There are 38 National Parks in Canada. Most people have heard of, or travelled to the more popular parks like Banff, Jasper, or Pacific Rim. It’s hard to beat the majestic mountains and aqua blue lakes. But don’t overlook the Canadian Prairies! Manitoba and Saskatchewan both have beautiful parks and since they are close to home for me, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting two of them often. I’ll share my park experience and pictures!
Riding Mountain National Park
Riding Mountain is in Manitoba, about a 3 hour drive from Winnipeg. This park takes you by surprise because out of the middle of a fairly flat agricultural area there is an elevated section of land and you suddenly find yourself in a beautiful forested park setting. There are numerous lakes in the park with the main lake being Clear Lake. The townsite of Wasagaming is set on Clear Lake. The lake is true to it’s name – you can wade in up to your chin and see your toes and rocks on the bottom.
Things to Do
The park really is designed for everyone. Families, couples, nature enthusiasts; all will find a number of activities to enjoy.
There’s the beach at Clear Lake and of course a great playground for the kids. The townsite is quaint, with a number of shops, restaraunts, a small movie theatre, and a museum. There are other activities such as tennis, lawn bowling, and mini golf as well. There’s all kinds of boat rentals and bicycle rentals as well as a scenic cruise. All of this is in walking distance within the main townsite.
Hiking is abundant. There’s a terrific hike right from the town along the lake. You can hike 6.5Km along the lake and through a bit of forested area to an old homestead and a nice little beach.
Close to town is also a Marsh Trail which is a short trail with a boardwalk. Stop at the Visitor’s Center and pick up a pamphlet, do some bird watching, and the kids can get kits with nets and a pan to scoop up insects and leeches.
For those who like longer hikes, there are plenty of those. And if you want to see some bison you can head up to Lake Audy and see the bison sanctuary. Here’s the full trail guide for the park
For the golfers, you must bring your clubs along if you’re planning a stay here. The Clear Lake Golf course is a challenging course offering beautiful views. It’s still one of my spouse’s favorite golf courses, but I think that may have been because he shot his best round ever!
Where to Stay
The campground here is right at the top of my list for campgrounds anywhere. You have a choice of non-serviced, electric, electric and water, or full hookup. All of the sites are large and private, surrounded by trees and have firepits. Because we like Glamping, we stay in the full service and it’s terrific. The townsite is a short walk away, or an even shorter bike ride. The campground also offers the options of renting oTENTiks.
But if you’re not into camping, there’s plenty of other accommodations and such a wide variety to choose from. There are quaint cabins, luxury cabins, motels and chalets. We’ve stayed at the Manigaming Chalets (not the hotel) and the Arrowhead hotel and were pleased with both of these. You do need to be careful with some of the motels and cabins as this is an old resort area and some of the accommodations are still a little dated. I recommend to call the resort and ask if the rooms have been updated. Many of the accommodations have outdoor heated pools too!
Prince Albert National Park
This National Park is definitely a hidden gem. It’s located in northern Saskatchewan in the Northern Provincial Forest. The town of Waskesiu is located near the park entrance and it’s situated on Lake Waskesiu. What I really love about this park is the wildlife. The elk wander through the town and campgrounds on a regular basis. As well as the occasional bear or two!
Things to do
The townsite is small with a few shops, restaurants and hotels. The area around the townsite is terrific and it makes this one of the top places for family and group gatherings. There is a nice beach area with a very large, fun playground. You’ll find it hard to get your kids to leave! There’s also a ton of open space that includes several camp kitchens and free firewood and there’s even an area set up for frisbee golf.
Take a drive north along the park highway and you’ll find the Waskesiu River area with picnic tables and a marsh hike. Travel a bit further for more picnic areas with fire pits and beaches to spend the day with the family. Along this road there is a Marina and the Hanging Heart Lake for boat rentals.
Or you can head south towards the Narrows. This road has a few nice picnic spots along the way as well, my favorite being Tripps Beach. At the end of the road is the Narrows campground which is a favorite for those who love to fish and camp where it’s a little more secluded. This is a gravel road though, so if you like to travel on pavement then stick to the northern road of the park.
Hiking is abundant in this park as well. There’s everything from short hikes, a few towers to climb up for excellent views, and plenty of longer hikes for more of a challenge. Here’s the list of park hikes.
Prince Albert National Park has one of the oldest golf courses in Western Canada. Waskesiu Golf Course is stunning in it’s forest and lake setting. It’s home to the famous Lobstick Tournament. Warning: clicking on the link will make you want to pack up your clubs and take a road trip here! Even if you’re not an avid golfer, have a look to see the gorgeous forest setting. If you slice and hook a lot, bring extra balls. As you can see, it’s pretty tough to find a ball in the forest! But most of the fairways are pretty wide and forgiving.
If you golf in fall you’ll often meet up with a number of elk who seem to like this for a fall hang out. There was also a story about a fox who stole golf balls that landed on the green. Guess what? It’s true! We saw the fox one day while we were waiting to tee off and sure enough it was eying up the golf balls on the next green. Apparently the park workers found a den full of golf balls!
The Kingsmere experience
If you want to be more adventurous head North past the Marina to Kingsmere Lake. It’s 18 km on a gravel road. On the way, there’s a great little hike called the Peninsula hike. When you get to the end of the road you can park and go into Kingsmere Lake.
The interesting thing about Kingsmere Lake is you can only access it by hiking or canoing in. There is great back country camping here and it’s also a terrific fishing area.
Here’s the catch for fishing – you can canoe into the lake, but if you want to take a larger boat you need to winch it up on a trolley and push it in along the track to the river where you can launch it in. So make sure your boat isn’t too heavy! My spouse has made this trek in for back country camping and fishing many times and he can assure you that it’s best to have a couple of strong people if you want to make the trip. The hike in is 1.5km to the campground, about 1.2 to the river to launch the boat.
Where to Stay
Most of our stays in the park have been in the campgrounds and there’s several. The trailer park is closest to the townsite and has full service sites. It’s pretty open so if you want a few more trees and privacy book in the ‘G’ and ‘H’ loops.
The Beaver Glenn campground is also a favorite and is well treed, has a nice beach and it’s walking distance to the town, or a quick bike ride for the younger kids. There’s also the Narrows campground, and a few smaller camping areas along the south road. Sandy Lake is a nice one but it’s smaller and no reservations allowed.
There’s also a number of hotels and cabin rentals. We’ve stayed at The Hawood which has some nice suites and the The Wharf has been recently renovated and is quite nice. As with Riding Mountain Park, some of the accommodations are older so make sure to do your homework before you book.
Best Time of Year to Visit the National Parks
Like any other destinations summer is very busy. We’ve found it easier to book campsites in Riding Mountain in the summer. Both areas are beautiful to visit in June when it’s a little quieter and in Waskesiu the hotel rates are discounted. One caution with Prince Albert National Park in June and early July – you’re in the Northern forest and the insects can really be annoying some years. A screen tent is a must if you are camping.
Fall is a fabulous time in both these parks, preferably early September because the temperatues in the Praries typically cool off quite a bit this time of year. The colors are stunning, there’s usually more wildlife to see, and of course, less crowds.
Have you been to these parks? Share your experience in the comments.
Questions about the park? Contact me!