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PARADISE FOUND AT LESSER SLAVE LAKE

Author: Debbie Olsen

Debbie is a writer, researcher, traveller, mom, wife, foodie, gardener, housekeeper, photographer, and occasional hormone-crazed maniac. She has contributed to eight Fodor’s guide books about Alberta and writes regular columns for the Calgary Herald and the Red Deer Advocate.

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As I dug my toes into warm, soft sand and watched the setting sun reflect off the glassy surface of the lake, I felt like I was far away in some tropical locale. At nearly 1,200 sq km (463 sq mi), it isn’t hard to mistake Lesser Slave Lake for an ocean. Its white sand beaches are some of the finest in Alberta and when the west wind blows across the vast waters, you can get wave action big enough to surf on – though most people choose to ride the big breakers in kayaks.

Homestead in the Wilderness

I breathed in the last of a long summer’s day and watched as orange and pink streaks cloaked the hanging clouds while my husband fed our bonfire. We were relaxing on a private beach in front of North Shore Homestead, our accommodation of choice for a little weekend escape and it was the perfect ending to two perfect days.

Lesser Slave Lake is a two and a half hour drive northwest of Edmonton and the North Shore Homestead is situated right on the lakefront. Carved out of the surrounding poplar forest by German immigrants, the homestead features more than a kilometre (0.6 mi) of private lakefront, kayaks for guests, an onsite trapper’s and hunter’s museum and a bison ranch. An up-close, nose-to-nose tour of the bison herd was one of the highlights of our stay.

North America’s Bird Nursery

The unique microclimate that encompasses the lake and rich habitat of the surrounding boreal forest has created a haven for nesting and migratory birds – particularly songbirds – which is why the area has been dubbed the continent’s bird nursery. Built to study them, the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory and Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation are fascinating to visit. We learned that nearly half of all North American bird species nest and raise their young here and billions of birds pass through during the spring and fall migrations. We watched researchers counting and banding birds at the observatory, toured the Boreal Centre and took a walk along the Songbird Trail, pausing in the middle to stand quietly and listen to the natural symphony created by songbirds in the towering aspen-poplar forest.

Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park & Beyond

We also spent an afternoon exploring Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park, walking along the Whispering Sands Trail past 1,500-year-old sand dunes and along beautiful Devonshire Beach, a 1.5 km (0.93 mi) stretch of sandy beach that makes a great place to relax and watch the waves or to wade out and fish for walleye. And it’s just a short walk from the lovely town of Slave Lake.

We also drove to Marten Mountain Viewpoint and walked partway along the Lily Lake Trail, one of the best hiking trails in the area. We would have liked to have completed the trail which offers breathtaking views and leads to a beautiful little lake that is stocked with brown trout but that would have meant forgoing our beachfront bonfire dinner. One weekend wasn’t nearly enough time to see and do everything in this area, but it was the right amount of time to enjoy two perfect days. We’ll definitely be back.

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