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The First-Timer's Guide to the Great Trail

Get ready for your next adventure on The Great Trail

|February 11, 2021
Ruta is a country-hopper, having lived in 6 different countries, but Vilnius is the city where she always returns. She enjoys chasing the latest travel trends and creating soul-filled content.

Most outdoor enthusiasts consider the Great Trail in Canada as the holy grail of hiking. For a first-timer, there's a lot you need to learn about the route before you plan your trip.

The Trail stretches for 27,000 kilometers across the country and consists of an elaborate network of multi-use trails. Reflecting on its name, the Great Trail represents the vastness of Canadian lands and the country’s diverse culture.

two friends hiking mountains in summer

Almost 30 years ago, Dr. Pierre Camu together with William Pratt had the vision to share Canada’s magnificence by starting a unified Trail system, creating a connection from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic ocean. The project quickly gained momentum. And after 25 years in the making, the Great Trail was completed in 2017 and is a truly one-of-a-kind attraction. 

Not only for hikers

With a myriad of land and water trails, paths, roads, and routes, the Great Trail offers so many more activities than just hiking. Since the trails are multi-use, you can also cycle, ride, cross-country ski, dog sled, and, of course, hike. As the longest recreational Trail in the world, the attraction stretches along greenways, waterways, and roadways, so canoeists, kayakers, and paddleboarders are welcome, too! 

woman cross country skiing in a snowy canadian forest

1,031-mile waterway section

Among the many water-based routes at the Great Trail, the longest waterway spans the mighty length of 1,031 miles (1,659.5 km). To put it in perspective, the distance is two times longer than the distance between Alberta and British Columbia. The Mackenzie River  the longest river in the country  is also part of the trail’s grand network. It's no surprise why the Great Trail becomes a paddler's paradise in the summertime. 

Located within a close reach

Going on a trek seems like at least a day or two long commitment, but the Great Trail is in closer proximity to most parts of Canada than you might think. According to Trans Canada Trail (TCT), the organization responsible for caring for the route, four out of five Canadians live within a 30-minute reach of a branch of the network. 

woman hiking a forest path with large trees

A 2-year-long walk

If you are considering walking the entire Great Trail, then it will be an adventure  the route takes a couple years to complete! At approximately 16,700 miles (27,000 km), the cross-country trek runs from St. John’s in Newfoundland all the way to Victoria in British Columbia. TCT has calculated that while moving at the speed of 18.6 miles (30 km) per day, it would take approximately 26 months in total.  

One of the largest volunteer projects

The people behind the 25-year-long completion process of the Great Trail are volunteers. To this day, the community-based effort encompasses the creation, organization, and daily maintenance of the trail. The project is led by a non-profit organization called TCT, which establishes partnerships and works with local municipalities, national agencies, landowners, financial donors, and dedicated volunteers.  

hiking trail sign in canada

The inception

In 1992, a group of purposeful Canadians had the inspiration to connect all local trails into a national system of trails. This meant building new paths, improving existing ones, as well as planning the development and workforce. Keep in mind that Canada is the second-largest country in the world, so there was a lot of manual and strategic work ahead.  

The original vision remains today: to make nature more accessible and to create the sensation of a giant park wherever you are. Despite being an ever-evolving project, the Great Trail was finished in 2017, simultaneously marking Canada's 150th anniversary. 

Car-free zone

Since the trail has greenways, waterways, and roadways, the location is the perfect place to explore with a variety of transport options, except for cars. David Hargrave, who was involved at an early stage of the project, initiated a shared cause: to reduce the number of car accidents where cyclists and hikers were harmed. As a result, the Great Trail is distanced from highways and traffic-heavy roads. 

trekking in summer near a river and a forest

Find a trail in your area

Once you’ve learned about the Great Trail, its history, and mission, you can choose a specific path that suits your interests. A convenient way to explore your options is to download the Great Trail app or a map specially created to help you find a route in close proximity to your location. You can also explore various Trails located in desired provinces and territories. Otherwise, take a shortcut and read about the experiences of knowledgeable hikers online.  

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