In Saskatchewan, we’re fortunate to have access to vast kilometres of crown land, national, provincial and regional parks to recreate within. This means we have plenty of space for genuine off-the-grid backcountry hiking and camping experiences.
If you’re wanting to get into backcountry hiking, I’ve put together a guide that includes some of the best backcountry hikes in Saskatchewan and a few details you’ll want to be aware of when starting out.
Table of Contents
- Backcountry Hiking
- Leave No Trace in the Backcountry
- Best Backcountry Hikes in Saskatchewan
- 1. The Boreal Trail
- 2. Grey Owl’s Trail
- 3. Valley of 1000 Devils
- 4. Nut Point Trail
- 5. Gem Lakes Trail
- 6. Rice River Canyon
- 3 More Backcountry Hiking Locations in Saskatchewan
- Random Backcountry Camping in Saskatchewan
- Backcountry Camping in Saskatchewan’s National Parks
- Like this Post on Backcountry Hikes in Saskatchewan? Pin it to Pinterest
Backcountry hiking experiences often occur in destinations that are challenging to access and are far from road access. It’s important to be prepared when hiking and camping in the backcountry.
In Saskatchewan, carry a satellite communicator as cell service can be limited or non-existent. Make sure to carry bear spray and wildlife deterrents. If there are no provided bear lockers or caches, hang food and scented items high up in trees at least 100 metres away from camp. It should extend at least 3 metres out from the trunk of the tree.
Most importantly, create a trip plan and leave it behind with a close friend or family member. In the event something goes wrong while you’re on the trail, they’ll be able to organize any assistance needed.
Consider taking a wilderness first aid course prior to spending time in the backcountry. I took both my 20-hour and 40-hour courses through Back 40 Wilderness First Aid and highly recommend Rebecca and her teaching methods.
READ MORE: The Best Parks for Hiking in Saskatchewan
Leave No Trace in the Backcountry
As with any outdoor experience, but especially backcountry hiking and camping destinations, it’s important to practice leave no trace policies. Pack out what you pack in – including biodegradable food, tins and toilet paper.
Best Backcountry Hikes in Saskatchewan
To guide you in accessing the province’s pristine wilderness, here are the best backcountry hikes in Saskatchewan:
1. The Boreal Trail
- Location: Meadow Lake Provincial Park
- Distance: 135km, one-way thru-hike
- Rating: Expert if hiking the thru-trail due to the distance. If hiking shorter sections: beginner as the terrain is fairly flat and the trails are well-groomed and signed.
The 135-kilometre Boreal Trail is the king of all backcountry trails in Saskatchewan. As the province’s only thru-hike, it is quickly becoming an iconic bucket list adventure for outdoor enthusiasts in the province.
At 1600 square kilometres, Meadow Lake Provincial Park is just a snapshot of the rich ecosystem of the Boreal Forest. Access to 25 pristine freshwater lakes, 15 backcountry campgrounds and ample opportunities for spotting 253 different species of wildlife is what makes this trail (and park) so unique.
While some choose to split the trail up into weekend or day trips, many are choosing to complete it all in one go. The entire hike is most comfortably completed in 6-7 days. The majority of people hike the trail from west to east, but after hiking it in both directions, I prefer east to west.
READ MORE: How to Hike the Boreal Trail in a Weekend
The park is investing in continued upkeep and development. Over the last several years, they’ve added boardwalks, bridges and new backcountry sites. They’ve hired a team of two full-time workers to maintain the trail – no easy feat considering its length. Trail updates can be found on this Facebook group page.
2. Grey Owl’s Trail
- Location: Prince Albert National Park
- Distance: 40 kilometres, out and back
- Rating: Intermediate
Grey Owl’s trail is an iconic pilgrimage in Saskatchewan. It’s often the first big adventure for Saskatchewan-based backcountry hikers.
Grey Owl (born Archibald Stansfeld Belaney) was a British citizen credited as Canada’s first naturalist. He wrote about ideas of wilderness conservation and preservation. His cabin is set on the shoreline of Ajawaan Lake and was built in 1931. It’s far enough away to be secluded and accessible only to those willing to put the work in to get there.
“Far enough away to gain seclusion, yet within reach of those whose genuine interest prompts them to make the trip, Beaver Lodge extends a welcome to you if your heart is right.”Grey Owl
The hike starts from the Kingsmere River parking lot. There are 5 different campsites along the 16.8-kilometre trail. The final hike from Northend campsite to Grey Owl’s cabin is a further 3.2 kilometres. The trail is well trodden and maintained with clear signage along the route. While the hike isn’t particularly difficult there are roots to navigate around and it is long, especially with a heavy backpack.
A helpful tip is to camp at Sandy Beach instead of going all the way to Northend. Not only are there likely to be fewer people at the site, but you don’t have to carry your gear as far. The next morning, get up early and complete the hike through Northend and up to Grey Owl’s Cabin.
Bugs are notorious mid-summer – 30% DEET, bug nets and mosquito coils or a Thermacell are recommended. The park is located in bear territory and carrying bear deterrents is always a good idea.
3. Valley of 1000 Devils
- Location: Grasslands National Park East Block
- Distance: 11-kilometre, loop
- Rating: Intermediate
Set in the Rock Creek Badlands, the rolling hills and red-clay hoodoos in the Valley of 1000 Devils of Grasslands National Park East Block are remarkable for several reasons. Not only are there 66-million-year-old dinosaur bones found just beneath the surface, but the current-day views, especially early morning or late afternoon when the shadows stretch through the valley, are spectacular.
The Valley of 1000 Devils 22-kilometre looped trail traverses mixed-grass prairie and several coulees before reaching the end of the trail at the rim of the badlands. For backcountry campers, this vantage point is a great place to look out from and pick a campsite – anywhere. Visitors are allowed to hike and freedom camp in any location in the vast expanse of hoodoos, buttes and clay and sandstone rock formations. However, you’ll want to choose wisely. The buttes are exposed with no trees or bushes for shelter. Big storms can whip up quickly, especially at night when it’s harder to see the clouds incoming on the horizon.
You’ll also want to pack a hat and sunscreen (I like the spray-on kind). The badlands are notoriously hot in the daytime (hotter than the surrounding prairie) with desert-like cold conditions at night. You’ll need more water than a typical backcountry hike. As there are no natural or safe water features to filter water from, it’s a good idea to plan cold meals to save on water weight.
While the trailhead is most often accessed from the park office, it is possible to hike into the Valley of 1000 Devils from Zahursky Point. (This should only be done if you are confident in your map reading and navigational skills). The hike from this southern point does cross Rock Creek and you’ll have to wade or hop across it. I’ve hiked in from both directions and loved the blaze-your-own trail of the southern viewpoint access.
READ MORE: The 10 Most Epic Viewpoints in Saskatchewan
4. Nut Point Trail
- Location: Lac La Ronge Provincial Park
- Distance: 30 kilometres, out and back
- Rating: Intermediate
While Lac La Ronge Provincial Park is well-known for its lakes and paddling routes, it’s also popular with hikers. Just a few kilometres north of the community of La Ronge is one of the best backcountry hikes in the province.
The 15-kilometre one-way Nut Point Trail near La Ronge winds up and down along the length of a long peninsula. You’ll travel over the exposed rock of the Canadian Shield and through the wet muskeg that makes up the Boreal Forest.
This hike offers a variety of terrain to navigate. The first 7.5 kilometres of trail are well marked and maintained. (The beginning 1.2-kilometres of the hike link are part of the Downton Lake Trail. This is ideal for those wanting to experience a small snippet of the route.)
The trail passes through the new growth from the 1999 Mallard Fire. At the halfway point is the Nut Portage which is a great location to stop, filter water and have a lunch or snack break. Near the end of the hike, the trail tends to fade a little but ultimately culminates in a lovely first-come, first-served backcountry campsite at the tip of the peninsula.
The lake is chilly but refreshing to swim in and sunsets (and potential northern lights) are in line with Saskatchewan’s “Land of Living Skies” slogan. Carry in a fishing rod as the lake offers plenty of opportunities to catch walleye, northern pike, and burbot.
While hiking this trail, it’s best not to leave any valuables in your vehicle overnight as break-in’s have occurred in the parking lot.
The trail system around Lac La Ronge Provincial Park continues to grow thanks to the efforts of the Boreal Outdoor Recreation Association – BORA.
5. Gem Lakes Trail
- Location: Narrow Hills Provincial Park
- Distance: 5.5 kilometres, loop
- Rating: Beginner
The Gem Lakes Trail in Narrow Hills Provincial Park is one of the best overnight hikes for getting comfortable with backcountry camping due to its short length. The 5.5-kilometre trail loops around 7 kettle lakes named after precious stones pearl, opal, sapphire, jade and diamond. The secret to the crystalline emerald water colour is in the cream-coloured sandy bottoms and lack of water disturbance. No streams or springs feed into the lakes – these natural depressions were left by calving blocks of ice from the glacier that covered Saskatchewan 11,000 years ago.
On a day hike, the trail can be completed in two hours. When backpacking, the 12 campsites can be reached quickly due to their relatively close location to the trailhead. (If you forget something in the car, it’s easy to hike out for it. Or you can opt to carry in a couple of loads of gear.)
Two campsites are non-reservable and first-come, first-served. The remaining 10 can be booked in advance online on the Sask Parks website. The surrounding trees make this a great location to try hammock camping for the first time. Campsites are equipped with a firepit and picnic table.
The trail has undergone significant development in the last two years including the addition of four “Garden Throne” loo-with-a-view style outdoor toilets. Stairs have been built going down to Jade Lake and Diamond Lake. In 2022, kayak carts have also been added for those who prefer to portage between lakes and try fly fishing.
From late fall to early spring, the road to access the Gem Lakes is not maintained. Cell service is limited.
READ MORE: Exploring Narrow Hills Provincial Park
6. Rice River Canyon
- Location: 94KM east of Carrot River on Highway 55
- Distance: 21.6 kilometres, out and back, 345m elevation gain into the river forks
- Rating: Expert, due to fluctuating river levels and lack of established trail