1. CHILKOOT TRAIL*, Alaska and Yukon Territory, U.S. and Canada –
Length: 33 miles, 3 to 5 days, Skagway to Bennett Lake
The Trip: This hike is redolent with the suffering of 1898 gold miners, and there’s no mistaking the history here. Both sides of the trail are littered with rusting remains of equipment the miners jettisoned out of exhaustion. More than a century later, the backcountry journey those miners blazed, driven by greed, has become one of the iconic wilderness routes in North America. The route rises quickly from tidewater to crest Chilkoot Pass at 3,300 feet. But instead of dropping back down, it meanders more than 20 miles through an alpine wonderland, while losing only a thousand feet before returning to its terminus at Bennett Lake. Take the White Pass and Yukon Railway back over the mountains to Skagway, a stupendous ride, and negotiate your way back to Whitehorse.
When to Go: The Coast Range opens up a bit earlier than the Rockies, so you can push the season a bit. Late June to early October works most years, but August has the best weather—and sees the heaviest traffic.
2. TONQUIN VALLEY, Canadian Rockies, Alberta, Canada –
Length: 27 miles, 3 to 5 days,
Portal Creek to McCarib Pass to Tonquin Valley and Out via the Astoria River
The Trip: This big hiking loop takes you in over high, scenic McCarib Pass and out via the lovely Astoria River, laying the whole mind-blowing landscape before you in a backcountry journey to rival any. Nestled deep in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, the highlights are watching the sunrise light up the enormous broadside of the Ramparts, throwing golden reflections into the waters of Amethyst Lake. Consider booking accommodations at two wilderness lodges hidden at the edges of the valley. Founded as horsepacking operations, both the Amethyst Lake Lodge and Tonquin Valley Lodge increasingly cater to hikers looking for a bit of comfort and home-cooked meals in this wild place.
When to Go: July to September; it can snow any day of the year
3. THE LONG RANGE TRAVERSE, Newfoundland
Length: Nearly 25 miles, 3-4 days
The Trip: This is a route that is 25 miles by map and compass (there are no trails here) across Gros Morne National Park. Starting at the fjord of Western Brook Pond near the Gulf of St. Lawrence along cliffs nearly the height of El Capitan to 2,644 Gros Morne Mountain in the Long Range Mountains. To follow the crest makes an unforgettable journey. It is well organized and strictly managed with designated camp spots that could break the trip down into a six-day adventure. You won’t run into many other people but more likely moose and caribou. Good skills with map, compass, and GPS are required. So wild is this trek that the park wardens won’t give you a permit unless you carry a locator beacon (they call it
a caribou collar). The impenetrable alpine krummholz vegetation (called tuckamore on Newfoundland) in Gros Morne is so dense it seriously complicates navigation. One useful technique is to follow “caribou leads,” trails carved through the tuck over centuries by moose and caribou. Then take a GPS waypoint and adjust your vector as required when you pop out the other side.
When to Go: July through September. Hikers must obtain permits through Parks Canada.
4. BERG LAKE* and Mount Robson, British Columbia
The Trip. Take four days, two to hike up via the Valley of the Thousand Waterfalls and camp at Berg Lake, one or two to do day hikes there and one to hike down. Glaciers calf off the sides of Mount Robson into Berg Lake. Mt Robson is the highest mountain in the Canadian rockies. Campsites must be booked.
When to go: July, August or early September
5. ROCKWALL TRAIL*, Kootenay National Park, British Columbia
The Trip: This 4 day hike passes a spectacular wall on the west. Campsites must be booked.
When to go: July, August or early September.
6. TRAVERSE OF BUGABOO PROVINCIAL PARK*, British Columbia
The Trip: This can be an eight hour day hike or a 3-4 day backpack trip camping at Cobalt Lake, Appleby Camp and Conrad Kain Hut. Hike up to Cobalt Lake (can climb Northpost Spire if doing multi day hike), then go off trail along the left side of the lake, climb up to the pass below Brenta Spire over a small glacier, descend into the valley and turn right up a small valley and over a low pass to reach Appleby Camp, then walk on trail passing all the great granite spires of the park to the Conrad Kain Hut and finish on the wonderful trail back down to the parking lot. Need chicken wire to protect your vehicles brake lines from the porcupines (lots available in the parking lot). The trailess part requires some route finding skills but it is very restricted choice as there is only one way to go.
When to go: July or August.
7. WEST COAST TRAIL*, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Length: 58 miles
The Trip: Originally a life-saving trail for sailors shipwrecked on the wild west coast, this 5-7 day backpacking trip is possibly the best in Canada. Has ladders for ascending and descending into the creeks and necessary boat rides over Nitnat Narrows and at the south end at Port Renfrew provided by the local First Nations people and included in the hiking fee charged by Parks Canada. Prefer to hike on the ocean and avoid the trees if possible which requires tide tables. Much of it is boardwalk which can be treacherous when wet (some people bring metal treads that can be strapped over your boots). Usually must be booked but some permits are available every day on a first-come-first-served basis. A brilliant way to
strapped over your boots). Usually must be booked but some permits are available every day on a first-come-first-served basis. A brilliant way to avoid the long all day bus shuttle between the ends is to take a boat from Port Renfrew to Bamfield on your first morning and start hiking in the afternoon. This allows you to see the whole trail from the water and almost always whales. Camp on the beaches.
When to go: May to October. It virtually never snows here but can get a lot of rain.
7. ALEXANDER MACKENZIE HERITAGE TRAIL
The Trip: A 20+ day trip between Quesnel and Bella Coola in British Columbia across Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. Not commonly known or used. He reached the Pacific overland in 1793 several decades before Lewis and Clark.
8. SKYLINE TRAIL, Jasper NP
The Trip: This is the longest alpine crossing of any trail in Canadian Rockies as it spends 25 of its 45kms in the alpine. Starts at Maligne Lake and ends near Jasper. Cross Big Shovel Pass in the Maligne Range and the Notch, the highest and steepest pass on the trail. See marmots, bighorn sheep, grizzly and black bear, deer. Usually 3 days.