There are tens of thousands of square kilometres of wilderness to explore around Fort Smith and the nearby parkland. One of the best ways to explore the Slave River and the striking landscape that surrounds it is by exploring the thousand miles of hiking and biking trails in the Thebacha region. If you’re hiking in the boreal forest around Fort Smith between June and July, keep an eye out for Morel mushrooms. They are highly prized gourmet mushrooms, valued for their nutty flavor and meaty texture. Daily temperatures need to be between 5C and 15C for them to grow and they’re easiest to find after a warm rain. Morels thrive in areas burned by forest fire. Be warned: morel mushrooms should never be eaten raw.
Trans Canada Trail
Fort Smith is one of almost 1000 Canadian communities linked by the Trans Canada Trail. This portion of trail extends along the entire Slave River, from the Peace-Athabasca Delta in Alberta to Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. The portion of the trail on land, called the DesNethe Discovery Trail, follows a 30-kilometre portage route around four sets of Slave River rapids and continues to where the Salt and Slave rivers meet.
Wood Buffalo National Park Trails
Canada’s largest national park is just an hour’s drive from Fort Smith and is the breathtaking backdrop to 7 hiking tails of varying difficulty levels.
- Karstland Loop (Easy) – 750 metres – See spectacular examples of karst topography, including active sinkholes, on this short interpretive trail. Begin at the Salt River Day-use Area.
- South Loop (Easy to moderate) – 9 kilometres – Salt takes center stage on this looped trail as it passes the salt flats at Grosbeak Lake. Wildlife leave tracks in the crystalized salt, which is evidence of an ancient seabed. Rocks are eroded into unreal shapes by the unique combination of salt and frost they experience every year. Begin at Salt River on the east side of Pine Lake Road. A 20-minute shortcut is available by starting 2.4 kilometres past the Salt River Day-use Area, on the east side of Pine Lake Road.
- Salt River Meadows (Easy) – 1.3 kilometres – Trail trekkers follow a saline stream and enjoy beautiful wildflower meadows. Begin at Salt River on the east side of Pine Lake Road.
- Lakeside Trail (Easy) – 6.4 kilometres – Begin at Pine Lake Recreation Area. Pine Lake was created by a series of five adjacent sinkholes and is spring-fed by underground water sources. The trail follows the lakeshore through an aspen and spruce forest and connects to the trailhead for Lane Lake.
- Lane Lake Trail (Moderate) – 13 kilometres – Follow the trail into the heart of the boreal forest along a chain of small sinkhole lakes, ending at a large, clear sinkhole lake called Lane Lake.
- North Loop (Moderate) – 7.5 kilometres – Reach the top of an escarpment for a scenic view of Salt Pan Lake, sinkholes, and the Keg River geological formation. Keep an eye out for fossil-bearing rocks. Begin at the Salt River Day-use Area or 2.4 kilometres down the road on the west side of Pine Lake Road.
- Salt Plains Access (Moderate) – 500 metres – Take this switchback trail from the Salt Plains Viewpoint to the salt plains below. Animal tracks mix with your own as you tread lightly along the fragile crystalized salt. You’ll also see saline springs, salt-tolerant plants, and salt mounds.
Slave River Trails
Many trails in the community are situated along the Slave River and have stunning lookout points along the way. All four sets of Slave River rapids are accessible by hiking, cycling, skiing, and snowshoeing. Three of the four sets – Cassette, Pelican, and Rapids of the Drowned – are accessible year-round for viewing. The trails at Mountain Portage are used by hikers, skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers in the winter, though the rapids themselves are not. For more information check out: Trail Maps
Ski and Biathalon Trails
The Fort Smith Ski and Biathalon Club maintains a network of groomed trails suitable for light touring, skating, and backcountry skiing. The trails offer panoramic views of the Slave River and surrounding boreal forest. Begin at the Ski and Biathalon Club House, 4 kilometres east of Fort Smith on Highway 5. Every March, the Fort Smith Ski Club organizes the Thebacha Loppet from Fort Fitzgerald to Fort Smith – click here for details.
Important Note on Dog Team Trails:
Several people in Fort Smith run dog teams, either as part of a traditional lifestyle or as a recreational pastime. Often, dog teams share trails with hikers, cyclists, skiers, snowmobilers, ATV drivers and dirt bike drivers. However, most trails used by dog teams are outside the limits of the town of Fort Smith.
Dog teams are run in the winter using sleds and in the summer using ATVs. If you encounter a dog team, it is important to give the team the right of way. Make sure the musher sees you then leave the trail and allow the team to pass. Always keep your dog on a leash when using trails frequented by dog teams. Off-leash dogs and dog teams can be a lethal combination for the dogs involved.