Lauren Markewicz is encouraging us to think small. Our group is privileged to have Prince Albert National Park’s Interpretation Team Supervisor—a self-proclaimed nature-nerd and an engaging speaker—show us around Boundary Bog Trail. But here, small doesn’t quickly come to mind.
Set upon a natural transition zone in northern Saskatchewan, Prince Albert National Park preserves 3,875 square-kilometres of valuable forest, lakes, rivers, grasslands, wetlands and just about every other ecosystem found in the province's mid-boreal upland and boreal transition eco-regions. Two minutes after crossing the park boundary on Highway 263, we'd spotted a bull moose—a lumbering mammal that can reach 700 kilograms and carry an impressive crown of antlers on its elongated cranium.
Then came the elk—bulls and their harems of cows—as well as burly white-tailed deer too numerous to count. On the park’s remote west side, plains bison roam free—impressive brutes that can top 800 kilograms. Heck, even the beaver lodges are massive.
There are 150 kilometres of marked hiking trails, nine officially designated paddling routes, five drive-in campgrounds, 15 backcountry campgrounds and a plenitude of accessible sandy beaches. Easy-access Waskesiu Lake is 25 kilometres end-to-end, more remote Crean Lake covers some 100 square-kilometres, Kingsmere Lake is about 50 square-kilometres and we haven’t even touched on park’s dozens of other waterbodies.
So small isn’t an adjective I’d thought of.
But as we entered the tall black spruce of Boundary Bog Trail, Markewicz points decidedly downward.
“It’s called 'Fairy Puke Lichen,'” she says, gesturing at miniscule blotches of crusty, mint-green plant-life spotting the forest floor. (Scientists know it as Icmadophila ericetorus, but Fairy Puke is both more evocative, and accurate.)
Up next, various colourful fungi growing in fertile soil—some edible, some poisonous, neither matter as you can’t harvest in a national park anyway. Markewicz claims she’s a mushroom-nerd, too. And a bird-nerd. And a bison-nerd.
Ahead, we see a squirrel midden some 30 years in the making. These industrious critters have discarded nutshells and plant debris here since the 1980s, creating an impressive pile of detritus that becomes obvious only when pointed out. Had I been still entranced by the tall dancing jackpines and dark-fronded spruce, I’d have missed this natural relic.
Boundary Bog’s main attraction is a forest of tamarack trees surrounding its namesake bog. But among the expanse of autumn-gold tamaracks—the only conifer in Canada to lose its needles come fall—our guide once again points to the ground to help us spot pitcher plants, carnivorous flora recognizable by a red hue and cupped bowls of insect-doom. Ahead, a spruce grouse beats its wings and glares at us with disapproval.
With so much to inspect, the two-kilometre trail takes us more than 90 minutes to complete. It’s a worthy jaunt just for the fresh air and exercise—but really comes to life when, like our interpreter suggests, you think small.
Prince Albert National Park has a sublime quality that’s hard to define until you trod its trails, breathe the spruce-scented air and shiver in its cool winds. It’s so rich with wildlife you stop counting deer after day one and elk after day two. It’s lovely year-round—summer is lively and in the frigid depths of winter you can ski, snowshoe and watch aurora borealis. But during the shoulder seasons, it’s particularly serene.
Discover the Best of Prince Albert National Park (and the town of Waskesiu, located in the park) this year:
Start with these four gems. There are plenty more to explore when you’re done:
Length: 2 km
Wander through a dense spruce forest, past a bird-watchers’ lookout to an expansive boreal bog ecosystem, rich with tamarack trees and pitcher plants. In autumn, the tamaracks are a sea of gold.
Mud Creek Trail
Length: 2 km
Like a highlight reel of the park, this short walk starts with an expansive view of Waskesiu Lake before leading through stands of evergreens and deciduous trees, past the meandering Mud Creek—with its mountain of a beaver lodge—and back again.
Length: 3 km
Start at a sandy beach on Waskesiu Lake and walk through a winding trail that leads past tall balsam firs and beds of ostrich ferns. Lake views and beaches throughout.
Length: 7.2 km
Sure, you could stroll this swoopy, wide trail that leads from just outside of town through the rich boreal forest—but why not rent a mountain bike and get a sweat while you enjoy the ecosystems? Multi-use, it’s popular with skiers in winter as well.
One of the country’s classic backcountry treks:
Grey Owl’s Cabin
Hans-Gerhard Paff/Tourism Saskatchewan
Length: 40 km (return)
Discover the famed cabin and final resting place of the controversial conservationist Grey Owl, or Archie Belaney. The route traces the eastern shore of Kingsmere Lake and has three backcountry campsites en route. Though lengthy, the trail is relatively flat and most hikers make the return trip in two days.
Greg Huszar Photography/Tourism Saskatchewan
For day-paddlers, overnighters and multi-day adventurers, the park office has info on several classic routes.
Our pick is Hanging Hearts Lakes—a chain of waterbodies so-named, allegedly, as ancient Cree and Dene hunters would “hang the hearts” of their quarry in lakeside trees out of respect for the fallen animals. (There’s also a more violent explanation, relating to a fierce battle, and, needless to say, the hearts hung in the trees weren’t from deer…)
Hanging Hearts Lakes Marina is located about a 15-minute drive north from Waskesiu. Stand-up paddleboards, canoes, kayaks and powerboats can be rented here for use on the lake-chain, or marina staff can transport these paddle-craft to nearby Kingsmere and Namekus lakes for an additional fee.
Hanging Hearts Lakes has several routes to paddle—one to check out is Crean Kitchen, a route that leads across the three Hanging Hearts Lakes and through a channel to the waters of Crean Lake, the largest waterbody in the park. At about six hours return, it can be a lengthy day-trip or an overnight, tenting at Crean Kitchen Campsite about three hours after setting out from the marina.
Tourism Saskatchewan/Greg Huszar Photography
Red Deer (161 sites) and Beaver Glen (200 sites) Frontcountry Campgrounds are the largest and most-popular in the park. Both are full-service and accept reservations. Beaver Glen offers 10 oTENTiks—a cross between a tent and a cabin—ideal for family comfort camping. Both are walking distance to downtown Waskesiu and the main beach.
Narrows (86 sites), Namekus Lake (20 sites) and Sandy Lake (31 sites) are located outside of Waskesiu, with limited services.
Not camping? Stay in the heart of Waskesiu at the simple but comfortable Hawood Inn. It’s the only year-round accommodation in the park.
Located just outside the park boundary, Elk Ridge Resort may be the most luxurious digs in Northern Saskatchewan. Onsite hiking and golf, fine dining and luxe accommodations await.
Between May and October, Waskesiu offers a plethora of services. Grab coffee and a snack at Evrgreen Coffee & Food. Eat hearty, homestyle fare at Mackenzie’s Dining Room (in the Hawood Inn, also one of the few spots to eat off-season). Cap your adventures at one of Saskatchewan’s finest eateries, Restaurant Pietro. (The owner puts on his casual hat to operate Pete’s Terrace, a pizza joint in town.) Or scoot outside of the park boundary to Elk Ridge Resort and its fine-dining Fireside Dining & Terrace or casual Walleye's.
When To Go
Prince Albert National Park is open year-round, with reduced services in the park and the town of Waskesiu between October and May. Expect a (mostly) snow-free experience from mid-May until mid-October.
July and August are the warmest and busiest months. May and June are cool and verdant. September is prime time for fall foliage and wildlife watching—and you’ll find the park virtually crowd-free. (Plus, autumn weather is fascinating—four seasons in one!)
Events & Info
Start planning your trip at pc.gc.ca/princealbert.
Discover Even MORE Adventure This Year:
Prince Albert National Park is just the start.
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