Saskatchewan’s backcountry is full of hidden gems travelled only by locals. These five experiences expose some rewarding but less-traveled adventures on the water or by land.
Each of these destinations for paddlers and hikers are in sensitive ecosystems, so consider leave no trace principles when exploring.
1. Amisk Lake
Amisk Lake is a remarkable area. The lake is part of a historic fur trade route and was home to trading posts in the 1770s. Centuries later, it became a hub of offshore gold mines. The lake is speckled with islands and points of interest. You will end up somewhere fascinating no matter which route you chart.
Take time to explore the limestone crevices, an expansive outcrop found a short drive south of Denare Beach. The limestone, left by coral reefs in an ancient sea, were pried apart over millennia of thawing and freezing. You can see ice at the bottom, even in July.
Denare Beach is a convenient watercraft put-in location on the northeast side of the lake. Local outfitters can equip you with a canoe for your adventure. The canoe route around Missi Island makes a great 3–4-day tour. You can find rock paintings on the south end of the lake near the river.
The Sturgeon-weir River offers its own adventures. Explorers can paddle over rapids for a thrilling 3–4-day undertaking. Beginners, consider portaging around the larger rapids.
2. North Saskatchewan River
The North Saskatchewan River is an impressive paddle on the prairies. Once on the water, the province’s iconic fields are out of view - hidden behind the lush, tree lined riverbanks.
Prince Albert is a good place to put-in for a two-day trip to the river forks. Stay left and east of the city to avoid the weir. Pack your gear in waterproof bags: this stretch of the river has some Class II water movement!
Along the way you will see a few built-up areas. La Colle Falls Dam is an abandoned hydroelectric project started in 1909. In 1913 the project halted, leaving its skeleton spanning halfway across the river. If you plan to break here, hit shore prior to the structure.
Take out just before the forks. The hike up to the parking area is steep, so be prepared to sweat a little before the trip is done.
3. Grasslands National Park (West Block)
Grasslands National Park is a must-see destination, but it is often overlooked. Don’t let the lack of forest fool you. This is the wilderness, just a different kind.
Apart from Frenchmen Valley Campground, there are no further designated camping sites in the park. However, backcountry camping is permitted out of sight and at least one kilometer away from trails. Plan to bring water. Even filtered, the groundwater is unsuitable for consumption because of the saline content.
There are plenty of breathtaking natural features to see, such as 70 Mile Butte, endless vistas and historical markers – make sure to bring your camera. Grasslands is the darkest Dark Sky Preserve in Canada. You will also find diverse wildlife, including 20 species-at-risk. Plains bison, prairie rattlesnakes, colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs and even adorable burrowing owls are just some of the creatures you could see here.
4. Rice River
Rice River Canyon Ecological Reserve is located on the northwest side of the Pasquia Hills.
Over the last 12,000 years, the river has carved out an impressive valley. The walls stand high above you, reaching 400 feet above the riverbed.
Getting to the river forks is a manageable 9-km hike. Wear hiking shoes that can take on water, as there is no real trail to follow. Walking through the river is easier than bushwhacking through the forest. Trekking poles are recommended because river rocks can be slippery and are not always as firmly planted as they seem.
5. Boreal Trail
The Boreal Trail in Meadow Lake Provincial Park is the longest trail in Saskatchewan. The 135-km path weaves through wilderness and front country camping areas. This means you can decide where you start and how far you will go.
The trail has nine backcountry campgrounds. Camping is permitted on the trail if you don’t make it to a designated site, but open fires are prohibited. The Wolf Bay backcountry site has a picturesque view overlooking the northwest side of Lac des Isles. Additionally, Humphrey Tower also offers a unique view above the tree line. The tower is located on the trail between Sandy Beach and Howe Bay.
Wherever the trail takes you, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience.
Further information can be found at www.tourismsaskatchewan.com.