Our country has unlimited hiking options — which is a blessing, but can be a curse when trying to narrow down a single route. Here to help you sort through this plethora of wilderness is a hiking trail guide with eight essential routes, right across Canada:
Mount Arrowsmith Regional Park (Vancouver Island)
Length: 6 km
One of central Vancouver Island’s most popular hikes/scrambles, Mount Arrowsmith’s Judges Route is at its best in autumn — thanks to dry weather, reduced crowds and very little snowpack (or none at all). Access the route via a rough dirt road off Highway 4, at the top of The Hump en route to Port Alberni. Most vehicles capable of a little dirt-driving can get to the trailhead; a four-wheel-drive helps. The well-marked route carves through scrubby evergreens, passing dramatic Beaufort Range views from The Saddle, before entering the alpine, at which time it becomes a scramble — three points of contact may be necessary as you traverse The Knuckles. Some choose to turn around at this point, others summit the mountain via this moderately technical rock-route, culminating at The Nose. Enjoy a sweeping overlook of the Strait of Georgia and Strathcona Provincial Park before heading down; you’ll be back at your car five to six hours after you started. (Pack lots of water — you won’t find any on the route.)
Best For: Intermediate-level day-hikers hikers looking to experience scrambling.
For More Information: acrd.bc.ca
Willmore Wilderness Park (Alberta Rockies)
Length: 6 km
Sitting atop Jasper National Park, Willmore Wilderness Park enjoys less stature but more ruggedness than the trio of world-renowned Rocky Mountain parks to its south. With no facilities within the park, just 750 km of hiking trails, it offers some of the finest backcountry mountain hiking in the province. Most excursions are done over several days, but a good introduction is the six-kilometre route from the Sulphur Gates staging area, accessed from the town of Grande Cache, to Eaton Falls. Relatively easy, horseback riders and even some hardy XC mountain bikers also use this trail. Veer right at the first fork and follow the sound of the waterfall to the end. Stop for lunch, pull out a Willmore Wilderness map and plan next year’s full summer of virtually-unknown hikes.
Best For: Backcountry hikers looking for an introduction to the Alberta Rockies’ “forgotten” park.
For More Information: albertaparks.ca/willmore.aspx
Cape Dundas Loop (Bruce Trail)
Bruce Peninsula (Southern Ontario)
Length: 6 km
Located north of Owen Sound and accessed off Highway 6 on Bruce Road 9 (near Lion’s Head, parking lot located near Scenic Caves Road), this leg of the Bruce Trail is only four years old. This mid-length route starts along the Pease Side Trail for just over half-a-kilometre before joining the main White Blazes of the Bruce. From then, the hike heads north into glacially affected rocky shoreline terraces, passes huge boulders and overlooks the lake from an elevated shoreline along Georgian Bay. The shoreline is worth exploring as a side-trip or as a picnic spot before looping back towards the parking lot for the return trip. If you have some more energy, Jackson’s Cove Side Trail presents a nice two-kilometre addition, with a viewpoint reward, before backtracking to Cape Dundas Loop.
Best For: Bruce Trail enthusiasts looking to tackle all 800 km, leg by leg… by leg.
For More Information: brucetrail.org
Fishing Cove Trail
Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia
Length: 6 to 18 km
From the top of 355-metre Mackenzie Mountain, this trail winds through mixed-woods forest alongside the Fishing Cove River en route to Cape Breton Highlands National Park’s only designated wilderness campsite ($9.80 per person). On a clearing next to a serene ocean cove and pebble beach (once home to a Scottish fishing village), set up your tent for a pleasant overnight while you explore the beaches and inlets of the Cape Breton coastline. You’ll need to pack in your own water, as well as a camp stove, as fires are not permitted. Pit toilets are available. There are effectively three options for tackling this trail: a 6-km or 12-km trail, both returning the way they came, or an 18-km route, but this will require two vehicles (one parked at each lot), as it isn’t a full loop.
Best For: Coastal campers looking for a restful wilderness getaway.
For More Information: pc.gc.ca/capebreton
Newfoundland & Labrador
Green Gardens Trail
Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland & Labrador
Length: 9 or 16 km
Green Gardens Trail may just offer the best overview of Gros Morne National Park’s dramatic and varied terrain. There are two options, the more popular Long Pond Trail (9 km return) or the more challenging — you will have to make two stream crossings — Wallace Brook Trail (16 km return). Green Gardens opens with the barren Tablelands before winding through boreal forest en route to the volcanically-shaped coastline Gros Morne is famous for. Sea stacks and jagged cliffs border the Gulf of St. Lawrence, as do fields of wildflowers with the occasional grazing sheep, shepherded by local farmers. There are three backcountry campsites ($9.80 per person) on the coastline, with pit toilets and picnic tables. Fires are permitted on the beach. Explore the coastline for a day before trudging back through the all-uphill return trail.
Best For: Hikers looking to tackle a National Parks classic.
For More Information: pc.gc.ca/grosmorne
La Mauricie National Park, Quebec
Length: 17 km
Come autumn, Quebec’s La Mauricie National Park, near Shawinigan, is an explosion of vibrant reds, oranges, yellows and gold — and Deux-Criques (Two Creeks) Trail could offer up some of the best views of all the Laurentians. A challenging day-hike suitable for trekkers with strong cardio and a willingness to climb, the trailhead is located near Riviere a la Peche Campground and will take you on an uphill march for the next 8.5 km. Expect some well-maintained stairs and scramble-worthy rock sections and you’ll have to ford a creek (which is at its lowest in fall) — but the payoff is multiple lookout points (many with platforms or benches), including Ruisseau de Fou Falls. The campground at the trailhead offers secluded sites (some with electricity), kitchen shelters, drinking water, flush toilets and showers.
Best For: In-shape hikers looking for Canada’s finest fall colours.
For More Information: pc.gc.ca/mauricie
Length: 6 or 12 km
Noted for being the closest alpine hike to Whitehorse, Grey Mountain offers visitors to The Wilderness City a chance to escape for a day, enjoy some classic Yukon terrain and challenge themselves with some steep climbs and ridgeline trekking before returning to their comfy hotel or campsite at day’s end. A four-wheel-drive is not essential for reaching the trailhead, but it isn’t a bad idea — it is located about 10 km outside of the city, on Grey Mountain Road. The path starts on a steep, decommissioned road before opening up on the ridge-hike to the summit. If you want to keep going, a third peak about three kilometres past the summit offers views of downtown Whitehorse. The trail can be difficult to discern at times and remember, this is bear country.
Best For: Hikers who like to bag summits; northern explorers.
For More Information: yukonhiking.ca/grey.html
Ingraham Trail Hikes
Length: 0.7 to 3 km
Rather than a single route, this is a series of hikes found on the Ingraham Trail — an all-season road leading east from Yellowknife. The highway, covering a length of 70 km (each way) is home to true northern wilderness — more than a dozen lakes, plus picnic spots, campgrounds, canoe routes and hiking trails. Ranney Hill-Martin Lake Trail, seven kilometres from Yellowknife, will work up a sweat with its 2.5-km route that culminates with a short climb to the summit of a pink-granite dome. Prelude Lake Nature Trail, located 30 km east of Yellowknife, is a three-kilometre jaunt through Canadian Shield granite and vibrant woodlands. Reid Lake Trail is near the terminus of Ingraham Trail and is less than one kilometre in length, but the glacial-scarred rocks and serene lake are worth the interlude; a campsite is located here. Beyond this, the road ends — and, in winter, the famous Ice Road begins. The area also offers multi-day canoe routes for all skill levels.
Best For: Road-trippers wishing to squeeze a lot of sightseeing into a day.
For More Information: spectacularnwt.com