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Backpacker Magazine – May 2001

Canada's Great Divide Trail

For 30 years, some wide-eyed dreamers have been chiseling a 745-mile route through the Canadian Rockies. The result is a labor of love set to become one of North America's most magnificent long trails.

by: Steve Howe

Expedition Planner: Great Divide Trail

Getting there: Main trail access points are:

  • Waterton Lakes National Park, north of Glacier National Park, Montana, on Canada Highway 5
  • Castle Mountain Ski Resort, via highways 507 & 744, west of Pincher Creek, Alberta
  • Coleman, near Crow's Nest Pass, along Canada Highway 3, southwest of Calgary, Alberta
  • Elk River Road, via highway 43, north of Elkford, British Columbia
  • Kananaskis Lakes, via highway 40, southwest of Canmore, Alberta (permits required)
  • Hawk Creek trailhead on highway 93 in Yoho National Park, northwest of Banff (permits required)
  • Natural Bridge, near the town of Field, British Columbia, on highway 1 north of Banff (permits required)
  • David Thompson Heritage trailhead, Blaeberry River Road, northwest of Golden, British Columbia (permits required)
  • Saskatchewan River Crossing, highway 93, between Banff and Jasper (permits required)
  • Old Fort Point trailhead, highway 16, north of Jasper, Alberta (permits required)
  • Kakwa Lake trailhead, off highway 16, north of McBride, British Columbia
For detailed directions, see Hiking Canada's Great Divide Trail (see Guides).

Permits: The national parks (Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Waterton Lakes, and Yoho) all have a limited-permit system, which requires that you make reservations and pay a fee. To camp in the provincial parks of Mt. Assiniboine, Peter Lougheed, Mt. Robson, and the main campground at Elk Lakes, you'll need to obtain a permit and pay a fee. You'll find contact information for all in Hiking Canada's Great Divide Trail (see Guides).

Guides: Canadian government maps differ in format and distribution from U.S. Geological Survey topos. Canadian maps come in 1:50,000 scale (with UTM/GPS grids, best for ground travel) and 1:250,000 scale (best for overview). Trails are rarely shown. The most practical, and least expensive, solution is to use 1:250,000-scale government maps ($6.50 U.S.) for overview and orientation, and the GDT guidebook maps for actual travel. A variety of privately published "recreation maps" are available for the more popular parks.

Seven government topos cover the GDT's length: Six 1:250,000-scale topos, 82-G Fernie, 82-J Kananaskis Lakes, 82-N Golden, 83-C Brazeau Lake, 83-D Canoe River, 83-E Mt. Robson, and the 1:50,000-scale 83-L04 Kakwa Falls. You can purchase government topos at any Government Agent office in Canada. In smaller towns, this is usually in the grocery store or mall around which such communities are centered. You can also phone- or Web-order maps from private firms with searchable Web indexes, such as Map Town Ltd., (877) 921-6277;

Hiking Canada's Great Divide Trail, by Dustin Lynx (Rocky Mountain Books; $21.95), is written by and for thru-hikers, but broken down into manageable sections. Detailed route descriptions, excellent maps, alternate routes, and tips garnered from first-person experience combine with thorough contact and resupply information to make this book mandatory for anyone planning excursions along the GDT.

The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, seventh edition, by Brian Patton and Bart Robinson (Summerthought Ltd; $19.95) is far and away the most comprehensive guide to trails in the national and provincial parks of the Canadian Rockies.

Both of these guides are available at

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