Retracing the steps of the Stempeders' route over the Chilkoot Pass. | Mark Daffey
By Leigh McAdam
What better way to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday than hiking some of the most pristine country you'll ever see in Canada. With every province blessed with extraordinary landscapes, the hardest decision to make is where to go.
Here’s a look at some of the Great Canadian Trails the country has to offer.
hoto ©Mark Daffey
The Chilkoot Trail
For a unique hiking experience choose the Chilkoot Trail. It owes its roots to the gold rush of the late 1800’s when men and women would ferry goods on their backs multiple times over Chilkoot Pass on route to the Klondike Gold Fields.
Today it’s still a challenging trail even though its just 53 kilometres long. Start the hike in Dyea, Alaska and finish five days later in Bennett, British Columbia. Hike through an ever changing landscape that includes coastal rainforest, with its attendant mud and tree roots, through to the high alpine near Chilkoot Pass before descending across a snowfield into an open landscape of lakes and forest. The crux of the hike, the climb to Chilkoot Pass through a massive boulder field, will make the rest of the trip seem easy.
This is an immensely satisfying trail to hike for its sense of history, epic landscapes and physical challenge.
West Coast Trail
The West Coast Trail, like most coastal trails is harder than it sounds. Since when is walking on a beach so difficult? See for yourself on this bucketlist worthy hike that takes most serious hikers five to seven days to complete its 75 kilometre length.
Experience incredible variety underfoot – from knee-deep mud (if it’s been raining a lot) to seriously beautiful golden sand beaches. Climb up and down an endless number of ladders; slither along slimy boardwalks; pull yourself in a cable car over rivers and compare blisters at day’s end.
Despite the physical test, the trail is very rewarding and the sense of accomplishment intoxicating.
Long Range Traverse
This is the only trail in a national park in Canada that requires you to pass a navigation test. The reason – there is no trail. You must navigate the 35 kilometres with a map and compass or GPS. This keeps the masses away and it’s a reason for many people to sign up with a company that takes the mystery of navigation out of their hands.
The Long Range Traverse is truly one of the most outstanding hikes you’ll ever do. From its start at the end of Western Brook Pond via a boat ride, to the famous views at the top of the gorge surrounded by 1,000 foot granite cliffs, to endless kilometres across wildflower studded tuckamore, this hike is impressive in its grandeur – providing the fog stays away. Lucky hikers will be treated to the sight of moose, caribou and bears.
East Coast Trail
From Cape St. Francis in the north to Cappahayden in the south, 24 rugged, wilderness paths are connected to form the fabulous 265 kilometre long East Coast Trail. While each can be done as a day hike, the trail can also be done in its entirety over 10 - 14 days.
Every section of trail offers stunning coastal views. On some parts of the trail you may see icebergs, whales, puffins or moose, depending on the season. Picturesque fishing villages and Newfoundland’s famous hospitality are served up on a daily basis.
Wapta Icefields Traverse
From the start of the hike at the edge of Bow Lake to its finish on the shores of turquoise coloured Peyto Lake three days later, the Wapta Traverse delivers incredible Rocky Mountain scenery. With two overnight stays in huts high in the mountains you’ll be able to enjoy the glory of the early morning and the starry night skies.
If you’ve never hiked on snow or glaciers, don’t worry. Not only is it fun but its empowering, providing you have the right equipment and guides. On most of this hike you’ll feel far removed from the throngs of summer tourists in Banff National Park.
Bruce Peninsula Traverse
People visit the Bruce Peninsula from around the world for the fantastic hiking trails in and near Bruce Peninsula National Park; the turquoise-hued crystal clear water and the stunning clifftop walking on trails overlooking the Georgian Bay. The 890 kilometre Bruce Trail, Canada’s oldest marked trail, links up with the national park to provide a seamless experience on foot. In spring, the woods are home to masses of orchids and birds.
At the end of a hiking trip, it’s easy to add on a trip to Tobermory at the tip of the peninsula along with a boat ride out to stunning Flower Pot Island.
Mountains of Western Canada
If you start in Vancouver and finish in Calgary you can hike four different mountain ranges; the Coast, Cascade, Columbia and Rocky Mountains along with a host of fantastic trails. The hikes are variable but all showcase some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes in provincial and national parks. Hike through expansive wildflower filled meadows. Saunter through valleys rimmed by glacier studded peaks.
It’s hard to pick a favourite, but the easy Parker Ridge Trail on the Icefield Parkway offers an excellent effort-reward ratio. The Iceline Trail in Yoho National Park is a perennial favourite for its fabulous views of Takkakaw Falls and the Emerald Glacier. And the hike to the summit of Yamnuska near Calgary will challenge you as you cross a narrow exposed ledge, fortunately with chains in place. The view on the summit will make it all worthwhile.
If you have 10-12 days this is an awesome way to experience a huge swath of the best of western Canada.
Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer and blogger and the founder of HikeBikeTravel.com. She long ago abandoned a career as a geologist, dietitian and hands-on owner of a successful small business to follow her passion for travel, adventure and the outdoors. Leigh is the author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures. She loves to share her enthusiasm for travel – whether it be backpacking in the Rockies, cycling in Africa or exploring a new country.