Canada is vast and wild. With 90 percent of the population living within one hundred miles of the U.S. border in spaced out metropolitan areas, the country is home to tremendous open, unaltered nature. With national parks and excellent hiking trails from Vancouver to Nova Scotia, Canada is a trekker’s paradise. So how do you find the best routes? Our guide to trekking in Canada is here to help.
Let’s say you have a crew, dates and enough money to get to any point in Canada and supply a five-day adventure through the wilderness. All you need is a little help choosing your ideal location and some suggestions on what to bring. Our guide covers it all.
What is trekking?
Just in case there’s some confusion out there about the definition of trekking, let’s clear that up before we go any further. Trekking is essentially grueling, drawn-out hiking. Think big packs instead of drawstring bags and camelbaks instead of water bottles. We’re talking covering mountain ranges, not taking the dog for a walk in the hills.
Trekking in Canada is especially demanding due to its steep mountain ranges, and for its isolation. But as you might expect, the hardship of the task comes with incredible rewards. A little sweat and some sore legs are small prices to pay for the views from a Canadian Rockies peak.
Esplanade Track, British Columbia
Four days of trekking alongside what is perhaps the most famous section of the Canadian Rockies is sure to drop some jaws. You’ll pass down through meadows, past lakes that reflect the nearby peaks, and up rocky ridges that will test your endurance and trekking skill. The views of the Robson, Columbia and Assiniboine peaks are the highlights.
Access to the trail is often only via helicopter. You’ll likely be on the trail for three or four days, so plan supplies carefully or book with a tour group. At elevations of over 8,000 feet and sections of the hike both above and below the tree line, the air will be thin and the views spectacular — a standard combination when it comes to Rockies mountaineering. Esplanade is certainly one of our favorite west coast trails.
Chilkoot Trail, Alaska and Yukon
A vital access route during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late nineteenth century, the Chilkoot Trail is a stunning 33-mile trek from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett, British Columbia. The trail slices through challenging mountain passes and winds through thick, green forest. Along the way, you may even find old artifacts from the days of the gold rush.
The weather can be unpredictable, the terrain is tough, avalanches occur, and bears have been spotted along the trail. This is certainly no soft hike. Be prepared for challenges and mishaps along the way. Some would say this adds to the thrill — after all, the challenge makes those views even sweeter.
Sunshine to Assiniboine, British Columbia/Alberta
If you’re up for six days of hiking, Sunshine to Assiniboine may be the best way to see the Canadian Rockies. Unlike other trails that stick to narrow passages and direct routes to peaks, this trail has a tendency to open up and show panoramic views of the Rockies.
While long, Sunshine to Assiniboine’s terrain isn’t quite as challenging as some of the other hikes. A steady, level pace tends to get the job done best. The manageable terrain also allows you to keep your head on a swivel for wildlife such as moose, bears and even wolves. Make sure you bring camping tools to keep supplies out of the paws of hungry bears that may make their way through your campsite at night.
Nahanni National Park, Northwest Territories
Nahanni has almost an extraterrestrial vibe. Lunar landscape river valleys and the surrounding vertical rock faces are unlike anything you’ll find on the other trails. Natural rock pools with bright turquoise water, limestone caves, waterfalls, and canyons are just some of the attractions. The odds you’ll catch a moose making its way across the South Nahanni River are high too.
As far as trails go, the park doesn’t have officially marked trekking routes, but frequent usage and a visitor’s ability to gather local insight will bring you to a variety of trekking options. Ram Creek, for example, is a twenty-mile (total) out and back trek. You’ll follow the creek through meadows, past rock faces and by waterfalls. Make sure you double check with park staff so you know exactly where you’re going.
Bruce Trail, Ontario
The Bruce Trail is Canada’s oldest marked footpath. Winding from the U.S. border at Niagara to the edge of the Georgian Bay, the trail stretches almost six hundred miles. This means you can jump on where it’s convenient and trek for as long as you please. It’s our top pick when it comes to east coast trails.
Don’t expect the grueling terrain and trekking pros of the Rockies, but do expect incredible passes through thick Canadian forest and a beautiful coastline up along the Georgian Bay. The path is even for the overwhelming majority of the way and is relatively easy-going for inexperienced trekkers.
Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland
For those who thought fjords were reserved for Northern Europe, Gros Morne is a nice surprise. The park’s main attraction is the Western Brook Pond Ford with its dark blue water and towering rock faces. The park features over 60 miles of hiking trails, the best of which follow the fjord.
This is technically more hiking than trekking, but we couldn’t leave it off the list. For our money, it was one of the most beautiful spaces in all of eastern Canada.
We’ve laid out a few of our favorite trekking areas in Canada. Now let’s take a little rewind back to the basics and review some gear necessities. If you’re new to the trekking world, or just new to trekking in Canada, there are gear necessities you should be aware of.
Bear Containers or Bear Bags
Bears are definitely out there on the trekking trails (especially in the western part of the country) and can end up doing serious damage if you don’t do your part to avoid an incident. Most of this comes down to how you store your food. Bear containers are bear-proof lockboxes that help lock in scents, as well as being difficult to open if a bear does get its paws on one. Another way to keep food and garbage away from animals is to hang it from high branches at your campsite. Up in the trees your food and trash will be out of the bear’s reach and it will likely move on.
Maybe you like to go without them on level trekking routes, but we strongly advise that you use them on steeper, more challenging terrain. A misstep and a twisted ankle can end a trip. Trekking poles won’t save you from everything but they will almost certainly prove themselves valuable on tricky descents.
No, not just the map the park ranger gave you at the entrance. We’re talking about investing in some real land navigation equipment. We’re talking familiarizing yourself with a GPS, investing in your own personal detailed maps, durable compasses etc. Getting lost is a real threat. Knowing how to find your way back home is not something you can overlook.
Water Bags and Purification Tablets
Often, trekking calls for more than just a 12 oz. bottle. You might need a gallon to make it to the next water source. Water bags are especially useful as they’re flexible (they don’t take up as much hard space as a bottle and get smaller as you empty them) and they can carry large amounts of water.
Purification tablets are also vital, especially if you’re traveling on a lesser-known trail without clearly marked clean water sources. Taking risks on your water supply is a huge mistake. No matter how experienced you are, stretching your water supply can get very dangerous very fast. Best to avoid the risk.
So that’s it. A few of our favorites routes and some of the must-carries for any extended trekking trip in Canada. Trekking in Canada calls for extensive planning and a desire to get out there and seek adventure. Now it’s up to you to make it happen!