One of the largest and most stunning lakes in Canada is Crean Lake. It has crystal clear blue waters with several tiny islands in the middle of it and around it, along with an exquisite backdrop of blue sky and greenery. The lake and sky both seem to go on and on, which is quite awe-inspiring. In order to reach Crean Lake, you must first go through the three Hanging Heart Lakes, all of which are also of remarkable beauty and surrounded by/filled with an abundance of flora and fauna (plants and animals). These lakes are all located in Prince Albert National Park, which is close to the geographic centre of Saskatchewan, Canada. The park is 60 km (37.3 miles) north of the city of Prince Albert.
Prince Albert National Park is a transition of Aspen parkland to boreal forest. This national park is home to the only fully protected white pelican nesting colony in Canada, offers the opportunity to see Canada’s only free ranging bison within their historic range, and protects a significant portion of Canada’s remaining fescue grasslands (a type of grass with wide flat leaves usually cultivated in North America and Europe for permanent pasture and hay, as well as for lawns). Moreover, the park has a rich Aboriginal history dating back over 7 800 years. It is also where Grey Owl’s cabin is situated (a famed conservationist). Additionally, Prince Albert National park has numerous lakes and over 150 km (93.2 miles) of hiking trails, therefore making it Saskatchewan’s premiere hiking destination.
Together, the Hanging Heart Lakes and Crean Lake demonstrate well the transition of the south (which is Aspen parkland) to the north (which consists of boreal forest). The Hanging Heart Lakes represent southern lakes as they are shallow with a soft, muddy bottom and about 7.3 metres (24 feet) deep. Crean Lake is a northern lake and therefore has a hard, gravelly/rocky bottom. The trench (deepest part) on Crean Lake is about 54.5 metres (180 feet) deep.
The sunset boat cruise to Crean Lake is available from the Hanging Heart Lakes Marina (there are a total of three marinas in Prince Albert National Park). The interpretive tour is on a 7.3 meter (24 foot) pontoon boat and runs at about 6:30/7 pm every day, usually from Victoria Day to Labour Day, with advanced booking (the booking can be made the same day that you would like to go on the cruise, but before 5 pm). It is approximately a 2 hour boat tour which goes through the three Hanging Heart Lakes to Crean Lake, before returning along the same route back to the marina. The guide was extremely knowledgeable and taught us about some of the natural, historical, and cultural features of the area, which both enhanced our experience and increased our appreciation of the park.
The Hanging Heart Lakes were sparkling from the sun as the light danced liked diamonds off of the water. It was simply gorgeous. Unfortunately, its essence could not be fully captured in a photograph and has to be experienced. The boat cruise, in addition, offered a welcome relief from the mosquitoes as they were not noticeable on the water. The mosquitoes were higher in number than usual during our visit due to a lot of rain in the previous weeks.
The name of the Hanging Heart Lakes may sound romantic, but “legend” states otherwise. According to legend, when the national park was first surveyed in 1928-29 the surveyors saw something hanging from the trees that looked like a piece of meat. Aboriginals, when they hunt, will hang a piece of the heart of the animal they killed from a tree as an offering to the Creator to give thanks for presenting the animal to them, as well as to ensure a successful hunt next time. It is believed that this is what the surveyors saw and hence how the name “Hanging Heart Lakes” came about.
One of the first animals we witnessed on the boat cruise was a bald eagle in its nest perched near the top of a large tree. We also saw the bald eagle leave its nest and fly around the trees, before returning to its nest once again. This was a remarkable sight. In addition, we saw a loon, other birds, and dragonflies. Furthermore, otters may be found in these lakes, but unfortunately we did not see any during our boat tour.
However, one of the main reasons I wanted to visit these lakes was because the pelican nesting area (Lavallée Lake) has restricted access, but was told the pelicans often fly over to the large lakes in the area, so I may be more likely to see pelicans on a large lake. Indeed, we did see a pelican fly over and land on the third lake of the Hanging Heart Lakes. This was quite magnificent to see, just as i had expected, as a pelican is extremely large when its wings are spread and its in flight. Our guide stopped the boat for a few minutes in order for us to be able to watch it bobbing for fish. We then circled the pelican for a better view before taking off to explore more of the lakes.
Moreover, we saw beaver lodges, beaver canals (beavers often build canals through reeds to float building materials that are difficult to haul over land), the Park Ranger’s cabin, and some back-country cabins that are available for rent.
Crean Lake was simply breathtaking. The water was very calm, like glass or a mirror, as the sky and islands were reflected by the water, creating an unending picture of exquisite beauty, much like a painting. The large fluffy white clouds were like cotton and really added to the atmosphere as they were quite striking. This serenity is not very usual (as told to us by our guide), so we felt lucky to have the opportunity to experience this. We were also informed that the lake can change from smooth to very rough in a short time, so this is something boaters should be aware of. Crean Lake is not only one of the biggest and deepest lakes in the park, but it is also one of the biggest and deepest lakes found in any of the Canadian National Parks. The original aboriginal historic name of Crean Lake was “Big Trout Lake.” It has a number of sandy beaches and rocky islands around it.
It is interesting to note that all the water from the Hanging Heart Lakes and Crean Lake flow to the north into the Churchill River system, which then flows into the Hudson Bay (which was once used for fur trading and is an important part of Canadian history).
There was a lot of fauna in and around all the lakes, especially on the passages between the lakes, which included trees, plants, and lily pads with small yellow flowers.
This boat cruise is a great alternative to paddling the Hanging Heart Lakes to Crean Lake, which would have taken at least 3 hours one way (upwards of 6-7 hours for the return trip of 18 km or 11.2 miles). Some people decide to make it an overnight paddle by staying at one of the backcountry sites at night before heading back, therefore making the trip last 2-3 days. If you do decide to do this, make sure you register at the Visitor Centre before any backcountry overnight stays. As I am not a strong nor extremely experienced canoer/kayaker, and since I was told that Crean Lake can get quite rough at times, I opted for this boat tour, especially as it would save us a lot of time.
Fishing is allowed in the Hanging Heart Lakes and Crean Lake if you purchase a Prince Albert National Park fishing license before fishing. In these waters you may find northern pike, walleye, perch, and white fish. Conveniently, there is a fish filleting station at the Hanging Heart Lakes Marina.
The boat cruise was too early to see the full sunset as it was July 1 (shortly after summer solstice) and the sun set at 9:33 pm. However, the boat tour was awesome nonetheless due to the beautiful scenery and great location for bird watching. It was a unique and enriching experience as we learned a lot about the area from our guide, which deepened our appreciation and admiration for it. The sunset cruise to Crean Lake was definitely the highlight of our trip to Prince Albert National Park!
Check Out the Video Log of My Experience!
Map of Hanging Heart Lakes and Crean Lake
Where was your favourite boat cruise? What did you see and/or learn?
This was a complimentary tour courtesy of Waskesiu & Area Wilderness Region. Entry to Prince Alberta National Park was with a complimentary Discovery Pass courtesy of Parks Canada. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.
Information compiled from Waskesiu Marina Adventure Centre and Parks Canada.
(Photos 6 and 14 courtesy of Randy Smith).