Located in the far southeast corner of the Prince Albert National Park is the Elk Trail - a 53km trail built by conscientious objectors during World War 2. These workers carved out the trail through the surrounding aspen forest to create a fantastic easy to navigate trail.
To get to Fish Lake you need to enter the Elk Trail. Fish Lake (13km one way) is located about a kilometer off the main Elk Trail. Expect it to take about 4 hours to hike with generous breaks. There is very little elevation to worry about and there may be the odd fallen tree on the path.
I recommend Fish Lake for people who are looking for an easy overnight back country hike. The trail however is more than doable in one ambitious day if you pack light. Elk Trail is a multi-use trail so you can bring your horses or bikes on the trail as well. We passed a few people on hard-tail mountain bikes you were out for a quick ride. If you want to just make this is a day trip I suggest doing it on a mountain bike.
Elk Trail is a beautiful wide trail that meanders its way through towering aspen trees. The trail is wide enough to easily walk side by side, and soft enough that we saw a few people picking up their shoes and walking bare feet.
Tons of room!
The trail itself is easy to find. Just enter the park on Highway 263 through the scenic route. You will turn off at the Christopher/Emma Lake and continue straight until you reach the South Gate park entrance. From there it is another 5 minute drive to the trailhead. It is well marked with a sign. There is a large parking lot that over looks a babbling creek.
To start the hike continue up the old paved road. This sections is about 1.5km, eventually you will see a pole in the road and to the left will be the beginning of Elk Trail. There is no sign, but you want to start walking on the grass.
Cooling down in a creek.
Elk Trail is well maintained but depending on when you go, the grass on the trail might be a bit longer. This creates a problem if it rains as your feet will become soaked from the moisture in the grass. Elk Trail also has a few low spots which requires you to navigate around puddles but for the most part it is easy going. The earlier you go in the spring the more puddles you will have to worry about. I suggest bringing a set of gaiters to help keep your feet dry.
The first section of the hike will take you along the shores of Sandy Lake. You might see the odd fisherman out on their boat as you make your way along. Once you pass Sandy Lake its about 4km before you get to Kapesiwin Lake and 6km to where the trail splits to Fish Lake or Camp Lake.
To get to Fish Lake you will need to cross two creeks. The first is at about the 2km mark and was created by a massive beaver dam. Take some time to check it out, there might be some beavers home.
The second is at Kapesiwin Lake, depending on how high the flow is you will need to take your boots off and forge over the rocks. Be careful not to twist an ankle! From here Fish Lake is about an hour.
Kapesiwin Creek Crossing
Elk Trail passes many pristine wetland habitats, which are home to thousands of birds, millions of frogs and a billion bugs. I highly recommend bringing a bug net if you are hiking in the summer. You will be swarmed in certain sections. A bug net will go a long way in keeping your sanity.
If you want to get around the bugs, hike to Fish Lake either in late spring or early fall.
A storm rolling over Witsukitsak Lake
I strongly suggest filling up your water at Kapesiwin Creek if you are spending the night at Fish Lake. The water at camp can be quite dirty. Don't expect to be drinking perfectly clear water. Bring a water filter and you may want to use chlorine tabs as well.
About a kilometer past Kapesiwin Lake you will come to a fork at the start of Witsukitshak Lake, turn right here to continue to Fish Lake. There will be a sign that directs people heading the other direction to Sandy Lake.
The camp at Fish Lake has only two firepits but lots of wood that is dropped there by the park. There is an outhouse, but bring your own toilet paper - there is no guarantee there will be some waiting for you. There is also a bear hang, but in my opinion it is in a wrong spot. It is right in camp where everyone will be sleeping. Instead bring a dry bag and set it up on the many high aspen trees further down the trail and away from camp.
The campsite has plenty of room for quite a few tents, but because there is only two firepits you will have to share with your neighbours. I would expect the camp to usually have a few people staying in it. You don't need to book a site but check in with the park office before you head out.
Fish Lake often floods into the surrounding forest so there isn't a real good beach to swim from. I didn't take a dip but by the looks of the water it could be a good place to get a leach or two.
Fish Lake at Sunset
Remember you are in bear country so be prepared to meet a black bear on the trail.
Have you been to Fish Lake? Share your experience in the comments below!