I spent a long weekend in Saskatchewan’s Meadow Lake Provincial Park hiking five sections of the Boreal Trail. The trail runs most of the length of the park, spanning a distance of about 120 km. It’s Saskatchewan’s only destination backpacking trip.
It can be done as an epic multi-day hiking trip, but just as easily, you can do day hikes, choosing sections of the trail, depending on your interest and how much time you have.
The Boreal Trail in Saskatchewan is one of the few trails, and the only long distance trail in Canada to my knowledge, that actually showcases the beauty of the Boreal forest.
The Boreal Forest
The Boreal forest is a rich ecosystem, about 1,000 km wide, that separates the northern tundra from the westerly temperate rainforest and southerly coniferous woodlands. The forest also goes by the name taiga. It is the biggest intact forest on the planet.
In Canada there are approximately three million square kilometres of Boreal forest. You’ll also find the Boreal forest in Russia, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
The western end of the Boreal Trail
We started at the western end of the trail – right at the intersection of Cold Lake and Cold River.
Our plan on the first day was to hike 16 km one way to the Sandy Lake Campground where we had left our car. Beforehand, we had arranged a shuttle with Clearwater Canoeing. Otherwise we would have had to retrace our steps or try our luck with hitchhiking.
Looking north from the Boreal Trail, there is nothing but a vast wilderness of forest and lakes until you reach the tundra in the Northwest Territories.
This section of the trail offers delightfully easy hiking over flat to gently rolling terrain. The trail is wide, ATV wide and yes, unfortunately you might run into occasional vehicles. We did on one occasion on the first day.
The trail to Sandy Beach Campsite took us by two backcountry campsites – all boasting bear lockers, a composting toilet and a fire pit. They were both beautifully situated, as were all other backcountry campsites we encountered over the weekend.
Our first day on the trail was a treat and not what I expected. The hiking took us between stands of pine and spruce and then back into great swaths of aspen – that must be stunning in the fall. We also beat the bugs on this trip – a consideration for a June or July hike.
Signage on the Boreal Trail
The trail is generally well signed. Approximately every kilometre you run into a post stating that you’re on the trail. I did find at the end of the first day near Sandy Lake Campground that signage was in short supply.
There are loads of well-trodden game trails that should not be mistaken for the real trail.
Important info regarding the Boreal Trail hike
Do carry a proper topographical map on this hike. Its included with your backcountry permit.
If you do plan to camp in the backcountry, then make sure you contact Meadow Lake Provincial Park at least two weeks prior to your arrival and fill out the necessary forms.
I’d recommend car-camping if you want to do day hikes. Our campsite both nights was just up from the lake – a real treat. In my mind there’s nothing like being lulled to sleep by the sound of loons and woken in the morning by songbirds.
Birding on the trail
The bird life on the Boreal Trail hike was fantastic. Not only did we come across the heron rookery, but we saw about 10 rose breasted grosbeaks in one small area, numerous warblers, at least six duck species, swans and more. John is still putting together a birding list from the weekend.