To celebrate explore’s 35th anniversary, we’re compiling “Top 35” lists of amazing outdoor adventures all year long. Up now: 35 of Canada’s LONGEST hiking trails!
Step one: buy good boots.* Step two: break them in. Step three: book time off work. Final steps: prepare yourself physically and mentally to tackle Canada’s longest hikes.
Some of these may take three to four days; others may take a month or more. Some are networks that you can piece together over a season’s worth of day-hikes; others are full-on commitments. Some are multi-use; others are most certainly hikers-only. But all are spectacular.
Explore editor David Webb handpicked 35 treks, ensuring they were lengthy, offered a quality experience and represented our country coast-to-coast-to-coast.
Read on to discover why Canada is the best country in the world for hiking—with 35 of Canada’s longest hiking trails!
1. The Great Divide Trail
Length: 1,200 km
The full GDT runs for a staggering 1,200 km, roughly following the Continental Divide through BC and Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. Most legs of this trail require total self-sufficiency and are suited only for experienced trekkers, but rewards come in the form of amazing vistas and high-altitude serenity. Resupplying is possibly every four to nine days; the towns of Waterton, Blairmore and Jasper are popular jumping-off points. Expect a workout: there is more than 1,500 metres of elevation difference between the highest and lowest points on the trail. The Great Divide Trail Association is always hard at work maintaining sections—their website is an excellent source of info for trekkers. (It should be noted that much of the GDT is rugged and unmarked other than by GPS coordinates—at times, more of a “route” than an actual “trail.”)
2. Bruce Trail
Length: 885 km
Perhaps the most famous trail system in Canada, the Bruce Trail is a lovingly maintained, achingly scenic route that traverses nearly 900 km through southern Ontario. Leading from the Niagara Escarpment to Georgian Bay, expect everything from mixed-woods forests, to vineyards, to quaint townships, to lakeside cliffs, to pristine waterfalls and more. Legs range from an hour or two to a week-plus. Or do the whole thing, if you have a month to spare—the routes are well-marked throughout. Also, unofficial side-trails extend the possible length to more than 900 km.
3. Newfoundland T’Railway Provincial Park
Newfoundland & Labrador
Length: 883 km
Running right across The Rock, from St. John’s to Port Aux Basques, this former railway line cuts through 55 towns and crosses 150 bridges—totalling 3.5 km of bridgeway. Typical legs range from a few kilometres to an overnight. Few (if any) hikers have traversed the entire length and, as a multi-use trail, it is at-times popular with snowmobilers and ATV’ers. Motorized transport aside—and some key sections are combustion-free—trekkers should be able to find solitude somewhere along this mammoth cross-province path.
4. Kettle Valley Rail Trail
Length: 600 km
Yes—it’s a renowned bicycle route. But there’s no reason you can’t hoof it! Built as a rail line by the Canadian Pacific Railway 105 years ago, the Kettle Valley Rail Trail is now a recreational route that extends through the Okanagan for a whopping 600 km. The path never exceeds a 2.2 per cent grade, which is why it’s popular with cyclists. Lengths range from five-kilometre jaunts to multi-day epics passing over several of the 18 vertigo-inducing trestles and through two historic tunnels. Lakeside views—particularly between Kelowna and Penticton—are stunning. And definitely make a stop at one of the wineries along the route!
5. Confederation Trail
Prince Edward Island
Length: 435 km
Once again, we see former industry turned to tourism opportunities with PEI’s Confederation Trail—a railway line converted into a hiking and cycling path. With typically flat topography, expect gentle strolls along any leg of this tip-to-tip island trail. More than 1,600 geocache sites are tucked along the route, which also passes through many towns for tastes of classic Maritime hospitality. It’s not really a wilderness trek—more like a lovely walk that’s just about as long as you’d like to make it. Also, it comprises a 110-km leg of the International Appalachian Trail, so you may encounter some through-hikers en route.
6. Alexander Mackenzie Heritage (Grease) Trail
Length: 420 km
So let’s talk logistics here. Suggested hiking time: 25 to 30 days. Elevation change: 1,800 metres. Start point: Quesnel, BC. End point: Bella Coola, BC. So, yeah, we’ll call this one a “commitment.” Or, you could sample a highlight reel by hiking the five- to seven-day, 80-km section through Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. Expect high alpine meadows, river crossings, dense woodland and the occasional town for re-provisioning. Used for millennia by First Nations, and famously by Alexander Mackenzie, this epic trail is surely one of the country’s finest hikes.
7. Rideau Trail
Length: 387 km
Totalling nearly 400 km, the Rideau Trail is a lovely network of trails running between Kingston and Ottawa. Rich with mixed-woods forests, Canadian shield lakes, historic sites, charming towns, vibrant birdlife and more, hikers can enjoy walks that range from an hour or two right up to an End-to-End epic, which takes about two weeks. To start, check out the trails around Rideau Lakes and branch out from there. (And try the hike in autumn, when the trees are alight with fall colours.)
8. Canol Heritage Trail
Length: 350 km
While it isn’t the longest on our list, the Canol Heritage Trail may well be the most challenging. For starters, it’s frankly long enough. Also, it requires either a fly-in or fly-out, or both, if you sprain your ankle. It also usually requires food drops, extreme self-sufficiency and bear spray (grizzlies and black bears). The route follows an old industry road, unmaintained since 1945, so expect the occasional rusting hulk and oil barrel along the way. But mostly, it’s all taiga, tundra, mountains and moose. And it’s for experienced backpackers only. (Note: two explore contributors rode this route on mountain bikes in a record-setting eight days, sans food drops; an award-nominated story we covered in our Fall 2013 issue.)
9. Waskahegan Trail
Length: 309 km
This lengthy trail is hidden in plain sight—a network of some 40 routes, ranging from five to 15 km and totalling more than 300 km (and growing), that loops the city of Edmonton. Waskahegan Trail runs through private and public land, is maintained by volunteers and offers pleasant escapes into serene landscapes, often less than an hour from the Alberta capital. If you’re aching to tackle multi-day routes, the trails runs through some public campsites and private “stopovers” en route. Watch for wildlife—both au natural and domestic livestock—and revel in the rolling Alberta parkland.
10. East Coast Trail
Newfoundland & Labrador
Length: 265 km
Another massive hiking route in Newfoundland, the East Coast trail runs south from Cape St. Francis, on the tip of the Avalon Peninsula, tracing the rugged Atlantic coastline for 265 well-marked and maintained kilometres to Cappahayden. Cute lighthouses, fluttering puffins and, offshore, leviathan whales and maybe even icebergs are just a few highlights. If you’re especially lucky, you may even spot the world’s southernmost caribou herd. Camp, or book B&B stays along the way and enjoy Newfoundland hospitality. And if you’re adventurous, you can continue on the “under construction” portion, an additional 275 km that will one-day be as well marked as the inaugural half.
11. Sunshine Coast Trail
Tourism Sunshine Coast/SCT
Length: 180 km
The Sunshine Coast Trail showcases 180 scenic kilometres through the mountains, along the coastline and past the lakes of BC’s northern Sunshine Coast. It’s Canada’s longest hut-to-hut hiking trail, and the only free one—forged and maintained by the Powell River Parks & Wilderness Society. Hikers can explore routes from a few hours, to a full day, to a week or more—overnighting at the 12 huts and 20-odd campsites along the way. If you have 10 to 12 days, try the whole route in one push! And make sure to buy an SCT Passport to document your achievement—and to receive congratulatory goodies from local supporting businesses.
12. North Boundary Trail
Length: 180 km
An epic trail that connects Alberta’s Jasper National Park and BC’s Mount Robson Provincial Park, North Boundary will put hikers in rugged, scenic, mountainous backcountry for 10 days or more. Aside from wildlife and achingly beautiful vistas, occasional horse traffic will likely be your only companions on this linear trail. Expect creek crossings, especially during spring and early summer. Total elevation gain is a thigh-busting 2,688 metres. Notably, the Berg Lake section is the most scenic of all—arguably the most beautiful trail in the Rockies. A lovely end (or intro) to a challenging endevour.
13. Sea to Sky Trail
Length: 180 km
Although still under construction in places, the Sea to Sky Trail is still an incredible hike in one of BC’s most scenic areas. Running from Squamish to D’Arcy, and punctuated by Brandywine Falls and the Calcheak Suspension Bridge, among other sites, the path follows traditional Squamish First Nations trade routes as it winds upward to Whistler and beyond. Some nice, 30-plus-km routes exist around Whistler, or enjoy a day-hike to Brandywine. Soon, the entire pathway will be marked and complete for a truly epic and truly wonderful multi-day backpacking route.
14. Rossburn Subdivision Trail
Length: 172 km
The Rossburn Subdivision Trail may win the prize for least-inspiring name, but this easy-walking path that stretches from the town of Russell to Neepawa is worth checking out. Extending for 172 km, and passing through seven towns along its route, the path follows an abandoned rail line and is known for harbouring particularly good bird watching. (Watch for great horned owls!) Horses and cyclists will share the path with you, but by far and wide you’ll enjoy solitude as you walk a short section or the whole darn thing.
15. Les Sentiers de l’Estrie
Length: 156 km
One of the longest hiking trails in La Belle Province, this path leads through the charming Eastern Townships, connecting villages with scenic routes through woodland and undulating elevation. Expect to hit some of the nicest summits in the Appalachians along the way. The hike crosses several access points if the full route is too daunting—and you must register with the non-profit group that maintains the trail (and pay a fee). Side trips extend the network to more than 200 km. Bon voyage!
16. Ottawa/Temiskaming Highland Trail
Length: 134 km
Tucked away in Temagami, this backpacking network extends for days into rolling rocks, past sandy beaches, under old-growth pine and through peaceful northern serenity. Expect a wonderful array of elevated viewpoints and idyllic picnic spots—the trail is marked and maintained. Hikers can access the route from several points, and tackle a multitude of lengths rather than the whole route. A 20-km loop at Grand Campement Bay and a 22-km loop on Rib Mountain near Friday Lake are two popular paths. Plans are in the works to extend the system by another 25 km or so; this is a trail you can visit year-after-year, always with something new.
17. Boreal Trail
Length: 120 km
Officially opened in 2011, the Boreal Trail is Saskatchewan Parks’ only officially designated backpacking trail. Meandering through Meadow Lake Provincial Park, hikers can choose to embark on a multi-day tour of this east-west route—spending days beneath poplar, jack pine and spruce trees and falling asleep to a loon’s call at one of the plentiful back- and front-country campsites—or tackle it in smaller stages for easy day-hikes. Terrain is gentle with minimal elevation gains—the challenge comes in the distance. Some front-country campsites feature stores and hot showers.
18. Itijjagiaq Trail
Length: 120 km
Set in Katannilik Territorial Park, the Itijjagiaq Trail follows a traditional pathway from Iqaluit to Kimmirut. Highlights of this remote and challenging trek include the ecosystem fed by the Soper Heritage River, ancient geology, the high plateau of Meta Icongnita Peninsula and the glacier-scarred valleys beyond. Wildlife includes wolves, foxes, caribou and perhaps even polar bears. Flora includes dwarf birch, willow, Labrador tea, Arctic heather and grassland tundra. Hike in July and August to see the vibrant Arctic blooms; truly an unforgettable experience in Canada’s far north.
19. Avon Trail
Length: 112 km
Running from St. Marys to Conestgo, Ontario, the Avon Trail represents a cooperative effort between volunteers and landowners to create a network meant to inspire interest in hiking and conservation. Comprised of scenic farmland, river valleys, wooded areas and occasional towns, this well-marked trail can be broken up into sections as little as a couple of kilometres—or much, much longer. Most Tuesdays, members of the Avon Trail run organized hikes at various locations; support in the form of donations or guidebook purchases helps maintain this lovely path.
20. La Cloche Silhouette Trail
Length: 100 km
Travelling 100 km though some of Killarney Provincial Park’s hilliest terrain, the La Cloche Silhouette Trail is a stout challenge for experienced hikers. Starting in the west, the linear route rambles through forested hills toward scenic lakes. You may have to cross a few streams; excellent wildlife-watching abounds. Soon, you’ll be enjoying views of Georgian Bay as you hike over billion-year-old pink granite. In the eastern section, the trail ascends towards The Crack. The sparkling white quartzite cliffs are worth the effort; this area was once higher than the Rocky Mountains. There are 54 campsites along the route (permit required). Fall is the best time to tackle La Cloche, for the vivid foliage and nightly wolf-howls.
21. Athabasca Pass
Length: 98 km
A hike rich with natural wonders and human history, and set within Jasper National Park, Athabasca Pass is a challenging, weeklong mountain trek that follows a route once taken by explorer David Thompson. (Local Ktunaxa people had already been using it for centuries.) Buy a backcountry permit from the Parks Canada office in Jasper, then drive to the trailhead, accessed via Icefields Parkway about 30 km from town. After gaining 560 metres over 49 km of trail to Athabasca Pass, you’ll discover a National Historic Site Plaque, the provincial border marker for BC and Alberta and a view over the Continental Divide. Now, you just have to hike back out again.
22. Akshayuk Pass
Length: 97 km
Though Auyuittuq is Inuktitut for “the land that never melts,” during the short summer season there is plenty of snow-free hiking to be found within Auyuittuq National Park’s 19,000-sq-km of Arctic terrain. Akshayuk Pass is the most popular route in the park—if the word “popular” can be applied—a 10-day, 97-km trek that carves between imposing peaks and permanent icefields. Rising sharply from the tundra, mountains such as Overlord, Asgard and Thor appear, well, godlike. Best news: unlike some of Nunavut’s other parks, Akshayuk Pass doesn’t require a charter flight. Just catch a scheduled flight to Pangnirtung then arrange a boat ride into the park.
23. Dawson Overland Trail
Length: 97 km
As you might imagine, the Dawson Overland Trail historically connects Whitehorse and Dawson—though only 97 km of this stretch is maintained today as a true “trail.” Part of the Trans Canada Trail, the multi-use section from Whitehorse to Braeburn treats trekkers to mountain and valley vistas, with occasional Gold Rush relics lying about. There are no services along the route, so come prepared and with the requisite experience—and enjoy a hike through history on a former stagecoach road.
24. East Beach Hike
Length: 90 km
Consider this Haida Gwaii hike a less-crowded option to the popular West Coast Trail (see below). And though it’s about 15 km longer, the East Beach Trail is flatter and easier than the WCT—with more beach walks and much more solitude. Running along the west coast in Naikoon Provincial Park, hikers will wander through evergreens, over gold-sand beaches and even past a haunting shipwreck. It’ll take about four days, and you’ll need to leave a vehicle at terminus to get back to the trailhead.
25. Cottonwood Trail
Length: 83 km
Kluane National Park has several wilderness routes carving through its immense backcountry—Cottonwood is a top choice, as it’s a marked trail, making it more accessible than some of the arduous unmarked “routes.” Starting from Kathleen Lake, trekkers travel for 83 km through a loop that leads along old mining roads and over two alpine passes. About one-third of the trail is above the treeline—views abound—and you’ll gain a manageable 520 metres of elevation. Though a loop, the end is still 30 km from the trailhead; a car shuttle is a good idea.
26. Mystic Pass—Flint’s Park—Badger Pass
Length: 77 km
Typical for Banff National Park, this hike starts breathtakingly scenic and stays that way throughout. You’ll begin in popular Johnston Canyon, home to lovely waterfalls, but leave the crowds behind as you trek for a week into the backcountry. Expect to crest three mountain passes, gaining a total of 2,175 metres; pause to catch your breath in the beautiful subalpine meadows along the way. Hike in the late summer—snow can interrupt your hike even into July. Seven (or more) backcountry campsites dot the route—pack in, pack out, of course.
27. West Coast Trail
Length: 76 km
Running along the west coast of Vancouver Island, in Pacific Rim National Park, the famous West Coast Trail attracts trekkers from around the globe. Originally forged to offer shipwreck survivors a route to safety, today, it’s a reservation-managed three- to six-day bucket-list backcountry hike. Camping near Tsusiat Falls and the vertigo-inducing ladders of the southern half are two notable aspects of this trail—but every day is memorable on the WCT. Keep an eye out for offshore whales, and don’t forget some cash to buy a hamburger at Chez Monique, the beloved halfway respite.
28. Buckley Lake to Mowdade Lake
Length: 75 km
This route through 270,000-hectare Mount Edziza Provincial Park, in BC’s northwest, is best done in mid-summer—local weather starts to get very dodgy by September. Accessed via foot, hoof or, preferably, floatplane from Telegraph Creek (Highway 37), Edziza is characterized by otherworldly, volcanic terrain—lava flows, basalt plateaus, cinder fields, pumice rock and 2,787-metre Mount Edziza, a dormant volcano surrounded by barren, 1,300-year-old cinder cones. This seven-day route from Buckley Lake to Mowdade Lake—the only marked trek in the park—requires total self-sufficiency; at times, even water is scarce.
29. Mantario Trail
Length: 66 km
Whether you choose to tackle the three- or four-day end-to-end route of Manitoba’s classic backpacking route or knock-off a day-trip segment, the linear Mantario Trail delivers a hard-hiking challenge only two-and-a-half hours’ drive east of Winnipeg. Expect Precambrian Shield terrain, granite cliffs, beaver dams, peat bogs, steep gullies and jack pines. There are 10 primitive campsites along the route, with fire pits and food storage boxes and, maybe, a picnic table or two. The trail is well-marked, and water can be accessed at many points (use a filter). The Mantario Trail is best in fall, as spring’s floods can be troublesome and summer’s bugs are brutal.
30. Liberty Lake Trail
Length: 64 km
When exploring 404-sq-km Kejimkujik National Park—traditional home of the Mi’kmaq—where does one start? For the quintessential Keji experience, tackle the 64-km Liberty Lake Trail. There are 11 options for backcountry camping along the trail; though three or four nights out is a good rule of thumb. Lakes, babbling brooks, loons and moose will be your companions as you loop your way through mixed softwoods en route to Campsite 42—the most remote in the park. Bonus: Keji is a Dark Sky Preserve, so the nighttime scenery rivals the daytime.
31. Coastal Hiking Trail
Length: 58 km
Set in Ontario’s largest national park—Pukaskwa—the Coastal Hiking Trail traces the wildest shore on all the Great Lakes for 58 memorable kilometres. Follow rock cairns along empty pebble beaches, meander through serene woodland, scramble over steep shoreline rocks and marvel at expansive views of Lake Superior. Well maintained and updated, there are campsites and suspension bridges along the route—though you will need to be self-sufficient and may still ford some creeks. A one-way hike, travellers boat to North Swallow and hike out for 10 days to the trailhead through the traditional lands of the Anishinaabe people.
32. Chilkoot Trail
British Columbia (Alaska)
Length: 53 km
Linking northern BC and Alaska, and an absolute classic for two countries, this 53-km trek has been a backpacker’s must-do for decades. Forged by First Nations, used extensively by fortune seekers during the Gold Rush and operated today as a reservation-managed multi-day hike, the Chilkoot Trail is a challenging slog that pays dividends in scenery, solitude and historical wonders. With a short season—mid-June to early September—inclement weather (expect snow in July) and hardy sections like The Pass, you’ll want to be in top-shape and well-prepared. And remember your passport—you cross the U.S./Canada border midway.
33. Cape Chignecto Coastal Loop
Length: 52 km
Accented by the famous Bay of Fundy tides ebbing-and-flowing below, views from atop Cape Chignecto Provincial Park’s 180-metre-tall sea cliffs reduce one to mumbling superlatives. And the best way to fully experience this scenic Atlantic preserve is via the Coastal Loop. Starting off as an easy front-country trek, be prepared to get serious after 12 km—watch your footing between Mill Brook and Refugee Cove, where the trail becomes a series of switchbacks, and onward to Big Bald Rock, where it runs along the steepest sea cliffs in the province. There are seven backcountry campsites along the loop; most trekkers take three nights to complete the hike.
34. Fundy Circuit
Length: 48 km
You’re forgiven if you thought the Fundy Footpath would make the cut—we did too—but the Fundy Circuit, in Fundy National Park, actually bests the Footpath by six kilometres. Make reservations at the backcountry campsites and set out on this three- to five-day hike that loops through the Acadian forests and scenic shoreline of Fundy National Park. Expect a few river crossings, and maybe even a moose or two. You may even come across some tempting swimming holes. Start your hike near the Upper Salmon River, for easy vehicle access when you’re done.
35. Baden Powell Trail
Length: 48 km
Though lacks the overall length of other trails on this list, the Baden Powel Trail, on Vancouver’s North Shore, may just be the best wilderness experience close to a major city in Canada. Running from Deep Cove, North Vancouver, to Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver, and well-marked throughout, the Baden Powel Trail leads over the 1,271-metre summit of Black Mountain, through old-growth evergreens, over the dizzying Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge and more. (Watch for fallen trees and rockslides in some remote sections.) Vancouverites know sections the trail as popular day-hike—but how many have tackled the whole thing?
(Editor’s note: ultimately, the Trans Canada Trail is our country’s longest trail at more than 18,000 km—but it comprises hundreds of trails and even includes sections of water travel. We focused on individual routes and/or localized networks.)
These 35 adventures are just the start.
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