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Hiking the Boreal Trail
I snapped the tent fly into its last clip and scanned the view over the Cold River. The fading golden light splashed itself across the rocks poking out of the moving water. Standing on top of the embankment looking down, my eyes froze on a moving black feature across the river.
Nuzzling into the low-lying blueberry bushes is a black bear – only a hop, skip and jump across the rocks from me in the first campsite on the western end of the Boreal Trail.
This post on Meadow Lake Provincial Park was created in collaboration with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport. It is one part of a series of three Saskatchewan Provincial Parks Signature Experiences written in partnership with the Ministry. As always, the adventures, stories and information provided in these articles are genuinely and authentically my own and based on personal experiences.
At more than 150 kilometres long (including all route options) and located in Meadow Lake Provincial Park, the trail is the longest in the province. Although it can be tackled in numerous sections, I was attempting to hike the standard 120-kilometre trail in only four days. Just five kilometres in and while setting up camp for my first night, I had just encountered my first black bear.
Thankfully, black bears are more scared of humans than humans are of them. The bear likely isn’t going to bother me.
But I’m not going to take any chances.
Being extra vigilant, I stored all my scented goods and food in the bear locker in the campsite. Tucking into my tent that night, I pulled my bear spray, whistle and pocket knife close inside my sleeping bag.
The night was long and I slept lightly, waking frequently and listening for any sound of the bear near my one-man shelter.
The morning light dimly pierced through a dense layer of fog that covered the river, drifting through the trees to greet me as I unzipped my tent.
There was no sign of the bear anywhere – I had made it through the night with no problems.
Eating a hot breakfast of oatmeal, I quickly packed up my gear and set out for my first full day of hiking. My goal? To hike 35 kilometres a day with plans to end at Grieg Lake and Waters Edge Eco Lodge.
The Boreal Trail has been a personal goal of mine since my first visit to the park a year prior as the Saskatchewanderer. As soon as I heard about such an impressive trail system winding through just a tiny portion of the 1600 square kilometres of the park, I knew it was a challenge I needed to tackle.
Over the next several days, I would meet no less than six bears on the trail (including a mom and a cub), one angry beaver slapping the surface of Lac Des Iles Lake as I filtered drinking water, and a skunk on the Sukaw esker with its tail high in the air. (It chased me down the trail and ended up being even scarier than the bears!).
I earned several blisters on my toes and heels and snacked on a healthy supply of Clif bars and five-cent candies between meals (my favourite when hiking). But most importantly, I disconnected from the digital aspects of my life and reconnected in one of my favourite locations in the province: the Boreal Forest in Meadow Lake Provincial Park.
Top Three Hikes on the Boreal Trail
There are dozens of trail options to explore the park with great campsites to set up as a home base. With more than 25 lakes, 12 campgrounds and 800 campsites, it’s a park you’ll want to plan numerous visits to fully experience all it has to offer.
After hiking the entire Boreal Trail, here are three of my favourite afternoon (or overnight) hikes in the park.
1. Humphrey Lake Trail (3.2KM)
There are two highlights along the Humphrey Lake Trail, one being the lake and the other being a viewing tower. The path winds its way through tall aspen and hazelnut trees along the lake which is great for viewing birds. The tower offers impressive views of the forest and is particularly lovely in autumn.
The tower is accessible on the Boreal Trail route and the trail starts in the front country at the Sandy Beach Gate trailhead. You can hike straight into the tower return or add the loop around Humphrey Lake for a longer hike.
2. Gold Creek Hiking Trail (1.5, 6 or 8 KM)
The Gold Creek Hiking trail winds its way along an esker in the jack pines of the Boreal Forest. (An esker is a long winding ridge left behind by the glacier that covered Saskatchewan 10,000 year ago.)
It’s one of my favourite sections of the entire trail because of its views over several named and unnamed lakes. It’s also my favourite because of the feeling I get wandering amongst giant evergreens.
The trails offer a variety of options from the 1.5-kilometre interpretive trail to the 6-kilometre short loop and 8-kilometre full trail.
3. Wolf Bay Hiking Trail and Backcountry Campground (3KM)
It’s one of my favourite backcountry campsites in the park because of its view over Lac Des Isles Lake. Wolf Bay is accessible to hikers on the Boreal Trail but also accessible to those looking for a great afternoon hike.
The entire loop is 3 kilometres but the campsite can be reached by a direct 1-kilometre hike from the parking lot if you don’t want to hike the entire loop.
Waters Edge Eco Lodge
At the eastern edge of the park, Waters Edge Eco Lodge is a little slice of luxury in the forest. It’s the perfect spot to transition from backcountry tenting to front country comfort. It’s particularly perfect for a group or a family getaway.
Owner Shelly Pikowicz is the friendly host and creative mind behind the rustic-chic lodge. With the help of her son and daughter-in-law, she’s built up a lodge with 8 guest rooms and guest kitchen, three self-contained cottages and an indoor and outdoor events centre.
I’ve personally spent several nights at the Lodge. I even pop in when I’m backcountry hiking and camping in the park, just to say hi to Shelly.
Waters Edge is one of those places to book several nights with the express intention of having a staycation. You don’t need to leave the Eco Lodge grounds because Shelly has put together a great experience – regardless of whether you want adventure or relaxation.
Lodge guests have access to canoes, paddleboards, kayaks and a paddle boat to spending time exploring the shorelines of Grieg Lake.
There are hiking trails on the grounds that also link up with the Boreal Trail (Shelly even grooms them in the wintertime for ski trails). Close to the lodge is an eagle’s nest high in the trees for those interested in wildlife viewing.
For a more relaxing and quieter experience, there’s a reading nook, a common area with a fireplace and screened in patio (so you can leave the bugs behind) and hammocks strategically placed outside with the perfect view of the lake.
Know Before You Go:
Meadow Lake Provincial Park is one of the largest provincial parks in Canada with an extensive network of trails. Conditions on the trails are always changing so check-in at the park office before you go for the latest update.
Pack and prepare for a day of adventure appropriately (hat, sunscreen, water, snacks, clothing layers and a lighter.) Make sure to let someone know where you’re going if you plan on hiking or biking the trails.
Cell service is limited and the best chances of reception are at a higher elevation. Because of the lack of service, make sure to register with the park office if you’re planning on hiking and staying overnight in the backcountry.
The park is located in bear country. Follow all safety guidelines while out hiking, camping or canoeing and be prepared if you encounter a bear.
(I encountered six bears while hiking the Boreal Trail. None of them bothered me, but I gave them lots of space and made loud noises.)
When camping overnight, lock up all food in a camper, vehicle, bear cache or hang it in the trees at least 70 meters from your tent. Do not cook your food where you’ll be sleeping and dispose of any greywater properly.
The biggest challenge of hiking the Boreal Trail is arranging pick-up or drop-off at the trailheads, particularly if you’re hiking the entire trail.
One option is to drop a second vehicle at your exit point or arrange a pick-up with a friend or family member.
*Updated July 2021: A new transportation company has started running a shuttle service in the park until late October or until it snows. Operating hours are 7 days a week, Mon-Fri after 4 pm and all day on weekends. The cost is $0.60 per kilometre. There is a maximum of 4 passengers and hikers must book one day in advance.
Contact 306 227 6641 or email@example.com for booking.
Meadow Lake Provincial Park is located 60 kilometres northwest of Meadow Lake. The park is quite long with several entrances.
The town of Dorintosh and the main park entrance and visitor centre is located at the eastern edge on Highway 4.
The Goodsoil entrance is located on the junction of Highway 55 and Highway 26.
The park can also be accessed from Beacon Hill as well as Pierceland on Highway 55 and Highway 21.