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Trace Canada’s Spine

Hike the best section of the Great Divide Trail.
Backpacker_Magazine_The_WorksMt. Robson, Dave Schiefelbein

Picking up where the Continental Divide Trail ("The CDT Project") leaves off, the GDT traverses the great unpeopled north, from Boundary Bay Campground in Waterton Lake NP 700 miles to Mount Robson Provincial Park. A thru-hike requires two months, and is totally worthy. But this two-week, 130-mile stretch from the North Saskatchewan River (3.5 hours from Calgary) to the town of Jasper is the GDT’s best-marked and most scenic chunk of boreal forests, windswept ridges, and unbelievably wide and peaceful meadows.

The Route
From Owen Creek Trailhead (1, mile 0), head northwest, nabbing the GDT high point right off the bat. It’s an unnamed 8,495-foot pass (2, mile 13) between glacier-scoured rock walls. Then hike nine miles to Cataract Creek (3, mile 22.6), where you leave Banff NP and enter the White Goat Wilderness. Ford the creek (hairy in early season) and check out the house-sized monolith covered in ochre pictographs (4, mile 24.5). Ten miles later you’ll ascend 8,151-foot Cataract Pass (5, mile 35.8) and drop into Jasper NP on the other side. Walk easy terrain to Waterfalls Campground (6, mile 64.6). Then continue north up Maligne Pass (7, mile 74.9), marked by a small tarn. Resupply after week 1 at Maligne Lodge (8, mile 97.1). The second week, you’ll link with a GDT section called the Skyline Trail and endless miles of wide-open ridge walking. Skyline’s 8,233-foot zenith, The Notch (9, mile 111.6), is a grueling climb, but you’ll gain views of azure Curator Lake and distant Mt. Robson. After a winding descent, pitch a tent at Tekarra Campground (10, mile 116.8) for your last night. A stroll through conifers to the Old Fort Point trailhead (11, mile 131.4) at the town of Jasper wraps up your trek.

Shuttle
Sundog Tours (sundogtours.com) will haul you to the trailhead from the Calgary or Edmonton airports. And for $16 Maligne Lake Shuttle (jaspershuttle.com) can transport your resupply load to Maligne Lodge (malignelodge.com).

Recharge
Carbo-load at Jasper’s North Face Pizza with something uniquely Canadian: poutine (french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy…yum). (780) 852-5830

Conversions
One kilometer equals 0.6 mile, one meter is 3.28 feet, and 20°C is 68°F.

When
This stretch of the GDT is usually snow-free from July through September.

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