The Prairies


Chapter: The Prairies


Current Route Filename:


Created by: Chris Regier


Length: Approximately 4240 km

All Photos by Chris Regier unless otherwise noted



We’ll call this section “The Prairies” because it is mostly made up of the three Canadian Prairie Provinces: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. However, while there are vast open stretches on this part of the TCAT there are also many other types of scenery. When riding the route east to west, the first 1700 km or so of this route will take you back and forth between the southern portions of the boreal forest and the transition zone – the region between the boreal forest and the prairie. The next 1700 km are mostly wide open prairie, with lots of agricultural land and pasture, interspersed with scenic gems such as the Cypress Hills in south-western Saskatchewan, or the badlands near Drumheller. The last 900 km or so are a real treat, as the rider gets their first taste of the Canadian Rockies and the splendour they offer.

Cities and Towns

The route does not run through any major cities, but does run within about 20 km of the cities of Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Calgary. This will provide riders with an opportunity to run into a major centre with motorcycle dealers to pick up parts or get repairs as required, or to visit people they may know in these cities as they pass by. The largest city on the route is Prince Albert SK, which has a population of about 35,000.

Like other parts of the TCAT there are long sections with very small populations, but the prairies are not quite as remote as some of the sections in Labrador and northern Quebec and Ontario. The longest section with no fuel occurs in eastern Saskatchewan, between the towns of Hudson Bay and Nipawin, and is about 285 km in length. However, many fuel stops are in very small towns, and hours of operation are important. A large percentage of small town prairie gas stations are not open on Sundays, and they may have very “standard” business hours such as 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. It is advisable to plan your route carefully to try to make larger centres (defined as towns of 500 or more) on Sundays when fuel is required.

Because of the proximity of towns along this route it is possible to stay in hotels all the way. Hotels in many of the towns tend to be more “rustic” than big city accommodations, but for those who would otherwise be camping they are likely to be fine. Rooms tend to cost between $40 and $100, depending on the town and the hotel.

Private Land and Cattle Gates

Most of the prairie portion of the route is on public roads. However there are some sections that cross pasture areas on roads and truck tracks that are technically private. It is extremely important to STAY ON THE ROADS. If you pull off 5 feet to the side of the road for a rest stop that is probably acceptable, but ripping across the open pasture, while tempting, is a no-no. Cultivated fields are to be stayed off of, though some have dirt roads or trails across them that may be OK to ride. Ranchers are often concerned about trespassers on pasture land because of the potential for injury to their herds, as well as the chance of fire started by hot exhaust or careless smoking. They are also concerned about people littering on their property, and about motorcycles or other vehicles ripping up the grass and causing undue erosion.

If you are riding respectfully on the road or trail in a private area you may be approached by a local farmer or rancher driving around in their truck or on their quad. If this happens, please stop and talk to them. Be respectful – turn off your bike and remove your helmet so they can see your face. Tell them who you are and what you are doing there. Make sure they know that you are just passing through as part of a longer trip, and that you plan to stick to the road. Often these people just want to know what you are doing there and want to make sure you are not going to cause trouble for them. If they ask you to leave, please leave by the route they request and detour around the section. In most cases they will be as respectful toward you as you are toward them, but you never know.

There are a couple of sections of the route that pass through several cattle gates. These typically are made of barbed wire. The most important thing to remember with these gates is that they are to be left as you find them. For example, if you come on a closed gate you should open it, proceed through, and then make sure to close it properly behind you. If you come on an open gate, ride on through and leave it open behind you. Anyone who has ever had to round up cattle that have escaped from their pasture can attest to how mad ranchers get when gates that are supposed to be closed are left open.

Also, it is not generally acceptable to camp just anywhere in the agricultural area of the prairies. In the forests further north it can be done if one takes care, but on pasture land or agricultural land it is definitely not okay. Please find a proper campground or a motel instead, or if you’re desparate find a farm, knock on the door, and ask permission. They will at least be able to tell you where it is okay for you to set up on their land and whether it is safe or okay for you to have a fire.

Please follow the above guidelines and be respectful, and it will help keep these routes open to people for years to come.

Grid Road System

Fortunately if you can’t get through a certain road, much of the prairies are covered by a grid road system. In the late 1800s when the west was being settled the prairies were surveyed extensively. The Canadian Government had agriculture in mind for the region, and to facilitate simple land “sectioning” they divided the land into sections, each of these being 1 mile by 1 mile (this was before Canada switched to the metric system). They then created road allowances – strips down which roads could be built and public access could be had – so that all people owning a section of land would have access to it via a public roadway. If you drive in a north or south direction you will cross a road allowance every 2 miles. If you drive in and east or west direction you will cross a road allowance every mile.

Over the years many of these road allowances had gravel roads built on them, and many of those that didn’t get gravel roads got dirt roads. Technically they are all public rights-of-way and are legal to be driven with any appropriately licensed street vehicle. However, if a right-of-way is signed as private, or there is no road or trail apparent, it is probably best to stay off of it.

These grid roads make it very simple to work your way around any obstacles or unexpected closures that sneak up on you. Just head back to the next grid road and take the grid roads around the obstacle. You can buy grid road maps of each of the prairie provinces, but these can be a bit tricky to find. Most GPS map data will show the grid road system.


Winters on the prairies can be bitterly cold, with temperatures as low as -40 C (-40 F) or even colder, but summers are quite pleasant. Daily highs in July are typically between 23 C and 27 C (73 F and 81 F). May and June tend to be the rainiest months of the year, but the prairies are quite dry relative to many other places. During May and June there can be all-day rains that can cause gravel and dirt roads to become impassable. Chances of these types of days diminish in July and August. Riders equipped for cold weather can ride the route as early as late April, and as late as late October, but it is generally best in July and August.

Also travellers should be prepared to deal with mosquitoes and other biting insects, especially if travelling the route in May or June and especially if camping. Depending on the year, mosquitoes can be quite bad – wet years are worse than dry years. Typically the insects diminish with the rains, and July and August tend to have less bugs than May and June.

Technical Sections

There are a few technical sections in the prairie portion of the TCAT, but for the most part these sections barely qualify as technical. I have labelled them technical and offered potential bypasses simply for those riders who are inexperienced or are fatigued by riding a large bike through something more technical than flat gravel road. It is also possible that you will reach some of these late in the day, and prefer to take the bypass simply to get to a camping spot or hotel in good time. I personally would not have any problem taking a loaded KTM 990 through any of them, and most riders serious enough about riding to tackle something like the TCAT will probably feel that way too.

The most difficult one is probably the short section just southwest of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, where you have a fairly steep descent and ascent from a creek and where the trail a bit further south of that can be quite muddy and rutted. A loaded R1200GS could be worked through here, but it might not be a lot of fun for most riders.

The other challenge would probably be Ptolemy Pass in southwestern Alberta and southeastern BC. I have ridden this pass with a newer rider who managed to get his R1200GS through here, so I wouldn’t say that it is difficult. But if you’re riding a big bike alone and it is a wet year and/or if you are not totally comfortable with rough terrain you may prefer to take the bypass around this section. I do advise you to ride the pass if you can, as the scenery is spectacular!

Aside from these two, the technical sections in the prairies are fairly simple. Most are sandy, and are actually better in wet weather than when it is dry since the sand packs down and becomes firm when wet. Please use sound judgement of riding conditions, fatigue, and your abilities when deciding whether to attempt a technical section.

Rutted Roads

A word on ruts, especially for those who do not have a lot of experience riding them. Many of the roads you will ride in the prairies are quite rutted. Ruts can be very dangerous to ride, because they lull you into a false sense of security. As long as you stay in the bottom of a rut, or on top in between the ruts, you can ride quite fast and everything feels perfectly normal. However, if something goes slightly wrong and you end up rubbing your wheels against the side of the rut you are likely going to fall. Because everything felt great a few moments before, if you are not careful you can be going quite fast when you fall. Here’s an example of what happens when you rub up against the side of a rutted road – from on the TCAT in southwestern Saskatchewan near Maple Creek.

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Fortunately I was OK even though I hit the ground at about 60 km/h (40 mph). In the worst case, your bars can jam over and you can highside at speed, which is almost guaranteed to cause injuries. Keep in mind that you are often in remote places on the TCAT, and you cannot count on medical care reaching you quickly. Please ride accordingly.

Canal Roads

The prairies are quite arid, and technically don’t get any more rain than the deserts to the south in Arizona and Utah. The biggest reason this is agricultural land as opposed to barren desert is that the cooler temperatures this far north allow the prairies to retain more of the moisture that falls – snow pack allows storage of moisture and cooler summer temperatures mean rain doesn’t evaporate as readily as it does in Arizona. However, water conservation is still important in some parts of the prairies, particularly southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta, and irrigation canals have been built to distribute water over the prairies and to improve agricultural yields. These canals follow the contours of the land and have maintenance roads that are largely unmaintained, which makes them a great, curvy, rough surface alternative to the straight grid roads that cover most of the southern prairies.

Keep in mind that in some places on the route it will be important which side of the canal you get onto, and there may be points where you actually have to switch sides at a grid road. In some cases the GPS may be accurate enough to show you the proper side, but this description should tell you the proper side if it’s unclear.


The Prairies Route Description

The Prairie Section of the TCAT is broken down into the four provinces it travels through.  Click on the links below for the route descriptin for each province.






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