How to Hike the Boreal Trail in a Weekend

At approximately 135 kilometres long, the Boreal Trail is the longest hiking route in the province. Located in Meadow Lake Provincial Park, it’s quickly becoming an iconic bucket list adventure for outdoor enthusiasts in Saskatchewan.

With access to more than 25 pristine freshwater lakes, 253 different species of wildlife, 12 campgrounds and 800 campsites, the 1600 square kilometre provincial park is one you’ll want to visit numerous times to fully experience all it has to offer. There are dozens of trail options to explore with both frontcountry and backcountry campsites to set up as a home base.

READ MORE: Hiking the Boreal Trail in Meadow Lake Provincial Park

About the Backcountry Campsites on The Boreal Trail

The backcountry campsites on the Boreal Trail are excellent for those just getting into backcountry camping. All sites have a fire pit, bear lockers and an open-to-the-elements green throne for a bathroom. Most sites now have bench seating around the firepit. There are no tent pads but it’s easy to see where most campers set up their tent for the night.

Backcountry camping permits are required for those planning to spend the night. They can be arranged at either the Goodsoil or Dorintosh park gates or booked online on the Sask Parks website.

READ MORE: The Best Backcountry Hikes in Saskatchewan

Frontcountry Campsites Along the Boreal Trail

While many people head out to the Boreal Trail to camp overnight in the backcountry sites, it’s easy to plan a trip between frontcountry campgrounds. This is a great option if you don’t have backcountry camping gear or have small kids with you. If you’re travelling with a partner, an option is to hike different circuits or one person can hike the trail while the other moves camp each day to a new frontcountry campground.

How to Hike the Boreal Trail in a Weekend

The Boreal Forest is the largest forest on the planet and spans six countries. (It’s twice as big as the Amazon rainforest.) There are nearly three million square kilometres in Canada. Meadow Lake Provincial Park is just a snapshot of this diverse ecosystem.

The park invests in the continued upkeep and development of the Boreal Trail. Over the last several years, they’ve added boardwalks, bridges and new backcountry sites. They’ve hired a team of full-time workers to maintain the trail – no easy feat considering its length.

While many people choose to hike the Boreal Trail as a through-hike, others split it up into day trips or short multi-day weekend trips.

After hiking the entire Boreal Trail in both directions (in 4 days in 2016 and 6 days in 2020), here are my favourite day hikes and short overnight hikes in the park.

READ MORE: Non-Essential Hiking Gear You Should Carry with you in the Backcountry (Because Comfort Matters too!)

*There are dozens of ways you can day trip, overnight hike and through-hike the Boreal Trail. The recommendations below include my favourite sections of the trail and favourite backcountry sites. These recommendations are listed from east to west along the Boreal Trail.

**None of these hiking options require a vehicle drop as they are all out-and-backs or circuits along the trail.

1. Cold Lake Campground to BT 2

Trail Type: Out and back
Distance: 9.2 km one-way, Cold Lake Campground to BT 2
Time:
2-day, 1-night

When it comes to the trail, I recommend hiking it from east to west. When completing a multi-day hike, I find it jarring coming back into cell service and civilization. This is why I love the Cold Lake Campground at the very western end of the trail. It’s remote, quiet and peaceful.

For a 2-day hike, I recommend starting at the Cold Lake Campground and hiking 9.2 kilometres to BT 2. You’re likely to have the trail to yourself and won’t have cell service the entire time. It feels truly “wild” out here.

The trail is a lovely section along the Cold River and through a transitioning jack pine and birch forest. While BT 1 is a great campsite located along the river, BT 2 is tucked in the northwest corner of Pierce Lake on Birch Bay. Facing west, you’ll have a very Saskatchewan opportunity of catching a spectacular sunset over calm waters.

Add a Night: On the way back out, you can camp at BT 1 for an extra night on the trail or spend the night at the Cold Lake Campground.

*There is no cell service at these three campsites.

2. Humphrey Lake Circuit

Trail Type: Circuit

Distance: 2.6 km to Humphrey Campsite from the trailhead near Sandy Beach,
5.4 km circuit

Time: 2-days, 1-night or 2-hour hike for day trippers

A great 2-day, 1-night circuit around Humphrey Lake starts from the trailhead at the Sandy Beach frontcountry campground. The backcountry campsite is only 2.6 kilometres on the east side of Humphrey Lake. The trail takes you through tall aspen and hazelnut trees along the lake. Pack binoculars as the lake is a stopping point for waterfowl in the autumn making it an excellent loop for birders. Keep an eye out for pelicans, Canadian geese and moose.

The next morning, you can choose to hike back out the 2.6 kilometres you hiked in or continue southwest around the lake for another 2.8 kilometres.

*There used to be an old fire tower south of Humphrey Lake. It offered impressive views of the forest and was particularly lovely in autumn. Due to safety concerns, the tower was removed and is no longer there despite what older map versions may denote).

3. Wolf Bay Backcountry Campsite

Trail Type: Circuit
Distance: 1.2 km one-way going east from the Wolf Bay Trailhead Parking Lot
3km circuit
Time: 2-days, 1 night or 1 hour hike for day trippers

Wolf Bay is one of my favourite backcountry campsites in the park because of its view over Lac des Isles Lake. It’s also one of the most visited sites on the trail because it’s accessible to hikers on the trail as well as those looking for a great afternoon hike or a short 2-day, 1-night overnight trip.

The campsite can be reached by a direct 1.2-kilometre hike heading east from the Wolf Bay Hiking Trailhead parking lot. The campsite is set up on the hill with elevated views of the bay below. It’s great for both sunrises and sunsets. Keep an eye out for beavers swimming in the bay. The next day, you can complete the circuit by hiking 1.8 kilometres back out to the Wolf Bay Trailhead Parking lot.

READ MORE: The Best Hiking Trails in Saskatchewan to See the Autumn Colours

4. Murray Doell to BT 4

Trail Type: Out and Back
Distance: 1.7 km, one-way from Murray Doell frontcountry campground
Time: 2-days, 1 night or 1 hour hike for day trippers

One of the best things about the hike to BT 4 from Murray Doell is it’s very short. This makes it a great backcountry campsite for families taking small kids or if you’re new to backcountry camping.

Photo Credit: Kevin Dunn

Set along the northern shore of Lac des Isles Lake, the campsite is in the midst of a white spruce forest with views of the lake. The bridge over Bear Creek enroute to the campsite is a lovely spot to stop and take photos along the way.

5. Gold Creek Trailhead to BT 5

Trail Type: Interconnected Circuits and short out and back
Distance: 1.5km, 6km or 8km loops, plus a 400m one-way to BT 5
Time:  2-days, 1 night, or a 1-3 hour hike for day trippers

The Gold Creek Trail is one of my favourites as the trail curves its way along the Sukaw esker in a jack pine forest. It opens up into elevated views of a meadow with a sparkling lake below and views of Lac des Isle Lake to the south. (An esker is a long winding ridge left by a glacier. This one was left by the glacier that covered Saskatchewan 10,000 years ago).

There are many ways to hike the Gold Creek Trail as there are a series of interconnected loops to choose from. There’s a 1.5-kilometre interpretive trail, a 6-kilometre short loop and the full 8-kilometre loop. The Boreal Trail passes along part of the Gold Creek Trail and then to the south of it. But the parking lot for the Gold Creek Trail is further north on Highway 950.

The most direct route to BT 5 backcountry campsite is 2.3 kilometres south from the parking lot. But I recommend taking one of the longer trails that heads west to enjoy the views along the esker. (At the very least, set up camp at BT 5 and hike west along the Boreal Trail without your pack and loop back through a section of the Gold Creek Trail.)

BT 5 is 400 metres one-way from the southern tip of the eastern trail on the Gold Creek Loop. To help you navigate, there is a junction here with a sign listing all the different possible routes and distances of these two trails.

The campsite is on the shoreline of Lac des Isles Lake. In 2019, a tornado tore through the campsite and downed hundreds of jack pine trees that provided shelter to this campsite. While it looks different now than it did pre-2019, it’s still a great camping location and offers incredible sunset views. The narrow sandy beach is fantastic to suntan on and a great spot for a quick dip.

7. Goodsoil Gate to River Bend

Trail Type: Out and back
Distance: 2.4 km, one-way from Highway 224 (near Goodsoil Gate)
Time:
2-days, 1 night, or a 1-hour hike for day trippers

River Bend campground is another great overnight option because of how close it is to the Goodsoil Gate and Highway 224. It’s an ideal out-and-back option for families or if you’re new to backcountry camping. The trail leads straight to the River Bend campsite which is surrounded by tall spruce trees and located on – yes, you guessed it – a bend on the Waterhen River.

It’s worth setting up camp and then exploring further east on the Boreal Trail for a couple kilometres. The topography here is different from other sections of the trail as it winds along the edge of rolling hills and offers a view over Mistohay Creek.

8. Matheson Campground to Jack Pine and BT 7

Trail Type: Out and back
Distance: 2.4 km one-way to Jack Pine from Matheson Campground,
9.4 km one-way to BT 7 from Matheson Campground
Time: 3 days, 2 nights, or a half to full day hike for day trippers

Jack Pine backcountry campsite is one of the newest sites on the trail. It was added to the Boreal Trail when the section south of the horse stables was rerouted due to flooding. It is a short 2.4 kilometre one-way hike from Matheson Lake frontcountry campground.

While this is a great one-night stop, a second night can be added by hiking a further 7 kilometres to BT 7. This campsite is located 1 kilometre south of the trail junction along the Waterhen River. It’s an open campsite set on a hill above the river. It’s a gorgeous spot in the evening with beautiful views of the river flowing past.

9. BT 8 on the New Branch Circuit

Trail Type: Circuit
Distance: 2.4 km one-way (north) to BT 8 from New Branch Parking Lot Trailhead
– 7.6 km one-way (west) to BT 8 from New Branch Parking Lot Trailhead
– 10km circuit
Time: 2 days, 1 night or a 2.5 hour hike for day trippers

BT 8 is a short 2.4-kilometre one-way hike from the parking lot of the New Branch Hiking Trailhead. The campground is located in an aspen forest on Third Mustus Lake. It’s an easy out and back hike but I recommend doing the whole 10-kilometre circuit over the two days. The full trail loops along glacial eskers enroute to Second and Third Mustus Lakes, Peitahigan Lake and Saw Dust Lake before returning back to the parking lot.

Here is my map on Strava of the New Branch circuit.

Add 2 Nights:

You can add two extra nights in the backcountry by adding on an out-and-back route to Jack Pine and BT 7 campsites.  

After spending the first night at BT 8, hike 2.4 kilometres to the New Branch Trailhead parking lot. From here, continue 7.4 kilometres on to Matheson Lake and follow the Boreal Trail to Jack Pine backcountry site. The total hike from BT 8 to Jack Pine is 9.8 kilometres one-way.

On day 3, hike a further 7 kilometres onwards to BT 7 from Jack Pine. This backcountry site is situated on the edge of the Waterhen River. The return hike to the New Branch Parking Lot from BT 7 is 14.4 kilometres.

4-Day, 3 Night Summary

Day 1 – New Branch Parking Lot (west) to BT 8 – 7.6 kilometres
Day 2 – BT 8 to Jack Pine – 9.8 kilometres
Day 3 – Jack Pine to BT 7 – 7 kilometres
Day 4 – BT 7 to New Branch Parking Lot – 14. 4 kilometres

10.  Grieg Lake Trailhead to BT 9

Trail Type: Out and back
Distance: 8.8 kilometres one-way from Grieg Lake Trailhead
Time: 2 days, 1 night or 4-6 hour hike for day trippers

The second time I hiked the Boreal Trail, we headed west from the Grieg Lake trailhead. We decided to go “off trail” from the Boreal Trail and spend our first night at BT 9. As we were starting late in the day, this campsite shortened the distance we needed to hike.

BT 9 is quite remote on the southern shore of Fourth Mustus Lake. On the way, we dodged a few puddles and had a log-balancing creek crossing at Dennis Creek. But the sunset over the lake at camp that night was worth it. BT 9 is a great campsite for anyone looking to really relax in the remote wilderness of the park.

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