When it comes to provincial parks and beaches, those of us in Edmonton looking for weekend destinations are accustomed to having to show up early or line up at spots such as Wabamun or down in Gull Lake (by Red Deer). These are popular spots, and, if you don’t arrive till midday, the park gates might be closed, with a staffer informing disappointed families that, well, the beach is full.
That isn’t the case at Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park, located just north of the town of Slave Lake. From Edmonton, it’s about a two and a half hour drive. I was there last weekend; my son’s team had its provincial baseball finals in Slave Lake, and, on a free morning, I headed up to Devonshire Beach at Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park, expecting to find the usual — broken beer bottles, cans, food wrappers, lots of people. I’m not antisocial in any way; I just expected that I was going to have to navigate through blankets and litter like you might expect on an average beach day on a late summer weekend.
What I found was exactly the opposite. I drove down the park road, off Highway 88, punching through the trees. The leaves had already begun to turn autumn yellow. You have a choice of either North Devonshire Beach or, well, South Devonshire Beach. I turned to the south, and ended up on a gravel lane that, well, felt wonderfully removed from civilization. I could hear the waves, but couldn’t see the lake. I had to head down a flight of stairs, through the woods, to get to the sand. The walk itself was rewarding, with black-and-white spotted thrushes flitting in the branches. And, there were a few blue jays as well.
A sign indicated that provincial-park staff only groom about 400 metres of the beach. The rest is left to nature, with driftwood piles that naturally keep sand from blowing away. When I arrived at the foot of the stairs, the only tracks I saw on the beach were paw prints. Wait, was that a bear print? The driftwood littered the beach, all of it smoothed to a pearly white, offering natural benches. Gulls gathered on the shore, and the crashing of the waves felt loud. For a second, it felt like I was the last man on Earth. But, it’s clear that some of the driftwood had been arranged into organized piles and even makeshift shelters, a sign that, yes, this beach had hosted some parties.
I slipped off my sneakers and walked on the sand, which was packed down hard. The water was clear. There was a solid breeze off the lake, but, if anything, it was refreshing.
I checked the time on my phone, and realized I had been walking back and forth along the water for nearly an hour. It felt like I’d only been there a few minutes. I headed back up the stairs and, when I got to the lane at the top, there was a rustling in the brush and a rust-red fox was staring right at me. I stared back. I reached for my camera, hoping to capture the moment. But the fox darted back into the brush, bushy tail spinning, before I could capture the image.
How to get to Devonshire Beach? From Edmonton, just head north on Highway 44, till it joins Highway 2 at Smith, Alberta. That highway will take you right into the town of Slave Lake. Hang a right on Highway 88, you will see a sign for Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park as soon as you pass the town limits. A sign will indicate the driveway, on the left, for Devonshire Beach. As August turns into September, there are still some warm days left to enjoy this spot.