Story by Lisa Jackson
Let’s face it: Canada is the bomb diggity when it comes to nature.
We’ve got everything from fjords to rainforests to tundra to the world’s largest non-polar ice caps. Our country possesses one big backyard and some of the best hikes in the world.
I have always found hiking to be therapeutic: gravel crunching under your feet, scaling a challenging path, being lost in your own thoughts. If you’re lucky, you might have a rare wildlife sighting or explore a site that would be otherwise inaccessible. And, of course, it feels incredible to reach the summit and crack open that celebratory bottle of champagne (shhh … don’t tell the park rangers!).
To get you moving, I’ve listed some of my favourite hiking trails in Canada, along with a handful that I aspire to trek in the future. Some trails are well-known; others may surprise you. And this is by no means a complete list.
Before you go, remember to wear waterproof hiking shoes (with traction) and loose, comfortable hiking pants (no jeans). Above all, carry at least one litre of water per person. If you really have no idea what you’re doing, talk to the park ranger or a guide before setting out. Because rescue operations aren’t fun for anyone.
1. East Sooke Park (Vancouver Island)
Take a walk on the wild side — through rainforest, giant boulders and beaches in East Sooke Regional Park, just a 45-minute drive from Victoria. Although the scenery is captivating, it’s the wildlife spotting that steals the show. In just a few hours, I spotted a marten, poison plants, jellyfish, starfish, crabs, eels, seals and a bald eagle. If you go with Rainforest Tours, you’ll learn a lot about nature along the way. On my walk, the guide flipped over rocks to show just how much wildlife thrives in the nooks and crannies of the earth. Along the hike, you can also view the ancient petroglyphs (rock carvings) in this British Columbia park.
2. Rouge National Urban Park (Ontario)
It’s only 20 minutes by car from downtown Toronto to Canada’s only national urban park. Hit the lush trails for a free guided hike through farms, meadows, forests and wetlands. Some have special themes too — such as fitness challenges, learning about animal tracks or wildlife photography, and walks for dog lovers or families. Sure, it’s in the GTA, but you can hike year-round and see tons of wildlife. I snapped a picture of a deer sleeping in the snow — so don’t forget your camera.
3. Kluane National Park and Reserve (Yukon Territory)
If there was a Fight Club for hikes, this park would dominate. It’s so majestic that it makes anyone believe in a higher power.
Kluane National Park is home to Canada’s highest peak, Mount Logan (so big that it has its own weather system), the world’s largest non-polar ice caps and is a human free sanctuary to thousands of species of wildlife. Spanning a wild and open 21,980 square kilometres, the park holds the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That’s even better than a Canadian Heritage Minute commercial.
If the prospect of grizzlies make you poop your pants, there’s a solution: call Brent Liddle, master hiker, wilderness guide and 30-year veteran of Parks Canada to guide you on a spectacular mountain hike. This man is the poster boy of “Bear Aware” and has even (successfully) handled bear encounters.
At the top, incredible views of the park serve as a reward for your bravery and physical efforts. But don’t be fooled: This isn’t child’s play and hikers have disappeared into Kluane’s wilderness. Know your limits, pay attention to signage, and, above all, respect nature.
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4. Greenwich Dunes Trail, Prince Edward Island National Park (Prince Edward Island)
If you crave serene and simple, this trail is for you. Hike the Greenwich Dunes Trail, which involves walking through forest and along a boardwalk floating over a pond. The trail leads to one of the Island’s most fabulous beaches heaped with sand dunes. This trail is relatively flat and short (45 minutes), so it’s a good one for beginners. At the end, kick off your shoes, settle into the sand and enjoy a picnic lunch on the beach.
5. Tombstone Territorial Park (Yukon Territory)
On the Dempster Highway, this remote park is ideal for serious trekkers. Here amongst the black granite peaks and rolling tundra landscapes, you can do a day hike or a multi-day trekking excursion. Plus, there are plenty of Yukon adventure companies that offer the full gamut of wilderness experiences in Tombstone, from hiking and backpacking to photo safaris to cultural tours.
If you’re a beginner, it’s also worth the two-hour drive from Dawson City just to see 2,200 square kilometres of raw wilderness. The park has an ethereal atmosphere: rugged peaks jut out of the landscape, making the park resemble a grave marker (hence the name). Stop by the Interpretive Centre, where you will be greeted with a mug of Mountain Wild Tea, a crackling fire and a whiteboard listing wildlife sightings (“Five Grizzlies by 10am?!”). In the late summer and early autumn, the entire tundra valley erupts in hues of crimson, orange and gold, offering some gem photographs.
On the trail, don’t be surprised if you run into wildlife. I encountered a rather sassy-looking marmot, striking a pose on a rock and just begging to be photographed.
If you were inspired by Wild, this trail may be up your alley. It’s a spectacular 75-kilometre backpacking trail following the southwestern edge of Vancouver Island. And it offers so much more than rainforest and beaches alone.
On the trail, trekkers walk in the footsteps of the First Nations. The route is part of the ancient paths and paddling routes used for trade and travel by the indigenous communities that always lived along the west coast of Vancouver Island. Later in 1907, the trail was used to rescue survivors of shipwrecks on the coast, known as part of the treacherous “Graveyard of the Pacific.”
Today, it’s part of Pacific Rim National Park and has been rated one of the world’s top hiking trails. But know what you’re getting into before attempting this hike. Hikers must reserve a spot on the trail, get a permit and attend an orientation session before setting out. It involves about 5-7 days in the backcountry, hiking along rugged, uneven ground. Along the way, there are as many as 70 ladders, 130 bridges and four cable cars. And yes, Virginia, there are wild animals: bears and big cats do venture this far out.
7. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve (Vancouver Island)
If you’re not ready to hike the West Coast Trail, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve has tons of day hikes for less seasoned trekkers. A plethora of trails await with rainforest, beaches and wildlife (watch out for giant slugs!) to explore.
The Rainforest Trail and Schooner Cove Trail are good warm-up hikes. The Schooner Cove trail descends through young and old cedar forest and ends on the beach overlooking the village of Esowista, belonging to the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, who have lived along this shore for centuries.
In case you didn’t know, this national park near Tofino is located on the traditional territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations. Take the Nuu-chah-nulth Trail to learn more about this community’s history, traditions and culture. It’s a 2.5-kilometre interpretive walk with descriptive markers along the way that offer a glimpse into Nuu-chah-nulth culture and explains how the land and seas were so essential to this people’s survival. Totally worth the walk!
8. Lake Agnes Trail, Banff National Park (Alberta)
Banff National Park’s stunning scenery will knock your socks off from any angle. But the best way to get amazing views is by hiking the trails.
A golden oldie is the Lake Agnes Trail, a 6.8-kilmetre trip that starts at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and ascends into the surrounding mountains, taking about three hours to complete. It’s a fairly easy hike through forest that yields panoramic views of the mountains. Plus, there’s a prize at the end. The hike leads to a historic teahouse overlooking Lake Agnes, where you can enjoy a warm drink and a slice of pie.
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9. Gros Morne National Park (Newfoundland & Labrador)
You don’t have to visit Norway to see fjords: Newfoundland’s got ’em.
Gros Morne is the second-largest national park in eastern Canada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a kickass place for hiking. There are more than 100 kilometres of trails in the park, ranging from half-hour strolls to arduous day hikes.
For fjords, take the Western Brook Pond Trail. It’s an easy walk that takes about an hour to complete (one way), and leads to a boat tour that can take you through the fjord. If you opt to stay on land, the view of the cliffs of Western Brook Pond is reason enough to do this hike.
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10. Killarney Provincial Park (Ontario)
Killarney’s sapphire blue waters and white quartzite mountains are simply bewitching. It’s hard to believe that this park was once slated for development, and exists thanks to the efforts of Group of Seven artist A. Y. Jackson. Alarmed by impending logging of the land, Jackson lobbied the government to conserve it.
Now, Killarney is a hiker’s playground. The park has six backcountry hiking trails, ranging from 2 to 80km, and five day-use hiking trails. If you’re fit and seeking panoramic views, do “The Crack” Trail. It’s a 6-km challenging uphill trek amongst giant white cliffs, but the view from the top of Killarney Ridge is gobsmacking. Regardless of which one you take, make sure to bring sturdy footwear, as the trails span across uneven and rocky terrain.
READ MORE ABOUT CANADA’S NATIONAL PARKS ON VACAY.CA