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  Makwa Lake Park

by Dave Yanko
The terraced sites at Stabler are unusual and popular.
The terraced sites at Stabler are unusual and popular.

Makwa Lake Provincial Park, in the Loon Lake region of northwestern Saskatchewan, is home to one of the most impressive campgrounds in the province.

With well over 200 electrical and non-electrical sites, Stabler Point Campground is fairly large by Saskatchewan standards. But Stabler's geography and clever design allow for a far more intimate camping experience than that number might suggest.

Stabler was constructed on the rolling terrain surrounding a bay on Little Jumbo Lake, one of a half-dozen lakes in this small, natural environment park. Hills separate the campground into several sections, and some campsites are built on terraces dug out of the hillsides. Each of these "walk-up" tenting sites features a small, road-level parking bay in front of steps leading up one to four metres (three to 12 feet) to a campsite angled into the trees above. They're just the kind of cozy and private campsites people scramble to return to, year after year.

Stabler's wide and sandy beach is centrally located on the bay enveloped by the campground. Perhaps a dozen campsites feature a great view of this bay area, while other sites in the hills provide a glimpse of the bay, or the lake beyond, through the birch, aspen and pine forest.

Water and wood supplies were abundant and of good quality during my early-August visit, and paved roads throughout the undulating campground are no doubt a blessing in the rain. Water temperature in the showers is controlled by a calibrated dial with an adjustable range from cold to very hot – a welcome feature for a campground shower facility – and wheelchair accessible showers are available.

As well-designed and pretty as this campground is, it's not the only one in Makwa park, located 165 kms (100 miles) north of North Battleford. Almost due east and across the lake from Stabler sits Jumbo Beach Campground, 16 sites situated adjacent to its namesake beach. Although the Jumbo campground does not have its own shower facility, all campers may use the Stabler shower facilities. Jumbo has groceries and fast-food services at its doorstep.

The clear-water beach at Stabler is the largest of three in the park.
The clear-water beach at Stabler is the largest of three in the park.

Mewasin Beach Campground, located on the southern arm of Big Jumbo Lake, features about three dozen campsites, about a dozen of which are strung along the lakeshore in a predominantly jack pine setting. All campsites are within five-minutes-walking distance from the small and sandy beach, where there are large and clean change rooms at water's edge.

All three of these campgrounds and beaches are situated within five kilometres (three miles) of the park entrance gate. The Village of Loon Lake lies three kilometres east of the gate. Pine Cove Resort, with rental cabins, is located on Makwa Lake about 10 km from the village.

The park has some 20 km (12 miles) of cross-country skiing trails and about half a dozen hiking trails ranging in length from .7 to 2.4 km and including the popular Meewasin Nature Trail. Meewasin begins, appropriately enough, at Mewasin Campground. The two- and three-kilometre loops (under two miles) begin at the end of the campground's single road. The trail leads first into marshy wetland traversed by a wooden walkway, and then up into the gentle hills that surround it. The longer loop splits off from the main trail in the forest.

Makwa's location in the transition zone between parkland and boreal forest means stands of white birch are a common site on the Meewasin Trail and throughout the park. Elsewhere along the loping and gentle route, jack pine stands evolve into popular bluffs and bushy lowlands. It's a gentle, easy and short romp all but the youngest of kids can enjoy with mom and dad.

Water sports and recreation are the most popular activities at Makwa. Big and Little Jumbo lakes, like all others in the park, are clean and clear. Swimming, or simply lazing about on one of the three beaches, is a popular pastime in the park. Boating, canoeing, tubing and water-skiing are common, as well. Interpretive, aquatic and recreational programs are scheduled throughout the summer months. And naturally, there's fishing (see Fishing Guide).

With only a dozen sites, Mewasin Campground is for those seeking a quieter camping experience.
Mewasin Campground is for those seeking a somewhat quieter camping experience.

Few provincial parks in Saskatchewan can not boast good fishing, and anglers are everywhere apparent around Makwa. The primary game fish at most lakes in the park are northern pike, walleye and perch. However, the 10-acre Exner Lake, located just off the road to Mewasin Campground, was stocked with 2,500 rainbow trout fingerlings in 1992, and splake fingerlings were stocked in more recent years. But trout anglers should note Exner is located in an environmentally-sensitive area surrounded by tamarack and black spruce, and situated within a delicate bog setting. A ban on gasoline motor boats is strictly enforced (motor boats and canoes can be rented at several locations elsewhere within the park).

The Loon Lake Golf and Country Club, a nine-hole, grass-green course carved from the rolling mixed-wood forest of Makwa, is located about three kilometres from the main park entrance. Power-cart rentals, a licensed lounge in the clubhouse, putting greens and a driving range are available to course visitors.

History buffs (I confess I'm one) will find much of interest in the Makwa Lake Provincial Park region. Ten kilometres (6 miles) west of the Big Jumbo Beach Campground sits the historic site commemorating the final battle of the famous Northwest Resistance of 1885. On June 3 of that year, near the narrows between Makwa Lake and Sanderson Bay, Major Samuel Steele attacked an encampment of Cree Indians holding hostages taken when the Indians captured the Hudson Bay trading post at Fort Pitt.

Four Cree died and three of Steele's scouts were wounded before the Cree fled north through dense brush and swampland, leaving Steele, with his heavy equipment, unable to pursue them.

Suffice to say that while the historic site amounts to little more than a few descriptive plaques on a high hill, it effectively lays out for the visitor details of this final skirmish, which occurred on hills and valley below. The pretty view from the top of the hill encompasses the gravesite where the Cree buried their dead. The area, now named Steele Narrows Provincial Historic Park, includes a picnic ground, boat launch and fish-filleting shack.

Steele Narrows, the scene of the last battle of the 1885 Northwest Rebellion.
Steele Narrows, the scene of the last battle of the 1885 Northwest Rebellion.

Makwa is a small park, overlooked frequently, no doubt, by campers and boaters destined for the much larger and popular Meadow Lake Provincial Park, located an hour north. It was no secret, however, to the hundreds of northeastern Albertans and northwestern Saskatchewanians who were utilizing the park during my visit. It's very popular within the region.

In talking to park officials after my visit, I must add, I discovered Stabler Point Campground may be on the verge of losing an important piece of its character. Risk managers are advising parks employees the terraced campsites pose a legal threat, should someone slip down and get hurt. If securing the sites proves too expensive, they may have to be closed.

It seems that even in the great outdoors, where level-headed people surely expect to encounter situations more dangerous than sitting in their living rooms, the threat of litigation is casting a cold, wet blanket on the fun. Pity.

Click here for more information about Makwa Lake Provincial Park or to use the online campsite reservation system.

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