Connecting as a Family in the Backcountry at Gem Lakes
It is late May, and Cam and I have decided to take our two kids Etta, 7, and Julia, 6, on a backcountry camping trip to the Gem Lakes in Narrow Hills Provincial Park. The 5.5-km hiking trail winds past seven sandy-bottom, emerald-coloured sparkling lakes. If you count the four unnamed lakes, there are a total of 11 to explore.
These incredible “Kettle Lakes” were created during the glacier retreat in the last ice age. Interestingly, they are not fed by a constant water source. Instead, they are stabilized by ground water.
We arrive at the trailhead parking lot at 3 p.m., after a six-hour drive from Regina. The kids jump out of the car and a smile crosses my face. They are ready to burn some energy. One quick family photo of us in our gear and we are ready to start the hike.
Only 500 m in, we reach the first set of reservable sites and a beautiful view of Jade Lake. These sites are all-terrain stroller accessible. I make note that this would be a great place to take a baby or toddler for their first backcountry camping trip.
Our family has been backcountry exploring with the kids since they were a year old, so we were prepared to go further. Today’s hiking goal: Diamond or Opal Lake.
After only 1 km we reach beautiful Diamond Lake, where there are sites that are nicely treed and have fire pits.
Rain starts to pour, and Cam and I begin to set up camp. After a few years of doing these trips together, we are like a well-oiled machine. I pull out the tent poles from my pack and Cam retrieves the tent and fly. Within minutes, it’s up. Etta and Julia jump in to hide from the downpour.
Just as we start to cook dinner, the rain stops. The kids emerge from the tent and we all walk over to the water. The sky has cleared, leaving only a few white clouds – the reflection of the trees on the crystal-clear water is breathtaking. The rest of our evening is spent eating dinner, swinging on the hammock, playing Uno, and soaking up the views. It’s a good life in Narrow Hills Provincial Park!
The sun begins to set and shortly after Cam hikes away from our site to store food in the bear hang. It is nice that we don’t have to dig a hole to use the bathroom since park staff recently installed a ‘loo with a view’ at this and various other backcountry sites.
The weather is cooling off as we prepare for bedtime. Thankfully, I remembered to pack layers for sleeping as the weather will dip to 5 C tonight. We all fall sound asleep in anticipation of the next day.
I wake up early to enjoy coffee with a view before the kids make their way out of bed for breakfast. I am excited to see the reflections on the lake in the early morning light.
After enjoying a relaxing morning, we start our hike to check out the other lakes. Our packs are lighter since we will be staying a second night at Diamond Lake.
We soon find ourselves climbing through the trees. At the top, the trees disperse, revealing awe-inspiring views of Sapphire Lake. The magical moment is amplified as 25 blue butterflies surround us. The girls are thrilled.
Etta comments on the little diamonds that appear to scatter across the water as the sun hits the lake. We continue the hike through the spruce trees when Julia notices crocuses sprinkling the ground. Making sure not to pick the flowers, she takes a picture and we bend down to smell them.
We reach Pearl and Little Pearl Lake, and I am starting to feel like a broken record. The lakes truly are spectacular and I find myself commenting on their beauty every time. The 3-km trek ends back at our campsite at Diamond Lake, in time to make dinner.
Plans for the next day are to pack up camp and hike past Opal Lake, Little Jade Lake and Jade Lake before returning home. To celebrate our last night, Cam and I stay up a little later than the kids to enjoy a nice drink together overlooking the views. Not all of our trips have been this smooth, but we note that it gets easier every year with the kids being a little older. Just like all of our adventures, whether they run seamlessly or have a few more mishaps, this trip has brought our family a little closer. The Gem Lakes truly are gems of our province.
Author and Photographer: Annika Mang
Annika Mang is a writer and photographer based in Regina, Saskatchewan with a focus on family adventure.