Date Established: 1927
Size: 957,500 acres
Typical of its era, Prince Albert National Park was created to serve as a recreational playground—its stewardship value would only be recognized much later. The park spans a slender transition zone between the northern boreal forest and the southern aspen parkland. Its rolling hills of spruce, pine, aspen, and birch shelter pockets of fescue and sedge meadows. Year by year, forestry concerns and encroaching civilization have threatened this ecosystem elsewhere, making Prince Albert today a precious preserve.
• Bison Haven Prince Albert is notable for the bison herd that roams along its southwestern border, the only free-range herd of wild plains bison in Canada that still occupies its ancestral territory. The herd is descended from a handful of animals once fenced along the south boundary of the park. It now boasts more than 200 head.
• Threatened Species Numbering many millions before near extirpation at the hands of European settlers, Canada’s largest land mammal—a bull can weigh nearly a ton—is still very much a threatened species. The animals do sometimes stray off parklands, much to the consternation of some neighboring landowners.
• Cree Home When Prince Albert National Park was established, its land was occupied by the Cree, who had settled in the area in the mid-19th century. Most of the Cree were then obliged to move east to Montreal Lake.
• Scandal The park became home to the renowned conservationist writer Grey Owl. Though he purported to be a member of the First Nations, he was in fact an Englishman named Archibald Belaney. The revelation of his true identity after his death was an international scandal. Nonetheless, Grey Owl’s conservationist message—“Remember, you belong to Nature, not it to you”—has stood the test of time. His cabin on Ajawaan Lake is one of the country’s best known hiking destinations.
How to Get There
Most visitors arrive by automobile via provincial Hwy. 2 and Hwy. 264, the quickest route to the Main Gate and the village of Waskesiu. Hwy. 263, a winding and scenic pavement that passes through the South Gate, is an alternate route. For access to the largely undeveloped West Side, visitors can use Hwy. 55. Saskatoon has the closest international airport and passenger rail service. The provincial bus line, STC, serves Waskesiu with daily departures from Saskatoon and Prince Albert. Service runs from early May to early September.
When to Go
The park is at its best between Victoria Day and Labour Day. The extra-long days around the end of June are especially glorious. The aspen and tamarack reach their height of tangerine color around mid- to late September, when you will have the park mostly to yourself. However, many businesses will be closed, so call ahead. Freeze-up and winter arrives quickly and there is usually enough snow for skiing from early December through late March. Recreational options are most limited in April, when the lake ice is unsafe and the roads and trails are muddy.
How to Visit
Set inside the park, the resort town of Waskesiu (Cree for “red deer”) offers accommodations, restaurants, shops, and services; hotel accommodations are available year-round. Typical visitors make the town their base for car-supported day trips on the East Side of the park, especially along Hwy. 263. Excellent sandy swimming beaches are found on Waskesiu, Namekus, and Sandy Lakes. There is an extensive trail network for day-use and backcountry hiking, cycling, and skiing on groomed trails. Backcountry paddling routes are limited, but there are many good day-trip options.
Visitors primarily interested in the park’s plains bison herd, or in horseback- and wagon-riding trips into the park, should consider staying at one of the guest ranches operating on the park’s West Side; park staff can make suggestions about accommodations and outfitters. In all cases, overnight backcountry stays require a permit from the Park Headquarters in Waskesiu.
—Text adapted from the 2011 National Geographic book Guide to the National Parks of Canada