Best time to visit Alberta

The Great Divide Trail

This great corridor along the Canadian Rocky Mountains divides two of Canada's provinces

The Great Divide Trail in Alberta - Best Time
Photo by

Warren Long

Sometimes referred to as a wilderness route rather than a national trail, the Great Divide Trail runs across the wildest part of the Canadian Rockies. If you venture to hike this trail, you will be exposed to glacial streams, grizzly bears, summer snowstorms, mosquitoes, no cell phone reception, difficult mountain navigation, scarce campsites, and a very short hiking season that only begins in July and is over by mid-September. Although it sounds quite challenging and a bit daunting, the hike promises to be rather rewarding.

The starting point is located in Waterton Lakes National Park which is close to the Canada-US border and continue 1,125 kilometres to the north ending in Kakwa Provincial Park. The trail follows the continental border between two of Canada's provinces—Alberta and British Columbia. To be more precise, it crosses the division line at around 30 points which leads to 65% of the trail being found in Alberta, and the remaining 35% in B.C. Among the highlights of the Great Divide Trail are five national parks, including Waterton Lakes, Kootenay, Banff, Jasper, and Yoho. You will also cross eight provincial parks, three Wildland provincial parks, two wilderness areas, two special management areas, and five forest districts. The highest point of the route is 2,590 m near Michele Lakes, south of the White Goat Wilderness Area, and the lowest area lies at 1,055 m at Old Fort Point trailhead, which is near Jasper.

One of the world's most challenging and yet most scenic trails is still not officially recognized, which is probably why it is neither properly marked nor equipped with campsites and the necessary staff. Today, the GDT is being promoted and protected by the Great Divide Trail Association which was founded in 1975. The first record of the trail itself dates back to 1966 when it was proposed by the Girl Guides of Canada. The first GDT guide appeared a few years later—in 1970, and the construction of the trail began only in 1976 led by six students with funds provided by the Opportunities for Youth program.

Thousands cross the Great Divide Trail partially, with much fewer managing to hike the entire route. One of the most common reasons is the short season—you could start the hike in late June at best and finish by mid-September. Two months and a half seems very short for 1,125 kilometres.

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