For many Canadian tourists, Saskatchewan in the summer is a sunny, flat land of big skies and endless Trans-Canada Highway driving. But for the adventurous - or simply road-weary - traveller, the prairie heartland offers two relaxing and invigorating experiences at natural mineral spas.
The first can be found in Moose Jaw, just off the Trans-Canada about halfway between Winnipeg and Calgary.
The city's name comes from the Cree word moosegaw, or "warm breezes." These days, warm underground breezes can be found at the indoor geothermal mineral pool at the luxury Temple Gardens Mineral Spa Resort Hotel, which is open year-round.
Moose Jaw's mineral springs were discovered in 1910 by oil drillers. Instead of hitting black crude, they found vast amounts of hot, mineral-rich water instead. The drillers had tapped into water-soaked porous rock, the remnants of an ancient sea bed. The city soon capitalized on the mineral springs by building an indoor swimming "natatorium" in the downtown core.
"People would travel here to partake in 'taking of waters' for many years," says Deb Thorn, general manager of Temple Gardens, which opened in 1996 in the historic downtown.
In 1980, the city drilled a new geothermal well, which provides Temple Gardens with its therapeutic waters. The water travels through an insulated pipeline from the wellhead, about a kilometre from the resort. The minerals in the waters are similar to the popular hot springs in the Rockies (Banff, Radium and Miette), containing elements such as magnesium sulphate, sodium, potassium and calcium.
About two hours north of Moose Jaw you'll find Saskatchewan's second natural soaking spot, in the lakeside village of Manitou Beach.
For hundreds of years, Little Manitou Lake's waters, fed by underground springs, have been credited with the relief of aches, pains and skin ailments. The shallow saline lake has a specific gravity 10 per cent higher than regular water because of a higher concentration of dissolved salts and minerals. Known as the "lake of the healing waters," native medicine men named it Manitou in honour of the Great Spirit.
Next to the lake, you'll find the budget-minded Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa, which is open year-round and bills itself as "Saskatchewan's best-kept secret." More than 120,000 people visit this rural resort annually, most of them from nearby Saskatoon and Regina.
The resort's heated mineral pool contains golden-brown water, which looks like it leaked out of a whisky barrel. The water originates from Little Manitou; 9,000 gallons of water are pumped in, then warmed and circulated.The village of Manitou Beach enjoyed its resort heyday in the 1920s. Thousands came to enjoy the lake's mineral waters and two heated mineral pools. It was the most popular summer resort on the Prairies, rivalling Banff's Hot Springs. But the big draw was - and remains - the fact that you can easily float in the lake's naturally buoyant water.
Only three bodies of water in the world share a similar mineral content: Little Manitou, Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic and Israel's Dead Sea. Of the three, Little Manitou Lake has the highest levels of sulphate and magnesium, both of which are linked to healthy skin.
Whether you soak in the lake or in the resort's heated mineral pool, it will be an authentic experience - you'll emerge heavily coated with minerals, but much more relaxed.
Pack your swimsuit
Temple Gardens Mineral Spa Hotel: 24 Fairford St. E., Moose Jaw, Sask.; 1-800-718-7727; http://www.templegardens.sk.ca
The resort is 80 kilometres west of Regina via the Trans-Canada Highway. Room rates range from $139 to $359. Guests have access to the mineral pool, and the adjacent Oasis spa, where services range from body wraps and facials to massages.
There is also an outdoor pool facility, with much hotter mineral-rich water with added chlorination. The entire pool facility is open to the public, with day passes from $6 to $14.
Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa: Manitou Beach, Sask; 1-800-667-7672; http://www.manitousprings.ca
Manitou Springs, a full-service resort hotel with a family restaurant and lounge, is 115 kilometres from Saskatoon. By car take Highway 16 to Highway 2, then south to Manitou Beach. From Regina, it is 200 kilometres; take Highway 11 northwest to Highway 2, then north to Manitou Beach, at Little Manitou Lake. Room rates range from $87 to $155.
Guests can lounge in the resort's heated mineral pool, sectioned to offer water temperature ranging from 34 to 38 degrees. Other services range from massages to other therapeutic services, such as full-body mud wraps. Day trippers can buy a pool pass for $16. More information
To learn more about Saskatchewan and its mineral spas, visit http://www.sasktourism.com