A Cross-Country Ski-cation at Blue Mountain Adventure Park and the Battlefords
My feet were itching for an adventure but I didn’t want to travel far from Saskatoon for the weekend. Considering where we had winter camped previously, I decided to stick within a couple of hours of home and explore the North Battleford region.
I had heard about Blue Mountain Adventure Park online. Known as an excellent biathlon training venue with pristine cross-country ski trails, it would be perfect to pitch a tent in the campground and explore the area.
The Crooked Bush
Which is how we found ourselves on a rolling country road near Hafford for our first stop. The Crooked Bush is a quirky botanical mystery and I want to show the trees to my friend Andrew who is originally from Ontario but now a Saskatchewan transplant.
Covered in a fresh dusting of snow, the gnarled and twisted stand of aspen trees are otherworldly. Rumours say the trees are misshapen due to paranormal activity but in reality, it’s from a genetic mutation that affects the root suckers of the tree. After a walk along the boardwalk, we continued on to our main destination.
Winter Camping at Blue Mountain Adventure Park
Blue Mountain Adventure Park is a four-season adventure site set within a forested valley in the Thickwood Hills. I had never been in the winter before but it offers some of my favourite activities like skating, snowshoeing and a tubing hill.
The park has six cozy cabins as well as a bunkhouse and chalet. Although the cabins were tempting, the weather was comfortable enough to spend two nights in a tent. An ample supply of firewood is provided but we also have access to the chalet if we need to warm up or just want to hang out.
At our campsite, Andrew shovels snow away to pitch the tent while I set up for an early supper. The fire crackles and pops as I cook our smokies and prepare s’mores for dessert. Winter camping is actually a leisurely and relaxing experience. Night comes on swiftly which means there is more time for stargazing, marshmallow roasting and campfire conversation (plus the chance to catch up on sleep.)
Dawn rises the next morning with a spectacular burst of pink and purple peppering the horizon. Andrew and I crawl out of our sleeping bags and go to work preparing a hot breakfast of oatmeal and coffee with a packed lunch for the road.
Cross-Country Skiing on Finlayson Island
We want to explore the 15 kilometres of ski trails on Finlayson Island Nature Park in the middle of the North Saskatchewan River. A mix of forest, sand dunes and marshland between North Battleford and the Town of Battleford, it’s a unique island home to a number of species of animals.
As Andrew and I wind our way along the looping ski trails, I notice the occasional wooden structure attached to some of the trees. Curious, I stop to peek inside and discover birdseed. Filling my hand, I hold my palm out and hope. Within seconds, a tiny black-capped chickadee flutters down and perches on the tips of my fingers, pecking the seeds from my palm. I squeal in surprise and delight at the lovely and unexpected interaction.
Saskatchewan’s Only Lighthouse
From North Battleford, we head up Highway 4 towards Cochin. As the location of Saskatchewan’s only inland lighthouse proudly set atop a hill outside of town, it is another quirky stop I want to share with Andrew. We run up all 153 steps to the top for a wintery view of rolling prairie hills and snow-covered Jackfish Lake.
Continuing onwards we travel into The Battlefords Provincial Park for more cross-country skiing. We are running out of daylight so we choose a five-kilometre section that has us skirting along the shoreline of the lake. We time it perfectly to watch the sun dip towards the horizon and splay its orange rays across the frozen waves of snow and ice on the lake.
Cross-Country Skiing at Blue Mountain
The next morning we take down our tent, load up our gear and make our breakfast in the warmth of the chalet. Snapping on our skis for a final outing of the weekend, we pick the nine-kilometre Boundary Trail. With more than 200 metres of elevation, a few steep hills and some tight downhill turns to conquer, I quickly agree with its classification as a black diamond trail after I epically wipe out a few times.
Looping back to the main parking lot to drive back to Saskatoon, I turn to Andrew and grin, asking him where he thinks our next winter adventure in Saskatchewan should be.
Author & Photographer: Ashlyn George
Ashlyn George is an adventure travel writer and social media influencer based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. By 30, she visited more than 60 countries and all 7 continents while documenting it on her blog The Lost Girl’s Guide to Finding the World. Today,Ashlyn creates content in partnership with world-renowned brands like NFL Canada, McDonald’s and CLIF Bar and has been featured in the New York Times and listed by Kayak as a Top 10 Travel Hacker. Find her online at @thelostgirlsguide or www.thelostgirlsguide.com