“Time spent outdoors will not be deducted from your life,” according to Jack Christie, author of 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver and one of a gaggle of steely-calved regional experts I tapped for their favourite Canadian treks.
Christie’s top tramps in British Columbia move beyond the well-known West Coast Trail, and include the Vancouver-area Baden-Powell Trail – a 48-kilometre North Shore mountain ramble and the rugged Sea-to-Sky region stretching to the Pemberton Valley. “If you can’t have fun hiking here, you’re dead and don’t know it,” he says.
But for true life affirmation, consider Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park: “a multiday backpack through a pristine wilderness watershed – magic to the nth power,” Christie says.
Outside B.C., he recommends Alberta’s Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park’s Lakeshore Trail.
But Rockies’ expert Craig Copeland – co-author of Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies: the Opinionated Hiking Guide – has additional Wild Rose Country recommendations. “Kananaskis Country’s thrilling Northover Ridge affords an ecstatic sense of exploration. Between Three Isle and Aster lakes, you’re in deep wilderness, surrounded by icy peaks, peering into bear-haven valleys.”
He also suggests Banff National Park’s challenging, lesser-known Caldron Lake area and notes: “The sights on Mount Robson Provincial Park’s Berg Lake and Snowbird Pass – from Emperor Falls to the Coleman Icefield – are true marvels.”
Beyond Alberta, Copeland regards the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland and Labrador as “Canada’s pre-eminent long-distance hiking route.”
But Michael Haynes – author of Cape Breton and Nova Scotia hiking guides – has additional Atlantic Canada suggestions.
His Nova Scotia faves include the 32 kilometre Bluff Wilderness Trail: Close to Halifax, it meanders into the heart of St. Margaret’s Bay peninsula and can include bear and moose sightings.
“Also, Cape Chignecto Provincial Park offers one of the province’s few multiday hikes. More than two-thirds of its route traces the Bay of Fundy shoreline – which means towering cliffs and campsites in sheltered coves.”
Across the Strait of Canso, Cape Breton is equally enticing, he adds. There’s one trail in particular he loves in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. “Franey is a personal favourite, with an arduous climb delivering you to the edge of a 300 metre cliff. An autumn sunrise here, with the valley a carpet of golden tamarack, is magical.”
Now living in Montreal – Haynes’s latest tome is Hiking Trails of Montréal and Beyond – he regards the Charlevoix region as “the best hiking east of the Rockies.”
In the Laurentians, Quebec’s La Mauricie National Park offers trails for all skill levels. Valérie Therrien, park spokeswoman, recommends the marsh-and-boardwalk Les Cascades trail, Lac-Solitaire’s shoreline lookout route and the 17-kilometre Deux-Criques. “It’s one of the park’s most beautiful and demanding trails. You’ll have to ford a brook, but you’ll also see the Ruisseau du Fou falls.”
Backpackers similarly love the Gaspé Peninsula, along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River and by the Bay of Chaleur.
On the north shore of Lake Superior, hikers will find Pukaskwa National Park in Northern Ontario. This hikers’ hot spot has a lot to offer, says park spokeswoman Annique Maheu. “The short Southern Headland Trail is great in summer for crashing waves, arctic flowers and spectacular Hattie Cove, Pulpwood Harbour and Horseshoe Bay views,” she says, adding that the full-day hike to White River Canyon and Suspension Bridge on the popular Coastal Hiking Trail is another favourite.
Beyond Pukaskwa, she recommends Beausoleil Island in Georgian Bay Islands National Park plus Bruce Peninsula National Park’s Georgian Bay to Marr Lake Trail for its “turquoise waters and natural caves.”
“We’re blessed with more access to natural spaces than almost any country,” Haynes says. “Take advantage and the rewards will be far greater than you can imagine.”
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