Trav­el­ling the North­ern Woods & Water High­way (Saskatchewan)

Part 2 of the Jour­ney

Snowbirds & RV Travelers - - Contents - WORDS AND PHO­TOS BY DALE HAR­RI­SON

Through northeast Saskatchewan the high­way skirts the south­ern edge of the bo­real for­est with a mix of farm­land and the for­est never far off the north­ern side. The pop­u­la­tion thins out along this sec­tion; the largest com­mu­nity on the east side is Ni­pawin (4,265). You can overnight in the ham­let of Love and for­ever claim to have been in Love. There are nu­mer­ous re­gional parks with the Prince Al­bert Na­tional Park north of the High­way in the cen­tre of the prov­ince. I al­ways en­cour­age trav­ellers to sup­port the small com­mu­ni­ties along the way but the City of Prince Al­bert has ev­ery­thing that you may re­quire if you choose to shop there. The high­way me­an­ders north again at Shell­brook. The road quickly de­parts farm­land and plunges into the for­est again. From Big River it par­al­lels Cowan Lake, a long nar­row lake, then onto Green Lake, then heads west to Meadow Lake. Here it is ob­vi­ous you are in an area that thrives on forestry with nu­mer­ous mills and wood fi­bre pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties seen along the side of the road. The fish­ing is great in all these small lakes. Meadow Lake Pro­vin­cial Park runs par­al­lel, a few kilo­me­ters to the north, of High­way 55 on the western side of the prov­ince. This park is a se­ries of lakes con­nected with ca­noe­able rivers and team­ing with fish.

Al­berta has sev­eral larger lakes and large rivers to pro­vide plenty of water time. Cold Lake is the largest com­mu­nity along the High­way in north­ern Al­berta. This com­mu­nity pro­vides the unique op­por­tu­nity to see Canada’s fighter jets fly­ing low over the city tak­ing off and land­ing at 4 Wing, Canada’s fighter train­ing base. If you time your trip to be there in late May and June, you can wit­ness fight­ers and larger air­craft from many coun­tries par­tic­i­pat­ing in train­ing ex­er­cises from Mon­day to Fri­day. A trip to Cold Lake is not com­plete with­out vis­it­ing the beau­ti­ful ma­rina and walk­ing out onto the pier or spend­ing time on the beach on the north­west edge of the com­mu­nity.

Your west­ward jour­ney, trav­els again through the mix of bo­real for­est and farm­land and will take you to the next large lake at Lac La Biche. Sir Win­ston Churchill Pro­vin­cial Park is lo­cated northeast of the com­mu­nity past the beau­ti­ful and chal­leng­ing golf course then across a spit of land to an is­land like set­ting. Lac la Biche pro­vides the east­ern ac­cess to the Al­berta Oil sands via High­way 881. To the west of town is the his­tor­i­cal Lac la Biche Mis­sion site with re­stored build­ings and a large area to re­lax and stretch your legs while trav­el­ling back in time to when the area was first ex­plored. Now it’s time to go fur­ther west­ward onto grass­land, and the heav­i­est trav­elled por­tion of high­way ac­cess­ing Hwy 63 to Fort Mc­Mur­ray.

If you en­joy in­dus­trial sites you can take a side trip and see what was North Amer­ica’s largest pulp mill when it was con­structed in 1990. The Al­berta Pa­cific For­est In­dus­tries Mill (Al­pac) Pulp Mill is re­spon­si­ble for im­prov­ing many roads and high­ways in north­ern Al­berta and is con­sis­tently one of the top 100 em­ploy­ers in Canada.

The Town of Athabasca is lo­cated in a val­ley that pro­vides ac­cess to the Athabasca River, which drains north­ward to the Arc­tic. Athabasca has a very chal­leng­ing golf course that plays up and down along the river val­ley.

West of Athabasca the high­way takes an­other north­ward ven­ture, which de­parts from the agri­cul­tural lands of south­ern Al­berta and plunges into sparsely pop­u­lated bo­real for­est. There are sec­tions of 50 to 70 kms with no pop­u­la­tion cen­tres but lots of lakes and camp­sites. You even­tu­ally pop out of the for­est near Slave Lake, Al­berta’s largest rub­ber tire ac­ces­si­ble lake. Slave Lake is over 90 kms long and 8 kms

wide in places. The high­way skirts the south­ern side with many small lake­side first na­tions com­mu­ni­ties. There are also many shel­tered mari­nas, great fish­ing, beaches, and camp­grounds ad­ja­cent to the water. On the west end of Slave Lake is the his­toric Grouard Mis­sion his­tor­i­cal site with a na­tive arts mu­seum.

The scenery changes again as you pop out of the for­est into the Peace Coun­try of north­west Al­berta and northeast BC. So named af­ter the Peace River that flows through the re­gion carv­ing out wide and deep river val­leys that are spec­tac­u­lar in the fall with the chang­ing colour of leaves. This agri­cul­tural re­gion is blessed with longer hours of sun­shine dur­ing the sum­mer. At times it is pos­si­ble to be on the golf course at ten pm in the evening. The long hours of sun also cre­ate an ex­cel­lent grow­ing re­gion for a va­ri­ety of crops. From High Prairie, the high­way swings north through McLen­nan, home­town of North­ern Woods and Water High­way pi­o­neer Ge­orge Stevenson. The loop that takes in the wide val­ley at Peace River and His­toric Dun­ve­gan is worth the ex­tra kilo­me­tres; both of these val­ley vis­tas ap­pear sud­denly out of flat agri­cul­tural land and catch you by sur­prise. West of Peace River is Grimshaw, Mile Zero on the MacKen­zie High­way that takes you into the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries. Fol­low­ing the road south will take you through Fairview, then on to the spec­tac­u­lar river val­ley at his­toric Dun­ve­gan.

This is cow­boy coun­try and there are a mul­ti­tude of rodeos held in many com­mu­ni­ties through­out the spring and sum­mer. Har­mon Val­ley, near Peace River, hosts a rodeo mid July, High Prairie’s Pro Rodeo runs the end of July or early Au­gust, Grimshaw fol­lows a few days later and Dawson Creek a week later.

Ry­croft piv­ots the high­way west again for a short jaunt through the for­est and into northeast BC. As you get closer to Dawson Creek the ter­rain starts to change to rolling hills of the east­ern slopes of the north­ern Rocky Moun­tains. Dawson Creek is Mile Zero on the fa­mous Alaska High­way, and is cel­e­brat­ing its 75th an­niver­sary in 2017. This was the western ter­mi­nus of the North­ern Woods and Water High­way as Ge­orge Stevenson en­vi­sioned it. Rather than leav­ing peo­ple hang­ing, there is an ef­fort to ex­tend the of­fi­cial High­way back south through Bri­tish Columbia to cap­ture the unique beauty of all the four western prov­inces.

The road to Fort St. John, which is along the

The North­ern Woods and Water Route is a 2,400-kilo­me­tre (1,500 mi) route through north­ern Bri­tish Columbia, Al­berta, Saskatchewan and Man­i­toba in Western Canada.

first part of the Alaska High­way, swings north for a bonus side trip will take you along the mighty Peace River and al­lows you to ex­plore the di­verse Peace River coun­try be­fore cross­ing over the Cana­dian Rock­ies on your way south. You will cross the Peace River again at Tay­lor, site of a new hy­dro dam that started con­struc­tion in 2016. Shoot­ing past Fort St. John, the north­ern in­dus­trial hub of the BC Peace Coun­try, you will branch off to the south and fol­low the Peace River to Hud­son Hope, home to two hy­dro dams with tours avail­able, then on to Chetwynd.

Chetwynd is a forestry-based com­mu­nity that cre­ated a unique way to show­case their in­dus­trial roots. Each year they host a chain­saw carv­ing con­test that draws some of the world’s best carvers, leav­ing be­hind over 120 beau­ti­ful and unique carv­ings through­out the com­mu­nity. The event runs early June.

South from Chetwynd you will travel through the Pine Pass of the Rocky Moun­tains. This re­gion is pop­u­lar in the win­ter for snow­mo­bil­ing and ski­ing be­cause of the large amounts of snow. The snow is what feeds the start of the Peace River. A short side trip from the High­way will take you to Macken­zie, an­other north­ern forestry com­mu­nity. It is near the south­ern tip of Wil­lis­ton Lake a “Y” shaped lake 150 km long cre­ated from the back­wa­ter of the WAC Ben­nett dam at Hud­son Hope, north of Chetwynd.

A hun­dred and fifty km south brings you to Prince Ge­orge, a cross­road with the Yel­low­head Trans-Canada high­way, and also the lo­cale of an­other ma­jor river, the Fraser. From this point south the high­way par­al­lels the river as it takes you into the in­te­rior and the Cari­bou-Chilcotin re­gion. This land be­tween the Coast and Rocky Moun­tain Ranges is very dry and warm in the sum­mer months. This is ranch­ing coun­try and with the mix of cows and horses comes the rodeo. Wil­liams Lake Stam­pede hosts five rodeo per­for­mances over four days, over the Canada Day week­end in July. There are plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to leave the car or camper be­hind and let a horse take you for a ride in the fresh air.

From Wil­liams Lake, the high­way moves away from the Fraser River. You pass through com­mu­ni­ties that were named dur­ing the Cari­bou Gold Rush. 108 Mile Ranch, 105 Mile House, 100 Mile House mea­sured the dis­tance of each from Lil­looet. Just north of Cache Creek you are of­fered choices to your travel ad­ven­ture. The less trav­elled route, Hwy 99 will briefly con­nect you to the Fraser River again near his­toric Lil­looet, then south­west through the Coast Moun­tains to Pem­ber­ton, onto Whistler and along the coast from Squamish to Van­cou­ver on the Sea to Sky High­way.

The al­ter­na­tive more trav­elled route from Cache Creek is the junc­tion point for High­way #1, the Trans Canada High­way, and your re­turn east or con­tinue south through the Fraser Canyon with com­mu­ni­ties like Bos­ton Bar, Hell’s Gate, Hope and on into Van­cou­ver.

The North­ern Woods and Water High­way pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity to see more of western Canada. The high­way from Win­nipeg to Dawson Creek is ap­prox­i­mately 2500 km; an­other 1200 km will take you through two moun­tain ranges, along the Fraser River and to the west coast in BC. Take your time and en­joy Canada’s great va­ri­ety of scenery. See the Prairie Prov­inces through a dif­fer­ent lens. Dale Har­ri­son is pres­i­dent of the North­ern Woods and Water High­way As­so­ci­a­tion. He trav­elled and pub­lished the North­ern Woods and Water High­way Guide for five years in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Clock­wise from top left: Dun­ve­gan, High­way 55 Ni­pawin, Big River camping, Bull rid­ing in the town of High Prairie, Peace River and Cold Lake.

Clock­wise from top left: Spruce Point Ma­rina, An­gry tree in Chetwynd and the WAC Ben­net Dam.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.