By Scott Davidson
Looking for a serene hike in Canada's prairie province? Head out on one of these Saskatchewan trails—perfect for viewing the heartland in fall colours:
Beaver Creek Trails
Beaver Creek Conservation Area
Just a 15-minute drive south of Saskatoon, the Beaver Creek Conservation Area is a pleasant oasis set in the middle of the surrounding prairies. There are four designated trails in the area, ranging from under a kilometre to approximately four kilometres. The Beaver Creek Trails take hikers through natural prairie habitats and along the densely forested walls of the South Saskatchewan River and Beaver Creek valleys. During autumn months, the steep, forested valley walls come to life as leaves change colour.
Grasslands National Park
Grasslands National Park is Canada’s only prairie national park. The untouched grasslands are a jarring departure—even for prairie natives—from the stereotypical image of endless wheat fields that usually come to mind when one thinks of the prairies. Though there are no formal trails in the park and backcountry camping is allowed virtually anywhere (with a permit), the 16-km Timbergulch Coulee route traverses valley rims and dips into the deep coulees along the way. This hike makes for a great overnight backpacking trip in the fall as the cooler daytime temperatures make walking across the unsheltered prairie less strenuous.
Meadow Lake Provincial Park
The 120-km-long Boreal Trail is the king of all Saskatchewan trails and the province’s premiere backpacking route. Passing over rocky cliffs, through thick stands of birch and pine and traversing the shores of several of northern Saskatchewan’s massive lakes, the Boreal Trail offers a variety of inspiring scenery. A number of well-maintained backcountry campsites are available, but beware—fall in northern Saskatchewan brings cooler temperatures (especially at night), so come prepared.
Prairie Vista Trail
Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park
Short, but sweet, the Prairie Vista Loop in Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park climbs the hills above the South Saskatchewan River, where it flows into Lake Diefenbaker. This five-kilometre trail offers stunning views of both the South Saskatchewan River Valley and the sprawling prairie sky. Take the Spur Trail that climbs to a viewpoint on the valley’s rim to get a breathtaking view of the steep coulees between the hills. There’s a good chance of spotting deer, birds and other wildlife that flock to the valley floor.
Spruce River Highlands
Prince Albert National Park
Though Saskatchewan is known mostly for its endless prairies, boreal forest actually covers more than half of the province. Fall is one of the best times to experience the province’s northern forest, as leaves turn to brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red. Prince Albert National Park’s 8.5-km Spruce River Highlands loop takes hikers through glacial valleys and provides stunning views of the forest’s fall foliage.
Pelly Point Nature Trail
Duck Mountain Provincial Park
Duck Mountain Provincial Park is something of an anomaly: an isolated patch of boreal forest situated on a small section of highlands that tower over the surrounding prairies. The 4.4-km Pelly Point Nature Trail follows a long but narrow peninsula onto beautiful Madge Lake. The trail passes some of the oldest trees in the park—including a number of large Manitoba maples, which turn blazing red in the fall.
Douglas Provincial Park
The approximately six-kilometre Cacti Trail leads to an isolated patch of sand dunes in the middle of the prairies. Though not Saskatchewan’s biggest sand dunes, the Douglas dunes are among the most accessible. There are no designated trails on the dunes themselves, but you are free to explore them at your leisure. The fall may be the best time to explore the dunes, as the high daytime temperatures and lack of shelter make the trip difficult and potentially dangerous during summer.
Nicolle Flats Nature Area
Buffalo Pound Provincial Park
The Qu’Appelle Valley is not only one of the most scenic features in Saskatchewan, it also holds great historical and cultural significance—for hundreds of years, the valley has attracted farmers, hunters and traders alike and bred legends that still resonate across Canada. Though the valley runs nearly across the entire province, a good way to experience it is to combine the Nicolle Flats, Valley and Dyke Trails at the eastern end of Buffalo Pound Provincial Park for a mostly flat, eight-kilometre loop that takes you around a marsh on the valley floor. In the fall, the marsh is filled with migrating waterfowl and the valley’s steep, forested walls are set on fire with autumnal colours.
Top of the World Loop
Pine Cree Regional Park
Situated at the easternmost reaches of the Cypress Hills, tiny Pine Cree Regional Park hosts not only some of the best camping in Saskatchewan, but also one of its most scenic trails. The Top of the World Loop clocks in at just under five kilometres and goes virtually all the way around the park. The trail takes you through the trees to the highest point in the park, back down through the trees and along a babbling brook. Though only open until September 30, the vivid fall colours in the park are truly a sight to behold.
Gem Lakes Trail
Narrow Hills Provincial Park
Beautiful in any season, but especially breathtaking in the fall, the 5.5-km Gem Lakes Trail loops around five small lakes in a series of steep, glacier-carved valleys. Called the Gem Lakes because of their stunningly reflective surfaces, these waterbodies mirror the surrounding trees and the famous Saskatchewan sky with an entrancing brilliance. In the fall, the vivid colours of the boreal forest give the water’s surface a fire-like hue. Several backcountry campsites are available along the trail.