was successfully added to your cart.

Hiking the Boreal Trail in Saskatchewan – Day One

I am just back from hiking five sections of the Boreal Trail located in Meadow Lake Provincial Park in northwestern Saskatchewan. The whole trail runs most of the length of the park, spanning a distance of about 125 kilometers. 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 kilometers 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 western end of the Boreal Trail starts at Cold Lake"

The western end of the Boreal Trail starts at Cold Lake

"Looking down the Cold River at the start of the Boreal Trail"

Looking down the Cold River at the start of the Boreal Trail

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 kilometers 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.

"Big Boreal Trail signs at either end of the trail"

Big Boreal Trail signs at either end of the trail

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.

The beauty of the Boreal Trail is that you have a choice of camping at nine backcountry or eight front-country campsites.

"One majestic stand after another of aspen trees can be seen along the Boreal Trail"

One majestic stand after another of aspen trees can be seen along the Boreal Trail

"Collapsed aspen tree looks like a horse head to me"

Collapsed aspen tree looks like a horse head to me

"Looking across the Cold River to surprisingly colourful hills"

Looking across the Cold River to surprisingly colourful hills from the first backcountry campsite

"You hike past open sections with dramatic big skies on the Boreal Trail"

You hike past open sections with dramatic big skies

"Backcountry campsite BT1, located 5.1 kms from the trailhead"

Backcountry campsite BT1, located 5.1 kms from the trailhead; all campsites have bear lockers and a fire pit

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.

"We came across this bear trap - at least that's what I think it is"

We came across this bear trap – at least that’s what I think it is

"The Pasque flowers are one of the first signs that tell you spring has finally arrived"

The Pasque flowers are one of the first signs that tell you spring has finally arrived

"We stumbled across a Great Blue Heron Rookery along the trail - and saw about 10 of the birds flying around"

We stumbled across a Great Blue Heron Rookery along the trail – and saw about 10 of the birds flying around

"Most of the trails we were on were wide like this and flat or gently rolling"

Most of the trails we were on were wide like this and flat or gently rolling

"We must have seen at least a dozen carcasses over the 5 sections of trail including a fresh kill with the wolf howling beside it"

We must have seen at least a dozen carcasses over the five sections of trail including a fresh kill with the coyote or wolf howling beside it (we got a glimpse but don’t know which it was for sure)

"Looking through the trees to one of the 26 lakes dotting Meadow Lake Provincial Park"

Looking through the trees to one of the 25 lakes dotting Meadow Lake Provincial Park

"Lots of small ponds with loads of birds can be seen along some sections of the Boreal Trail"

Lots of small ponds with loads of birds can be seen along sections of the Boreal Trail

"Walking into Backcountry campsite BT2 on Pierce Lake was nothing short of magical"

Walking into backcountry campsite BT2 on Pierce Lake was nothing short of magical

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.

"The ice was still along the shoreline in places on Pierce Lake"

The ice was still along the shoreline in places on Pierce Lake

"Gorgeous cloud reflections in Pierce Lake"

Gorgeous cloud reflections in Pierce Lake

"By the 14 km mark our dog is ready to call it a day"

By the 14 km mark our dog is ready to call it a day

"The final section of trail for the day requires crossing a large beaver dam"

The final section of trail for the day requires crossing a large beaver dam

"We saw loads of white tailed deer especially along the road through the park"

We saw loads of white tailed deer especially along the road through the park

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 day ends with a beautiful sunset at the Sandy Beach Campground - with loons calling in the background"

Our day ends with a beautiful sunset at the Sandy Beach Campground – with loons calling in the background

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?

Hiking the Boreal Trail in Saskatchewan

**Thank you to Tourism Saskatchewan for helping to underwrite a good part of this trip.**

Leigh McAdam

HikeBikeTravel
Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
Instagram

Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure – & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project – a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

More posts by Leigh

Join the discussion 35 Comments

  • Sophie says:

    Starkly beautiful landscape. Also, there’s something so mysterious and romantic about the name Saskatchewan.

    • @Sophie I think we have to get you to Saskatchewan so you can get the full on experience. I love the province but I appreciate it’s stark beauty, numerous lakes and wide open spaces.

  • Andrew says:

    Superb scenery in your excellent photo series, Leigh. You must both be really fit — and the dog, too!

  • Marcia says:

    Stunning, Leigh. I’d never heard of a Boreal forest before or that such a large one existed in Canada.
    Great to hear there are options for short and long hikes and the terrain sounds manageable for weekend hikers as well as those more experienced.

  • Gorgeous images – those aspen trees are so beautiful – I love the patterns of the bark.
    This looks like a great hike to do. A bit like our Bibbulmun Track in WA – although our track is nearly 1000kms. We have markers indicating we are on track still too – they really give you a boost of confidence.
    Thanks for taking us along. Happy travels.

    • @Jill Even though there wasn’t a leaf on them I agree about the aspens looking amazing. A 1000 km track is one heck of a long trip – and I’d have to think it would be very hot much of the time.

  • Karen says:

    Fascinating hike! What would one do with a bear once it has been trapped? The birch tree forest looks stunning.

  • I think you’re the only blogger I know who posts about Saskatchewan. :) And I love learning about these beautiful Canadian parks and trails from you. What a stunning landscape and there’s a bit of a haunting look to those rows of aspens. Glad to see hints of Spring and especially all those deer. Beautiful captures as always, Leigh.

    • @Mary Saskatchewan isn’t exactly a mainstream tourist destination but it really does have its charms. I’m heading back in July for more hiking & to canoe a part of the Churchill River – via a floatplane ride in.

  • budget jan says:

    I just wished I could magically appear in one of your photos. I think I would enjoy doing a day hike like this. Fall would be wonderful for sure. Would there be too many bugs in Spring?

    • @Jan I have no doubt that the bugs will suddenly appear but because spring was late this year we had a beautiful, bug free weekend. It’s a really interesting hike and not difficult in my mind.

  • Nancie says:

    Saskatchewan is the only Canadian province I haven’t been to. Your photos are beautiful. I agree, that falling aspen looks exactly like a horses head. Your sunset shot is glorious.

  • Hi Leigh, thank you for taking me to another hike in a beautiful wllderness. I just learned something new today – about the Boreal forest. It’s the first time I’ve heard of this kind of ecosystem. Once again, you brought the scenic landscape to life through your beautiful photos. I think the third photo, the one with just the tree trunks would make a good wallpaper art. Looking forward the next installment.

    • @Marisol I learned a lot by hiking in the Boreal forest as well. I really can’t say enough good things about how beautiful the aspen stands were. I would love to see them ablaze in yellow come the fall.

  • You always make hiking sound so appealing, even to a relatively lazy nonhiker like me. That stand of aspen trees is gorgeous, and I like how clear and shallow the waters of Cold Lake appear. Finding those carcasses and bear trap really emphasize that you are out there surrounded by the glory of nature.

    • @Michele The hike John and I did is really very family friendly. Once we got home John counted up how many bird species he’d seen and it was 46 – without trying too hard. Lots to see and grand country in its own way.

  • Peter Weir says:

    Thanks for the info on the trail. I just moved to Cold lake and i am planning this trail in the summer of 2015. I am starting to be an ultralight backpacker and cant wait to try this as a start to a wonderful season of hiking and getting out into the wilds of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Thanks again

    • @Peter Just plan your trip at a time that the bugs won;t be a problem for maximum enjoyment. I thought the bird life was superb and really enjoyed the trail.

      • Peter says:

        Thanks, im heading up 02 may to check out the first portion from the river and about 10 km or so into the trip and back to the start. Dont have the time to do more, but i will do the whole trail this summer. I cant wait.
        thanks again for the tip

      • @Peter That’s a really pretty part of the trail to hike. With lick you’ll be treated to some birdsong as well. Hope there isn’t too much in the way of fallen trees.

  • Brianna says:

    My boyfriend and I are looking into planning an off-the-grid get-away with minimal supplies and maximum exploration in the span of about 2 days.
    Would you recommend this route?

    • @Brianna If you’re in Saskatchewan I think it’s a great one to do but be prepared for bugs in August. Swimming should be good. Not sure you’d be able to knock off the whole route in 2 days so think about is reasonable. Arranging a car shuttle is hard. The eastern section of trail had closures last year so check with the park before you go.

  • Vicky Pryor says:

    I live in the Meadow Lake area. Thank you for featuring our much-loved but unheralded boreal playground. This is a beautiful overview of the first section of the Boreal Trail.

  • Ryan says:

    Hi! Late to commenting relative to your original post, but it looks like when you hiked in May was early enough to avoid bugs and really high water? I’m thinking about taking it on later this year, but really want to avoid the northern SK bugs. I’m going to call the parks folks in Saskatchewan for more info, but if you have any other suggestions or ideas, they would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    Ryan

    • @Ryan We had no bugs and in a few places the water was high but overall no problems. If you really want to avoid bugs you probably need to do it from August on – and the later in August the better. It really is a lovely hike.

  • Kyle says:

    Hello, my name is Kyle. My friend Charlie and I are doing a school project in which we must plan a multi-day trip and we have selected the Boreal Trail. We are also required to conduct an interview with an acknowledged expert and we would be delighted if we could ask you some questions. We can be reached at lightningkiy@gmail.com. Thank you for your time.1

Leave a Reply