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The Great Divide Trail: Canada’s Most Epic Thru Hike

Stretching 1,123km along the formidable Rockies, the Great Divide Trail is Canada’s ultimate long distance hiking adventure.

This rugged route crosses the Continental Divide between British Columbia and Alberta no less than 30 times, passing hanging glaciers, vibrant wildflower meadows, snow capped peaks, turquoise lakes and more.

A dirt hiking trail travels through wildflower meadows on the Great Divide Trail, with towering mountain peaks in background
Hiking towards Wolverine Pass on the GDT

The Great Divide Trail (GDT) can be explored on short day hikes, longer backpacking trips or as a 6 to 8 week thru-hike.

Keep reading to discover a brief history of the trail, a rundown of the route and essential planning information as well as a summary of our own experience hiking a section of the GDT, Canada’s #wildestthruhike!

Back view of Gemma looking towards the diamond shaped snow capped peak of Mount Assiniboine, with Lake Magog at the base
Mount Assiniboine

Think of it as a ‘quick and dirty’ overview of the Great Divide Trail, a starting point for further research.

Here’s the breakdown:

Published September 2022. We stayed at Sunshine Mountain Lodge courtesy of Banff Sunshine and Ski Big 3. There are some affiliate links in this post. If you make a purchase via one of these links, we may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.

Snow capped mountain reflections on calm Floe Lake, with trees on either side
Floe Lake

Backcountry necessities

Introducing the Great Divide Trail

The Great Divide Trail is a challenging wilderness path traversing the Canadian Rockies, from Waterton Lakes National Park in the south to Kakwa Provincial Park (north of Mount Robson).

A combination of established hiking trails and rugged routes, the GDT winds through five national parks (Waterton, Banff, Kootenay, Yoho and Jasper), eight provincial parks, three wildland provincial parks, two wilderness areas, two special management areas, and five forest districts.

Back view of Gemma hiking Whistling Pass, with mountains on right hand side
Whistling Pass

Most of the GDT is located in the alpine, in the midst of soaring peaks and glaciers. Some of Canada’s most iconic mountain landscapes are showcased on the GDT, including Mount Assiniboine, the Rockwall and Mount Robson.

There are plenty of lesser known highlights as well and these can often be enjoyed without a single other hiker in sight. Some sections of the GDT are extremely remote, true wilderness areas with very little development or visitation.

The chance of seeing wildlife is high too, with local residents including grizzly and black bears, elk, coyote, deer and big horn sheep.

Needless to say, the GDT offer a truly magnificent hiking experience in one of the most beautiful regions in the world.

Here are some quick facts:

  • 1,123 kilometres – 35% in BC, 65% in Alberta
  • Highest point: 2,590 m (8,497 ft)
  • Lowest point: 1,055 m (3,461 ft)
  • Construction began in 1976
  • Around 150-200 people attempt to thru-hike the GDT each year

The Great Divide Trail Association maintains, protects, and promotes the GDT. Donations are appreciated.

Back view of tent on gravel pad in front of calm Og Lake
Og Lake

A brief history of the GDT

The Great Divide Trail traverses dozens of mountain passes, many of which have been used for trading and travel for thousands of years.

Early origins

The route spans the traditional lands of the Anishinabe, Aseniwuche Winewak, Dene-zaa, Nêhiyawak, Secwépemc, Tsuut’ina, Stoney-Nakoda Nation Bearspaw, Chiniki and Wesley bands, Ktunaxa, Secwépemc, Cree, Lheidli T’enneh, Métis and the Blackfoot Confederacy Nations. Some areas are part of Treaty 6, 7 and 8.

The idea for the GDT as we know it today was born in 1966, when the Girl Guides of Canada proposed the idea of a trail along the mountainous border of BC and Alberta.

The first ever trail guide was created by Jim Thorsell in 1970, based on a provisional route. While the national park service initially approved the idea of the GDT, the project later stalled.

The first formal survey took place by six students from the Opportunities for Youth (OFY) program in the early 1970s. They concentrated on the unprotected area between Banff and Waterton national parks.

With the feasibility of the project established, the Great Divide Trail Association (GDTA) was formed in 1975. The first official stretch of the GDT was built not long after, with financial assistance from the Alberta government.

Back view of Gemma and JR sat on rock next to Haiduk Lake, which is very calm and reflecting the mountains above
Haiduk Lake

The GDT as we know it today

Development stalled in the 1990s but was revived again in the early 2000s. A new group, the Friends of the Great Divide Trail (later merging into the Association), took up the task of maintenance and advocacy.

Since 2013, the Great Divide Trail Association has been working to improve the condition, routing and prominence of the GDT with regular trail building, maintenance trips and promotion.

For a more detailed account of the history of the GDT, head to the Great Divide Trail Association’s website.

Looking through small trees down to turquoise coloured Marvel lake, with mountains and glacier above
Marvel Lake

The Great Divide Trail route

The Great Divide Trail traverses 1,123km from the International Boundary in Watertotn National Park to Kakwa Provincial Park.

The route is divided into seven sections:

  • Section A: Waterton to Coleman, 144km
  • Section B: Coleman to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, 179km
  • Section C: Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to Field, 201km
  • Section D: Field to Saskatchewan Crossing, 105km
  • Section E: Saskatchewan Crossing to Jasper, 188km
  • Section F: Jasper to Mount Robson, 122km
  • Section G: Mount Robson to Kakwa Provincial Park, 160km

The trailheads for each section are road accessible, although some of these roads are unpaved.

Not a designated hiking trail itself, the GDT is actually a combination of other trails. Some of Canada’s most popular trails form part of the GDT’s route, such as the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park and the Skyline in Jasper National Park.

As well as the main GDT route, there are various ‘alternates’ that hikers can choose from.

Looking across Egypt Lake, which is backdropped by forest and mountains. JR is swimming in the lake; his head is visible.
Egypt Lake

Thru-hiking the GDT

A standard thru-hike of the Great Divide Trail, from Waterton National Park to Kakwa Provincial Park, takes around six weeks at 25km/day pace. Some people hike a little slower and finish in eight weeks.

Experienced thru-hikers typically spend four to five weeks hiking the GDT.

A significant number of people attracted to the GDT are Triple Crowners, hikers who have completed the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail.

Close up of huge multi layered glacier on the Rockwall Trail, on the side of a rugged mountain
Tumbling Glacier

The fastest known time for hiking the GDT is 20 days, held by Canmore resident Andrew Cotterell. The fastest yo-yo was completed by Elaine Bissonho (Brazil Nut) in 52 days.

The original northern trailhead for the GDT was Mount Robson Provincial Park. Some northbound thru-hikers still finish here (or Jasper) to avoid the logistical issue of returning from Kawa. It does mean skipping some of the most remote and rugged parts of the GDT, however.

A few dozen truly adventurous folks have successfully attempted to continue hiking past Kakwa, continuing along the Continental Divide to Monkman Provincial Park near Tumbler Ridge. This so called ‘Section H’ involves 150km of challenging hiking, with plenty of bushwhacking.

Side view of Gemma standing on dirt path leading along rocky ridge
Side trail above Floe Lake

Section hiking the GDT

If a thru-hike of the GDT isn’t on the cards for you, consider hiking a segment of the route. Choose one of the defined sections as described above, or pick your own trailhead and length of hike.

In August 2022, we hiked a significant percentage of Section C (more information later in this post). Starting at the Paint Pots trailhead in Kootenay National Park, we linked up with the GDT close to Helmet Falls and then followed the trail to the turnoff near Mount Shark in Spray Valley Provincial Park.

Section C is one of the busiest areas of the GDT and also one of the most popular to section hike, due to the road access. Sections A, D and E are also common choices for section hiking as they also have good trailhead accessibility.

Bright cloudy blue coloured river running through rocky gorge with trees on either side and mountain in background
Kootenay River

Great Divide Trail planning guide

Inspired to hike part of the Great Divide Trail? Start your planning here!

Maps

  • The GDTA website has a Google Map featuring the GPS data for the Great Divide Trail. It is useful for quick reference and/or general orientation
  • Ryan Silk has produced a series of topographic maps, kindly available to GDT hikers for free. The entire file is 282mb, with 87 pages at 1:50,000 scale. Note that the maps are from 2017 and do not reflect some recent routing changes
  • Gem Trek sells a series of topographic maps of the Rockies, with most of the GDT marked. National Geographic has illustrated maps as well
  • A GPS enabled map is available through the FarOut app. The app itself is free but section maps have a small fee (some of which goes to the GDTA)
  • We personally used the Maps.me app while hiking part of Section C – maps can be downloaded and then used offline. We found the GDT routing and campsite locations to be accurate on the trail section we hiked
Looking down on JR hiking on narrow trail along base of huge limestone cliff
Hiking the GDT southbound

When to go

Being located in the alpine of the Canadian Rockies, the window to safely thru-hike the Great Divide Trail is pretty small, from late June to mid September. Most thru-hikers spend five to eight weeks on the GDT.

Snow levels always fluctuate from year to year. In 2022, the winter snow pack was on the larger side and spring temperatures lower than normal. Late June NOBOs found themselves hiking on significant snow in Section A and B.

Starting a northbound hike in Waterton in mid July usually offers the chance to hike an almost completely snow free trail. It does, however, mean that there will be less water sources around.

Leaving later than this can be a gamble. September can be a bit hit or miss, with winter weather sometimes coming in hard and fast. Some years, it can be warm-ish (at least during the day) until October.

Of course, freezing temperatures and snow are possible at any time of year in the alpine.

We hiked 140km on the GDT from 18th to 28th August 2022, experiencing temperatures between -3c at night to +28c during the day.

The most ideal time to section hike the GDT is late July to late August. This period offers the best chance of warm weather and a clear trail. Wildfire smoke is a risk anytime during the summer, but is more common in mid to late August.

Looking up to Ball Glacier, which sits between two mountain peaks, with forest on the base
Ball Pass

Direction

Most hikers navigate the Great Divide Trail in a northbound direction. The southern mountains are safer to travel earlier in the season. The weather is also usually warmer. As hikers travel north, temperatures increase. And any remaining snow melts.

Another reason for hiking northbound is the multiple river crossings. The glacier-fed rivers and streams in the northern sections are dangerous to cross when water levels are high. The highest water levels are usually seen in June and July, sometimes August as well.

Looking across calm and reflective Scarab Lake, which features a large mountain range behind
Scarab Lake

Access

  • The GDT’s southern trailhead is located on the International Boundary in Waterton National Park. Waterton is a three hour drive from Calgary. A shuttle bus runs from Calgary airport to Waterton. Alternatively, there is the option to take a bus to Pincher Creek and then taxi to Waterton
  • The GDT’s original northern trailhead was in Mount Robson Provincial Park, west of Jasper. The newer, extended trailhead is Kakwa, a remote location 75km from Highway 16. A 4WD high clearance vehicle is required to drive the muddy access road. A shuttle service is available
  • Section hikers have a number of different trailheads to choose from. Popular options include Jasper, Saskatchewan Crossing, Field, Floe Lake, Sunshine Village, Mount Shark, Upper Kananaskis Lake, Coleman, Waterton
  • There are also opportunities to join the GDT from a multitude of interconnected trails such as the Brazeau Loop (Jasper NP), Helmet Creek Trail (Kootenay NP), Redearth Creek Trail/Shadow Lake Trail (Banff NP)
Close up of vibrant red and yellow wildflowers in front of mountains, which feature snow at their base
Wildflowers on the Rockwall

The Great Divide Trail is an amalgamation of trails spread over a large geographical area. As such, signage and trail condition varies hugely across the route.

In some places, the trail is more like a wilderness route and navigational skills are required. There are multiple river crossings without bridges on the GDT, particularly in Section D.

Maintenance is inconsistent too – the popular areas are cleared quicker, while the more rugged areas not at all.

There are some official Great Divide Trail signs found along the trail in section A, B, C and G, but besides that, hikers must use maps and follow signage for other named trails. We didn’t see a single reference to the Great Divide Trail on our recent 140km hike in Section C.

As mentioned in relevant section above, there is a downloadable GPS-enabled map of the Great Divide Trail on the FarOut app. This app can be used offline. A portion of every sale of the guide goes to the GDTA. Of course, hikers should always bring a map and compass as well.

A small dirt trail leads away from camera towards mountain range. There is a river winding its way down from the mountain to the left
Between Floe Lake and Highway 93

Resources

Side view of JR standing on suspension bridge over cloudy blue river on the Rockwall Trail
Helmet Falls Trail (technically not the GDT, but we used it to access the GDT!)

Permits and fees

The Great Divide Trail is not formally designated as a trail by the Canadian, BC or Alberta governments so there is no singular permit system (like the PCT or AT).

The land that the GDT sits on is controlled by a variety of different land managers. It can be a bit complicated to get your head around all the different permit systems while planning a GDT hike:

  • National parks (Waterton, Banff, Kootenay, Yoho and Jasper): All visitors need a valid park pass. For 7+ days, a Discovery Pass provides best value – $72.25. On top of that, a backcountry permit is required for camping – $10.50/night. Campsite reservations are required in certain areas – $11.50 fee
  • Provincial parks – Permit registration required for backcountry camping – up to $10/night. Three parks (Assiniboine, Mount Robson and Peter Lougheed) require campsite reservations – up to $12 fee
  • Public land in AlbertaPublic Lands Camping Pass required to random camp on public land in limited areas of section A, E and G – $30 for annual pass

Outside of these areas, no permit or camping fee is required.

Acquiring some of the above permits can be tricky, especially those in Section C as well as parts of Section D and F (before the Berg Lake Trail closed in 2021, tentative reopening date is 2024).

Looking across small rocky stream to larch forest, with rugged mountains above
Heading up Wonder Pass

Camping

The GDT passes through, or close to, a number of different campgrounds. These range from rustic backcountry sites to developed vehicle accessible campgrounds.

Random camping is an option in some areas (when Leave No Trace principles are used), but hikers need to be careful to understand exactly which areas allow this type of camping and which kind of permit is required. More information on the GDTA website here.

GDT hikers must stay in designated campgrounds in most national and provincial parks. A permit is required. The best way to secure one is with a reservation.

  • Reservations for Banff, Kootenay, Yoho and Jasper national parks usually open in January and February each year.
  • Specific launch dates for each national park are listed on this page and are usually updated towards the end of the calendar year.
  • Reservations for backcountry camping in Banff, Kootenay & Yoho open up on the same day, with Jasper on a separate day
  • Backcountry camping reservations in Waterton National Park can only be made in person or by phone.
  • Reservations for Mount Assiniboine and Mount Robson (when open) operate with a rolling two month window. For example, 10th August will be available to book on 10th June.
  • Availability for backcountry reservations in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park opens 90 days ahead.
Set up tent on gravel pad in front of turquoise coloured Floe Lake, backdropped by soaring mountains
Campsite at Floe Lake

Reservation tips

  • If you don’t already have an account, go to the relevant website prior to the reservation launch and create one ahead of time
  • Practice practice practice! Availability for some popular campgrounds (Floe Lake, Magog Lake, Skyline Trail) disappear within minutes. You’ll need to be fast and know exactly what you’re doing to secure a reservation
  • To reserve campsites in the national parks, you must know the trailhead where you’ll be starting. Note that the online system does not allow for long hiking days (25km+). A phone call to the relevant park office would be required in this instance
  • Enlist a friend or family member if you can, to help improve your chances to secure spots
  • Navigate to the website at least 10 minutes prior to the reservation launch so you can be ready to go as soon as it opens
  • Parks Canada uses a waiting room system – at the exact time of reservation launch, all website visitors are allocated a random number and placed in a queue accordingly. Use multiple devices to improve your chances of a lower number
  • A credit card is only required after a reservation has been placed in your basket. At this point, you’ll be given 15 minutes to check out
  • Didn’t get lucky? Wait at least 15 minutes to see if any users fail to complete their booking
  • Consider using a service like CampNab if you don’t manage to secure the reservations you need. CampNab automatically scans cancellations and sends a notification when a site is available
Screenshot of Parks Canada Reservation Service website, with 'you are now in line' title
One of the hardest parts of hiking the GDT is securing campsite reservations!

Resupply

Most GDT thru-hikers will carry food supplies for 4-9 days and pickup resupply boxes along the way.

Unlike the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail, the GDT is not regularly crossed by main roads. Resupply locations are therefore limited and hikers need to plan ahead.

The following locations offer hiker facilities as well as resupply box holding services (unless otherwise noted).

  • Waterton Townsite, kilometre 6.7 – accommodation, restaurants, outdoor gear shop, campground
  • Castle Mountain Ski Resort, kilometre 63 – hostel, pub, guest services office
  • Coleman, kilometre 144 – post office, accommodation, restaurants, convenience store
  • Blairmore, kilometre 144 + 5 – post office, accommodation, restaurants, outdoor gear shop, supermarket
  • Boulton Creek Trading Postkilometre 337.2 + 2 – small convenience store (does not accept resupply packages)
  • Mount Engadine Lodge, kilometre 389.9 – accommodation, afternoon tea service
  • Sunshine Village, kilometre 433.8 + 1.3 – accommodation, restaurants, guest services office, gondola + shuttle to Banff
  • Field, kilometre 540.3 – accommodation, general store, restaurant and café
  • Saskatchewan Crossing, kilometre 646 – accommodation, restaurant, general store
  • Jasper, kilometre 835 – post office, accommodation, restaurants, supermarket, outdoor gear shop
  • Mount Robson, kilometre 937 + 28 – café, convenience store, campground

Some nearby businesses and ‘Trail Angels’ also offer box holding, please refer to the full list on the GDT Association website.

Looking up to large waterfall cascading down rock face, surrounde by forest
Numa Pass

Safety

The GDT is one of the most challenging backpacking trails in Canada. Hikers must be self sufficient. Here are some of the hazards:

  • Remote location – No phone signal, limited access, some sections have very little foot traffic
  • Wildlife – The GDT is located in prime grizzly and black bear habitat. Other local residents include wolverine, elk, deer, coyote, wolf, moose. Hikers need to know how to avoid negative encounters and store food properly
  • Navigation – Some sections feature a well defined, regularly maintained trail. In remote areas, the trail is sometimes non-existent
  • Weather – Most of the GDT is located in the alpine, where snow is possible even in the height of summer. Heatwaves are not uncommon
  • Stream and river crossings – The trail crosses many glacier-fed rivers and streams; some crossings do not have bridges
  • Trail condition – Depending on the winter snowpack and weather, the path may have snow. Some sections may be muddy, overgrown and/or covered in blowdown
  • Mountainous terrain – The GDT climbs one summit and many mountain passes, with some steep ascents. It can be very strenuous. Some sections are easier than others, however
  • Mosquitoes and deer flies – The bugs can be ferocious in July and August. Wasps can also be prevalent in some areas
  • Short season – As a general rule, the GDT is most safely hiked from late June to mid September. Most thru-hikers spend 6-8 weeks on the 1,123km long trail
Back view of JR hiking down trail through wildflower meadows, with turquoise Floe Lake visible in background with soaring mountains as a backdrop
Floe Lake

Essential items

With the GDT travelling through many alpine areas with high bear populations, hikers need to think carefully about food storage.

Provincial and national park campgrounds usually provide facilities, either a cable system or metal cache.

Tall trees are hard to find in the alpine (for hanging food), so Ursacks (bear resistant bags) are popular. An alternative is to use a hard sided bear canister, but these are awkward to carry.

I would also consider bear spray to be an essential for hiking the GDT. Negative bear encounters are rare but bear spray is an ideal ‘just in case’ measure. Carry it in an accessible place (a holster works well) and learn how to use it quickly.

Hiking poles can reduce pressure on the knees when descending. Incredibly light and foldable, Black Diamond’s Carbon Z poles are our tried and tested favourite pair.

With the remoteness of the trail in mind, a satellite communicator device is well worth its weight. Popular devices include the Spot or InReach (both brands are recommended by Search and Rescue organisations).

Looking up to castle lake rock formation high above a dirt hiking trail
Citadel Pass

Hiking the Great Divide Trail: Our experience

In August 2022, we hiked 140km from Paint Pots in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, to Mount Shark in Spray Valley Provincial Park, Alberta. Around 85% of our route was on the Great Divide Trail.

This section would typically be hiked by GDT thru-hikers in about five days. We spent double the time, enjoying a very leisurely pace. In hindsight, I’m glad we planned it this way as JR actually had a broken toe at the time.

Our itinerary was:

  • Day 1: Paint Pots to Helmet Falls, 15km
  • Day 2: Helmet Falls to Tumbling Creek, 12km
  • Day 3: Tumbling Creek to Numa Creek, 8km
  • Day 4: Numa Creek to Floe Lake, 10km
  • Day 5: Floe Lake to Trailhead, 10km
  • Day 6: Trailhead to Ball Pass, 11km
  • Day 7: Ball Pass to Egypt Lake, 8km
  • Day 8: Egypt Lake to Sunshine Village, 13km
  • Day 9: Sunshine Village to Og Lake, 21km
  • Day 10: Og Lake to Magog Lake, 5km
  • Day 11: Magog Lake to Mount Shark, 26km

Read on for the highlights (and some lowlights) of our incredible experience on the GDT, along with some helpful tips for those planning a similar trip.

Back view of JR standing next to green coloured pool, with rich ochre mud surrounding it
Paint Pots

Day 1 to 5: Paint Pots to Floe Lake (the Rockwall)

Our GDT experience started with a hitchhike from the Floe Lake parking lot. Luckily, it didn’t take long, thanks to a lovely couple from Barcelona. After passing the brightly coloured mineral pools of the Paint Pots, we headed into the shady forest and towards Helmet Falls.

The Great Divide Trail joined our route just before Helmet Falls, also the location of our campsite for the night. For the next three days, we paralleled the Rockwall, a huge limestone cliff featuring soaring peaks and hanging glaciers. We also ascended three passes.

Huge waterfall cascading down rockface above forest
Helmet Falls

The Rockwall Trail is one of BC’s premier backpacking trips and I can definitely see why (blog post coming soon). It was truly spectacular from start to finish.

Arriving back at our vehicle in the Floe Lake parking lot, it was a novelty to think that we were going to carry on hiking the very next day!

We were, however, quite happy to head to Johnston Canyon front country campground for the night. Utilising the facilities to their fullest, we washed clothes, enjoyed multiple hot showers and walked to the nearby restaurant for dinner. We were also able to resupply our First Aid kit and food bag.

Gemma is standing on dirt hiking trail (Great Divide Trail) with arms outstretched, backdropped by huge mountains
Happy to be hiking the GDT!

Day 6 to 8: Floe Lake to Sunshine Village

Back at Floe Lake parking lot in the morning, we crossed Highway 93 and headed up to Ball Pass. The 850m elevation gain was a lot more manageable than I had expected and we were soon rewarded with sweeping views of Ball Glacier, Shadow Lake and surrounding mountains. We lingered on the pass for some time before heading down to our nearby campsite.

On the way up, we had bumped into the only Great Divide Trail thru-hikers we would meet on our journey. Being that it was pretty late in the season, I was surprised and also pleased to see these northbound hikers.

Side view of JR hiking up rocky Whistling Pass trail, with endless mountains in background
Whistling Pass

Egypt Lake was our destination the next day, a relatively short hike over Whistling Pass. We stopped for a swim at Scarab Lake (1km off trail), with another in Egypt Lake in the evening.

Our final day in this section was even shorter, but still one of the most beautiful. We climbed up to Healy Pass and onto Sunshine Village, where a hotel room and several hot (non-dehydrated!) meals awaited us.

As you can imagine, I was looking forward to this stop and it surpassed all expectations. We soaked our tired bodies in the huge outdoor hot tub (one of the largest in Canada!) and enjoyed the mountain views.

Close up of salmon dish at Chimney Corner restaurant with cauliflower, carrot and salsa. There is a glass of white wine next to the white plate. Windows are visible in the background, with mountains beyond
Dinner at the Chimney Corner at Sunshine Village

Day 9 to 11: Sunshine Village to Mount Shark (via Mount Assiniboine)

Waking up after a very restful night at Sunshine Mountain Lodge, we picked up breakfast at the Java Express Coffee Bar and headed towards Mount Assiniboine.

This was familiar territory for us, having hiked to Assiniboine from Sunshine Village (and back) in July 2019. We had hoped for better weather, seeing as we had experienced torrential rain and snow last time.

Sunrise over Sunshine Village, with golden clouds over mountains and chairlift, with hotel building visible on left
Sunrise from our room at Sunshine Mountain Lodge

Sadly, it was not to be. We felt a little jinxed as we hiked across Sunshine Meadows in the pouring rain and then got hit by a thunderstorm right as we tried to put our tent up at Og Lake.

Half of our gear got absolutely soaked. On the up side, we did see the summit of Mount Assiniboine for the very first time at sunset!

Another thunderstorm rolled in the next day, just as we started to pack up. We hiked to Lake Magog in the torrential rain (another repeat of 2019!), which continued until the early hours.

Looking across purple wildflowers to Lake Magog, which is at the base of pyramid shaped Mount Assiniboine
Mount Assiniboine

Luckily, sunrise was clear. But we couldn’t stay very long – we had 26km to hike by 5pm. A good friend had kindly agreed to pick us up at Mount Shark trailhead and deliver us back to our vehicle at Floe Lake parking lot.

It was a long, but still scenic day (Wonder Pass and Marvel Lake were definite highlights). We said finally said goodbye to the GDT 6km from Mount Shark, vowing to return someday. This relatively small taster hike just wasn’t enough!

Bridge view of river in valley, with wildflowers on right hand bank with mountains rising on both sides
Bryant Creek, between Marvel Lake and Mount Shark

Thoughts, tips and planning advice

  • We made reservations for Helmet Falls, Tumbling Falls, Numa Creek and Floe Lake in January, during Kootenay National Park’s reservation launch
  • With the help of some CampNab cancellation scans (they offered us a free membership to try it out), we secured Ball Pass Junction and Egypt Lake in June
  • We then booked Mount Assiniboine two months before our trip, as per BC Parks’ current rolling reservation window
  • Staying at Sunshine Mountain Lodge was the perfect way to break up the trip. An early arrival allowed us plenty of time to enjoy the facilities (that hot tub!), savour three delicious meals (at three different restaurants) and take in the views
  • If we had not been able to stay at Sunshine Mountain Lodge, we would have tried to get a cancellation for Howard Douglas or pushed on to Porcupine (free, first come first serve)
  • Hitchhiking? Make a sign. We were picked up relatively quickly with a sign stating our destination (only `10km up the road). We saw other hitchhikers without signs waiting longer
  • We were very lucky to have a friend (the wonderful Leigh from Hike Bike Travel) willing to shuttle us back to our starting point. Our backup plan was a mix of hitchhiking and bus rides
  • Hiking in mid August, we only met two people thru-hiking the GDT. Not too surprising, seeing as most northbound hikers would have been through this area quite a bit earlier
Back view of JR hiking away from camera on dirt hiking trail, with endless layers of mountains ahead
Healy Pass

Great Divide Trail FAQs

Where is the Great Divide Trail?

The GDT is located on the Continental Divide between Alberta and British Columbia, Canada.

How long is the Great Divide Trail?

1,123km from Waterton Lakes National Park to Kakwa Provincial Park

Can I random camp on the GDT?

In some areas, yes. In most national parks and provincial parks, no. Hikers must use designated campgrounds in these protected areas.

Do I need a permit to hike the GDT?

There is no singular ‘GDT permit’ but a permit is required to camp in most national and provincial parks along the route.

What is the best time to hike the GDT?

Late June to mid September. Most northbound thru-hikers will start in Waterton between late June and mid July.

Is it necessary to plan an itinerary?

Yes. The GDT passes through many national and provincial parks, most of which require a permit (and often, a reservation) for camping.

Can I bike the GDT?

The Great Divide Trail is designed for non-motorized use (foot, horse). Bikes cannot be used on many of the national park and provincial park trails.

How many people hike the GDT each year?

Around 150-200 attempt to thru-hike the GDT annually. Many more hike smaller sections. Hundreds more hike the GDT (sometimes unknowingly) by traversing popular routes like the Rockwall, Skyline, Brazeau Loop etc.

Can I bring my dog?

For most of the GDT, yes, when on a leash. But you must be aware of the risks involved when bringing a dog into the backcountry. Bears see dogs as a predator or prey – both scenarios can be dangerous for you and your dog.

There are some sections of GDT where dogs are not allowed – one area in Jasper National Park and in campgrounds on the Berg Lake Trail (when open, temporarily closed since 2021).

When should I start planning a GDT thru-hike?

At the start of the year. Parks Canada begins to launch backcountry reservations in early January. It is, in theory, possible to plan a GDT hike later in the year, but you’ll need to be lucky with cancellations or plan for some long hiking days.

Is the GDT a social trail, like the PCT or AT?

Though I haven’t thru-hiked the GDT myself, my understanding is that it is not as social as the PCT and AT. At the current time, far less people thru-hike, or even section hike, the GDT compared to the AT or PCT. The campsite reservation system does make things a little more difficult too, offering less itinerary flexibility. I have read many reports from people who have said they were often alone for days at time on some remote sections of the GDT. Since the GDT is a combination of trails, some areas are very busy with day hikers and backpackers.

The Great Divide Trail is a spectacular wilderness path traversing the Canadian Rockies, from Waterton Lakes National Park in the south to Kakwa Provincial Park (north of Mount Robson). The GDT can be explored on short day hikes, longer backpacking trips or as a 6 to 8 week thru-hike. Click here and discover what you need to know to get planning your own GDT hike! offtracktravel.ca
Stretching 1,123km along the formidable Rockies, the Great Divide Trail is Canada's ultimate long distance hiking adventure. The rugged route crosses the Continental Divide between British Columbia and Alberta no less than 30 times, passing hanging glaciers, vibrant wildflower meadows, snow capped peaks, deep river valleys and more. Discover a brief history of the trail, a route rundown and essentual planning info as well as a summary of our own GDT section hike. offtracktravel.ca
The Great Divide Trail is Canada's wildest and most epic thru-hike. The 1100km+ trail traverses the Continental Divide in the Canadian Rockies, crossing the BC/Alberta border no less than 30 times. Most of the GDT is located in the alpine, in the midst of soaring peaks and glaciers. Some of Canada's most iconic mountain landscapes are showcased on the GDT, including Mount Assiniboine, the Rockwall and Mount Robson. Click here to discover more and get planning a hike today! offtracktravel.ca

Other hiking posts you may find helpful:

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Nootka Trail: Complete 2022 Hiking Guide

Backpacking Gear List: Packing Guide for Multi-Day Hikes

Hiking the Jumbo Pass Trail near Kaslo, British Columbia

The HBC Heritage Trail (1849): Complete Hiking Guide

13 of the Best Shoulder Season Backpacking Trips in BC

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