In the winter, I spend a lot of time snowshoeing at Mount Washington Alpine Resort in Strathcona Provincial Park. I go almost every weekend to walk around the trails, always marveling at the scenery and the quietness of the surroundings. It’s one of my most favourite things to do and I look forward to when the trails open each winter so I can pull my snowshoes out of storage and get out & play in the snow!
This year though, I really wanted to go check out the park BEFORE the snow fell. The park has beautiful boardwalks throughout, there are running creeks and small waterfalls, and wildflowers galore… I’ve just never seen any of that because it’s usually under a few feet of snow when I visit!
With the incredible fall weather we had through October, we took advantage of the bright, dry days and teamed up with Sonja of Photography by Sonja to go check out Paradise Meadows without any snow. All the photos in this post are by Sonja and the fact that she took approximately 1400 photos (seriously… that’s not a typo!!) on our 13km hike should be a testament to the beauty of the park.
We drove up to the Raven Lodge at Mt Washington Alpine Resort, not really knowing if we were going to the right spot. We were… and it turns out there are lots of signs that I’ve just never seen due to being buried under the snow. (That’s going to be a theme in this post I think! Haha). It was a beautiful day and the parking lot was almost full with like-minded folks getting out and enjoying the warm sunshine. There is a hiking hut, bathroom facilities, and park map at the trail head, so just a few minutes after parking, we were on our way with a route in mind.
Our adventure took us from Paradise Meadows to Battleship Lake to Lake Helen Mackenzie. Considering we had set out to do the quick Paradise Meadows loop, the fact that we were still walking 4 hours later was pretty impressive. From the start, we got more excited every time we turned a corner and couldn’t wait to see more, so we just kept going and going and going!
The paths were mostly all boardwalks and where boardwalks didn’t exist, the trails were well-maintained and easy to navigate. On the Paradise Meadows loop, I pulled out the strategically packed bird seed to see if I could get the whisky jacks (a.k.a. gray jays) to come around. [Please note: If you want to feed the birds on your trip here, please take bird seed! It is dangerous to feed these birds any human food due to the sodium content so don’t do it!]
I tried a couple times with no success, but on the third try, the whisky jacks showed up en masse. They were fighting over a spot on my hand and, with Sonja snapping away beside me, she got some stellar shots of me doubled over trying to prevent them from hitting me in the face. Beyond those moments, it was pretty special seeing the birds up close this way.
From Paradise Meadows, we had planned to loop back but we opted to continue on to Battleship Lake. This is a favourite spot of mine when I’m snowshoeing and I learned that outside of the winter season, it’s a stunning spot to sit and relax and admire the crystal clear reflections on the water. We saw a few other people feeding the whisky jacks as well and Sonja had to climb out to the dock that was still under construction for the perfect pics. It was just so beautiful!
Not wanting to turn back again, we kept going to Lake Helen Mackenzie. Here we found a provincial campground with one of the best views ever. The serene lake, quiet chirp of birds nearby, and the breeze in the trees created the picture perfect campground and considering its only a few kilometers from the parking lot and easy walking, it’d be very easy to get your gear in here for a weekend camping trip!
With Sonja veering off main path on side paths or old trails whenever she could (in search of the perfect pictures!), I loved the feeling of having the park to myself. We occasionally passed other hikers and walkers, but there weren’t any spots where we all collided at once which made the day that much more special. I did pass a fellow nature enthusiast with his 10 week old puppy and had a pretty intense debate with myself about whether he’d be okay if I just scooped the puppy up on my way by. Knowing better, I just asked to pet the pup and kept on going, sans puppy.
In short time, we arrived back at the parking lot with big smiles and feeling exhilarated from the day. It was exceptionally scenic and I left knowing that one of the most impressive winter spots I know is a different kind of impressive the rest of the year as well. I’m excited to visit through the winter again but then also in the spring when the wildflowers bloom. It’s going to be a sight to see for sure!
I loved the adventure and appreciated Sonja coming along and capturing the beauty of the park. She’s pretty adventurous and loves to capture anything water related as well as experimenting with different types of shots. Like & follow her page – Photography by Sonja – and see all her photos there!
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