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Where You Run: The Boreal Trail

Where You Run: The Boreal Trail

According to Lucas Walters, the Boreal Trail is a pretty special destination for trail runners.
Its primary attraction? No one has ever heard of it.

After weeks of being cooped up in isolation, hundreds, maybe thousands of trail runners will hit the mountains soon. We’re all eager for some exercise in the great outdoors, but there’s a good chance it’s going to get crowded.

So what about trail running in, erm, northern Saskatchewan instead? Lucas is an ultra runner and RunUphill regular who has all of Meadow Lake Provincial Park as his playground. Meadow Lake is one of Canada’s largest provincial parks and the highlight is the Boreal Trail, a 135 kilometre trail that runs the park’s length, east to west.

Lucas, who lives in the nearby City of Meadow Lake (population 5,344), is used to having the Park pretty much to himself. He’s one of maybe two regular trail runners in town. The other is his wife, Jessica. She’s also the city clerk, in case you ever want seats to a city council meeting.

While local running culture may be sparse, Lucas says everyone’s friendly and curious about his pursuits. He says, “We definitely get strange looks when we're out running or even out training in the park, people will ask us what we're doing.” But now the locals wave when they see him behind the wheel of his E350 adventure van. “They're just kind of used to the short shorts (btw, his favourites are from rabbit) and the bright colors and they're like, ‘Oh, there's Lucas... I wonder what he's doing now.’”

Lucas attracts a lot of attention in his hometown of Meadow Lake
(Credit: Lucas Walters)

During a normal trail racing season, Lucas usually has an eight hour drive to the mountains, but with COVID-19, he’s sticking closer to home this summer. He’s running in Lazarus Lake’s 1,000 kilometre Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee (GVRAT) while training for another big summer project.

Later this summer, he and co-conspirator Taylor Witter will take a long weekend to try to run the entire length of the Boreal Trail. They expect it will take about 40 hours, including time for some dirt naps and the occasional snack. Lucas jokes about bagging the fastest known time — he’s never heard of anyone else running the Trail.

There’s not much elevation on the Boreal Trail. Just like it says in the song, Saskatchewan is pretty (yup, she’s pretty flat), but what the Trail may lack for in mountains, it makes up for in relative peace and natural beauty. And no, it’s not just bald prairie — the Trail travels through swaths of untouched boreal forest and follows a chain of pristine lakes and streams. There’s wildlife — bears, wolves, deer, elk and moose — in abundance.

Roads criss-cross the trail, making it easy for runners who want to start and stop. “Overall, it's just a beautiful trail that is fairly remote in sections and other sections, it's closer to civilization,” says Lucas. He’s so taken with the Park, he took a job working on the trail crew.

Lucas at his new day job at Meadow Lake Provincial Park
(Credit: Lucas Walters)

When I call the Park office, I happen to get Lucas’ new boss, Park Manager Trevor Finlay. He says it’s the second season for the crew and it’s part of an effort to make Meadow Lake a tourist destination for hikers, cyclists and runners. This year’s goals include putting down more boardwalks, rerouting the trail around the boggier bits and improving the trail markings. He says, “(We’re) focusing on getting it to a better standard.” The plan is to market the Trail more aggressively next season, but for now, it’s a well-kept secret.

If you’re sold on visiting, Trevor says there are two times to come. The first is in late May and early June, but conditions may be wet and boggy. With fewer bugs and the leaves turning color, late August and early September are also the best alternatives. Hazards are similar to the mountains and runners should come with the usual safety equipment including bear spray.

Lucas says, “(There’s) quite a bit of single track flow-y flat terrain. There's a good mixture of dirt, mud and sand, as far as the running surface goes… some (of it) can be swampy so you have to get creative with getting around wet areas and being okay with bushwhacking.”

Lucas’ Packing List for the Boreal Trail

“I am not completely sure what gear I will take (yet), but     here is a rough list…”


Dave Robertson

"I’m writer and a reluctant adventurer based in Western Canada. I’m curious by nature so the topics I cover are diverse — civic affairs, urban lifestyle and outdoor adventure. More and more, I write about experiences that force me from my comfort zone."

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