The Boreal Trail is an approximately 120km hike in Meadow Lake Provincial Park in Saskatchewan. For years my friend Lindsay has been wanting to give it a try, and we finally decided that this was the year to do it. My sister Chantal, my friends Lindsay and Kate, and I decided to make it happen.
Initially, we were hoping to complete the trail in it’s entirety. The weather, however, had different ideas and we found ourselves in the middle of a heat wave days before the trip. While hot weather hiking isn’t impossible, we also didn’t want to risk putting ourselves in a dangerous situation. We decided to cut the hike a few days short and hopefully finish up when temperatures aren’t so scorching hot. Initially, I had also wanted to bring Piper along, but even after we had cut out the hottest days I was worried that the temperatures would still be too much for a dog, so she stayed home.
The trail has changed quite a bit and it was difficult to find an accurate map, but I managed to find a newer version on the reserve-a-site website and printed it off in large sections. This map came in handy for more people than just us as we handed off the sections of it that we had completed to two separate groups who hiking the opposite direction of us. Both groups were relying on the older maps that didn’t account for the latest flooding closures and likely would have had them backtracking before reaching their destinations.
Day One – Dorintosh Admin Office > Kimball Lake (21kms)
To begin, we parked at the Dorintosh admin office and walked down the road until we saw the first sections of off-road trail. It was a very hot day and we were relieved to finally have a bit of break in the shade of the trees.
After a short walk, we came across a marshy area. Other blog posts and hiking groups had mentioned the marshy sections on the trail and knew that they were to be expected so we decided to move ahead. I was leading the pack, carefully trying to calculate each step so I could keep my feet as dry as possible. We watched a muskrat effortlessly walk across in front and I foolishly assumed that it would be fine for me as well. With a shriek and a laugh I found myself in the muck up to my knees.
I called back to the ladies that we should probably turn around and try a different route. If possible, it’s best to avoid having your whole group with soggy feet in the first kilometer.
I pulled my feet out of the muck and squished my way out to the road where we were able to take an alternate route. As it turned out, we likely would have only encountered even more mud because a large portion of the trail was closed off due to flooding. This made for less-scenic and hotter hiking alongside the road, but we were able to keep a pretty fast pace. The hot weather helped my shoes dry out fairly quickly, even with the layer of mud on them.
It’s a strange feeling to have all of your hiking gear on and set out for a big day only to never quite feel like you’re leaving the hustle and bustle of civilization. We watched campers and boats drive by filled with people eager to get out to the lake. It was a little disappointing to come up to each new section and see that it was also closed off, but we were hopeful that the whole trail wouldn’t be that way.
We all agreed that we needed a break from the hot sun. Grieg Lake was the perfect stop for a quick swim and lunch break. It hit the spot, and we made a few more stops along the way at other lakes for a cool off. Trail hiking was possible on some smaller sections of the trail, but the first day was largely spent on the road.
Eventually we made it to our home for the night, Kimball Lake. Although there aren’t any official backcountry sites there, Lindsay had spoken with the campground manager the week before an made an agreement for us to random camp by Little Raspberry lake. Before setting up camp, we made our way down to the beach to enjoy the luxuries of ‘backcountry camping’ beside a popular campground. I can only imagine the delight of hikers who start from the opposite direction and get to enjoy the luxuries of showers, and ice cream shop, and a convenience store after days of hiking. With my Kindle and a snow cone in hand, I was feeling more like we were on a ‘glamping’ trip.
After a couple of hours taking it easy on the beach, we made our way over to the spot where we would be camping for the night. The Boreal Trail backcountry sites have bear lockers at each site, but we were random camping, so a bear hang was in order. My sister and I decided to set out and find the perfect tree while Lindsay and Kate set up camp. The hardest part about a bear hang for me is finding the perfect tree. It seemed that no matter where we looked, we couldn’t possibly find one that was tall enough or had branches big enough for a safe bear hang. We managed to make a hang on the best branch we could find and crossed our fingers that it wouldn’t be raided by bears of nearby camping kids overnight.
I settled in to my tent and read a bit of my book. It was quite a warm night but still a great feeling to be back out in a tent again.
Day Two – Kimball Lake > BT6 (26kms)
The next morning I rolled out of bed and made a beeline to our bear hang. I am happy to report that everything was intact and no creatures has made away with my chocolate bars. We made a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee before gearing up to set out for the day. With clouds above us the temperature was already far more manageable than the day before.
We also finally got off of the road and on to the trail. It was wonderful to finally feel a little more in the wilderness, although we did still pass the occasional cabin.
I was determined, especially after seeing tracks yesterday, to make sure that any bears were well aware of our arrival before we were close. The best type of bear encounter is one that you can avoid. Every few minute or every time I turned a corner I called out ‘HELLO FRIENDS’. I quickly made the mistake of yelling this at a solo day hiker just before we met him around a corner. Sorry pal, no bears back that way though.
We found our way to guest horse ranch and took a break nearby to re-evaluate our maps. This section was largely diverted due to flooding and we were thankful our map was up to date and accurate. We continued past another campground and eventually found ourselves at our first legit backcountry site to stop for lunch.
At this site we ran in to our first group of other multi-day hikers, and filled each other in about what was to come next on the trail. I handed off the section of map that we had just completed so they could finish their journey with one that was more up to date. Lindsay and Kate made the difficult decision to turn back here and hike off of the trail due to blisters. It was sad to say farewell to our friends but I’ve definitely been in the same boat before with sore feet.
Immediately after parting ways, my sister and I crossed a large overgrown beaver dam. We were greeted by a hungry swarm of mosquitos that sent us furiously digging through our packs for bug nets and spray. Eventually, we made our way out of the tree cover and had a lovely view of the river.
We quickly passed a freshly killed bird to avoid whoever’s lunch we had just interrupted and then sat down a good distance away for a break. The thistles were the biggest I had ever seen.
At this point we had hiked quite a long day and were beginning to feel the effects of the warmer weather. We started seeing trail mirages as we got more tired. Chantal and I could have sworn up and down that we both saw a sign, only to hike up to it and realize it was only the light bark of a downed tree. We took a break on the side of the trail and a deer curiously wandered up for a better look at us before darting back into the trees.
It was a delight to finally see a real trail sign and know that we made it to BT6! The campsite was breathtaking and overlooked the river we had been following. We quickly sprawled out our gear and I made my way down to get some water to filter for dinner. Chili and rice was on the menu tonight, probably one of my favorite dehydrated meals, which we of course paired with a chocolate bar for dessert.
As we sat an enjoyed our meals, we heard voices up the hill. Amazed that we were seeing other hikers that day, we happily greeted the three ladies who made their way down to the site. They were fast packing the trail and had already done about 40kms that day. They checked out the river as Chantal and I stared at each other in exhausted awe. Our jaws dropped even further when they came back up and decided to continue on another 12kms to the next backcountry site. It was awesome to be able to have a quick chat and learn a bit more about their experience.
This backcountry site is the most remote of them all along the Boreal Trail, but we were shocked to find that we had cell reception. It was nice to check in with Lindsay, Kate, and our families with a quick text message instead of using the Inreach.
We settled in by the river to read our books before tucking in to bed nice and early. A Kindle is a great addition for any hiker who doesn’t want to carry the weight of a book but enjoys reading in their downtime. I’m usually an early riser and it’s nice to quietly read until everyone else wakes up for the day.
Chantal was less than pleased with me in the morning as she insisted that I had left the tent door slightly ajar (oops) and let a swarm of mosquitos in to bother her all night. I may be a little less bug aware because they don’t usually favor me, but to a mosquito, Chantal is a delicacy.
Day Three – BT6 > Murray Doell Campground (24kms)
In the morning we were slowly packing up our gear. Chantal was in the tent and I was outside rolling up my air mattress when I heard a noise. I paused and heard Chantal stop as well. She let out a quick, ‘what was that?’, before we heard what sounded like a woman screaming and running on the other side of the river. It shrieked and moved along quickly, and then as fast as it had arrived it was gone.
We agreed that we had just heard a large cat of some sort, and it was encouragement enough to pick up our pace in packing up our gear. Not that it would stop a big cat in the slightest should they want to get over to us, but it was little more comforting knowing that the sound was on the other side of the river.
We were up for another pretty big day of hiking, but the thought of ending up at a parked vehicle that had the ability to drive to any fast food joint that we desired was motivating us.
The trail in this section was lush and marshy, a stark contrast from the dry landscape in the rest of the province. We passed through another section that was thick with mosquitos, and in my bug panic I zoomed past the sign marking the Boreal Trail down a snowmobile route. Fortunately, Chantal was more observant and turned us back around in the right direction.
We also began to get a light mist of rain. A big contrast from the hot day we started with, we were both relieved that we didn’t send any of our rain gear out with Kate and Lindsay. The rain made all of the lilies look spectacular.
Most of the trail was well marked with signage and blazes, but this last section was a little more confusing. We stopped a few times to look at forks in the road and see that we were still heading in the right direction. By comparing our map and the map on our Inreach we were able to figure it out and keep ourselves in the right direction.
We passed another park entrance building and crossed the road into another marshy area. I was keeping up my same ‘HELLO FRIENDS’ wildlife calls, and I shouted out loudly ahead only to be answered by a loud crashing through the trees. We both straightened up, wide eyed. Chantal had a better sight and called out to me that it was a deer. I kept talking so that the animal knew where we were, and it circled around about 20 meters away from us making angry huffing noises. We calmly but swiftly moved along until we felt that we were far enough out of it’s way. I had never come across a deer showing signs of aggression or defensiveness before and we were glad we didn’t surprise it completely.
We were nearing our destination, the Murray Doell campground. We stopped for one final rest before finishing our three day adventure on a little ledge overlooking the road.
Last year, a tornado hit the Murray Doell campground, twisting trees and flipping trailers. Three people were transported to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries and people were evacuated from the area. Even a year later we could see reminders of the storm, with a large portion of the campground left bare from the trees that had been ripped down by the strong winds.
We came off of the trail and on to a beach where families were enjoying the day by the water. I snapped a quick celebratory picture of Chantal before we beelined to the car to take our shoes off. What a great feeling! My trail runners had treated me so well for the last three days, but nothing beats slipping on a pair of comfy sandals after a long day of hiking.
Afterward, we made our way in to Meadow Lake for a much needed burger and blizzard. The perfect cherry on top of a few days of hiking. Hopefully we can make it back soon to finish off the rest of the trail!