It’s one of Saskatchewan’s most popular parks with more than a quarter-million visitors throughout the year. However, most of those visits to Prince Albert National Park occur in our warm summer months.
I’m here to convince you to visit during the winter.
**All COVID-19 restrictions and regulations were followed in the creation of this content. All photos taken were captured pre-COVID.
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A Guide to Prince Albert National Park in the Winter
Not only is winter a stunning season to experience the park in, but you’re likely to have the park nearly to yourself.
To make it easy, I’ve put together a guide to Prince Albert National Park in the winter months.
Getting to Prince Albert National Park
The park is 200 kilometres north of Saskatoon. While most visitors are aware of the more developed east side of the park, the west side is a great location to visit for real off-grid adventure.
Visitors can reach the east side by travelling up Highway 2 through the city of Prince Albert and turning off 80 kilometres north of PA onto Highway 264. The highway leads you right to the park gate and into the townsite of Waskesiu.
If you’re up for a 65-kilometre long scenic drive into the park, take the turnoff at Christopher Lake onto Highway 263. Follow it west and then north into the park. There’s a gate at this entrance but it is only staffed during the summer months. You’ll have to proceed to the Park Visitor Centre for your entry pass.
What Services are Available in the Park?
Waskesiu is the small town located within the park. In winter, many businesses are closed for the season but a few hotels and restaurants still remain open.
The four-season resort of Elk Ridge is 9 kilometres from Waskesiu and offers accommodation, restaurants and activities.
L T’s Food and Fuel is a convenience store with basic amenities as well as fuel located at the junction of Highways 2 and 264.
The Park Visitor Centre is open year-round during business hours. It’s a great place to stop in for maps and up-to-date information on trail conditions and what’s happening in the park. Heated washrooms are available 24/7 and are accessible at the Visitor Centre.
Best Winter Activities to Try in Prince Albert National Park
Here are the best places and spots to stop and adventure in the park by activity.
1. Driving Tours
Highway 263 Scenic Route into Prince Albert National Park
As mentioned above, the single-lane scenic route on Highway 263 into Prince Albert National Park is gorgeous in every season. In fact, each time I visit, I capture a photo from the same spot. Along the drive, the forest transitions from aspen parkland into the boreal forest. There’s also usually wildlife to be seen along the way.
Within the park, I recommend a drive up to The Narrows along the southern shore of Waskesiu Lake. In the final kilometres, the trees transition into an old-growth forest which makes for lovely winter wonderland views, especially during a fresh snowfall. When you reach the end, walk out onto the snow-covered beach and keep an eye out for river otters. It’s a great time of year to see them pop their head above the ice.
*Please be aware that this part of the lake doesn’t freeze over. If you choose to walk on the ice, do so with extreme caution.
On-trail or off, Prince Albert National Park is perfect to strap on a set of snowshoes and go exploring. Bring your own or borrow a pair of snowshoes from the Hawood Inn. Make sure to be mindful of groomed trails for cross-country skiers and stay only on trails meant for snowshoes.
For updated snowshoe trail conditions, check them out here.
Treebeard trail is a must-visit while in the park and is a perfect snowshoe for the whole family. This 1.2km loop begins in a forest of balsam fir and leads you into an old-growth white spruce forest that has been around since the early 1800s. Tuffets of snow sit atop fallen logs and stumps. Tree branches laden with the white stuff create a winter wonderland effect. (This is my favourite winter spot in the park).
Narrows Peninsula Trail
The 3km looped Narrows Peninsula trail is perfect for snowshoeing. It leads adventurers through a forest of balsam fir to jack pine and out to views of snow-swept Waskesiu Lake. The topography is rolling so good snowshoes are a must when tackling this trail in the snow.
3. Winter Hiking
Mud Creek Trail
In late winter and early spring, Mud Creek Trail is the best spot to watch for wildlife – in particular, bears. As pike begin spawning in the river, bears are attracted to the nutritious food source. The 2-kilometre trail is easily accessible. The eastern section is on a packed trail. The western side of the trail is mostly a boardwalk through the spruce forest.
Waskesiu River Boardwalk
Even in winter, the Waskesiu River doesn’t fully freeze over. This makes it a great spot to hike the 2.5km loop. The trail is mainly a boardwalk for the first half a kilometre where a bridge crosses over the river. You can turn back and travel back on the boardwalk or head into the forest and hike back along the sloping river valley.
Boundary Bog Trail
Boundary Bog is one of my favourite trails in the park because of its very unique features including carnivorous pitcher plants (most easily seen when there’s no snow) and the golden larch that line this 2km looped trail and boardwalk. In the wintertime, it’s a wonderland with snow draping the boughs of black spruce and dwarf birch that lead you out to the snow-covered bog.
4. Cross-Country Skiing
Prince Albert National Park shines when it comes to its cross-country ski trails. There are nearly 100 kilometres of groomed trails to access that vary from front country skiing right from the townsite of Waskesiu to heading into the backcountry and spending a night out at Crean Camp.
For trail conditions for cross-country skiing, check updates here.
For Beginner Skiers:
Hop onto Beaver Glen or either of the Red Deer ski trails for an easy ski around the townsite.
For Intermediate Skiers
The 9km Fisher Trail loop takes you through mixed woods, aspen forest and black spruce and easily connects onto Red Deer Red or Yellow. Wapiti is a great trail through the Waskesiu Golf Course. Keep an eye out for the resident elk who like to spend time on the course.
For Expert or Adventurous Skiers:
While Crean trail is relatively flat and easy to ski, it’s a 19km return trip that will take most of the daylight hours. Pack in lunch and enjoy a warm drink around the firepits at Crean campsite or inside the enclosed kitchen.
For those looking for a cool adventure linking a national and provincial park, start your ski at the Spruce River Highlands trailhead and into Great Blue Heron Provincial Park and onto the Anglin Lake ski tails. There is a warm-up shelter as well as an old fire tower shelter on the provincial park side.
5. Winter Camping
Prince Albert National Park is one of the friendliest parks in the province for winter camping – especially if you’re new to the activity.
The park is set up to accommodate both front country and backcountry, hot tenters, cold campers and quinzee builders.
In the winter months, the park allows campers to set up their tents anywhere in the park as long as it’s 2 kilometres from a road or campground – so there are many places to head out to.
Front Country Winter Camping in Prince Albert National Park
For those looking for a front country experience, Paignton Beach and Birch Bay are perfect spots that have access to an enclosed kitchen, outdoor firepits, an outhouse and stocked woodpiles.
Back Country Winter Camping in Prince Albert National Park
Crean Kitchen and Southend are two backcountry campsites that are supported with stocked wood and are perfect for those who want a little more adventure while still being supported during their winter camping experience.
READ MORE: WHERE TO WINTER CAMP IN SASKATCHEWAN
6. Wildlife Viewing
The best opportunity for wildlife viewing is in the winter months when there are fewer humans to disrupt the animals.
While it’s not always common, wolves can be spotted throughout the park and are more often near the townsite and on Waskesiu Lake in the winter. There are friendly foxes at the turnoff to The Narrows as well as at Paignton Beach (but please, as with any wildlife do not feed them or encourage them to come close to you).
In late winter and early spring, black bears can be spotted on the trails and are often at Mud Creek Trail hunting for spawning pike.
Although rare, there are opportunities to spot moose and cougar.
I have yet to visit and not see the resident elk – whether they’re wandering through town, hanging out on the golf course or chilling at the Waskesiu Marina.
River otters can be spotted at the opening at The Narrows as well as hanging out around Waskesiu River just before the bridge.
On the west side of the park, it’s common to spot the free-ranging herd of Plains bison in their natural habitat.
*Seeing wildlife is a main highlight of a visit to Prince Albert National Park. But remember to always keep a safe distance, never approach any wildlife, keep pets on leash, tidy up and pack out all food and drive the posted speed limit within the park.
During the month of December, Prince Albert National Park allows visitors to chop down their very own Christmas tree to take home. The initiative is a clever marketing campaign that’s all about proper forest management and maintaining the fuel break around Waskesiu. By allowing visitors to cut down smaller trees, it helps clear the area and reduce the number of highly flammable trees.
8. Lookout Towers + Viewpoints
There are two towers to enjoy views of the southern reaches of Prince Albert National Park. In winter, the easiest one to access is the Height of Land Tower. It’s 60 metres from the parking lot and provides views 15 metres up. The coolest part is that from here, you are standing on the divide where the waters flow wither south into the Saskatchewan River or north towards the Churchill River.
At the 10m tall Spruce River Highlands Tower you get a birds-eye view of the Spruce River and on a clear day, Anglin Lake in the distance. This tower is a bit more work to reach as it’s about a kilometre hike from the parking lot.
Both towers are the perfect spot to watch the stars and maybe catch a show of the Northern Lights dancing above the park.
The Hawood Inn
The Hawood Inn is the go-to place to stay in Waskesiu. Not only is there a restaurant on-site but there are two outdoor hot tubs on the roof top. This makes the Hawood one of the best places to very comfortably watch for the northern lights. The Hawood also provides snowshoes and cross-country skis free of charge which makes it easy to explore and experience all the park has to offer.
Lost Creek Resort
If wanting a cabin getaway, Lost Creek Resort is ideal as they offer one, two and three-bedroom cottages. Each are fully equipped and share access to two outdoor hot tubs. Even better, the resort is next to the cross-country ski trails so you can hop on the trail right from your cabin.
Elk Ridge Resort
While situated before the park, four-season Elk Ridge Resort is one of the best locations to spend a weekend away or a staycation in the province. Only kilometres from the park gate, the resort also has a variety of activities to enjoy on-site including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, skating, and downhill tubing.
For those with an adventurous spirit, winter camping is an excellent way to experience the best Prince Albert National Park has to offer. For more details, see above in the article or read more about where to winter camp in the province, including PANP, here.
Not all restaurants in Waskesiu are open during the winter months.
For dining options, check out the Hawood Inn’s MacKenzie’s Dining Room. They provide three meals a day with a seasonal menu. Elk Ridge Resort’s on-site restaurant The Wyld is newly updated and opened for meals Wednesday through Sundays.
The “Wild West” Side of Prince Albert National Park
While most visitors spend time in the east side of the national park, the west side is truly wild and a great escape for those looking for some of the most epic outdoor experiences Saskatchewan offers.
There are no major public facilities in the west block of the park but there is ample opportunity for snowshoeing, winter hiking and backcountry camping. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to spot the bison within the park.