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the big hike

1. West Coast Trail, Vancouver Island, B.C.

Arguably the most famous Canadian hike, the trail winds through 75 kilometres of rain forest and pristine beaches on southwest Vancouver Island. Waist-deep mud, high tides and dozens of ladders make for a gruelling trek, but all is forgiven while relaxing at Chez Monique's on-trail restaurant or watching the whales frolic at sunset from your oceanfront campsite. Intermediate: Five to seven day hike.

2. Sunshine Village to Mount Assiniboine, Banff National Park, Alta.

Gain access to some of the most stunning scenery in the Canadian Rockies with this well-marked 56-km trail that meanders past wildflower-strewn meadows, alpine lakes and glaciers. The trail travels through a UNESCO World Heritage Site to Mount Assiniboine, known as the Matterhorn of the Rockies. The hike can be shortened to about 30 km with a helicopter ride. Beginner: Three to five day hike; or cover a section in one day.

3. Long Range Traverse, Gros Morne National Park, Nfld.

Any visit to Gros Morne in Western Newfoundland is a treat, but the Long Range Traverse offers intrepid travellers a chance to explore about 35 km of the area's coastal cliffs and glacier-carved gorges. Changeable weather and the lack of any established hiking trails make this trip too challenging for novices. Park rangers require backpackers to prove their map-and-compass skills before issuing a permit. Advanced: Three day hike; other trails in the park can be day-hiked.

4. Chilkoot Trail, B.C. and Alaska

Trace the historic steps of the Yukon gold miners while camping amid a backdrop of glaciers and towering peaks. This 53-km trail, which straddles the borders between Alaska, the Yukon and B.C., is like a living history museum rife with artifacts from the days of the Klondike Gold Rush. The all-day scramble up Chilkoot Pass gives hikers a clear picture of the challenges faced by 19th-century miners in search of their fortune. Beginner, but only advanced hikers should attempt the trail before mid-July: Four day trip, two for experienced hikers.

5. Tombstone Traverse, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon

Within driving distance of the Arctic Circle, the Tombstone mountain range is known as the Patagonia of the North for its jagged pinnacles of black granite. Travellers can navigate the lone hiking trail (an 18-km round trip) from the Dempster Highway to Grizzly Lake. Hardier souls should continue into grizzly country and follow the Tombstone range for about 40 kilometres. Intermediate-Advanced: Five day hike for complete route.

Tamsin McMahon is an avid hiker and completed the 4,260-kilometre Pacific Crest Trail last year.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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