A Guide To Canada’s Best Hiking Trails
Many of us are staying closer to home these days, and it’s the perfect time to explore the beauty in our backyards. Canada is a vast, diverse country, so why not get out and hike the trails this summer. We’ve got you covered with a guide to Canada’s best hiking trails and some helpful tips to keep in mind.
Know Before You Go
Heading out on an adventure for the day can be pretty exciting. Before you drive out to your trail spot, there are some essential things to consider:
- Do you know where you’re going? Check out your maps ahead of time to avoid getting lost. You may even want to ask friends that have been in the area if there’s anything to be aware of on the trail, such as is there ample parking, should I get there early.
- Tell someone where you’re going, especially if you’re going on a longer full-day hike or hiking solo. Share your route with a friend or neighbour.
- What’s the terrain and weather? Is this a rocky trail, is there lots of elevation gain, is there a lake or river to stop at for a swim. If it’s going to be hot, you can bring extra water, or you might need to pack a sweater if it’s going to be cool. These are things you might want to know before heading out to help inform you about what to pack.
- Do you need a reservation or park pass? Some parks that are busy in summer and more environmentally sensitive may require a reservation. If you are in a national or public park, you will most likely need to purchase a day pass.
What To Pack
What to pack can be a delicate balance – you want to have what you’ll need but not be too weighed down with gear. It’s always a good idea to try a few shorter trails first before you head out for a day-long trek. This way, you get to know what you find helpful to have on the path and what can stay at home.
- First aid kit. Safety first! Include antibacterial ointment or antiseptic pads, a tensor bandage for an ankle sprain, a pain reliever like ibuprofen, a multi-tool, bandaids and blister treatment (especially if you’re wearing newer hiking boots!).
- Water. Water is life. Always a good idea to pack extra just in case. You might even want to invest in a hydration pack or a portable water purifier for long trails.
- Food. Lightweight food that will satisfy you is best, such as granola bars or dried fruit—time to mix up some good ol’ raisins and peanuts.
- Extra clothing layers. Especially important to bring an extra long-sleeve or rain jacket if you’re going to be on a trail with any elevation gain. The weather at the top could be pretty different from the bottom.
- Bug spray. Nothing like swatting away mosquitoes for 3 hours to ruin a good hike! Pack the spray or even bring a bug hat if you’re going to be out in the forest in June, peak-bug season.
- Hiking poles. It’s best to try out hiking poles on a short trial first to see if they are helpful with climbing up and down the hills.
- Map, compass, GPS. Not all who wander are lost, but those who are lost are sure to wander! Always have a navigation device to help you find your way on the trail. Some phone apps will even let you download a hiking map, so you don’t have to worry if you’re going to an area without cell reception.
- Sun protection. Pack sunscreen, a hat, and maybe even wear a shirt with SPF protection if it’s going to be extra sunny that day.
- Garbage bag. Be respectful of the environment and fellow hikers. Always bring out what you bring in; leave no trace.
- Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, hand trowel. Depending on how long you’ll be out, there will be a bathroom break or two!
What To Wear
Having the proper hiking attire can make all the difference. You don’t need to have the fanciest gear, but you want to be sure you’re comfortable and can move freely.
- Hiking boots. A long day trip is not the time for new shoes! Break-in any new hiking boots on shorter trails or walks round the neighbourhood. Waterproof or water-resistant boots can be great to keep feet dry. An extra pair of socks will come in handy if you’re going to be traversing over water.
- Layers. It is handy to have an extra T-shirt if you get sweaty or a long sleeve for colder temperatures. Keep an eye on the weather before you go out, so you know what to bring. When you’re packing at home and unsure what to wear, toss anything extra in the car and then when you arrive at the trailhead, see what will work best based on the weather.
Alright, now that you’re all prepared with the gear and you know what to pack, let’s get you out on a trail. There are tens of thousands of trails in Canada. We’ve selected only a few here to feature based on ones we’ve hiked ourselves and from talking to a few friends from around the country.
1. Squamish, British Columbia – The Stawamus Chief
The Chief is a popular hike for the area, and the climb is well worth the epic views. You start this climb heading straight up the seemingly never-ending wooden stairs. There are three peaks, ranging from 1.5 kilometres to 1.8 kilometres, with an elevation gain of 540 metres to 630 metres. The first peak is the most popular, with an expansive view of Howe Sound. You can make it to the first peak and back, with time to enjoy the scenery in about 2-3 hours, depending on how quickly you attack the starting climb. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you will encounter a metal ladder and chains to help you climb to the second and third peaks.
2. Bow Valley Provincial Park, Alberta – Heart Mountain Horseshoe Trail
Heart Mountain in Alberta is stunning. This 10.5-kilometre loop trail is challenging and includes a lot of scrambling (AKA – using your hands and your feet while you climb from point A to point B), but you can’t beat the view. It is a climb for the more experienced hiker with an elevation gain of 940 metres. It starts with a steep climb to the first peak, and then you’ll enjoy the incredible mountain views at the top. The descent can be tricky, and a good idea to use hiking poles for extra support to avoid any falls. Give yourself up to 4 hours to complete this hike.
3. Whiteshell Provincial Park, Manitoba – Amisk Trail
If you’re in the mood for hiking through different forest types, bird watching, and crossing boardwalks with minimal elevation gain, then this trail is for you. There are some scenic lookout points with benches and views of the river. There are a few ups and downs on this 6.3-kilometre trail with only 38 metres of elevation gain. It’s the perfect way to spend the day outside and is a spot to visit in all seasons.
4. Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia – Hemlocks and Hardwoods Trail
There’s nothing quite like being in an old-growth forest, something unique to enjoy on a fall afternoon. On this self-guided interpretive trail, you’ll see 300-year old hemlocks, some of Nova Scotia’s oldest trees. It’s a 5-kilometre loop trail featuring various habitats, scenery and places of historical and cultural significance.
5. Pretty River Valley Provincial Park, Ontario – Bruce Trail and Blue Mountains Trail
The Pretty River Valley is a nature preserve in The Blue Mountains near Collingwood and features one of the highest points in the Niagara Escarpment. There are nine trails in this park; we chose this 5.1-kilometre loop trail with 261 metres of elevation gain because it’s a good length to cover in a couple of hours, one morning or afternoon. You get a great hill climb, some switchbacks down the other side of the hill, and cross over water. Once you’re at the top of the climb, if you feel like continuing, you can always add on an extra 4 kilometres and do the Bruce Trail Loop section. This park is also a beautiful spot to explore in winter with snowshoes or crampons if it’s icy. On a quiet day, you might even get the trail all to yourself.
6. East Coast Trails, Newfoundland – Cobbler’s Path
Are you ready for coastline views of the Atlantic Ocean while traversing shoreline cliffs? If so, welcome to Newfoundland! Cobbler’s Path is a 5-kilometre section of the East Coast Trail. This is an ‘out and back’ trail, not a loop, so it’s about 10 kilometres round trip with 1,141 metres of elevation gain. The path features boardwalks over wet areas, steep climbs, wooden stairs, forested areas, and ocean views. Depending on the time of year, you might even see some whales.
No matter what trail you choose, you are bound to have a great time if you prepare, start small if you’re new and select a place that piques your interest. Go exploring this summer and have an adventure you won’t soon forget.
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