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Backpacker Magazine – March 2012

Backpacking Canada, the Big Empty

Empty of people, that is. Because the 3,000 miles of wilderness that stretch from Newfoundland's fjordlike coastal cliffs to British Columbia's rainforest and skyscraping peaks are brimming with every type of mountain, water, and wildlife adventure a card-carrying backpacker could want—crowds not included. Our Rocky Mountain Field Editor spent two months exploring places we've never covered to assemble our most extensive guide to Canadian backcountry yet.

by: Steve Howe

A glacial meltwater tarn in Glacier National Park, British Columbia (Steve Howe)
A glacial meltwater tarn in Glacier National Park, British Columbia (Steve Howe)

Forget immunizations, visas, phrase books, and 12-hour flights. For an epic international adventure, just head north. Canada’s cred? The world’s longest coastline, 10 major mountain chains, more lakes than any other country, and five Alaskas worth of world-class wilderness. 
We’ve scouted eight challenging trips in four provinces, all easy to reach and close enough to major American cities that you won’t blow your budget just getting there. Or going back for more.
British Columbia
This west-coast province is larger than Washington, Oregon, and California combined. You could spend lifetimes exploring B.C.’s 81 mountain ranges, but first try this sweet trio of routes, including an ultra-wild high-mountain trek, a pair of gorgeous huts, and historic glacier mountaineering.

Drinnon Pass to Gimli Col, Valhalla Provincial Park
Routefind across precipitous ridges to an ice-filled lake.

Woodbury to Silver Spray Huts, Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park
Link two gorgeous cabins by scrambling through craggy alpine country.

Asulkan Valley, Glacier National Park
Hit four technical summits in the birthplace of North American mountaineering.  

This Texas-size province north of Montana and North Dakota is known for its prairies, but more than half of it is actually a forested canoe kingdom (think Boundary Waters on steroids). Canoes are to Canada as covered wagons were to America, and they remain one of the best ways to experience Saskatchewan’s wild country.

Churchill River Canoe Route 
Escape time as you glide through an endless chain of connected lakes.

Canada’s most populous province is a land of lakes—Great ones. For an untamed taste of the world’s largest stretch of freshwater, check out Superior’s North Shore, where Ice Age glaciers and storm-tossed waves have sculpted the granite coastline into a wilderness of steep hills and deep gorges with a sprinkling of stunted evergreens. 

Coastal Hiking Trail, Pukaskwa National Park
Hug pebbly beaches and cliffs along Superior shores.

White River Canoe Route
Paddle and portage fish-filled waters past wild cascades to the greatest of lakes.

So far east it’s got its own time zone, this island is home to Gros Morne National Park, a world heritage site. We’ve scouted the best long and short options. 

Long Range Traverse, Gros Morne National Park
Bushwhack up a glacier-carved fjord to a lake-spangled subarctic plateau.

Green Gardens Loop
Follow serpentine barrens and stair-steep tracks to a rugged volcanic sea coast.

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Reader Rating: -


Mar 01, 2012

Nice places indeed - but no suggestions for the east side of James Bay (Quebec), or the far northern areas of Yukon, NWT, or Nunavut? The really wild wilderness areas in Canada are OUTSIDE the National and Provincial Parks. Few rivers bear no float trippers; but backpacking in much of the north is no-trails-exist, in about any direction you choose, for as far as you can hike in a full summer.

granite pete
Feb 26, 2012

The descriptions and comments sure makes me start planning on visiting places West and East in the beautiful lands to the North!

Feb 23, 2012

I am a Canadian reader who loves backpacker and it's nice to see some Canadian content. If you were too be less budget friendly hikers, the Torngat Mountains in Labrador are stunning, and there are several parks in Nunavut that are to die for. Access is a little bit trickier but they are once in a lifetime trips! Just sayin'!

Feb 23, 2012

Ummm, you completely missed one of Canada's best provinces?!?!


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