by Dave Yanko
courtesy Tourism Saskatchewan
|Pickerel Point Beach
at Spruce Campground, on the eastern portion of Madge Lake.
Camping in Saskatchewan on the Victoria Day long weekend in mid
May can be dicey. Snow is not unheard of at this time of year, but
nor is sweltering heat. And even if the days are warm, the nights
are likely to be cool, especially in higher elevations.
Swimming is pretty much out of the question for all but dogs and
ducks, and provincial park services are not always up to snuff because
high-season staffing has yet to occur.
All that aside, spring camping in Saskatchewan can have its own
special rewards, not the least of which is an up-close experience
with spring itself. That's no small inducement for lovers of nature,
especially those who live in a country where the coldest of four
distinct seasons just passed.
The map of Saskatchewan lists it as "Duck Mountain Provincial Park."
But people in Saskatchewan and western Manitoba know her as "Madge",
the name of the primary lake in this comparatively small (148 sq.
km) but popular provincial park located on the Manitoba boundary
in southeast-central Saskatchewan. Madge was the first stop on our
two-park, five-day tour.
courtesy Tourism Saskatchewan
golfers love the challenge of the hilly Madge Lake course.
Named in 1904 after the wife of region surveyor Charlie Harvey,
Madge Lake is a clear and shallow body of water surrounded for the
most part by aspen forest but featuring an incongruous stand of
coniferous trees on Spruce Island. Water spared the spruce from
a devastating fire that ravaged the area in the mid 1800s. A few
white spruce elsewhere in the forest somehow survived the flames
and they're now competing successfully with the fast-growing but
less hearty aspen that grew out of the ashes.
We tented in aptly-named Spruce Campground at Pickerel Point, the
park's camping area located on the eastern portion of Madge. It
was overcast and breezy when we arrived on the afternoon of May
15. Park staff advised us to choose a sheltered spot away from the
shoreline on the pretty little peninsula containing all the non-electrified
sites. But we couldn't resist the prime lakeshore site that faced
west onto what would surely be a magnificent view of Madge, once
the fog (and then rain) and wind subsided. The large and vigorous
loon we watched as we huddled near the horizontal flames of our
evening campfire later furnished an appropriately mournful soundtrack
as we hunkered down deep into our sleeping bags.
I woke up to a sunny bird sanctuary; a symphony of melodic, shrill
and rhythmic mantras emanating, I later discovered, from the reedy
bay described by the other edge of our tiny peninsula. Duck Mountain,
indeed. The wind and clouds were gone and the campground took on
that engaging atmosphere that only a night's
sleep and a beautiful morning can deliver. And then came the dogs.
A lab, a floppy-eared husky cross and another mutt of indeterminate
origin quietly but energetically rushed our site, sending our leashed
Gordon-setter cross into a vocal frenzy. I immediately released
her into a spinning knot of butts and snouts and then re-focused
my attention on the source of the English accent who'd been trying
in vain to reel in the trio. (My friends at the parks branch would
be steamed if I didn't mention pets are to be leashed at all times.
However, there were only about five other parties camping in the
entire non-electrified area and this was very early in the morning.)
In a more subdued fashion than the one displayed by our pets, we
traded morning greetings and chatted about the park and the challenges
of camping in early season. "We're used to it," the thirty-something
man told me. He and his party from Regina, located about two hours
southwest of Madge, are "extreme backwoods bikers", he explained.
"We're used to all kinds of conditions," he added, with an emphasis
on the word "all" that made me think winter camping and snow biking
fell squarely within their repertoire.
mostly-aspen forest is punctuated by the odd spruce stand that
survived the devastating forest fire.
Biking, but especially golf, are two of the most popular activities
at Madge, largely for the same reason.
Duck Mountain Provincial Park is actually the most southerly island
of natural boreal forest in Saskatchewan. Surrounded by cultivated
agricultural land, the Duck Mountain Highlands rise 240 metres (about
800 feet) above the prairie below. The landscape is new, by geological
standards. It was created some 10,000 to 15,000 years ago when the
Pleistocene glaciers stopped cold in their tracks and melted, depositing
like dumptrucks all the earth they gathered during their relentless
The result is an extraordinarily undulating landscape adorned by
forest, lakes and bogs, and inhabited by many of the creatures one
would expect to find only in northern Saskatchewan. The latter include
moose, white-tailed deer, fox, mink, woodchuck, elk, and even bear,
one of which my wife spotted as we first entered the park. Bald
and golden eagles are occasional visitors, now that they no longer
nest in the park. But grouse, ducks, geese, common loons, woodpeckers,
barred and great horned owls, and even a handful of turkey vultures
(rare in Saskatchewan) are common sights.
It's the perfect setting for flatland mountain bikers to discover
the true worth of those other 17 gears, and the park attracts the
two-wheeling crowd from Regina, Winnipeg and beyond.
quaint little marina near the main beach area.
The same terrain that makes Madge a favorite among cyclists draws
Saskatchewan and Manitoba golfers by the thousands every year. The
18-hole, grass-green Madge Lake Golf Course is the defining feature
of Duck Mountain Provincial Park for many short-term visitors, as
well as for many of the summer residents in the more than 300 cottages
around the lake. In the prairies of southern Saskatchewan, the words
"Madge" and "golf" are almost synonymous. As the rest of the park
geared up for summer on this Victoria Day weekend, the beautiful,
hilly, carved-out-of-the-forest golf course already was a hive of
By design or default, Madge appears to cater more to older kids
and adults than Greenwater Lake Provincial Park, where we spent
the second segment of our Victoria Day weekend. This is not to say
you should pass on Madge if you've got kids. It's a matter of degree:
the amenities at Madge, largely but not only because of the predominance
of the golf course, seem tilted in favor of the older visitor. The
few swings, teeter-totters and the climbing apparatus on the playground
near the beach at Pickerel Point Campground would fill quickly on
a busy summer day too cool to swim. And I saw only three or four
paddle boats when I took an early-morning stroll to the boat-rental
dock on the other side of our peninsula. There are more than 300
camp sites in the near vicinity.
On the other hand, there's mini-golf, riding stables, tennis courts,
baseball fields and a larger playground at the main Ministik Beach
area only five minutes by car from Pickerel Point. If you're able
to bring along the bikes, they'd be put to good use. There's a very
nice biking/hiking trail (that forms part of the Cross Canada Trail)
leading from the campground to the main beach area, and on into
a wilderness hiking trail northwest of the beach.
If the kids prefer hiking and biking to paddling and swinging,
there's more woodsy opportunities for them at Madge than Greenwater.
Our son and daughter (at the time, 10 and 13, respectively) preferred Greenwater (there
were a lot more kids around), while my wife and I liked Madge, in
spite of the rust-tinted water (which we were assured is safe) and
the early-season shortage of firewood. The washrooms were cleaned
and stocked at least once per day, and the showers in our service
centre were of the single push-button variety - adequate and passably
warm, once the cold water was purged from the pipes (about three
pushes). Groceries and treats were available at a concession, centrally
located near the playground/beach area at Pickerel Point.
came the carpenter ants, and then the pileated woodpeckers.
We spent an enjoyable two hours hiking on the Woodland Nature Trail
and the bicycle trail into which it evolves. It's a wide trail through
cheery aspen, white birch and balsam poplar, with the occasional
stand of white spruce "Christmas trees" thrown in for good measure.
Carpenter ants are busy at work at several points along the trail.
We saw the sawdust evidence of their gallery construction at the
base of a half dozen white spruces, and we listened in amazement
to the surprisingly loud chop-chop-chopping of a pileated woodpecker
who was making a meal of the construction workers.
The spring greenery was electric. The glistening new aspen leaves
twinkled in the sunlight, and then changed hue and sheen on command
of the breeze. The forest floor was bursting with new life that
had yet to show any stress from insects, blight or drought. My video-gamester
son plucked from the path a single new aspen leaf that had fallen
victim to the wind. He held it out on the palm of his hand for all
to see its perfection. Spring is hope. . . or great three-dimensional
A bonus for anglers – beyond the perch, walleye and northern pike
found in Madge – are the rainbow trout stocked in small Jackfish Lake,
located only 500 metres (540 yards) off the main park road (see Fishing Guide). A half
dozen anglers were trying their luck from the shoreline when we
checked out Jackfish on Saturday afternoon. Madge offers boat rentals,
but you'll need your own boat or canoe if you want to get out on
If cabins, condos or hotel rooms are more to your liking than tents
or campers, there's a range of fixed-roof accommodations (for up
to 200 people) ranging from light-housekeeping cabins to fully modern rooms
at the lodge, located right across the road from the
While Madge may be a particularly appealing vacation choice for
folks wishing to hit the links, you certainly don't need golf clubs
to enjoy this park. Madge is an elevated, undulating and verdant
oasis of boreal forest plunked smack dab in the middle of the prairies.
If you enjoy the North, this is the shortest way to get there.
For more information about Duck Mountain Provincial Park or to book a campsite using the online reservation system, click here.
| Contents |
| Events | Search |
Prints 'n Posters | Lodging
Assistance | Golf |
© Copyright (1997-2012) Virtual Saskatchewan