I spent a weekend in Meadow Lake Provincial Park hiking five sections of the Boreal Trail in northwestern Saskatchewan. The whole trail runs most of the length of the park, spanning a distance of about 125 kilometres. It can be done as an epic backpacking trip, but just as easily, you can hike various sections of the trail, depending on how much time you have. That’s exactly what John and I did over the May long weekend.
We started at the western end of the Boreal Trail – right at the intersection of Cold Lake and Cold River. Our plan on the first day was to hike 16 kilometres 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.
The Boreal Trail runs through the Boreal forest – a rich ecosystem, about 1000 kilometers wide, that separates the northern tundra from the westerly temperate rainforest and southerly coniferous woodlands. The Boreal forest, also known as taiga, 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 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.
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 Boreal 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.
Camping on the Boreal Trail
The Boreal Trail is generally well signed. Approximately every kilometer you run into a post stating that you’re on the Boreal 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 Boreal Trail.
Do carry a proper topographical map on this hike. It’s 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.
To make things easy on this trip, we decided to car camp in the park. It wasn’t very busy for a long weekend, mostly because the ice was late leaving the lake. Our campsite both nights was just up from the lake – and in my mind there’s nothing like being lulled to sleep by the sound of loons and woken in the morning by songbirds.
The birdlife on the 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.
Our first day on the Boreal 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 – but I’m not so sure I’ll be so lucky on another trip planned to Saskatchewan in July.
If you’re not a camper but you want to do day hikes on the Boreal Trail, then there are two excellent options.
In Pierceland you can stay at Maguire’s Bridge Bed and Breakfast and enjoy an awesome cooked to order breakfast made by Sharon and a very comfortable bed for $95 per night. Your other choice is a room in the soon to be opened Water’s Edge Eco Lodge located on the west side of Greig Lake in Meadow Lake Provincial Park.
Have you ever been to Meadow Lake Provincial Park? Are you familiar with the Boreal Trail?
**Thank you to Tourism Saskatchewan for helping to underwrite a good part of this trip.**
Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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