I am writing today's post with much hesitation. While I'm comfortable sharing obscure camping locations the average person won't stumble upon, I'm nervous about sharing those that hide in plain sight. These public camping spots are quietly maintained and used chiefly by local residents, but somehow manage to escape the tourist limelight. Parr Hill Lake falls into this category.
Parr Hill is a small lake in the Porcupine Hills of East-Central Saskatchewan, just north of Norquay. This lakeside camp ground is well-developed, but still fairly rustic. You won't find running water or electricity here, but you have everything else for front-country camping: picnic tables, barbecue pits, outhouses, a boat launch, and even a picnic shelter. It does get busy here in July and August, but the shoulder ends of summer are very peaceful. The sites are even free of charge and available without reservation.
Things could change though. The area is being assessed for Provincial Park designation. If the designation moves forward, this could bring new services to the park and further its development. It could also lead to an influx of campers. For now, it is a quiet and simple alternative to the busier Provincial Parks.
The leaves had yet to bud on my first trip to Parr Hill. I rolled up at 11 pm, meeting my friends by the boat launch. It was so dark that I could barely see. I do remember the crisp spring air, the sound of a creek running nearby, and the Christmas-ey scent of balsam fir. It was already late, so we drove up to a site, set up our hammocks, and passed out face down in a pile of barbecue chips.
I woke up the next morning and took a look around. When you show up somewhere new at night, you're always surprised at how different things look in the daytime. The camp site we were set up in was really more of a driveway. Parr Hill Lake was beautiful though. I walked down a path to the creek I had heard the night before and was surprised by its crystal-like clarity. I reached down to wash my hands, but I could only touch the water for a few seconds before the cold pierced and stiffened my fingers.
I continued up a stone path leading to another string of gorgeous camp sites. Once everyone else had the time to check out the new sites, we decided to move camp to the lake front where we could bring the canoe and go fishing for Northern Pike.
Saturday flew by. We all woke up the next morning feeling well-rested and a little too sluggish to pack up. For such a rushed weekend, we had what felt like a real camping trip. We all agreed: Parr Hill is awesome.
We missed out on the leaves in spring, so we embarked on another visit in late September to see the autumn colors. The lake was just as quiet as last time. With the unseasonal summer-like weather, it was a surprise that there were not more campers there. Only a handful of people were camping. They were very nice though. One of them visited our site and shared the most delicious bacon-wrapped northern pike I've ever had.
There may not have been any running water taps, but the spring fed creek was a valuable resource. A short walk up the creek even takes you to a spot where you can see the water welling up from the ground. The water is fresh, pure, ice cold, and tastes better than any water you would get out of a tap. Bring a filter along for good measure, it's a treat.
If you're used to roughing it, this place is a 5-star brain vacation. There's so much scenery to see in the area and Parr Hill Lake is only the beginning. The Little Swan River is minutes away and offers a landscape akin to northern British Columbia. But that one deserves a write-up of its own.