Have you ever visited northern Saskatchewan? I hadn’t until this September when I solo paddled the Bagwa Canoe Route in Prince Alberta National Park. There’s nothing like beautiful boreal forest and pristine lakes for absolute backcountry bliss. Whether your a seasoned paddler, complete novice, or a group with varied skills, the Bagwa Route is the perfect place to experience lake canoe tripping. I’d highly recommend visiting in autumn.
I had my eyes on Prince Albert National Park for some time. I love exploring new parks, and the idea of canoeing in Saskatchewan was very intriguing. To be honest, I’ve spent very little time in Saskatchewan overall, but I knew there was something special about this place. So I planned to backpack Grey Owl and then canoe the Bagwa Canoe Route over Labour Day weekend. Only nine hours of driving from Calgary to Prince Albert Park. Totally worth it to experience one of the best Saskatchewan canoe trips!
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About the Bagwa Canoe Route
Location: Prince Alberta National Park, Saskatchewan
Distance: 26 km loop
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Time: 2 days (7 to 10 hours)
Best Time to Paddle: June to September
Dog-friendly: Yes, but dogs must remain on leash.
Features: The Bagwa Canoe Route features multiple connected lakes including Kingsmere, Bagwa, Lily, and Clare, with several backcountry campground options to choose from. Three portages add to the sense of accomplishment and there’s lots of wildlife to enjoy.
Finding the Boat Launch
The Kingsmere River boat launch for the Bagwa Canoe Route is accessed from the same parking area as the Grey Owl Trail. At the town of Waskesiu, drive north past the marina and continue on Kingsmere Road for about 30 km until reaching the parking lot. This will take about 30 minutes. The well-maintained road becomes gravel after Hanging Heart Lakes for about 17 km. On Labour Day weekend, there was ample parking space but I hear it becomes crowded during peak season. You’ll find an outhouse here as well.
Read more: 2 Days Backpacking the Grey Owl Trail in Saskatchewan
Reserving Backcountry Campsites
Prince Albert National Park’s backcountry campsites can only be reserved in person. Further, all backcountry campgrounds require same-day bookings, unless they’re part of the same reservation. In case you don’t get the site(s) you want, I recommend being prepared with a plan B (and even C). Labour Day weekend wasn’t too busy and campsites were available.
You can book your campsites and get your backcountry permit at the visitor centre in Waskesiu. Bring your Parks Canada Discovery Pass or pick up a day pass at the centre.
Pro Tip: Call the Parks Canada Visitor Centre in Waskesui at (306) 663-4522 the day before your trip to find out what sites are available. That might help you determine the likelihood of booking your desired campsite.
Distances on the Bagwa Canoe Route
I paddled the Bagwa Canoe Route in the counterclockwise direction, starting with Pease Point through the Bagwa Channel and then over to Bagwa Lake Campground. When Kingsmere Lake is calm, paddling up through Pease Point is the suggested route to save the two portages for the second day. However, if the waters of Kingsmere are very rough, you might want to start with the portage to Clare Lake and complete the loop in the clockwise direction. See my map below for more details.
Here are the estimated distances and locations along the Bagwa Loop:
|0||Kingsmere River Boat Launch|
|1.5||Southend Campground||4 single and 3 double campsites|
|9||Pease Point Campground||4 single and 1 double campsites|
|13||Bagwa Lake Campground||2 single campsites|
Canoe/kayak access only
|16.5||Lily Lake Campground||2 single campsites|
Canoe/kayak access only
|26||Kingsmere River Boat Launch|
Day 1: Boat Launch to Bagwa Lake Campground (13 km)
After finishing the Grey Owl Trail, my friends and I arrived back in the parking lot around 3:00pm. They started the journey back to Saskatoon and I swapped my pack for my canoe. After all, this was my first visit to Prince Albert National Park, so I had to make the most of it. I’d say mission accomplished after checking both Grey Owl and the Bagwa Canoe Route off my long list!
After loading packed dry bags into my canoe, it was time to launch onto Kingsmere River. The trip begins with an upstream paddle made more difficult by shallow waters rendering deep stokes impossible. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before reaching the start of the 1-km portage at the rail tracks.
Whether you’re solo or in a group, you’ll need to be prepared for 3 different portages during the Bagwa Canoe Route. The longest of which you’ll do twice (at the beginning and end of the trip). However, this 1-km portage will take most paddlers under 15 minutes with help from boat carts on the rail tracks. But if the carts are at the other end, you’ll need to retrieve the cart before starting the portage and the portage will obviously take longer. I was lucky to have a cart waiting both times.
I planned to paddle 13 km to Bagwa Lake Backcountry Campground for the night, leaving the boat launch by about 4:00pm. After nearly 4.5 hours, including multiple photo stops and beaver watching in the Bagwa Channel, I reached the campground with just enough daylight to set up the tent. While I didn’t mind the late arrival, I wouldn’t recommend night paddling for novice canoe trippers. But I certainly enjoyed watching the sunset over the water. I relied on my GPS map to locate the campground and also brought a paper map (you know, just in case).
Read more: 3-Day Milk River Canoe Trip in Alberta—The Ultimate Guide
Bagwa Lake Campground
The natural halfway point for the Bagwa Canoe Route is Bagwa Lake Campground. It doesn’t matter if you’re paddling counterclockwise through Pease Point or clockwise through Lily Lake, Bagwa Campground is about 13 km from the boat launch. With only two campsites available for reservation, this Prince Albert National Park camping can offer true peace and quiet. It’s an idyllic backcountry escape.
Bagwa Lake Campground is equipped with a bear cache, pit latrine (i.e. outhouse), and two fire pits (one for each campsite). Since it’s a backcountry site, you’ll want to bring your own toilet paper (just in case!) and only burn firewood provided by Parks Canada staff. There are also a couple of picnic tables to sit and enjoy the evening stillness.
Note: All backcountry campgrounds along the Bagwa Canoe Route are equipped with tent sites, pit toilets, picnic tables and fire pit at each site (firewood provided), and a bear cache.
Day 2: Bagwa Lake Campground to Boat Launch (13 km)
It had been a long time since I’d witnessed such a spectacular sunrise. Waking around 6:00am, I ate breakfast and packed up so I could paddle out and return home to Calgary. I wasn’t disappointed at all by this colourful and calm morning trip. It took about 3.5 hours to get back to the boat launch.
Day two involved paddling down to Lily Lake and then portaging over to Clare Lake. Then there’s another portage from Clare to Kingsmere Lake before the home stretch. These two portages took less than 10 minutes each; both were manageable for solo or tandem paddlers.
This section was full of wildlife, with two pelicans flying overhead at the start of my paddle and loons calling on Clare Lake. The day before, I saw several beavers in the Bagwa Channel and a red-necked grebe on Kingsmere. But the coolest sighting was the pair of white swans on Bagwa Lake as I coasted into camp.
The Bagwa Canoe Route is extremely well-signed, with a large white triangle marking each campground and large white X’s showing portage routes. There are also big signs displaying campground names. While there is excellent signage, paddlers should also bring a paper map and even GPS mapping to navigate the waters.
Read more: 7 of the Best Things To Do in Drumheller, Alberta
Bagwa Canoe Route Itinerary (With Options!)
There are several options for paddlers of all skill levels on the Bagwa Canoe Route.
Standard 2-day paddle itinerary:
Day 1: Boat Launch to Bagwa Lake Campground (via Pease Point) (13 km)
Day 2: Bagwa Lake to Boat Launch (via Lily Lake) (13 km)
3-day itinerary with two different campgrounds:
Day 1: Boat Launch to Pease Point Campground (9 km)
Day 2: Pease Point to Lily Lake Campground (7.5 km)
Day 3: Lily Lake to Boat Launch (9.5 km)
Leisurely 4-day itinerary to visit every backcountry campground:
Day 1: Boat Launch to Pease Point Campground (9 km)
Day 2: Pease Point to Bagwa Lake Campground (4 km)
Day 3: Bagwa Lake to Lily Lake Campground (3.5 km)
Day 4: Lily Lake to Boat Launch (9.5 km)
What To Bring
Here’s the canoe camping gear I brought along for one night in the backcountry:
- Tent (like this one)
- Sleeping pad (I used this one)
- Sleeping bag
- Rain gear (here’s my favourite jacket)
- Nalgene (like this)
- Headlamp (I use this one)
- Jetboil & fuel (my favourite stove)
- Water filtration (like this filter)
- Camera (I bring my GoPro)
- Warm layers (like this down jacket)
- Hat & gloves
- Water shoes (I love these)
- Toothbrush & toothpaste
- Toilet paper
- Map & compass/GPS
- Satellite communicator (I use Zoleo)
- Powerbank & charger
- Dry bags
- First aid kit
- Bear spray
- Wallet & keys
- Paddle (plus one extra)
- Painter rope
- Bailer/pump (I use this one)
- Throw bag
- Pilot knife (attached to PFD)
- Waterproof flashlight
Wildlife on the Bagwa Canoe Route
There’s no shortage of wildlife in Prince Albert National Park. The Bagwa Loop is known for red-necked grebe sightings, one of the most impressive aquatic birds. The Bagwa Channel is home to a colony of grebes nesting on the water. In the same area, you could see beavers, bald eagles, pelicans, and possibly black bears. Overall, I was very pleased with the diverse wildlife and soaked in the chance to watch them from a distance.
Remember: The Bagwa Route is not your home. You’re a guest in a place with wonderful diversity of wildlife. Please pay special attention to keeping the waters and environment healthy and wild. Practice Leave No Trace principles and pack out anything you bring with you. Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints. Ultimately, we want to limit our impact on the environment and protect these wild spaces for our wild neighbours.
Also, Prince Albert National Park is bear country. There are no grizzlies, but there are black bears in the area. In fact, I stumbled across a large pile of black bear scat on the Grey Owl Trail along Kingsmere Lake. Use the bear cache at your campsite to store food and other animal attractants (like garbage and toiletries). And bring bear spray with you (and know how to use it).
Canoeing in Saskatchewan: Know Before You Go
Booking: Reserving backcountry campsites in Prince Albert National Park can only happen in-person at the Visitor Centre in Waskesiu. You can reach Prince Albert National park by phone at 306-663-4522 or email email@example.com.
Portages: Be prepared for several portages on the Bagwa Loop. While the first and longest portage is on a rail cart, you may want to bring your own canoe cart for the other short portages.
Time: The average lake paddler travels about 4 km per hour. Give yourself enough time and daylight to reach your destination.
Canoe rentals: I brought my own boat but I met friendly paddlers with rental canoes. You can rent from the Waskesiu Marina and they’ll deliver for an additional fee.
Leave no trace: Remember to pack out your garbage and belongings, including food waste. If you’re paddling with your dog, bring a smell-proof bag to pack out their business.
Firewood: There is firewood provided at every campground along the Bagwa Loop (Pease Point, Bagwa Lake, and Lily Lake).
Water source: There’s plenty of fresh water in Kingsmere Lake and the other lakes along the Bagwa Route. I’d highly recommend bringing a water filtration system. I use either my MSR TrailShot or MSR MiniWorks.
Toilets: Pit latrines are available in the campgrounds so you don’t need to dig a hole. Dispose of your greywater (i.e. dirty food/dishes water) in these outhouses, too.
Fishing: Campers must buy a fishing license (available at the Visitor Centre) before fishing in the lakes.
Motorboats: While motorboats are permitted on Kingsmere Lake, they are prohibited between the Bagwa Channel and the Clare Lake portage.
Things To Do in Prince Albert National Park
When you’re finished on the Bagwa Canoe Route, you might want to take a dip in Waskesiu Lake. Waskesiu Beach is close to the town centre and you’ll find newly built washrooms and showers as well. Showers are available to the public at no cost (and feel great after a couple of nights in the woods!).
I’d also recommend heading into town for an ice cream cone at Big Olaf. There are other food options in Waskesiu as well, though some are seasonal and close in the fall.
Lastly, if you’re looking for another outdoor adventure, check out the Grey Owl Trail along the west shore of Kingsmere Lake. It’s worth hiking in to see Grey Owl’s Cabin and spend more time in the boreal forest. You could easily spend two or more nights on Grey Owl. I’d highly recommend this PANP classic.
Map of the Bagwa Canoe Route
Bagwa Canoe Route Video
Have you paddled the Bagwa Canoe Route? What was your experience like? Is there anything missing from this guide? Leave a comment below.
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