Tower Cabin in Great Blue Heron Provincial Park
We stoked the fire and looked out the window at the sun setting over the forest below, in awe over our journey here. The hike itself only took a couple hours, but for me this adventure was a long time coming.
Last winter I was chatting over tea in my friend Ron's living room in Christopher Lake, SK with the fire crackling beside us. He was the guide during my first ever canoe trip in 2016 and someone I can point to for sparking my enthusiasm for the outdoors. We were going back and forth about upcoming adventures and he mentioned this old log cabin he had heard about that was once the seasonal home to the fire tower worker at Anglin Lake. It was just outside the National Park, he said, and was now maintained by Great Blue Heron Provincial Park as an overnight lodge on a first-come first-serve basis for hikers and cross-country skiers. Ron mentioned plans of taking his young family out for a weekend and thought I'd check back in for more details after he made the trip.
Fast forward to earlier this winter when a photo of "Tower Cabin" in Great Blue Heron Provincial Park showed up in my news feed. I figured it must be the cabin Ron had told me about the year before and started some research so I could plan my own trip. Unfortunately there wasn't much online about the what to expect and it never did work out for Ron and his family to visit. The trail map above and a quick note stating that the cabin is stocked with fire wood and toilet paper was about the extent of my findings. Finally on a Monday morning in March, with a forecast of -3 degrees, I drove up to Anglin Lake with my friend Robynn. We had 2 sets of snowshoes in the car along with us, and a couple backpacks full of gear we weren't sure we needed.
We turned off Highway 2 following the signs for Anglin Lake and Great Blue Heron Provincial Park about 30 km North of Prince Albert. From there we followed Highway 953, past the Anderson Point Campground and surrounding cottages, until the sign for Land of the Loon Resort and Jacobsen Bay Picnic Site. It's good to note that the Store here is closed for the season, so if you're wanting one last proper bathroom break before hitting the trails I would make a pit-stop at the Esso in Northside on Highway 2. We borrowed a couple chairs off the deck, however, and enjoyed our lunch here before starting on our journey.
The trail starts right next to the road but enters the trees to follow the lake for over 2km. We stopped at the trailhead to study the map and grab a paper copy for our pockets (in addition to the 2 I had printed out from home). We soon learned that this was far from necessary though, as the trails were impeccably marked the entire way, with maps at nearly every intersection.
It took us about a half hour to reach the bridge crossing Anglin Lake - including a stop to shed some layers in the warm sun. If you would like to shorten your trip, there is also a parking lot and what looks to soon be a warm up shelter and outhouse right next to the bridge. I personally enjoyed the added distance because it's the only portion of the trails had us next to the lake.
We crossed the bridge and followed the trail north, towards and along the boundary line for Prince Albert National Park. There were a few hills that made you work, but overall it was nothing too difficult. If Robynn, who was 25 weeks pregnant and on snowshoes for the first time in her life, wasn't struggling, you should manage alright!
Here's Robynn stepping into PA National Park without a permit (shh, don't tell on us). I tried to do the same and ended up sinking 3 feet into the snow - I guess that's what I get for thinking my Canada 150 park pass was still valid.
About 2.5 km in from the bridge we caught our first glimpse of the cabin up on the hill overlooking the forest. It was so inviting and got us excited to finish the final 700 metres - even if it was all uphill.
The incline was definitely manageable, however, and the prospect of taking off our packs at the end of it had us very eager. In addition, the view as we rounded the last corner was a welcome bonus.
Including stops for photos, it took us about 2 hours to reach the Tower Cabin from the trail head at the Jacobsen's Bay Picnic Site. Definitely easy enough that you could do the round trip in one day in you didn't want to - or weren't able to - sleep at the cabin. We were happy to see upon our arrival that we were the first visitors of the day.
Because of the limited information we could find online, we weren't sure what to pack. We brought food for breakfast and lunch, a pot to cook with and boil snow for water, bowls and sporks, sleeping bags and mats, a hatchet and lighter, a change of clothes and warm layers for nighttime, along with a few other personal items. Upon our arrival we tossed our packs on the porch and went inside to have a look around and take inventory of the supplies available.
We noted an axe, lighter (though it was out of fluid), 4 plywood bunks, a kitchen table with a number of comfy chairs, a handful of tea lights scattered throughout, a pot, pan and barbecue flipper, some paper towel and toilet paper, a small amount of dish soap, and unfortunately a fair bit of garbage. There was a half-empty can of pop in the cupboard, cigarette butts here and there, a bottle cap and bit of a wrapper next to the bed, and despite the sign stating to carry out what you bring in, there was a large garbage can in the corner full of tin cans, pop bottles, and other bits of trash.
The worst, however, was a pan in the sink full of bacon grease and some Kraft Dinner remnants. Outside there was also some sort of food waste dumped into the snow over the side of the porch which we both walked through before noticing.
We scraped the greasy noodles into an empty can in the garbage, took a look through the guestbook, gave the place a good sweep, picked up any garbage we found laying around, split some firewood, and set up our bunks before making a plan for the rest of the afternoon.
Deciding that there was still lots of daylight left, we hit the trails once more for a 3.5 km loop. This time we left our packs behind and managed to find some untouched powder to play in.
Once back at the cabin we built a fire in the stove and got started on our dinner of chilli and bannock. I have to make a huge shoutout to the wonderful woman who sells bannock at the Esso in Duck Lake. I stop there either before or on the way back from almost every camping trip just for some of her delicious bread. The evening was spent relaxing by the fire - Robynn did some sketching while I grabbed a few photos in the evening light and later under the stars. We told stories and chatted about life before stoking the stove one last time and crawling onto our bunks.
Our night wasn't too bad, though the bunks were terribly uncomfortable with the sore back I already had going into the trip. I can only imagine that a camp mat on a piece of plywood would not be ideal for a pregnant woman, but Robynn didn't complain! It was hot in the cabin when we fell asleep - we were both outside of our sleeping bags - but the fire died around one and the air quickly cooled. We got up at 3 to rebuild it and slowly warmed up again, managing to sleep until 7ish before it needed re-stoking again. We enjoyed tea by the fire in the morning along with oatmeal and dried fruit for breakfast.
Another note worth mentioning is the status of the outhouses. The one we used wasn't bad to say the least. The second one did not have a trail to it, so we didn't venture through the knee deep snow to check it out. The closer one had plenty of toilet paper along with the typical outhouse smell. It was obvious that the tent caterpillars a few summers back had gotten the better of it, but in general it was in good shape. The door didn't fully open or close though due to some ice build up, so it could have made for a bit of an awkward situation had a new visitor rounded the corner at the wrong time.
After packing up in the morning we chopped some more wood for the next guests and swept the floor of the cabin. It's following simple etiquette like this that keeps these special places available for others to enjoy. Just as we were strapping on our snowshoes we also had a surprise visit from a big beautiful woodpecker.
The air was crisp and much cooler than the afternoon before, but we knew we would warm up fast as we hit the trails. We said one last goodbye to the gorgeous view and our cozy cabin and headed on our way.