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by Dave Yanko

I've hiked only a very small portion of the new, 120-kilometre Boreal Trail that runs the breadth of Meadow Lake Provincial Park, but that short introduction last summer thoroughly impressed me and I can't wait to explore more of the trail this year.

We accessed the de Balinhard Lake section of the trail just west of the Goodsoil Bridge along the main park road on the north side of Lac des Isles. Our group of three spent at least an hour searching for an access point several hundred metres east of the one we found — picture the part of the trail we were looking for as an upside down "Y'' with de Balinhard Lake at the top of the inverted letter and the two legs touching the main road. The trail opened in 2011 and there are still a few kinks to be ironed out. But once we located the trail we enjoyed a remarkable little jaunt through pines and aspens and ups and downs that featured a series of terraced beaver ponds and a high-hilled meadow that cracks open the trail like a new day. We were 90 minutes into our hike and still a good distance from de Balinhard when we decided we'd best take no chances with the dark western sky.

The dogs enjoyed the trail every bit as much as their humans.

The Boreal Trail is the only destination backpacking trail in the provincial parks system. Not really a new trail at all, it's actually the result of a decade of mapping existing roads and trails and connecting pieces to create interesting and varied hiking and backwoods camping experiences. The new route connects to Meadow Lake's eight main campgrounds and offers back country camping at newly established sites. The Boreal Trail follows the Leave No Trace guidelines.
beaver ponds
This is the top in a tiered series of beaver ponds, some with lodges.

If our group was a little miffed trying to find access to the trail from the main park road, we'll take some blame given our cavalier approach to what we considered to be just another afternoon hike in the park. That's not a good approach to take when considering a hike — of any length — on the Boreal Trail. Here's a paragraph from the park's website:

"It is critical that everyone planning a trip on the Boreal Trail contact the park for updated information on trail conditions, closures, etc. This is a very challenging trail; there are areas where you will have to cross creeks and wet areas. Be prepared for all types of weather; excellent navigational skills are required.''

No wonder the kindly woman staffing the park's Goodsoil Bridge entry gate was so determined to pin down how long we thought we'd be in the woods and to stress the need to report back to the gate at the end of our hike.

beaver lodges
Anybody home? You guys have been busy around here.

What we saw of the trail ensures that, everything being equal, we'll return to it again and again each year. After all, even our short hike proved we barely know our favourite park.

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