Prince Albert National Park
English will be spoken everywhere. There will be a government employee in most places who will also speak French. Most people will ask you all sorts of things if you have another language, and it is perfectly safe to make friends for the weekend or week. You will be offered coffee or a drink, and maybe something to eat from you new friends.
It was created in the 1930's to represent the transition from the prairies (open grasslands) through aspen parklands (popular and other deciduous trees with open spaces between clumps) and boreal forest (coniferous trees, lakes, beaches). Grey Owl (Archie Belany) was a famous naturalist who made a home in the park prior to his death at Lake Ajawaan.
The landscape varies from open plains where buffalo (bison) roam wild to northern lakes with dense forest cover and many lakes. The main townsite is on Waskesiu Lake and is called Waskesiu. It has many fine sandy beaches accessible by automobile, with picnic grounds with public tables where a fire may be lit and food cooked. Other lakes easily accessed are Sandy Lake - which has a camping ground on the shore and a nice sand beach; Namekus Lake - same as Sandy L, but smaller; Trappers Lake - smaller still, no beach; the Hanging Heart Lakes - 3 small lakes which lead into the park's largest lake (Crean), these lakes are usually accessed for fishing only; Crean Lake - takes a boat ride to get to, it has beaches, but these are little used.
Flora and fauna
The main trees in the park are trembling aspen, paper birch, black spruce, white spruce, jack pine and balsam fir. Most travellers to the park will see elk (wapiti - different than European elk), white-tailed deer, much water fowl (ducks and geese) and many birds. Those who hike even short distances off highways may see foxes, black bears, moose (often standing in water, eating), and more rarely wolves and bison (buffalo). The lakes have many fish, and can be caught with a rod and reel - a National Parks fishing license is required. The types of fish often caught are northern pike (locally called "jackfish"), walleye (locally called "pickeral), white perch, whitefish. The park also has a restricted zone for travel at Lake Lavalee on the norther border where white pelicans breed. Most travellers would not venture "into the bush" by canoe and wet trail to make the restrictions important.
Summers are generally warm but not excessively hot. Days in June and July may achieve more than 30 C. May and August are often warm, but may also have daytime temperatures some years as low as 5-10 C, and near freezing overnight. The townsite accommodations at Waskesiu Lake are often heavily booked from ~June 15 to ~August 20 because of being almost certain to have fine sunny weather. The park is open in winter for cross country skiing and other adventures, but little used.
Saskatchewan Highway 11 starts in Regina (capital of the Province of Saskatchewan), proceeds north through Saskatoon and Prince Albert, then along the eastern side of the park. Most travellers will either fly into Saskatoon and rent a car, or drive north from the TransCanada highway which passes through Regina, or the YellowHead highway (highway #16, another trans-Canada route from Edmonton to the West to Saskatoon and east to Winnpeg).
Passenger bus service is available into the townsite of Waskesiu, which may please those who are interested in a resort village and beaches and don't need to travel out far.
A national park pass or daily fee for entry applies. Special fishing licences are required. Camping permits are required, and so are fire permits within camp grounds. It is free to burn wood at picnic sites to cook your supper.
Hiking, walking, driving, boating, canoeing will all be your travel methods. You may also rent a bicycle (expensive).
Most people spend at least some time lying on the sandy beaches and swimming. Often, even at busy summer weekends, it is possible to find a beach all to yourself at a picnic site or with a walk away from tourist areas.
Wildlife watching is very easy. You will have to be blind not to see elk and deer, and with a little looking will also see other animals. There are many short trails with written guides to help you understand what to look for. There is a park nature centre and park office to help you plan such adventures. There are also guided naturalist walks for small fees.
Swim in the lake, sun on the beach, shop in town, drive the roads to remote beaches, walk trails. There is movie theatre with 2 screens. In cold and rainy weather, they will put on extra shows for the wet and cold tourists.
There is a very good golf course The Lobstick which is in the bush, and has many animals. Clubs and carts can be rented there. If you like to golf, this is a highly rated course.
The town of Waskesiu has the only stores. There are two small grocery stores (supermarkets), 4 or 5 clothes stores (mostly beach wear and women's clothes), dry goods (camping equipment and basic necessities), government liquor store (well stocked). This is not a shopping destination, but most necessary things are avaiable, and the prices may be better than the cities to the south especially late in the summer season.
There are maybe 8 places to eat where you sit down at a table with waiters. There are 3 fast food outlets, one of which is the Mr. Submarine sandwich chain store.
The sit down restaurants all serve alcohol drinks. The age to drink is 19 in Saskatchewan, but this is not enforced except in the restaurants or if you are making a noisy party in the campground etc.
There are cabins for rent from ~$85-200, and rooms in a hotel may be about the same. Many of these are good value if you have a larger group and share the costs. Campground fees may be $15 for a campsite (up to 6 people) with no electric or water hookups, to may be $30 for a caravan (trailer) with all hook-ups (electric, water, sewer). You may camp at sites with outhouses (drop septic latrines), toilets with cold water, and others with hot and cold water shower and toilet houses. You may also hike to wilderness camp grounds which have no services, no lights except for stars and moon and animals for neighbours! You must pay a small fee for these also.
Hotels, drive up motels, cabins, camping grounds. Book ahead for all is possible and recommended to avoid having no place to sleep in June, July and August.
Major camp ground at Waskesiu is Beaver Glen, which is good for tents, trailers which want electricity (only service there). It has hot and cold showers and flush toilets. You must walk to the lake and to the town or drive. You may have campfires if you buy a fire permit for $1 per day.
There is a trailer park for caravans and motor homes and RVs with hook-ups next to the Beaver Glen campground. No fires are allowed there
The Narrows is 30 minutes drive from Waskesiu and it is on the lakeshore. It was flush toilets, cold water there and no showers. No services for the trailers. Fires with fire permit.
Two self-register campgrounds are at two lakes south of Waskesiu. These are at Sandy and Namekus lakes. Many boaters and fishers like to camp here. There is one other small camp ground at Trapper's Lake which has 5 or 6 sites only.
Accessible by hiking, bicycle, and canoe. You may camp after registering and getting a permit. A particularly popular trip to from Waskesiu to the Kingsmere River Portage which has a railcar you can put a small boat or canoe on and take to Kingsmere Lake (free). Then you can canoe 12 km to the north end and walk to Ajawaan Lake where grey Owl's cabins still stand. If you prefer to hike to the cabin, a trail is on the eastern side. You will need to get an early start to hike almost 30 km and spend time at the cabins also. Grey Owl has one cabin half in the water with a beaver lodge (house) taking up half the cabin. His wife lived in the cabin up the hill!
There are many good bicycle trails and hiking trails. The terrain is mostly through bush country and to see lakes.
It is quite safe from people. Leaving automobiles locked will be safe everywhere. Putting things out of sight of others will help ensure this. It is normal to ask others to watch your things even if you just met them, e.g. in a campground or on the beach.
The most risky thing is to leave any food or scraps, even garbage out. The bears will smell it and then tear up your campsite to find more. It is illegal to feed any animals at all, even if they are cute, for this reason. Also, never get too close to a deer or elk, which may run at you. Bear and other animal attacks are rare, and will not happen if you follow the instructions you will be given.