmarket, Ontario. Within a few hours of us there were incredible lakes, forests, mountains (if you can even call them that. With Banff as my new neighbor I can’t exactly give Ontario any sort of “mountain” credit). But there wasn’t much contrast to our landscape. And that is one of the biggest reasons I love it here.
Since moving out west, my fiancé and I have taken a fair few trips. We’ve driven to Banff by motorcycle – an experience I don’t recommend to anyone who appreciates having feeling in their back and knees. We’ve gone down to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, we’ve seen Devil’s Tower in Wyoming as well as driven the ‘Going to the Sun Road’ in Montana. We’ve also recently made our way out to The Great Sandhills and up to Little Lake Manitou in Saskatchewan.
Last month I wrote about solo travelling; the art of turning strangers into best friends over a slice of pizza. And although road trips can be fun for the adventurous solo traveler, this is where I suggest you gather your friends before hitting the road. The reason for this is mainly because when you share an entire box of cookies amongt your closest friends, it’s a lot less shameful.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Whenever I find myself on a road trip, it’s typically a last minute, poorly-planned getaway. You can imagine finding accommodation the Saturday of a long weekend is usually not a successful task. For this reason, more than once we’ve found ourselves setting up a tent just as the sun dips below the horizon, leaving us to fend for ourselves against mosquitoes and nighttime. Thankfully, if camping isn’t your thing, the road trip I recommend you take this weekend does not have to involve a tent and itchy mosquito bites.
If you live in this area, Banff and even Montana are pretty classic road trips to be had. Absolutely stunning scenery of tall trees, towering mountains, crystal clear lakes and winding roads make it the perfect getaway. However, I’d like to challenge you to a weekend in Saskatchewan. Yes, this is the kind of trip that is one hundred percent about the destination rather than the journey, considering the journey consists of hundreds of miles of very flat nothingness. With that being said, our road trip to Saskatchewan turned out to be my favourite.
We left Medicine Hat in the late morning with our first destination marked on Google Maps as “the Great Sandhills”. I’ll warn you of two things. First, they are being a little liberal by placing the “s” at the end of Sandhills. Of the 1,900 square kilometers of dunes, only one dune isn’t covered in weeds and brush. Second, you will be driving for miles, waiting to see any sign of a “hill”. I promise you the hills will come. After driving over a Texas Gate and maneuvering around very angry cows, the road turns from gravel to sand. All of a sudden the dunes shoot up on either side of your car and you forget you are in the prairies.
Now, despite my warnings about the Great Sandhills, you really can’t miss it. Wear your flip-flops and take them off at the base of the hill. The sand is as soft as satin. Run around, jump down the hills, and just spend some time looking over the vast desert around you. We had an absolute blast on the dunes, my Fitbit was happy with me and I honestly would have stayed all day had it not started to rain.
Next stop for us was Moose Jaw. We stayed in the city only because with my last minute travel style there was nothing available closer to Little Lake Manitou. It was a worthwhile visit for two simple reasons. We stayed at the very beautiful Grant Hall Hotel. Comfortable beds, absolutely stunning décor that feels more like an eighteenth century castle than hotel. But the highlight of Moose Jaw was, without a double, the visit to the Canadian Brew House. Poutine. Braised beef grilled cheese. Need I say more?
The next day we headed up to Little Lake Manitou. In the early days, Aboriginal leaders would bring their sick to the waters of the lake, believing that drinking and bathing in the water healed those affected with smallpox. The lake has remained famous for its high salt and mineral content which makes it popular among tourists.
Knowing my love for travel, my fiancé had suggested Little Lake Manitou because, and I quote, “It is basically the same as the Dead Sea. So you can cross that off your list without having to travel to the Middle East.” Although it’s a nice thought, Little Lake Manitou actually has only half of the salinity of the Dead Sea so unfortunately for him, it remains unscratched on my list.
Something I wasn’t aware of before visiting Little Lake Manitou was the fact that the lake is home to thousands of tiny, thumbnail-sized shrimp. They are funny alien-like creatures that almost kept me out of the water. But after seeing small children doing flips and dunking their faces under the water I figured it must be safe.
So with my shoes off and shorts on my towel, I ventured into the lake. Sure enough, I did float. I didn’t float long considering I don’t like cold water so it was a short lived victory; a bit of a funny statement considering I’ve jumped into a Norwegian Glacial Lake as well as the Loch Ness in April.
Well there you have it. This weekend, visit Little Lake Manitou and float away your worries. Head out to the Sandhills and roll around in the dunes. I know most people consider Europe or Asia as the ideal holiday but until your work grants you the time off, or until you can afford the plane ticket across the ocean, take the opportunity and explore your own backyard. Canada does offer some pretty incredible escapes.
Emily Wilson is still relatively new to the wonderful city of Medicine Hat, having moved here in May 2016. She was born and raised in Ontario and lived in Australia for a year. Emily has visited 31 countries and will share some of her experiences and advice for globetrotters of all ages.