Summer Walks at Cranberry Flats Conservation Area

Cranberry Flats Conservation Area is a short 10 minute drive outside of the city of Saskatoon that is family friendly, dog friendly (on-leash), and has an accessible lookout point with a boardwalk. While it is lovely in the winter for snowshoeing and walking, it is worth revisiting in warmer months to appreciate the large diversity of plant life.

The dogs at Cranberry Flats

I packed up my usual adventure sidekicks and we set off to explore. Although the area can get busy, there are plenty of smaller trails that branch off and I didn’t find myself crossing paths with many other people. I was in awe at the variety of wildflowers I came across, but couldn’t stop for long as the dogs pressed forward in hopes of coming up on one of the squirrels that chattered around us.

Along with the explosion of flowers, we were surrounded by berries of all colours. The Saskatoons have begun to ripen on the bushes, and the Juniper berries were so plentiful that they weighed down the little green shrubs.

Although there were a few grey clouds in the sky, it was a hot day, so we made our way down to the river for the dogs to have a swim and a drink. I watched some new little froglets hop back into the safety of the water as we cooled off and continued on our way.

June going for a swim

We continued along the river side for a while and then happened to pop up right below the boardwalk and lookout point where a man was playing the guitar with the company of two curious ground squirrels. After a lovely chat, we headed back to the vehicle for a drink of water and some air conditioning.

Wild Bergamot

My favourite part about Cranberry Flats Conservation Area is that you can make it your own adventure. You can spend 30 minutes to several hours exploring, no matter the season, and it is always breathtaking.

Happy exploring!

A Day in the Life of a Dog Sled Tour Guide

What goes in to being a musher? Getting paid to pet dogs all day? Here is a snap shot of an average day of a dog sled guide, working one of my favourite jobs but also by far the most difficult!

Every morning I would scramble and gather all of my gear and quickly eat before heading out the door. The funny thing about seeing dog food all day when you’re hungry is that it starts to look kind of… appetizing? I found myself buying chocolate cereal that looked suspiciously familiar to the kibble I was scooping out for the dogs. Every day I brought a 48 litre pack of gear and a smaller 20 litre pack to work with me, the smaller bag to sit on the sled with me with extra mitts/gear for guests, and then a larger bag for extra layers of clothing and another pair of boots. We would all arrive at the dog kennel and throw our bags in a pile on the deck to start the morning chores.

While it’s easy to see the fun part of the tours, a lot of work goes in behind the scenes to keep the dogs happy and the tours running smoothly. The first tasks of the day are regular chores before we load up the dogs and drive to the dog sledding trail. Morning chores included feeding, poop cleanup, giving medications to dogs who needed them, loading hot water canisters and other supplies into the trailers, and getting the trucks running and warmed up. Winter in the mountains also means that morning chores were done in the dark, so a good head lamp was a must! Each of the 150+ dogs received a portion of food specific to their dietary needs, and we followed a written food board to make sure this was correct. As guides, we were expected to learn each and every dogs name and which house they lived in (their names were not written on their houses or collars).

Indy and the food board

My favourite chore in the morning was preparing the feed. My least favourite was loading the trailers, because I wasn’t tall enough to lift the hot water canisters into the trailer and often spilled them all over myself in the process. It is rather uncomfortable to start a 12 hour day outside in the winter soaking wet. After those tasks were done, we were all given a list of what the teams would look like for the day. Then we would run to collect the dogs and put them in the appropriate boxes in the trailers so they could be unloaded according to team. This was a workout, because we would be running with two dogs at a time and lifting them into boxes. I often struggled to get the bigger dogs in the boxes up over my head, and was thankful when they would cooperate by putting their front paws up on the trailer. After everyone was packed up, we grabbed our radios and set off.

The driving time was our ‘quiet’ time for the day, as the trails we ran our teams on were about 30 minutes from the kennel. As soon as the trucks pulled up to site, we were on the ground running to get everything ready. A drop line was set up between posts to clip the dogs in to get their harnesses put on before the team was hooked up to their sled. Then we would take the sleds down from the trailers, set up the lines and sled bags, then get the dogs hooked up, and drive them to the starting chutes to park until guests arrived. We typically would bring 120 dogs up to site with us every day. Any pups that weren’t heading out on the first tour would then be taken out to pee and given some warm soup while they waited for their turn. In addition to the set teams, we would bring up spare dogs to put in place of older dogs half way through the day or if any dogs were too tired or feeling unwell.

As the guests arrived and the tours set off, some guides would stay back to prepare a campfire for the cold returning guests, look after the dogs staying at the trailers, and prepare any dogs who would be running the next tour. Another two guides would set off on a snowmobile behind the running tour to clean up dog poop along the trail. Guests were often surprised to hear that clean up is done after every single run, but it was important to keep things as pristine as possible.

It is truly a magical feeling to be driving a dog sled across a frozen lake, and I tried to pause often to appreciate exactly where I was in that moment. What a privilege to live and work in the mountains, and be a part of a an experience of a lifetime for so many people.

As a guide I was responsible for three sleds, mine in the lead, and two guest driven sleds behind me. I had to ensure that the guests were driving safely and confidently, and that the dogs were doing well. If one sled was moving slower than the others, I could stop and rearrange my teams to even out the speeds. Sled dogs have best friends who they prefer to run with, and dogs that they do not get along with. It’s important to learn their personalities and understand those relationships to keep your sled moving and your pups happy. Happy dogs also need encouragement, so we asked guests to try and remember the names of the dogs on their teams and cheer them on.

Between tours, the dogs get a well deserved rest and a warm soup filled with tasty treats. This was also when it was important to check in on all of the dogs on your teams and give them some love. On very cold days, shorter haired dogs would get jackets, and those with sensitive feet would have booties put on right before the tour went out. Any other down time was spent snuggling, petting, and brushing the dogs.

At the end of the day, after four tours, we would drive all of the teams back in to the chutes to park and take the dogs off of the lines. They would be attached directly to the drop line again where we could remove their harnesses and give them a final bowl of soup before returning for dinner at the kennel. We would them take apart the sleds and wrap up the lines, then begin loading the dogs back into the truck after their stomachs had some time to settle after eating. We became so familiar with the dogs that we could have one guide wait at the trailer and one at the drop line, and then release dogs to run to them and be lifted into the boxes. There were also dogs who thought it was a fun game to run circles around us instead of going to the trailer, so we had to choose wisely.

Marilyn lounging after tours

Once we returned back to the kennel in the evening, the work was still not over. The first thing we would do is change out our wet socks/boots and uniform to dry kennel clothes. Then our first priority was getting the dogs out of the trailers and back to their homes where their food and fresh water was waiting. We always took two dogs at a time, and tried to choose two that live in a similar area in the kennel. A piece of gear that we all used was a climbing quick draw that we attached to our belt loops. This made it easier for us to clip one dog to us while we used both hands to lift the next dog down. After that we completed nightly clean ups, meds, and then some dogs would get jackets or blanket put in their houses if they needed them. Finally after everyone was fed and cozy in their dog houses, our day was over.

Ducati snuggled up with her blanket

One night a week I would sleep at the kennel, as each staff member took turns spending the night in to make sure everything was okay with the dogs and the yard. Kennel nights had their perks, you could bring dogs in with you for sleepovers (I would often have 3-4 pups sleeping beside me), but it also meant that I would wake up whenever the kennel started barking or howling, or when the logs in the wood stove had burned down. It was a great feeling to snuggle up beside a fire with a cabin full of happy dogs.

Dragon enjoying the fire

The next morning I would be up early filling thermoses with hot water and ready to start the process all over again. I was often so exhausted from my week of work that I didn’t even think about doing anything on my weekends, it was a full time commitment for a season and I would even dream about dogs all night, but I loved my experience working as a sled dog tour guide and every challenge I faced along the way.

I am now lucky to have a little piece of the kennel close to my heart since adopting my retired sled dog Piper from the company.

Happy working!

A Quick Stop to Smell the Flowers at Pike Lake Provincial Park

Pike Lake Provincial Park is located a short 30 kilometres outside of the city of Saskatoon. It is one of the smallest provincial parks in Saskatchewan, but it is still the perfect getaway if you want to take a break from the city for a few hours. You’ll find a lovely little beach, an outdoor swimming pool, a mini golf course, plenty of day-use picnic tables, and a small nature trail.

Piper and I went for a quick swim in the lake and then decided to see what we could find on the nature trail. It is well maintained and family friendly, you’ll see diverse plant life from cattails to cacti along the way.

I joke that Piper is like Ferdinand the bull from the popular children’s book because she loves to stop and sniff flowers. Here are a few pictures of some of our favourite finds on the trail.

While it isn’t always possible to pack up and leave every weekend to adventure, it is always fun to explore closer to home and discover the beautiful things that our own back yard has to offer in Saskatoon.

Happy exploring!

My Top 3 Full Day Hikes in Alberta

There is no better feeling than standing at the top of a mountain, cracking a summit beer, and looking down at the landscape around you.

The thing about hiking is that once you catch that first amazing view that makes you fall in love, you can’t stop. The search is always on for the next adventure, the coolest trail, and the hiker’s high after a long day of trekking.

Alberta is home to many breathtaking hikes and adventures, here are my favorites.

Tent Ridge Horseshoe (Hard,10 km)

I set out with a group of friends one morning and made the 40 or so minute drive up the Spray Lakes road from Canmore to find Tent Ridge. The first section of the hike is in the forest, so be sure to make some noise and carry bear spray. Once we hiked in closer to the ridge, we began scrambling up the left side and moved clockwise (as suggested by AllTrails, this was the best route).

Tent Ridge

We then followed the ridge around, amazed by the incredible views as we stood above the clouds. We stopped for two breaks as it was pretty exhausting moving along, but became less tiring for the second half as the ridge flattens out.

Tent Ridge

This hike is absolutely worth the drive out of Canmore. Be aware and check the trail conditions before you go, because there is often quite a bit of snow in spring and early summer, so you can pack accordingly.

Wilcox Pass (Moderate, 9.3 km)

Wilcox Pass is a all about the views without the strenuous trek up a mountain. It is located on the Icefield Parkway very close to the Athabasca Glacier and the Icefield Discovery Centre. You’ll find the most difficult parts of this trail are at the beginning and end as you gain and lose most of your elevation, but it flattens out nicely in between.

I recommend going as a group with two vehicles if possible. Leave a vehicle at Tangle Falls and drive over to the Wilcox Campground to begin, or you could try to hitchhike your way to the campground (not uncommon practice on the Icefield Parkway but certainly not the safest).

Wilcox Pass and Bighorn Sheep

This is a great trail to bring your dog along with you, but make sure you keep them on leash as you are likely to see bighorn sheep and maybe even some mountain goats.

Wilcox Pass, a quick cool down nearing Tangle Falls

I enjoyed admiring the glaciers, and trying to identify all of the different types of fungi we passed along the way. Pack a delicious lunch and enjoy the day!

Cirque Peak via. Helen Lake Trail (Hard, 16.1 km)

Cirque Peak is an out and back trail that also begins on the Icefield Parkway, however it is closer to Lake Louise and begins on the Helen Lake Trail. The hard work pays off as the views at the top are among the best I’ve ever seen.

You will likely see plenty of marmots. Much to my delight, they ‘yelled’ at us most of the way. The adventure is moderately difficult until you reach Helen Lake and begin to move up past the tree line. As you move up the mountain, take plenty of breaks and continue on, the summit is worth it.

Expect to do a little scree skiing on the way down and be sure you have a windbreaker, and of course a beer for the summit, if you plan on hanging out up there for a while.

Every bit of that trail amazed me. It was such an incredible experience and I am eager to get back out there and hike again as soon as we are able to travel.

Some Quick Day Hiking Tips

** It’s a good idea to check AllTrails or other hiking apps for trail conditions. Especially in the Rockies, you could be hiking through snow even in the middle of summer. It’s also important to make sure there aren’t any trail closures or restrictions due to maintenance or wildlife.

**Pack layers, you may be warm when you start but things will cool off fast when you stop for a break half way up a mountain

**Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back

Happy hiking!

Tick Talk with Tia

As we are a few weeks strong into tick season, and I have a newly adopted dog that has been bringing plenty of them into my house, I figured it would be a good idea to do some research and learn a little more about how to avoid and remove these nasty little creatures.

I often see people sharing ‘life hacks’ on Facebook about how to quickly get rid of a tick with vaseline or a lighter, and I know that this method could potentially do more harm than good, so I believe it is important to share a little about what they actually are and how to remove them.

Healthlink BC has an excellent step by step process on how to properly remove a tick and some removal methods to avoid. https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/tp23585spec

It is also a great idea to research the types of ticks that are found in your area and which tick borne illnesses you may need to be aware of. In Saskatchewan, I have only found Wood Ticks (or American Dog Ticks), but I know that the Lyme disease carrying Deer Tick is here as well.

The thing is that I want to be educated and cautious, because they can potentially be quite harmful, but I also do not want to let them stop me from going outside or keeping me stuck to the sidewalk. There are a few steps I take to kick the ticks…

For myself, it’s important to wear bug spray with DEET if I know i’ll be going off of a path. If I think that the area may be especially tick-y, I’ll tuck my pant legs into my socks (what a nerd) so that they can’t crawl up into my pant legs. It’s also nice to ask your hiking/walking buddies to quickly scan each other during and after your hike. When I get home, I will remove all of my clothing and throw it into the dryer for 10-20 minutes (your washing machine will not kill them, but the dryer will). Then I’ll check places that a tick would like to bite like behind my ears, armpits, etc. to make sure I don’t have any unwelcome hitchhikers.

For Piper, I also want to be careful because dogs can also be susceptible to tick borne illnesses. I give her a tick treatment once per month which will kill ticks about 12-24 hrs after she is bitten (talk to your vet about the best tick treatment option for your pet as there are plenty!). I also try to avoid walking her through very grassy areas, although being a dog she is drawn to them. After our walks I will quickly check her over for anything I can immediately see, but it is difficult to spot ticks on her as she is dark coloured so I often don’t find them until they’re crawling across my couch a few hours later.

My family and I save every tick we find in a glass jar. Firstly, its a good idea to keep the ticks in case you are bitten and do begin to feel ill, then they can be tested for tick borne illnesses. And secondly, they are so damn hard to kill that I never feel quite confident that I have squished them (and remember that water doesn’t seem the phase them so flushing is probably not a good idea either).

Here are a few resources to help learn how to identify ticks and ways to avoid them.

Tick Identification: https://tickencounter.org/tick_identification/tick_species

Preventing tick bites: https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_people.html

Tick bites and what to do if you are bitten: https://www.healthline.com/health/tick-bites#symptoms

Keep safe and continue to enjoy the outdoors!

Douglas Provincial Park, Saskatchewan – Dogs and Dunes

With another weekend to adventure, we decided to head to Douglas Provincial Park, which is about an hour and a half outside of Saskatoon. The day was perfectly sunny, and I was looking forward to walking through some sand. We packed up the dogs, some snacks and plenty of water, and made the drive to the trail head.

The full loop of the trail is about 7kms, but allow for some extra time to walk out into the sand dunes. While they may be the ‘main attraction’, the entire trail is diverse and beautiful. You’ll walk past plenty of birch trees, wildflowers, and cacti.

May 24, 2020

When we reached the dunes, the familiar prairie landscape faded away. Although there was no water in sight, it felt like we had moved to a tropical destination. If you plan on exploring quite a bit, it’s a good idea to drop a pin on your GPS or phone maps so that you don’t get lost in the sea of sand.

Belly rubs in the shade

At this stage we were also feeling the heat. Luckily the sand was warm, but not hot, and we found a nice shaded area to sit and have a drink.

After a nice cool down we walked through the dunes some more with our three happy dogs. They must have been getting the same ‘tropical vacation’ feeling as I was.

Douglas Provincial Park May 24, 2020

Tired dogs in tow, we ventured back to the car through swarms of mosquitos. We ended up bringing quite a few mosquito bites, about three ticks, and a sunburn (for me) back to the car with us. In spite of the pests, the trail was beautifully maintained with unique prairie flora along the way.

May 24, 2020

After arriving at the car, the dogs were eager for a swim. We drove back to the town of Elbow and stopped at Lake Diefenbaker so everyone could cool off.

May 24, 2020

That evening we had our first campfire of the season with some classic campfire food, hot dogs and s’mores. My hot dog nearly ended up with the dogs. It was a perfect first summer night of the season with excellent company.

Happy hiking!

May Long in the Dirt

Just one week after our walk in the snow storm, the weather was finally looking warmer for the May long weekend. The past two years my long weekends have been spent hiking to Grey Owls cabin in Prince Albert National Park, but with the parks closed for now we had to change it up.

Spending more time in the city gave us the perfect opportunity to try out one of the disc golf courses in Saskatoon a few weeks ago, and we have gone quite a few times since. A set of disks is around $40-$60 and the course is free to use, making it the perfect activity for a warm evening in the city.

Fun for any skill level, I enjoyed the game even though I haven’t exactly mastered how to throw a frisbee very far… or very straight.

On Saturday we went to some off-road vehicle trails north of the city. I was nervous about driving my own quad but quickly realized that the fun outweighed the fear. We packed some watermelon, and not nearly enough water, and enjoyed the +25 celcius day.

Eventually, we made it back to the city as the sun was setting, covered in dust and dried mud, but happy as could be. I had planned on getting quite a bit of yard work done the next day, but failed to take into account just how exhausting it is to drive an ATV.

I ended up spending the following day cleaning up a bit, but mostly napping on the couch. Finally the next morning I was eager to get my planters filled with new flowers.

It was the perfect weekend of wonderful company, new adventures, and a little gardening.

Happy exploring!

Walking a Half Marathon Through the City of Saskatoon

Last week we finally decided to cancel our West Coast Trail reservations. We were booked for June 5th and it seems unlikely that it will be open for out of province residents at that time if it evens opens at all. To distract ourselves from the disappointment of missing out on our hike, we wanted to plan adventures closer to home to fill in the hiking gap.

With Covid-19 restrictions beginning to lift , but still present in many of the parks and day used areas around the city, we decided to keep our adventure close to home. And as the weather would have it, we hardly crossed paths with any other people on our 21 kilometre adventure through the city.

May 9, 2020

We began at the edge of the Riverside Country Club and walked through the Furdale dog park to the Meewasin trail. What we didn’t expect, was to be walking through a snowstorm on May 9th. But my friend Lindsay often reminds me that there is no such thing as bad weather, as long as you are dressed appropriately, so we set out in the snow!

May 9, 2020

Fortunately I packed a two pairs of gloves, a rain coat, and pants, because we were in for about 3 and a half hours of wind and wet snow. Under the fresh layer of snow was also a healthy layer of mud, and we slipped and slid around for the first few kilometres.

May 9, 2020

It was easier going once we made it to the road, and even easier once we were on the Meewasin trail. From there we left the usual trail scenery for the city life. It is definitely a strange feeling to be walking past buildings and bridges in hiking boots with a backpack on.

May 9, 2020

We battled the cold and wind most of the way, I expected to shed clothing layers as the walk went on but instead found myself wishing I had packed more. In spite of the cold, we had a great group of girls and laughed and made the best of it. The trail was rather quiet due to the weather, but I still managed to slip and fall in front of one of the few people we passed along the way, giving my friend behind me a good laugh.

Quick warm up break.
Snack breaks!

Eventually, the snow stopped and the wind settled down, making the last 5-6 kilometres a treat. we made it to the Meewasin Park parking lot about 5 hours after we set out on our journey. Success!

We were cold and tired, but still had such a wonderful day. Now we need to start planning the next adventure, maybe a full walking marathon next time!

Happy adventuring!

Bringing Piper Home

In 2018, I worked in Canmore as a dog sled tour guide. While it was tough work, I loved the job and spending my days with 150+ huskies. I loved all of the dogs, and got to know each and every one of them, but one pup in particular stole my heart.

Piper was one of the smaller dogs in the kennel. On a team, she ran with a grin on her face and her tongue flapping in the wind, often with her head turned around looking at the driver. While she loved the other dogs, she was quite nervous about new people. Shy dogs wore blue bandanas so guests would know to give them space.

Piper and Leroy, winter 2018

I got to know Piper as the season went on, and found myself stopping to snuggle her for a few moments longer whenever I had the chance, and remembering which box of the truck she was in so I could walk her back to her dog house every day. Soon I was bringing her in to the cabin for sleepovers every Saturday night when it was my turn to spend the night at the kennel.

Winter 2018

I was sad to say goodbye at the end of my season, but never forgot about my sweet little friend. I mentioned many times to family and friends over the next two years about how I would love to adopt her one day when she was old enough to retire. And finally the opportunity arose.

With the concern of Covid 19. I made a careful trip to Alberta to pick up my girl. I packed all of my drinks and food for the trip, and managed to make the almost 15 hour day of driving without setting foot inside a building. My only stop was at the same ‘Pay at the Pump’ gas station in Drumheller on the way there and the way back.

Piper snoozed in my passenger seat the whole way home, and happily curled up beside me on my bed when we finally arrived back home. The next day we set out for our first Saskatoon walk.

Piper was nervous of her new surroundings, but with a little patience and love from my boyfriend and I, she made it the whole loop. Looking back at this day now three weeks later I am amazed at the progress she has made.

Every day she gets more comfortable with the retired life, and I am so happy to be able to give her a cozy couch to sleep on, plenty of treats, and lots of walks. I am excited to share our hiking adventures whenever we are able to get back on to the trails.

Social Iso-lake-tion at Jackfish Lake

After a few weeks of social distancing, many craft projects, and probably a little too much baking (banana bread, yum), my boyfriend and I decided to pack up and head to my parent’s cabin for the weekend for a little change of scenery. My family wasn’t planning on being there, so it was the perfect opportunity to get out of the house while still distancing.

With some of the walking trails and bridges closed off in Saskatoon because of the virus, it was nice to get out of the city and walk somewhere without worrying about crossing paths with other people. We packed headlamps and flashlights to enjoy a walk on the lake in the dark, with a cozy fire and movie night afterwards.

Cochin lighthouse, April 4 2020

The next morning we decided to tackle the stairs at the Cochin lighthouse. This also happened to be an extra cold morning, and we were greeted by snow and wind at the top. I packed us a ‘summit’ beer for our trouble and we enjoyed the snowy view from the top.

Later in the afternoon, after eating plenty of snacks, we decided to venture out onto the lake, this time in the daylight. We followed the nicely plowed path that led to a cleared area on the ice which would have been filled with ice fishing shacks a few weeks ago.

Jackfish Lake, April 4 2020 – Can you see the dog?

June happily investigated the snow surrounding the remnants of the village, and treated herself to a piece of frozen fish. She was still excitedly searching when we turned around to walk back, but eventually gave up her quest for more frozen treats and followed us back to the cabin.

April 4, 2020

We enjoyed another movie night and fire, and then packed up the next morning to return to the city. A little lake break is exactly what I needed.

Stay safe everyone!