The hike to Grey Owl’s cabin in Prince Albert National Park can be described as a“Hiker’s Pilgrimage.” The story of Grey Owl and his dedication to conservation speaks strongly with anyone who likes to spend their nights out in the wilderness. Spending a weekend to visit his cabin and final resting place is a must for anyone who loves Saskatchewan's hiking trails.
This two day, one night hike is a 40km round trip (20km there 20km back) and meanders on an easy to follow trail along the eastern shore of Kingsmere lake. There is very little elevation which makes this perfect for all skills levels. If you've never completed a back country hike before this is the perfect trail for your first attempt.
Remember this is bear country so make sure you have bear spray and a whistle with you. We stumbled on a juvenile on the trail who we spooked off with a good whistle blast.
Soaking in the view while taking a short break.
Most people take two days and one night to complete the trip. Expect anywhere from 5 to 6 hours of hiking each day. This depends on your pace and how many breaks you take. We finished each day with just over 5 hours of hiking. (4 hours of hiking, one hour of combined breaks) I suggest this pace but this really depends on your fitness level.
Note: Prince Albert National Park doesn't provide a reservation service for their backcountry campsites, but there is a fee to pay when you check-in at the Visitor Centre. This is not standard for National Parks if you are coming from another province.
Make sure you go right....
The trail starts at the Kingsmere River Portage, you can access it by the parking lot at the end of Kingsmere Road. You will come to a set of stairs where a sign will point you left (northwest) to the Kingsmere River Trail and right (northeast) to the Grey Owl Cabin trail. Once on the trail it is 18km to the Northend Campground where you will spend the night. The trail is very easy to follow as it hugs the shoreline of Kingsmere Lake. You can't really get lost if you stay on the trail. It is well traveled and distinct from the surrounding forest.
Along the way there are three campsites you will pass which are good markers to know how far you have gone. Each campsite is about 4 to 5km apart and are a way to judge distance. Each campground has a bear cache for you to store your food items safely.
When you reach Sandy Beach campground, the last of the 3 campgrounds you will pass, you are roughly an hour from Northend Campground where you will spend the night. This is a good place to take your last break before making the push to the end.
Depending on how early you start and how much energy you have you can decide to hike back to Sandy Beach campground the first day to make your second day shorter. This really depends on you, the weather and your condition. If it is raining I suggest staying at Northend Campground and taking advantage of the shelter that is built there.
Northend Campground and where I slept for the night
The Northend Campground has a few amenities that make spending the night there more enjoyable. There is a protected shelter area with a wood burning stove. This is a great place to hang out if the weather turns on you. (We got caught in the rain for an hour and this shelter saved us from having to sleep in a wet sleeping bag) There are two outhouses for you to do your business in. Please only use these for human waste, do not toss garbage into them.
There is also a stack of chopped firewood for use in the designated fire-pits. It is against the rules to have fires outside the pits. There are several camping pads and picnic benches to pitch your tent for the night. I chose one that overlooks the lake so I could listen to the waves crash on the beach as I fell asleep.
There is a bear cache to store your food and other bear enticing items. Make sure you store these items here when you aren't using them. If not you may end up with a bear sniffing your tent door during the night.
Expect to share the campground with others as this is a very popular trail.
Once you get to Northend Campground your journey isn’t over quite yet. Grey Owl’s Cabin is another 3.2km from here, however you don’t need to bring all your gear with you. Dump your food stuff in the bear cache and put your bags in the shelter for protection. Bring water, bugspray, bug nets and your camera with you to complete the final leg of the journey.
The trail head for Grey Owl’s cabin can be found about 100 metres north along the Northend Campground beach. You will see a white cross marking its location. If you don't see it just start walking north along the sandy beach and you will find it.
Expect it to take about 45 to 60 minutes to hike to the cabin, about 20 to 30 minutes to explore the area, and another 45 to 60 minutes back. If you are leaving near the end of the day, consider bringing headlamps with you just in case you don’t make it back before dark.
What you came for!
Once again, the trail is easily marked and will take you to Ajawaan Lake where Grey Owl’s Cabin resides. At the site you will find his cabin overlooking the small peaceful lake. You can enter the cabin and sign the guest book and see where the beavers used to live with him. Up the hill you will find the second cabin where is wife, Anahareo, lived. She would sleep here in order to escape having to share a bed with a beaver. About 50 feet from the second cabin on the same hill you will find three grave markers where Grey Owl, Anahareo and Shirley Dawn, his daughter, are buried.
Grave markers of the family.
Upon visiting the cabin you will instantly understand why you worked so hard to get here. Seeing the small little hut overlooking the lake takes you back in time. I almost expected Grey Owl to come around the bend in his canoe, beavers in tow. Spend a moment looking out the small window that faces the cool waters and think about how many times he enjoyed this same view.
The view out Grey Owl Cabin's front window
You will be sore and tired when you make it back to your vehicle but you will be smiling. There is nothing like spending a night in the Saskatchewan back country.
Make sure to take a break once in awhile.
Tips for Hiking Grey Owl's Cabin Trail
Bring a bug net and mosquito spray
As with any trail in northern Saskatchewan expect to deal with bugs. I found while I was hiking they would stay away from my face but as soon as I stopped I would get swarmed. Bring a bug net and save yourself some sanity. Once the sun goes down the bugs all but disappear which makes sitting around the campfire even better.
Bring an extra pair of socks and keep them dry
If you get any amount of precipitation your feet will get soaked. Much of the trail is covered in low lying shrubs and bushes that as you hike through them dump water onto your feet. Make sure you have a pair of dry socks to start your hike the second day. Try and dry your other pair around the fire if you can.
Take your boots off at every break and dry out your feet
This is a common tip for any hike but even more so for the Grey Owl hike for the reasons mentioned above. When you stop, take your boots and socks off and let them dry for a few minutes. This is the difference between having and not having blisters.
Don't worry about not having a water source
There are plenty of places to refill your water bottle. Don't weigh yourself down by carrying more water than you need. You will have ample opportunities to refill from either creeks or Kingsmere Lake. Make sure you filter all the water your drink.
Less is more
Think about what you do and don’t need for this trip. You will only be gone one night so don’t bring your kitchen sink. If going with a group plan out your supplies. How many stoves do you really need? Do you need to bring an axe or can you get away with a straight blade knife to baton wood?
If you need help planning which gear to bring, click here to see what I pack into my bag.
I hope this information will encourage you to grab your pack, load up on trailmix and dehydrated meals and hit the trail. You will come home sore but you will be glad you made the pilgrimage to Grey Owl's cabin.
If you have more questions about back country hiking or this trail send me a message and I will help you with what I can.