Turtle Lake Nature Sanctuary – a place to connect with nature year round
The Turtle Lake Nature Sanctuary is located in Treaty 6 territory approximately 35 km Northwest of Glaslyn along the East Shore of Turtle Lake. The sanctuary is smack dab between the resort beaches of Turtle Lake Lodge and Indian Point. If you are getting there by vehicle, there is a big sign and a small parking lot where you can access the trails and check out the trail map before choosing your adventure.
My family has been going to Turtle Lake for more than 50 years, and I have spent my summers there ever since I was born (nearly 37 years ago). A lot has changed over the years and much land and forest has been cleared to make room for new development. As these new roads and buildings pop up, it becomes clear how truly important it is to protect and preserve what remains of the natural landscape.
In 1990, the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation purchased a 14 quarter block of land at Turtle Lake including one quarter that had a caveat against hunting. In 1994, Nature Saskatchewan and some passionate local residents worked together to turn that protected quarter into the nature sanctuary, which means that my children are now able to explore the same beautiful piece of forest I did as a child.
My family most often accesses the park on foot from Turtle Lake Lodge. If you access on this side in the summer you’ll be welcomed by a big beautiful meadow filled with wild flowers and strawberries. You can take your bike in there or go by foot, but the sanctuary is off limits to ATV’s, snowmobiles and hunters which means it’s a very peaceful place to try and see some of the 35 mammals, 220 types of birds and 260 plant species that call the sanctuary home. Prepare to spend about two hours exploring the different trails.
This incredible biodiversity and protection from noisy vehicles and hunters is also attractive to bears. I’ve spent a lot of time in the sanctuary with my children and have never had a run-in with a bear or a moose. We have however found berry-filled bear scat on the trail. Make noise as you are walking (which is rarely a problem when you are with kids) or put some bells on your pack.
My favourite place in the entire sanctuary is the deep dark woods in the Northwest corner. I love the mossy deadfall and the cover of evergreens. It’s a squirrel paradise (filled with pinecones) and a great place to look for mushrooms. You are not allowed to pick wildflowers, especially the protected Yellow Lady’s Slipper and Western Red Lily, but the sanctuary is a great place for foraging for berries and other edible plants (just make sure you share).
Picking berries and deep dark woods
In the summer we’ll pack some bug spray, a snack, and our nature guide and try and identify as many plants and berries as possible. Even if you don’t have a field guide, interpretive signs can be found throughout the sanctuary with everything from a guide to edible mushrooms to where the oldest tree stands (more than 150 years!).
Our favourite route is the narrow trail that runs parallel along the lakeshore. It’s the best of both worlds, you get the trees and the berry bushes, but you also get to spy on ducks, pelicans, loons and other waterfowl. There is a lovely lookout bench where you can stop for a picnic and watch the beavers hard at work. This trail requires a bit of agility as you may have to climb over newly fallen trees (the work of wind storms and beavers), but it’s nothing my four year old can’t handle.
My kids always make sure the pack a few treasures to take with them into the sanctuary because there are a few geo-caches tucked away. We have discovered three by accident and it’s always a thrill for the kids.
The children are always on the lookout for the perfect stick or rock, and they love pointing out strange mushrooms or places where fairies are sure to live.
I’m always on the lookout for the elusive ruffed grouse that I can often hear (the drumming sounds like a lawn mower starting up) and I keep my binoculars handy as I’m gradually learning to identify many of the birds that live there (with the help of my phone app.)
What to bring for a summertime trek:
2) Bugspray (We usually bring along a long sleeved shirt in case the bugs are bad)
3) Small container for berries
4) Plant/bird guide (I use the free Merlin Bird ID app on my phone)
5) Bear bells or spray
Fall and Winter
The sanctuary is accessible year round. We’ve enjoyed exploring the trails on cross-country skies in the winter and have even done a magical midnight ski by moonlight to ring in the new year. We love walking through the trails in the fall when the leaves are starting to change and there is a crispness in the air. It’s a great place to take your dog for a walk as long as you keep them on the leash and pick up after them.
Only a short walk from the highway access gate, you’ll come across the frog pond located near a reclaimed gravel pit. In the spring the pond is a virtual symphony. If you are able to make it there several times between May and July, you can watch the progression from frog spawn, to tadpoles to adorable wood frogs.
This was the first year we’ve been able to spend a lot of time in the sanctuary in the spring and it’s my new favourite time for the forests; it’s a time capsule of everything that happened over the winter. You can walk more freely through the trees without worrying about stinging nettle or prickly wild rose bushes. It’s fascinating to see kill sites, where coyotes have taken down a deer, we’ve stumbled upon antlers, lots of scattered deer bones and even a beaver skull.
As much as my family loves pretending to be archeologists in the spring, it’s fascinating to think about how human and natural history shaped the current space. Indigenous tools that could be 2000 years old have been found nearby reminding us that Indigenous people enjoyed the sanctuary far before it became attractive to homesteaders and now nature lovers.
I’m grateful for Nature Saskatchewan and their dedicated volunteers who make sure this little pocket of paradise will remain for my children to bring their own children to. There are seven of these nature sanctuaries scattered in special spaces throughout the province. Start with this one and try and visit them all!
Author and photographer: Nichole Huck
Nichole Huck lives in Regina with her husband and three kids. They love getting out into nature and exploring the wild spaces of Saskatchewan.