Canada’s Longest Through-Hike Trail Itinerary (Great Divide Trail)
How to complete 500km of Canadian Rocky wilderness hiking in 30 days.
Section 1 (Section C of the GDT Guthook App)
A 14-day stretch starting in Peter Laugheed (an Alberta provincial park) about 40 km South of Canmore in Kananaskis. The trail takes you through Height of the Rockies Provincial Park, Banff National Park, Assiniboine Provincial Park, and Yoho National Park. This is a suburb and scenic section with beautiful alpine meadows and impressive mountains views. The trail crosses two notable backpacking routes: Assiniboine and the Rockwall.
Resupplies: 2 recommended (7-day section before picking up in Sunshine and a 6-day section to get you to Field), but 1 is possible (in Field)
Rest Days: 1
Nero Days (near zero days): 4 (around 7 kms)
Average Kilometres: 15
Day BEFORE TRAIL
Get to Peter Lougheed Visitor Centre. (Brewster buses get you the closest.)
Stay at Canyon Campground.
Day 1 CANYON CAMPGROUND (CG) TO FORKS CG
7.2 kilometre day (with ride to North Interlakes Trailhead. Many people will be going to either North Interlakes Trailhead or Upper Kananaskis Lakes, which will cut off 14 kms and 10 kms, respectively).
It’s nice to have a couple easy days to start since bags will be at their heaviest.
Day 2 FORKS CG TO TURBINE CANYON CG
Expect switchbacks for a lot of the time so starting earlier is ideal. Leaving at 9 am, we had plenty of time to get up before the sun got too strong on the exposed trail.
Day 3 TURBINE CANYON CG OVER PALLISER PASS TO BURSTAL CG
Cross over three parks today: Peter Laugheed, Height of Rockies, and end in Banff National Park. This day is your initiation into the GDT and a good indication of what is to come with a couple passes, a couple river crossings, a STEEP section, no other hikers, and mostly unmaintained trail.
Day 4 BURSTALL CG TO MARVEL LAKE CG
This section goes by fast due to the terrain being either flat or slightly downhill. We left late on this day to rest after such a tiring previous day. Leaving at 11:30 am allowed us to get to camp by 5:30 pm with long 30 minute snack breaks.
Day 5 MARVEL LAKE CG OVER WONDER PASS TO LAKE MAGOG CG
Officially in Assiniboine Provincial Park on what many people do as a three-day backpacking trip, so expect lots of people and campsites to be full!
It’s a long day with similar view along Marvel lake. Six long switchbacks to the top of Wonder Pass are the hardest part of the day, but the alpine meadow and views at the top make it a great place to replenish.
After setting up camp and having dinner, take a 4 km (one way) hike up to the Nublet (a worthwhile view) or further to Nub Peak for sunset!
Note: we heard a lot of people take Assiniboine Pass rather than Wonder Pass when going North since it is an easier climb.
Day 6 LAKE MAGOG CG TO OG LAKE CG
This is a nero day that I’d recommend taking. It is a beautiful section of trail so don’t rush it! Take your time at Magog Lake in the morning and enjoy Og Lake later that day.
Day 7 OG LAKE CG TO PORCUPINE CG
There is no rush to get to Porcupine CG since there isn’t much at the campsite.
Day 8 PORCUPINE CG OVER CITADEL PASS TO HEALY CREEK CG
I’d recommend a resupply here (Sunshine Meadows). Since it is a ski resort, you get some reception as well. It’s a long day still so budget time accordingly to pack bags after resupplying and to use the reception you get!
The climb out of the campground is a tough one, but it becomes a more gradual incline approaching Citadel Pass. Once over the pass, it is beautiful meadows, nice ridge line views of Howard Douglas lake, and you enter the Sunshine area (a popular area for tourists to take gondola up to explore for the day).
When following the route for Twin Carins, there will be a sign indicating a scenic overlook is ahead. Put your bags down to go up the 300 meters or so to the viewpoint. It is worth it.
Day 9 HEALY CREEK CG OVER HEALY AND WHISTLING PASS TO BALL PASS JUNCTION CG
This day has great views that many people were doing as a day hike from Banff. We opted to do a slight detour to Egypt lake for a snack and it was nice (especially since we were about to start up to the second pass of the day). Neither passes were difficult, but it was a steady day of ups and downs.
Day 10 BALL PASS CG OVER BALL PASS TO FLOE LAKE CG
There is a 2 km push to the pass to start the day and then an almost 10 km decent, which was not difficult, but took time due to the many fallen trees. You start to hear highway noise for the first time in a while, which means you are getting close to the second part of this day: starting the Rockwall Trail.
After walking the highway for about 300 meters, you get to the Floe Lake Trailhead and parking lot. Once at the Vermillion River, you will start your 10 km hike up to the campground with the last 2 kms being difficult on tired legs.
Day 11 FLOE LAKE CG OVER NUMA PASS AND TUMBLING PASS TO TUMBLING CREEK CG
16.9 kilometres (sign shows 17.5 kilometres)
A long day but very doable! This day is a highlight on the Rockwall Trail; the glacier views are incredible the entire day which makes it difficult to go fast.
Day 12 TUMBLING CREEK CG TO MCARTHUR CG
This is the last day of the Rockwall Trail. Most people will exit from Helmet campground, which is when the trail turns to being unmaintained (lots of fallen trees and some avalanche areas created one area of route finding).
Day 13 MACARTHUR CG TO FIELD, BC
About 10 km of this day is road and backroad walking so get a ride if you can! It will save you at least 2 hours at the end of the day when you are very looking forward to a well-deserved meal!
Day 14 REST DAY IN FIELD, BC
Enjoy the small town surrounded by mountains. There are two good restaurants that also have a small snack selection and fruit. Other food can be found at the gas station.
Pick up your resupply box from the post office here and do not expect to resupply with what is available in Field.
Section 2 (Section D of GDT Guthook App)
A 7-day section that acts as a connector point from Field to The Crossing. I had high hopes since it runs parallel to the Icefields Parkway, but we found ourselves bushwhacking and route finding with no views. I’d recommend skipping this section if your “why” for the GDT is not to do every part of this trail. The through-hiker mentality is a tough one that I don’t fully understand, but I would not go through this area again and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
If you opt to skip the section, plan for a day to hitch to Rampart Creek Hostel. There aren’t many places to spend the night on the Icefields Parkway and this is a quality and affordable option. You will hitch toward Lake Louise and then take the Icefields Parkway turnoff, the 93 to Jasper. The hostel is 12 km past The Crossing Resort. With this option, you skip the next 7 days and take 1 day to get to the start of Section E.
Resupplies: 1 (at The Crossing)
Rest Days: 1
Nero Days: 1
Average kilometres: 15
Day 15 FIELD TO RANDOM CAMPING AT FIRE CREEK
A long day along an unmaintained bike trail. Expect to find trees down and bushwhacking after leaving Natural Bridge.
Day 16 FIRE CREEK TO RANDOM CAMPING AT AMISKWI PASS
A long and tiring day due to route finding and bushwhacking. You will need to cross the Amiskwi River three times before heading up the pass. The trail gets better toward the pass and prettier. The pass is a nice place to camp, but buggy.
Day 17 AMISKWI PASS TO DECOMMISSIONED CAMPSITE AT CARINES CREEK
The trail is visible and gently downhill. You get to a road and switchback down to Blaeberry River, cross a bridge, and then take the less visible gravel road along the river to the creek to a decommissioned campsite by the river.
Day 18 CARINES CREEK OVER HOWSE PASS TO RANDOM CAMPING AT CONWAY CREEK
Although this is one of the shortest days of the section, it was one of the toughest. The hours of bushwhacking and the two river crossings (one that is potentially very dangerous- look into the Blaeberry/Lambe Creek crossing for current conditions) takes a toll physically and mentally.
Day 19 CONWAY CREEK TO ‘TOP OF RIDGE’ POINT (ON GUTHOOK APP)
The ‘top of ridge’ at kilometre 639 is a nice place to camp (not buggy WITH VIEWS) and allows the chance to enjoy the one scenic, non bushwhacking day.
Day 20 ‘TOP OF RIDGE’ TO MISTAYA CANYON TRAILHEAD PARKING LOT (ON THE ICEFIELDS PARKWAY- HIGHWAY 93)
5.8 kilometers (if hitching to the hostel, longer otherwise)
A short day of hiking before getting to The Crossing Resort to pick up your resupply (do not count on the convenience store here to resupply) and the Rampart Creek Hostel to have a recoup night.
Day 21 REST DAY AT RAMPART CREEK HOSTEL
After Section D, a rest day will be needed! Don’t expect too much from the wilderness hostel, but do take advantage of the kitchen, fire, and shelter that you don’t have to put together.
Section 3 (Section E of GutHook App)
A 9-day section through Jasper National Park with the most scenic passes, encompassing two notable backpacking trips: the Brazeau Loop and the Skyline trail. This rugged and wild trail has the right mix of maintained and unmaintained trail to make it adventurous, challenging, wild, and scenic.
Whether you opted to skip Section D or not, you will be spending the previous night at Rampart Creek Hostel. There isn’t much in this area and The Crossing Resort that is 12 km away has a subpar and over-priced convenience store, cafeteria, and pub. From the wilderness hostel, get a ride to the trailhead along Highway 11 from people heading towards Edmonton. We started from The Crossing (the official trail), but there was a road walking and not great trail conditions to the trailhead. Since this is a long day of hiking, it would be best to use your energy to get up Owen Creek.
Resupplies: None (the resupply at Field will cover these days if skipping section 2 and the resupply at The Crossing will cover these days if completing section 2)
Rest Days: 0
Nero Days: 2 (8 km each)
Average kilometres: 16
Day 22 RAMPART CREEK HOSTEL TO RANDOM CAMPING EITHER AT OWEN CREEK OR OVER OWEN PASS TO MICHELE LAKE
6.1 to 11.7 kilometres whether camping at Owen Creek or Michele Lake, respectively
Note: Add an additional 13.5 km if walking from The Crossing rather than the trailhead on Highway 11
Go as far as you can today. Owen Pass is a lengthy climb with a few tent sites leading up to it. The first part of the trail is visible and easy, but it gets tricky when deciding to either take the forest route or traverse along Owen Creek. I’m still not sure which is best. Hiking up along the creek can be challenging due to the erosion, but I am not certain if the switchbacks in the forest go to the pass since we got off that path once we noticed that we were no longer on the GPS path.
Despite our intention to go over the pass and camp at Michele lake this day, we had some rain and thunder, which made continuing up the pass and camping at exposed Michele Lake riskyl. If you can get an early start and the weather is clear, getting over the pass this night is the way to go. The last 4 km before the pass will take some time (about 5 hours for us).
Note: when going up Owen Creek, it is difficult to know from the GPS which side of creek to be on. For example, the GPS trail looks like it crosses the creek, but if you follow it perfectly, you never actually need to cross it until it splits.
Day 23 OWEN CREEK/MICHELE LAKES OVER 2-3 PASSES TO PINTO LAKE CG
19 kilometres (from Owen Creek campsite)
Depending on where you spent the night (either at Owen Creek or Michele lakes), you either have 3 or 2 passes, respectively. The views are spectacular from these passes and views of Michele lake are beautiful leading up to the second pass. Owen pass was the most challenging since the following two don’t have much elevation gain.
Day 24 PINTO LAKE CG OVER CATARACT PASS TO RANDOM CAMPING PAST THE PASS OR BOULDER CREEK CG
20.8 kilometers (to random camping past the pass) or 27.8 kilometres (to Boulder Creek CG)
It’s a long day from Pinto lake over Cataract pass. I would offer that an additional day to break it up and get to Boulder Creek CG the following day is an option to give yourself a day under 20 km. However, getting it done in one day allowed us to see the most spectacular sunset from the pass so I couldn’t change it for this itinerary. The challenge of the day is traversing a creek where you are sure to get wet. From there, the walk to the beginning of Cataract pass is a beautiful open meadow with the slightest incline. The pass does becomes steep and can be misleading with several ridge lines that look like the top.
Day 25 RANDOM CAMPING PAST THE PASS OR BOULDER CREEK CG OVER JONAS SHOULDER TO JONAS CG
28 kilometers (from random camping past the pass) or 21 kilometres (from Boulder Creek CG)
The trail connects to the popular Brazeau Loop trail so you will see more people than you have the last few days and will be back to actual campgrounds. The mountain and meadow views are excellent leading up to and from Jonas shoulder.
Day 26 JONAS CG TO POBOKTAN CG
This is the final day on the Brazeau Loop trail and the shortest! It was mostly a walk through the forest with some views (but nothing compared to the alpine). It was nice having a short day and we were able to take the morning to sleep in and start late afternoon after a good stretching session.
Day 27 POBOKTAN CG TO POBOKTAN TRAILHEAD ON HIGHWAY 93
A hitch is required to get to Jasper townsite to stay at Whistlers CG
With the trail notes warning us that we would experience the worst trails of the GDT, we made an executive decision to exit to the highway and hitch to Jasper, skipping a 30 km section. If we had known how bad unmaintained trail could be during our planning stage (and not from our experience 5 days ago on Section D), we could have budgeted extra time to do the scenic and challenging alternate route: Bald Hills.
Hitching to Jasper is not too hard since most cars will be heading that direction. However, the remaining part of Section E doesn’t start immediately from town, but from Maligne Lake, a 1 hour drive away (48 km). Maligne Lake is a popular tourist area, but could still take a while to get picked up. We opted to save the trip to Maligne Lake for the following day.
After arriving in Jasper, we were able to stay at Whistlers CG which has a walk-in camper section that don’t require reservations. The campground is a 3 km walk from town.
We booked a shuttle to Maligne Lake for the next day for $33 per person from Maligne Adventures.
Day 28 WHISTLERS CG (NOT ON GDT- REQUIRES EXITING TO HIGHWAY AND HITCHING TO JASPER AND MALIGNE LAKE TRAILHEAD) OVER LITTLE SHOVEL PASS TO SNOWBOWL CG
Option to continue to Curator CG for a 21.3 km day (especially if it was challenging to get a reservation at Snowbowl CG)
Take a shuttle or hitch to Maligne Lake to enter the last leg of Section E, the Skyline. This is a popular and scenic trail that begins with a climb and ends atop an alpine meadow.
Day 29 SNOWBOWL CG OVER SHOVEL PASS AND THE NOTCH TO SIGNAL CG
24.5 kilometers (or 14.3 kms if stayed at Curator CG)
The GDT ends on a high note literally since this trail is the highest hiking trail in Jasper National Park. Going up and over Shovel Pass will be easy compared to the steep section that follows called the Notch. From that point on, it is all ridge line walking and downhill for the remainder of this section of the GDT.
Day 30 SIGNAL CG TO MALIGNE CANYON TRAILHEAD
Note: add 10k to get to Jasper townsite if not hitching to Jasper from the Maligne Canyon trailhead
Exit the trail by an easy, downhill gravel road will get you to the trailhead in no time. If you’ve made friends with others who took the shuttle or hiked with you, they likely have their car parked here and are excellent people to ask for a ride into town. Otherwise, take a few meandering trails that will get you into town in time for a BIG celebratory lunch.