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.
One of my proudest moments was the day I got my class 2 drivers license, it was also one of the most nerve wracking days of my life. I had been hired by a tour company in Jasper to be a driver/guide for their excursions on the Athabasca Glacier, so failing was not an option.
Earlier in the day, four other newly hired staff members and I stood in our hotel room in Edmonton, taking turns walking around an odd stack of furniture, pretending to do our bus pre-trips. We had already written our air brake exams, and now was time for the driving test. Although we would be driving coach busses and Ice Explorers at work, our road tests were done in school busses.
We went for our tests one at a time, and I anxiously waited for each person to walk back with a smile on their face to announce that they had passed. I was up last, and to be honest I couldn’t even tell you how it went because I was so nervous that I hardly remember. All I know is that I passed, and we drove back out to the mountains that night, proud as punch and ready to learn how to drive the big busses.
Before you are allowed to drive an Ice Explorer, you have to be extremely comfortable with the coach busses.We went through a fair bit of training on just driving, and then added a talking tour on top of it after to entertain guests as we shuttled them from attraction to attraction.
The tour part was my favourite, and I loved spitting out facts about the wildlife and the landscape to anyone who would listen. And the coach busses were quite fun to drive, especially when guests were shocked that their bus driver was a short blonde woman in her early twenties. But I was ready to move on to the Ice Explorers. I spent a week training one on one with a few of the managers, and had to do one final tour while driving and talking before I could start taking groups out.
Driving an Ice Explorer is quite different from driving a coach bus. There are only 24 of them in existence, each weighing in at about 55,000lbs, and able to carry 56 passengers. They are HUGE, and it was a climb to get into the driver seat. Although they are built specifically for travel on ice, we had to be confident and cautious drivers, while giving a full tour and telling jokes at the same time.
Drivers are equipped with radios, and constantly communication among each other and with dispatch to make sure things are running smoothly. All of the staff lives together at the Icefield, so your coworkers are also your roommates, and everyone looks out for each other.
My Ice Explorer slipped on the ice road one day as I was bringing a full bus back to the transfer bays. My driving style can certainly be described as ‘slow and steady’, but even if you are going slow, you can still slip up on the ice road after it has been warming up in the sun all day. There are always oncoming Ice Explorers sharing the same road, and especially as the summer warms up and the ice road thaws out, you wouldn’t want to get hung up in one of the deep ditches or piles of ice.
I started to feel the back end of my bus sway out and I immediately shifted into neutral as I continued to slide. Our driver trainers were great at explaining to us what to do in these situations, but it is always nerve wracking when it’s actually happening to you. I was still mid tour, explaining what makes glacial ice look so blue when I saw my coworker approaching up the hill in another Ice Explorer. I knew at that point that I was still not stopping and she was moving quickly up the roads towards me. Fortunately she looked up and saw me sliding, then stopped her bus even before I could ask her to slow down over the radio. Another coworker, who was behind me, saw what was going on and called over the radio with some words of encouragement, which helped to ease my nerves a little as my machine continued to slowly slide down the road. I took a deep breath and controlled the slide until I felt the tires finally gaining a little traction.
With a sigh of relief, we were fine. I quickly resumed my tour and make it back safe and sound with my guests. Good training and guidance meant I was prepared for the situation, but as a driver your passenger safety is a top priority and there is nothing quite as nerve wracking. I radioed my manager and and the road was graded so that no one else would slip in the same spot.
One of the things about living and working in the mountains is that you never know what weather you will be driving in. It could snow any month of the year, even through the summer, and especially as we neared the fall we had plenty of snow days. And although the fleets of busses and Ice Explorers look the same, they all have their different quirks. I still smile when I think about unlocking my bus for the day one morning and reading the comments from the previous days driver, “wasp nest somewhere in bus, live wasps may blow out when you turn the air on”.
Working as a professional driver and tour guide has helped me build on so many personal skills. My driving improved of course by trading in a little car for a big bus for a few months, and I developed my public speaking and presentation skills by building and presenting my own tours to guests. I appreciated that the company gave us talking points we were expected to touch on, but we were free to build our own tour in whatever order and with whichever stories we preferred.
I also took great delight in working a job that is stereotypically male-dominated. Nearly every day I would get comments like, ‘are you sure you even know how to drive this bus?’, or ‘wait, YOU are driving?’. On the flip side, I also received overwhelming support from plenty of guests who were happy to see so many young female bus drivers.
I am so grateful for my experience working as a driver/guide and being able to live in such an amazing part of the world.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As I find myself with more and more couch time this week, I have also been spending a lot of time scrolling through social media and living vicariously through other peoples adventures. Instead of being disappointed that I can’t get out and travel right now, I’m trying to build a collection of ideas for the future and appreciate all of the amazing content that others are posting.
Here are a few of the awesome people that I follow on Instagram.
Homemade Wanderlust (Dixie) – Thru Hiker
Jessica or “Dixie” is a triple crown thru-hiker who has completed the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail. She shares funny and informative posts about the realities of hiking as well as gear reviews. Her YouTube channel is a must see for anyone who is planning for a multi-day or thru hike.
Rachel Pohl – Artist
A talented artist and avid adventurer, Rachel posts her beautiful artwork and Pinterest-worthy snapshots of her life. She often shares short journal entries and inspirational messages in her photo descriptions.
Icelandic Explorer – Photographer
Gunnar Freyr quit his corporate job, and now takes breathtaking photos of Icelandic wildlife and landscapes. His photos seem almost surreal with dramatic lighting and and unique perspectives.
Alex Txikon – Mountaineer
Alex is a badass mountaineer who shares climbing and travel photos. He has documented his most recent attempt to summit Everest in the winter and shares his experiences in multiple languages in the comments.
Pat Hoffman – Photographer
Incredible photographer and all around great guy. Pat shares the best of Banff and Jasper National Parks while living life to the fullest.
There is a quote I’ve seen a few times that says to not use social media less, but instead to use it more intentionally. Follow the people who inspire you to be creative and get out and do the things that you want to do.
Thanks for reading. Leave a comment to let me know who I else should check out while I’m camped out on my couch for the next few weeks!