Anything but Prairies
When you think about the landscape of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada's prairie provinces, what comes to mind? Rolling grasslands? Miles upon miles of wheat fields? Well the places I visited on two consecutive weekends in June were over 1000km apart and anything but your typical prairie.
Whiteshell Provincial Park
While in Winnipeg for a visit, Jyles and I headed out to Whiteshell Provincial Park on Treaty 3 Land for a day on the water. I love paddling along rocky shores, so when Jyles suggested a spot 2 hours east of Winnipeg where we could canoe through caves in the Canadian Shield, you know I was all in!
As we approached Green Bay Resort on Caddy Lake, the first things I noticed was the number of cabins in the area. For me, the Shield is synonymous with isolated waters, so I wasn't used to the idea of having to share the views with weekend cottage goers. I can't say I can blame them, however, as this land is beautiful! We picked up the canoe we had rented from the resort and started on our way across Caddy Lake to the first of two tunnels built during the construction of the railway that passes overtop.
Paddling through the tunnel was a very neat experience, I only wish we had more time to enjoy it. With so many fishing boats on the water waiting to pass by, I felt bad stopping for photos or even to simply take in the moment. It took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, but once they did I could see the unique textured walls and swallow nests along the ceiling.
After exiting the tunnel onto Southcross Lake, we stopped at a nearby island to enjoy our lunch. This area was much more secluded and I immediately began to feel more at home. The paddle to the second tunnel took longer than we expected - about 2 hours - but was filled with some gorgeous shorelines. The second tunnel is lower and longer than the first, making it, in my opinion, more interesting as well. We stopped once more on the other side to stretch our legs before returning back the way we came and later learned that we had paddled right past a black bear standing on shore - somehow neither of us noticed him! 🙈
A short while after exiting the last tunnel on our return trip we began to hear a low rumbling noise, like that of an engine, coming from the trees. My first thought was that a float plane was about to take off on a nearby lake, but as the sound got louder I turned back and realized that it was a train passing over the tunnel! This also was such a unique experience for me, as even though I knew there were tracks above the tunnels, the concept of seeing a train in a place that reminded me so much of Northern Saskatchewan took a while to make sense of.
This adventure made for a fun day trip and a great way to get warmed up for the Whitewater Festival in Missinipe at the end of the month. It was also, however, a very long day on the water. Take caution if you're only a casual paddler, as 6 hours in an aluminum canoe will leave you feeling very sore.
Narrow Hills Provincial Park
The following weekend I drove 3½ hours north of Saskatoon to the Gem Lakes in Narrow Hills Provincial Park on Treaty 6 Land with my high school friend Brooklyn and her brother Carson. The lakes and the park are just like their names describe, small pools of water that reflect like precious stones surrounded by hills of birch, poplars, and jack pines. We hiked just over 2km with our gear on our backs late Saturday afternoon to reach the backcountry campsites. Even though all three of them were occupied, a couple with some extra room on the shore of Opal Lake offered a space for us to pitch our tent and spread our hammocks.
This ended up working out super well as the 5 of us got along great and ended up sharing gear, advice, and stories throughout the weekend. The boys also started an unofficial wood chopping competition with our neighbour, and though we heard him chopping more, we all agreed that we *definitely* had the bigger logs and better fire (though we didn't actually check to confirm).
It was a relaxing two nights, as we explored the area, hung around in hammocks, waited out the rain, and read a whole bunch - I finally made a dent in the chewed up copy of 1984 I've been carrying around for months. Some of my favourite things in the park were the glass-like waters to admire (while eating fire-roasted bannock dogs), the minnows that nibbled at your toes when you stood in the water, the abundance of butterflies and wildflowers (tiger lilies, roses, and even water lilies to name a few), and my Sunday evening solo paddle on a borrowed canoe. This area is beyond beautiful and Brooklyn and I couldn't stop talking about how breathtaking everything was.
As we were reading in our hammocks one evening a couple came by with a paddle board and kayak and stopped to chat for a bit. It didn't take long for Dean and I to connect the dots and realize that we followed one another on Instagram and had a number of mutual friends who love to explore our province's north! Not only that, but the people we were staying with had also bumped into 2 other couples who they are friends with in Saskatoon - but none of them had any idea they would all be up for the first time. It's crazy how small Saskatchewan really is!
Though the trail itself is quite short (just over 5km total), the humid weather and numerous hills kept us warm as we hiked. Monday morning brought with it our first bout of real sunshine and heat so we made sure to go for a quick swim in the clear waters of Jade Lake to cool down before our drive home.