If you love hiking, paddling, and being out in nature no matter the season, then look no further than the Great White North for your next adventure destination. Canada is home to the world’s longest hiking trail that traverses the entire country, and that trail is open for use.
The World’s Longest Hiking Trail
With almost 10 million square kilometers of varying terrain, ecosystems, and wilderness to explore, it is no surprise that the world’s longest hiking trail can be found in Canada. This trail is an incredible 16,777 miles (2,000 km), though calling The Great Trail one giant hiking trail is a bit of a misnomer. (1)(2)
The Great Trail is actually a collection of small trails that have been linked together to make one long network of 400 trails that wind their way through each of the 10 provinces and two of the three territories and each trail is maintained by their local jurisdiction. (2)
The project to connect all of these trails to connect Canada from its easternmost province all the way out to the west began in 1992. Montreal-based non-profit Trans Canada Trail has been the primary overseers, however, it really has been the coming-together of volunteers and stakeholders from several jurisdictions to get this done. These include local conservation groups, provincial governments, and municipalities
As the largest volunteer project in Canadian history, the Trans Canada Trail organization is calling it “A gift from Canadians to Canadians”. (2)
Not Your Average Hike
Beyond just the sheer length of the trail, this is no simple walk in the woods. Promoted largely as a biking trail, it is also open to hikers, runners, cross-country skiers, and horses – not to mention the sections in which the only way to cross them is to paddle. (2)
About 26% of The Great Trai requires a kayak or canoe, such as the Lake Superior Water Trail and the Mackenzie River Trail, not to mention the portion through most of the Yukon. Of course, certain parts are also open to snowmobiles, though all other types of motorized transportation are not allowed on the trail. (2)
The Best Canada Has to Offer
The Great Trail truly shows you every type of scenery and landscape the country has to offer. Some parts are more urban, passing through some of Canada’s major cities, including (2):
Being Canada, of course, it also offers you vast plains, stunning lakes, coastal islands, awe-inspiring mountains, and depending on which route you take, arctic tundra. Despite the remoteness of parts of the trail, particularly those in the northern territories, it is estimated that four out of five Canadians live within 30 minutes of a section of the trail. (2)
Two Route Options
Traveling from east to west, the trail diverges when you reach Edmonton. From there, there are two options (2):
- Go south towards Calgary, pass through the Rocky Mountains straight to Vancouver Island, or,
- Go north through Alberta and B.C., up through the Yukon to the Northwest Territories where you will reach the Arctic Ocean before looping back down.
The map uses three colours to represent what type of trail it is (2):
- Red indicates where the gaps used to be that are now connected
- Green indicates land trails
- Blue indicates water trails, where you will have to paddle
The subarctic branch of the trail is one of the most paddle-intensive sections of the entire thing. It is formed by the Athabasca River, Slave River, and Mackenzie River trails and goes all the way up to the town of Inuvik. (2)
This is by far the most challenging and remote section of The Great Trail, as it is highly physically demanding and offers little in the way of available services and resources for travelers. (2)
Twenty-five years in the making, The Great Trail has been open since 2017, but still requires work and effort from several groups and many volunteers. (2) If you wish to donate to the Trans Canada Trail organization, you can do so here.