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PostPosted: August 28th, 2013, 2:38 pm 

Joined: August 28th, 2013, 4:53 am
Posts: 1
Canoe Circuit Lakeland Provincial Park Aug 07-10, 2013-08-27

A diamond in the rough, that’s what exists 45 minutes North East of our cabin at Skeleton lake. After a busy summer of cabin repairs and entertaining friends/family, my wife and I were in need of some serenity, solitude and self guided adventure. I had a hankering for some paddling, and not being aware of any circuits in Alberta, was researching prospective locations in Western Saskatchewan. That’s when I stumbled across the Lakeland Provincial Park Canoe Circuit quite unexpectedly and I’m sure glad I did. The plan: Three nights and 4 days in the old Coleman 15.5 footer with our trusty hound Archie. Eager to get out on our adventure, but surrounded by dark overcast skies, we decided to take our truck and camper to the park. If we could not put in that Wednesday morning, at least we could wait out the weather in the park. On the way there, we emailed the Voluntary Backcountry Travel Notification form to the park staff. Moments after sending, we promptly received an out of office reply stating the individual would be returning February 4th. We thought, Ok then, so much for diligence! A phone call into the supplied number was also fruitless as the individual we needed to speak with was not in for a few days. I did have a good but short conversation with the friendly woman that answered the phone. She detailed to me that plans were in the works to apply a user fee to the circuit within the next two years.

Much to our surprise, and contrary to the weather forecast, when we arrived, the skies had cleared up. From the Jackson Lake staging area, we wasted no time in getting ready. About 50 meters or so from the parking lot, we found a number of canoe carts to pick from and all appeared to be in good repair. After loading the canoe with our gear and strapping it to the cart, we headed off down the first portage of the trip. The trail was 3.2 km in length, wide, well taken care of and did not pose much of a challenge. At the end of the portage, we started to get a taste of what to expect, with respect to circuit maintenance, deeper within the circuit. Much of the signage was either missing or in poor repair and the docks were sinking and/or needing other repairs. This was all overshadowed though by the beautiful peat stained water of Jackson Lake’s upper arm and the songs of birds being carried by the Boreal Breeze. That’s the reason we were here and nothing was going to detract from it.

Our plan was to complete the circuit in a clockwise direction after paddling down the North arm of Jackson lake. After exiting the arm, we stayed close to the Eastern shore. Our time on Jackson Lake was short as we tucked under a footbridge that led us through a small, shallow, marshy area and quickly to the neighbouring Kinnaird Lake. The bridge is part of a hiking trail that leads to a number of the lakes within the circuit. After a short paddle, we decided to spend our first night on Kinnaird Island (which actually appears to be two islands close together) at one of three designated back country camping sites. We had the island to our self and claimed the site on the North portion of the island. The sites had bear hangs, outdoor toilets and fire rings. Missing, was supplied firewood or a source for same. As a result, some individuals have taken the liberty of cutting down green trees and stripping the brush of any deadfall that may burn. We collected leftover scraps from the pits which covered us for the night. As well, someone had left lawn chairs, tarps and metal poles at one of the sites on the South portion of the island for a future visit. They were neatly stacked but not quite the scenery we were looking for. Once again though, this all took a back stage as we were quickly reminded of the back country beauty that surrounded us; small flowers of every color, wild mushrooms and interesting bugs of all kind adorned the isle. While enjoying a cup of wine at the campfire after supper, a curious beaver came by for an intimate visit. He inquisitively waddled a few meters from us and stopped while both parties had a good look at each other. It was a very cool encounter!

The next morning after some camp coffee and breakfast, we headed South down Kinnaird, which is the longest lake in the circuit. Our goal was to stay at about the 20km mark on the South side of Kinnaird. About 30 minutes into our paddle, we were met by a park staff member in a power boat. He was friendly and informative and we had a brief chat. Apparently, they get out on the circuit every few days to make sure all is well which we found somewhat reassuring. We continued on our trek and decided to stay the second night on another island that was in somewhat of an inlet. This one was much smaller and had a single campsite on it. The site was up a steep but short climb and provided a panoramic view of the inlet. No bear hang was present which led us to believe they did not frequent the island. Despite this, we are always “Bear aware” and take appropriate precautions. Bears are always on my mind, and I know they are great swimmers, but given the locale of our chalet for the night, I had more of a sense of security. The evening saw us catch some pike, have a refreshing swim sans suits and dry off by the fire with another cup of wine. What a night! With visions of a great sleep ahead, we set out to brush our teeth before jumping into the rack. Lisa down by the water and I at the campsite. At that moment, we heard something that would have us both up most of the night stoking the fire. From the shore of Blackett East Island, we heard a ROOAARR! We both called to each other “Did you hear.....” there was no time to finish our sentences and we heard another deep bone chilling ROOAARR! There was a large bear very close by and he did not sound happy. While we had bear bangers, and spray, we were certainly not looking forward to using them. Our vocal bear was just the opening to what would be an orchestra of wildlife. Loons, owls, multiple packs of coyotes, wolves and other players all chimed in as night fell. We were on the far side of the circuit and the forests came alive like I have not heard before. It was an amazing experience despite the lack of sleep; one we will both not soon forget.

We survived the night and set out on the longest leg of our journey. We reached the end of Kinnaird and started to head North on Blackett Lake. We passed the two islands on the way but could not spot the campsites. (Small signs identifying the sites would certainly be of benefit.) There is a trappers cabin on the North shore that is visible for quite a distance. Most paddlers I’m sure head toward the landmark naturally out of curiosity. We made it to the far North portion of Blackett just in time as the wind picked up with chop and whitecaps. We had no time to explore the rustic building as it was on a lee shore and we risked tipping the canoe. We had to paddle briskly to the East of the cabin a short distance to find the Portage trail head. We made it safely and took a break for lunch. This second portage of the circuit is 1.6 km long and runs between Blackett and McGuffin Lakes. It is partially overgrown and has some challenging inclines. There is only one canoe cart on this portage and we lucked out, or so we thought, having it at the South end of the trail. It did not take us long to realize that BOTH wheels were flat! It was a grind but we took it slow and steady and finally made it to McGuffin Lake.

The water on McGuffin was much calmer and we cruised through the lake in short order. Both Lisa and I agreed that McGuffin was our least favourite of the lakes. It had an eerie loneliness to it that is hard to describe. Next time we hit the circuit, we will spend some more time on McGuffin and will hopefully warm up to it a bit more. The portage from McGuffin to Jackson ponds is short at .6 km and quite easy. The only concern we had was with the portage cart. It was not meant for canoes but car toppers with an outboard. It had a very narrow wheel base and was prone to tipping. The saving grace is that it was only .6km and you could easily "Hand bomb" it if you needed to. Cruising through the ponds was peaceful. Numerous beaver lodges line them.

Our last night had us staying at one of the sites at Jackson Lake South campsite. Jackson Lake was our favourite at this point. It had clear warm waters for swimming and the shoreline had much to view. Again, firewood was an issue. A large stack of treated lumber had been dropped near the camp sites. This was obviously a staging area for boardwalk repairs and the planks were being used for this purpose. Some individuals had taken chain saws and bucked up the boardwalk wood for fire-pit fuel. I find it unbelievable how someone would think this is a reasonable thing to do. Anyway, our last night out brought a fabulous sunset and a great night sleep. We were disappointed that our trip was coming to a close and vowed to return someday soon.

Closing thoughts:

We feel very fortunate to have this area basically in our back yard. As most things in life, you take away what you want from adventures like this. While we have been a tad critical about the park infrastructure, it provides a great experience when you overlook the negatives. There is talk, as mentioned, of establishing a user fee and mandatory park access application. I am all for this but a few key things will need to take place if this happens. More resources need to be allocated to monitor the park activity and uphold the rules, the provision of firewood is a must, (The brush, and anything that burns, is being stripped from the sites). In addition, an injection of cash into trail, site, boardwalk maintenance, signage and education would need to happen. Users will expect this and if launched as is, complaints about the park infrastructure would be often. They have a survey available online for users of the park so be sure to supply feedback if you head out.


PostPosted: August 28th, 2013, 5:51 pm 
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Joined: June 25th, 2004, 9:42 pm
Posts: 1658
Location: Calgary, AB or wherever life takes me
Great review and photos. :)

I really need to give that trip a go.


"Paddle faster, I hear banjos!"

PostPosted: August 29th, 2013, 7:36 am 

Joined: November 12th, 2001, 7:00 pm
Posts: 373
Location: Lethbridge, Alberta Canada
Thanks for the report. We were about 1 month ahead of you.
Great area!

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