The Great Sandhills is a 1,900-km² (730-sq-mi) region of arid plains and sand dunes just southeast of Leader in Southwestern Saskatchewan.
The Great Sandhills Ecological Reserve is the main attraction in the area. In this article, the region considered is everything south of the Red Deer River, north of the Trans-Canada Highway, west of Swift Current, and east of the boundary with Alberta.
This a sparsely-populated rural region in the west-south-west of Saskatchewan. It includes the communities of: 1 Burstall, 2 Cabri, 3 Eatonia, 4 Eston, 5 Estuary, 6 Leader, and 7 Sceptre. Of those, Leader has the most tourism infrastructure (an outdoor pool, for example), and Sceptre is closet to the entrance to the Ecological Reserve. Some services are available as well just over the border in 8 Empress, Alberta.
The Great Sandhills region was a hunting ground of prehistoric humans. A Midland Folsom point was discovered that the University of Saskatchewan dated back 8,000 to 9,000 years before present. Leader lies in the traditional territory of the Nekaneet First Nation.
Homesteaders began arriving in large numbers in 1907; most were German immigrants from southern Russia. A Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) detachment opened in 1909, and ensured all the settlers had adequate supplies to last the winter. The Canadian Pacific Railway arrived in 1913
The region is part of Saskatchewan's mixed grassland ecoregion. The southern landscape is dominated by flat plains, with rolling hills by the South Saskatchewan River 10 km (6.2 mi) north of Leader.
The region has a semi-arid climate (Köppen climate classification BSk). Winters are long, cold and dry, while summers are short but very warm. Average precipitation in Leader is 274 mm (10.8 in) of rain per year and 85 cm (33 in) of snow per annum. Mean temperatures in the area range from a January low of −19 °C (−2 °F) to a summer high in July of 26 °C (79 °F).
Get in and around
By car from Swift Current, take Highway 1 west to Highway 32, turn right/north. Highway 32 goes through the region.
There is no bus service to or in the region (May 2020).
- 1 Great Sandhills Museum & Interpretive Centre, SK-32, Sceptre, ☏ . May 15 to June 30: M-Sa 10AM-noon 12:30-4:30PM; Su 1-4PM; July 1 to August 31: daily 9:30AM-noon 12:30-5PM. The museum features historical displays depicting pioneer life, a historical village, a barn, church, antique machinery, early 1900s house and wildflower gardens. Adult $5, student $3, preschool free.
- Wheatland Regional Library (Eatonia Branch), at the south end of Main Street, Eatonia. The former CN train station, a train caboose and a wood-frame house ordered from the Eaton's department store catalogue in 1917 comprise the Eatonia Heritage Park, a 0.6-hectare (1.5-acre) Municipal Heritage Property.
- Leader Millennium Gardens – designed by a student of the University of Guelph School of Landscape Architecture, and built in 2000 in recognition of Leader's history and cultural heritage
- The Smith Barn Site is a provincial heritage site, about ten kilometres northwest of Leader on private property. Its concrete foundation is the only part of the building that remains. You can see a scale model of the barn at the Leader tourist information booth.
- The Hutterites Colony in Estuary was established in 1958. The colony members have preserved the traditional Hutterite production methods, culture, language, and religion. Guided tours of the colony are available to visitors.
- The Great Sand Hills are home to an abundance of wildlife, including sharp-tailed grouse, pronghorn, white pelican, merlin, peregrine falcon, coyote, white-tailed deer, golden eagle, badger, weasel, burrowing owl, mourning dove, porcupine, sandhill crane and fox. It is the only known Saskatchewan habitat of the rare Ord's kangaroo rat. Several large sculptures of local wildlife are found at various locations around the town of Leader.
- The Leader Bird Watching Trail is suited for viewing many native bird species, including including pileated woodpecker, golden eagle, lark sparrow, yellow-breasted chat, red-headed woodpecker, yellow-green swallow, great blue heron, prairie falcon, ferruginous hawk, long-billed curlew, short-eared owl, loggerhead shrike, and burrowing owl. It goes through the South Saskatchewan River valley, just north of Leader, which is the largest tract of riparian woodlands between the Cypress Hills and the northern forests. It is also home to the prairie rattlesnake and one of few known localities of rattlesnakes in Saskatchewan.
- River Ridge Golf Course – 18-hole golf course with club house and pro shop near Leader.
- Sagebrush Studio (between Empress and Leader at the Estuary ferry), ☏ .
Eat and drink
- Big 10-4, East Road Allowance, Leader, ☏ . Daily 11AM-10PM. Burgers, pizza, ice cream, fries.
- Mei's Kitchen, 128 1st Ave W, Leader, ☏ . Chinese.
- DT’s Restaurant & Lounge, 103 3 Avenue, Eston, ☏ (lounge), (restaurant).
- Burstall Restaurant, 409 Martin St, Burstall, ☏ . Su-F 6AM-9PM, Sa 7AM-9PM.
- 1 Eston Riverside Regional Park Camping (23 km South of Eston, SK), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Open May 1 – September 30. 18 full service sites, all of which have power, water and sewer. There is also 20-15amp electric sites, and 10 non-serviced sites. All sites have picnic tables, pole barbecues or fire pits, and trashcans. Modern toilets in the shower house and outhouses on the golf course. Pets are allowed but must be leashed at all times.
- Villager Motel, 433 Martin Street, Burstall, ☏ . 14 rooms featuring flat screen TV, fridge, and microwave. Kitchenettes available with 4-burner stove & oven, big fridge and a dining table. Wi-Fi, and a coin laundry facility. Full-service campground/RV parking is also available. From $95.
- Leader Motel, 103 Highway 32, Leader, ☏ . Kitchenettes. Wi-Fi, cable TV, flat screen TV. Breakfast included,
- Leader Hotel (Leader Inn), 118 1 Ave E, Leader, ☏ . Licensed restaurant, bakery, liquor store and tavern on site.
- Leader and District Integrated Healthcare Facility, 400 1st Street West, Leader, ☏ . Hospital.
To the south is the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park region and to the east the Lake Diefenbaker region, and beyond that Regina, the provincial capital. To the west is the "badlands" region of Southern Alberta.
|Routes through Leader|
|Maidstone (Jct W E) ← Kindersley ←||N S||→ Maple Creek → Cypress Hills|
|END ←||W E||→ Swift Current → END|