15 Great Things To Do On The Great Trail
Winding across Canada from the Atlantic to Pacific to Arctic Oceans, The Great Trail is an ambitious, 15,000-mile (24,000-km) cross-country community effort to connect a vast expanse of diverse landscapes and cultures. Its series of wilderness, rural, and urban paths and waterways span the entire breadth of the world’s second largest country, offering walking, hiking, biking, and paddling routes for adventure seekers of all ages and enthusiasms.
We at Clif love the way The Great Trail promotes outdoor adventures and helps protect the places we play. So, in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017, we funded a 150-kilometre (93.2-mile) stretch of The Great Trail. We’re looking forward to an ongoing relationship, raising awareness of this epic adventure opportunity, helping bring the trail to life, and inspiring people to get out there—whether it’s on a 10-day wilderness trek or a jog on a downtown footpath.
These Are a Few (15, Actually) of Our Favorite Things About The Great Trail…
1. Great Leaf-Peeping Route: Mountain bike or hike through Gatineau Park in Quebec just outside Ottawa, a wilderness region that turns raging crimson and gold in autumn. In winter, the park has one of Canada's largest cross-country ski trail systems.
2. Great Stand-Up Paddle Boarding: Learn to SUP on a 77-mile (125-km stretch) of the Chief Whitecap Waterway, winding through valleys and past beaches in southern Saskatchewan all the way to Saskatoon.
3. Greatest Peak: The Great Trail’s highest point is 7,169 feet (2,185 m) along Alberta’s Kananaskis Country Trail in the Rockies, a dramatic route right in Calgary’s backyard. With snowcapped peaks rising above the valley, it’s heaven for cross-country skiers and snowshoeing enthusiasts, hikers, fat-tire bikers, and horseback riders alike.
4. Great Rail Trail: T’Railway, a 19th century former rail line, winds 542 miles (870 km) clear across Newfoundland from Port aux Basques to St. John’s—a linear parkway with ocean views, old stations, relic trains, and 132 restored trestles. Great for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and dog sledding.
5. Great Dog-Sledding Terrain: Dogsled back in time on the Yukon’s Dawson Overland Trail an historic, wilderness, post-Gold Rush route from the Takhini River north of Whitehorse to rustic Braeburn Lodge on the Klondike Highway (famous for their legendary giant cinnamon buns).
6. Great Waterfall Trail: The 35-mile (57-km) Niagara River Recreational Trail parallels the Niagara River from historic Fort Erie past iconic Niagara Falls to Fort George in the exquisite Victorian town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Stop at wineries for tastings along the way.
7. Great Coastal Route: Winding along the shore of Nova Scotia’s spectacular Cape Breton Island, the flat, easy 56-mile (90-km) Celtic Shores Coast Trail offers wilderness, beaches, and Celtic culture and music for hikers and bikers.
8. Great Horseback Trail: The historic, abandoned 1915 Kettle Valley Railway is a 249-mile (401-km) trail with towering trestles bridges and tunnels built by early pioneers. A 15-mile (24-km) section near Kelowna, BC through Myra Canyon is a cliff-hanging trail offering fabulous canyon views. The trail can be accessed on horseback as well as on foot, bicycle, or by cross-country skis.
9. Great Tidal Trail: Cycle or hike alongside the world’s highest tides on New Brunswick’s 6-mile (10 km) Fundy Trail Parkway, a hilly cliff-hugging route with sea views of the Bay of Fundy, a five-tier waterfall, and sandy beaches frequented by sunbathing seals.
10. Great Sand Dunes: Hike or cross-country ski 11 miles (17 km) amid sand dunes—some of them five stories tall—and great beaches in Saskatchewan’s Good Spirit Lake Provincial Park. Keep your eyes peeled for foxes, coyotes, elk, moose, and deer.
11. Great Urban Trail: Cycle or walk along Lake Ontario’s shoreline on the Waterfront Trail from Burlington to the skyscraper-lined foreshore of Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, on 54 miles (87 km) of paths through botanical gardens, marshes, parks, and beaches.
12. Great Foodie Route: Feed your inner foodie on the Cowichan Valley Trail north of Victoria, BC on a scenic 75-mile (120-km) route packed with farms, cheese-makers, vineyards, and small cafes. The route also passes through eight restored wooden trestle bridges, including the Kinsol Trestle, one of the world’s highest bridges.
13. Great Family Cycle: Spectacular views of towering snowcapped Rocky Mountain peaks along an easy, 14-mile (22.3 km) paved trail with educational markers and picnic sites makes Alberta’s Banff Legacy Trail a perfect day trip for families. Bonus points if you spot big horn sheep, moose, elk, and bears.
14. Great Cultural Route: A 16-mile (25.5-km) paved trail, part of the vast Capital Pathway network throughout Ottawa, takes in the Canadian Parliament Buildings, the National Gallery, historic Rideau Canal, and the 1827 ByWard Market, as well as parkland and neighborhoods along the Ottawa River.
15. Great Best Kept Secret: Although not connected to Southern Canada by road or rail, the Inuit-run Arctic territory of Nunavut also has a tract of The Great Trail across Southern Baffin Island. The 89-mile (143-km) Itijjagiaq Trail is a traditional Inuit route between Frobisher Bay and the hamlet of Kimmirut, passing through the lush tundra wilderness of Katannalik Territorial Park. The trail follows the Soper River for much of its length (which can be paddled), and there are nine warming huts along the way, but the way is not well marked, and is best tackled by experienced hikers and cross-country skiers.
Usually, travelling between Victoria and the rest of Canada involves a 100-minute ride via BC Ferries. The ferry sector is officially part of the Trans-Canada Highway, and The Great Trail was set to follow the same route. That’s until Robert Holley and his colleagues at the non-profit BC Marine Trails Network came up with an alternative agenda for that motorized “hole” in The Great Trail.
They created a watery wilderness route perfect for paddling, complete with conveniently spaced campsites and provincial parks along the The Great Trail’s only saltwater stretch. Their recently launched Salish Sea Marine Trail is 160 miles (257 km) of island-hopping from Victoria to Vancouver, retracing the footsteps (or paddle strokes) of the local Coast Salish people who once paddled their canoes throughout these protected waters.
“It seemed obvious,” says Robert Holley, a BC Marine Trail board member and keen kayaker. “Both Vancouver and Victoria—BC’s two biggest cities—look out onto wilderness from their downtowns. And in between is perfect paddling terrain.”
Sheltered from the worst of Pacific storms by Vancouver Island, the Inside Passage separating “The Island” from BC’s coast is busy commercial and recreational fishing territory, particularly for salmon. Cruise ships ply to and from Alaska. Ferries service Northern BC islands and coastal indigenous communities without road access. Island residents and cottagers commute with small boats, and the region offers some of the world’s best sailing waters.
Both Vancouver and Victoria—BC’s two biggest cities—look out onto wilderness from their downtowns. And in between is perfect paddling terrain.
Having a spectacular sea trail through a unique and wild eco-system adds a jackpot of diversity to the transcontinental Great Trail, offering access and an up-close peek into some of BC’s 15,985 miles (25,725 km) of coastline where humpbacks breach; orcas travel in pods; grey whales, dolphins and clouds of seabirds feed in rich waters; and grizzly bears prowl rugged shorelines.
Starting from Victoria, it’s a lovely meander northward through fresh salty air, as you thread through a maze of lush and hilly Gulf Islands. Stock up on organic goodies at Saltspring Island’s lively Saturday farmer’s market. Hike up Pender Island’s Mt. Norman for dramatic sunset views. Grill a fresh salmon over a camp fire on a deserted sandy beach under the stars.
The two longer stretches of more open water you must cross to reach mainland BC’s Sunshine Coast notch the week-long crossing up into experienced kayaker territory. Yet shorter routes like the Victoria to Nanaimo section are perfect for intermediate paddlers. So is following the Sunshine Coast’s trail of beaches southward past Keats and Bowen Islands with Howe Sound’s wild, snow-capped Coast Mountain peaks announcing your arrival into vibrant Vancouver.
“You don’t need to paddle the entire Salish Sea route to be moved by its stunning, raw nature,” says Robert Holley. “The Great Trail is meant as an inspiration to get you out there, even if it’s just a short urban paddle around downtown Vancouver.”
Canada’s third biggest city is perched on the edge of wilderness and surrounded by the ocean, with mountains as a backdrop. It’s an active urban playground where outdoor-loving Vancouverites live, work, commute, and play on The Great Trail daily. Kids to pros walk, jog, and cycle the Seawall that encircles the 1,000-acre (405-hectare) temperate rainforest of Stanley Park, which lies smack in the center of downtown.
And now they’re heading up the Sea to Sky route, a spur of The Great Trail. Sure, there’s a speedy highway etched into the cliffs of Howe Sound, a network of dramatic fjords just northwest of the city.
But it’s so much more fun to savor sea breezes on the 24-mile (39-km) Sea to Sky Marine Trail, paddling to the outdoor activity-mecca of Squamish, then hiking, biking, or cross country skiing another 50 miles (80 km) north toward Whistler Mountain, another outdoor playground—and the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics.