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  Meadow Lake Park

Meadow Lake Provincial Park is one of the most popular vacation spots in Saskatchewan, and yet it seldom seems crowded.

Imagine a string of 25 clear lakes nestled amid 1,600 square kilometres of aspen, birch and pine forest and you’ll understand how it is that "popular’’ need not mean "crowded’’.

- courtesy Tourism Saskatchewan
The Waterhen River system feeds more than two dozen clear, sandy lakes.

The park is located about two hours north of North Battleford, near the Saskatchewan/Alberta boundary. It’s called a "natural environment’’ park, a designation which, if left unexplained, may sound redundant. Each of Saskatchewan’s roughly three dozen provincial parks falls into one of four classifications: wilderness; natural environment; recreation; and historic. Wilderness parks remain undeveloped to protect the fragile ecosystems they envelop. Natural environment parks allow limited development, like fixed-roof accommodations, and provide a wide range of facilities and services.

Recreation parks typically are located close to urban centres and exist to provide a natural setting for intensive recreational use, and the historical ones preserve portions of Saskatchewan’s past.

While Meadow Lake park is not labeled "wilderness", you can see it from the side of the road, a two-lane gravel conduit that snakes and rolls from east to west along the Waterhen River that feeds and cleans the picturesque lakes. The road can be a little messy in the rain and a touch tricky at night. It’s wise to respect the signs and reduce speed accordingly from the posted 80 kph (50 mph).

- courtesy Tourism Saskatchewan
Enjoy a popular beach, or grab a boat and discover an exclusive one.

Meadow Lake’s attraction is her beauty, but her charm arises from the large number of widely dispersed camping venues available. There are more than 900 campsites in a dozen public campgrounds, and another 200 sites at a handful of private resorts located within or adjoining the park (see italics at bottom for current fees). Cabins are available at several locations for those who prefer a higher level of creature comfort.

This variety means you can choose a campsite to suit your tastes. But it also means vacations in Meadow Lake Provincial Park can "feel’’ very different, depending on where you stay. The popular campground at Greig Lake, for example, is a large and sunny family area with more than 150 campsites (including a number of full-service RV sites), a good beach, many privately-owned cabins (Note: no rental cabins), a miniature golf course, and recreation and interpretive programs. Its setting on the east side of the lake provides for great sunset viewing. The campground on the south shore of little Vivian Lake, on the other hand, is situated amid moss-shrouded jack pines that evoke a peaceful solitude protected by the small number of campsites available – there are only eight, non-electrified sites. Vivian, which is stocked with rainbow trout (see Fishing Guide), has no beach or cabins and the sun sets behind the trees.

The trapper’s cabin: a vestige of the past.

Interpretive and recreational programs are offered throughout the park during the summer months and many people are content to take up residence in their tents or cabins and simply enjoy the local beach and outdoor setting. But Meadow Lake Provincial Park also appeals to people who enjoy nature, camping, wildlife, and wilderness on their own terms. It’s a place to experience and explore.

A handful of hiking trails in the park range from 1.6 kms in length to the epic 120-km Boreal Trail running the length of the park – you can do it in bite-sized sections that range in difficulty. Vivian has a short and a long trail, the latter of which is an easy 4.2 km that circles the lake through jackpine, white birch and green alder forest. Don’t be deceived by the somewhat imposing view from the shoreline trailhead: our party of four adults and four kids, including a vigorous boy who was then six years old, made the hike in an hour and a half.

- courtesy Tourism Saskatchewan
A fitting end to a busy day in the park.

Watch for common loons, red-necked grebes and Lesser scaups cruising the lake, and don’t miss the blueberry patches near the trailhead.

We’ve not encountered a black bear on the Vivian trail, but the live traps we’ve seen in the camping area suggest they roam the area no less frequently than other campgrounds in the park. The rule of thumb when hiking in bear country is "make noise while you walk’’. And if you do encounter a bear, withdraw slowly and don’t challenge the bruin by looking him in the eye.

A few hills on the moderately-difficult Humphrey Lake trail make it seem a little longer than the 3.2 kms at which it’s listed. But the cheery aspen forest and lush undergrowth, and particularly the view from the lookout platform located at the turn-around point of the trail, make the Humphrey hike a rewarding way to spend two or three hours. Red-tail hawks, Canada geese, white pelicans, ducks, and a variety of shorebirds inhabit the marshy lake, but so do mosquitoes – bring repellent. Try to spot the bear den 10 metres off the trail and 50 metres from the lookout platform.

A former aboriginal hunting grounds and fur-trapping region, Meadow Lake park is rich in wildlife. Deer, elk, wolf, moose, beaver, otter, coyote, fox, lynx and cougar are at home in the park, as are some 130 species of birds, including bald and golden eagles, great blue herons and yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

Transparent awe.

One legacy left by the fur trade is the trapper’s cabin, a number of which can still be seen in the park. They’re not normally found on designated hiking trails, but the several I’ve seen are situated in splendid natural surroundings, and are well worth a visit if you’re the type who enjoys musing about the romantic, albeit isolated existence of these hardy souls. The cabin often is located on high ground and beside a lake, which delivered three of the trapper’s needs: water, fish and transportation.

Park officials or long-time locals can probably give you directions to one of these cabins, or you can simply pull off the road near one of the many non-designated trails leading into the forest and try your luck. But take note: the park frowns upon off-road driving through the forest. It’s best to park in a safe spot, off the main road, and hike in. And while it may be tempting to enter one of the old cabins, it’s not wise. Some are still occupied.

Just as fishing played a significant role in the trapper’s way of life, so it does for many who visit Meadow Lake park today. The fishing is excellent and few go home disappointed. Northern pike, walleye, perch and whitefish are common in most of the lakes, and several are stocked with splake, cutthroat trout and rainbow trout. Brook and brown trout are stocked in De La Ronde and Dennis creeks, while lake trout occur naturally in Cold Lake and the Cold River, as well as in Pearce and Lepine lakes. Fishing boats can be rented by the hour or day at many points in the park. The lakes are sandy bottomed and present few hidden hazards. Still, it’s wise to chat with your outfitter about potential problems that could arise, like wind or thunderstorms. And he or she will no doubt have a pretty good bead on where they’re biting.

Sunset in the park. Can you hear the loons?

A small motor boat or canoe is a great way to enjoy the wildlife and scenery in the park. We’ve spent many a delightful hour casting barbless hooks into the bay at Big Island on Lac des Isles, watching the loons and grebes dive after their prey and surfacing many metres from where they went down. One afternoon was particularly enchanting as the bay and the forest beyond became an echo chamber for a melancholic loon roaming a small territory perhaps 50 metres from our boat. Boats have afforded us our best views of bald eagles and great blue herons, and there are scores of small, sandy beaches to discover. It’s a great way to experience the park.

The small towns of Goodsoil and Dorintosh are located at the south-central and south-eastern entrances to the park, and each has at least one grocery store, a gas station, a hotel and liquor store. Goodsoil has a golf course and an interesting pioneer museum with a nearby cairn commemorating the spot where Woodland Cree Chief Big Bear released white prisoners after the Northwest Resistance of 1885. For a wider selection of grocery and shopping items, the larger towns of Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan and Cold Lake, Alberta are about an hour’s drive from the park.

Meadow Lake Provincial Park is a vast expanse of rolling forests and clear lakes. For those who enjoy the convenience and camaraderie of a small resort, or for those who enjoy their camping experience straight up – no pavement, lineups, or street lamps that erase the stars and Northern Lights – a visit to Meadow Lake park may well mark the beginning of a long relationship.

Check out the Saskatchewan provincial parks website for more information about Meadow Lake park or to access the provincial campsite reservation system.

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