On island time in Alberta #TakeItToTheLake
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Birds, wildlife and white sand beaches await at Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park Big Island
KAREN UNG FOR #TakeItToTheLake
As we cross the causeway to Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park’s Big Island, we stop to admire the view. Sunshine glints off the water and fishing boats, while cyclists cross the causeway. On the island road, the truck in front of us pulls over and waves us on.
The park is set in the waters of Lac la Biche – Alberta’s only park of islands with white sandy beaches, paddling, fishing, and recreational and bird watching opportunities. Who knew?
We soon discover the old growth forest is full of wildlife, while the shorelines are visited by countless species of birds.
Like many park visitors, we easily adapt to island time, wanting to savour every minute. We decide to follow them and roll down our windows to listen to the chirping all around us because, after all, this is considered a birder’s paradise. But instead, we are instantly rewarded by the sight of red fox pups chasing each other across the street.
A few twists and turns in the road later, we arrive at the full-service campground in a forest of trees. Camper’s Beach beckons through the trees at the edge of our campsite. The white sand beach is soft and warm underfoot.
I get to chatting with a couple from Quebec exploring the prairies for a change. When I ask what they think of northeast Alberta, they say how “wonderful” it is – wide, open spaces; beautiful lakes and friendly, small towns without crowds.
Looking over at the empty, beautiful beach, I feel the same way. I leave them to enjoy the solitude and continue my way around the island.
My destination is the westernmost tip of the island. Hiking through lush foliage along Long Point Trail (2.5-km loop),
I suddenly hear something thrashing in the woods to my right. I let out a cautious, “Yo Bear!” answered with a resounding slap on the water. Beavers are busy at work and I spot their large lodge. On my hike, I see deer tracks and wild roses leading the way to the lookout. I wonder where all the people are, then notice several boats out on the water. The lake has great fishing and more islands to explore, with secluded beaches (on Birch and Currant Islands), so the trails are extremely quiet.
After a stroll down Boardwalk Beach, I meet up with Jamie from Lakeland Expeditions to paddle and look for pelicans. Our search is successful and we watch in awe as an American White Pelican takes to the air and flaps its massive wings. Cormorants dive into the lake around us and gulls soar overhead. With over 200 species of birds, Sir Winston Churchill Park is a bird watcher’s paradise.
By evening, I’ve joined my friends at the beach for a sunset paddle and bonfire. The sky is alight with red and gold and the water is calm.
We make plans to visit 300-year-old trees along Old Growth Alley (6 km one way), bike the Lac La Biche County Walking & Biking Trail (16 km one way, paved), and explore Lakeland Provincial Park.
After an amazing sunset, we head to Lakeland Provincial Park to do some stargazing. Lakeland, a Dark Sky Preserve, has some of the darkest skies and brightest stars. It’s also a great place to see the Northern Lights!
As I fall asleep to the sound of the loons and the next morning wake up to pelicans fishing in the bay, I can’t wait to bring my family back to this surprising island destination in Alberta.