Long Distance Trails

Finding Solitude in The Spectacular Wilderness of The Great Divide Trail

POSTED ON January 17, 2024 BY Ralph S.

The Great Divide Trail

Introduction

In the heart of the Canadian Rockies lies the Great Divide Trail, an outdoor enthusiast’s haven, a pristine wilderness that beckons adventurers with promises of rugged landscapes, untamed beauty, and a journey through nature at its most majestic.

Welcome to the Great Divide Trail, a sprawling wilderness hiking trail that traverses some of the most awe-inspiring terrain in North America. As we lace up our boots and embark on this odyssey, let’s delve into the intricacies of the Great Divide Trail, exploring its connection to the Great Divide Trail Association, the enthralling beauty of Waterton Lakes National Park, and the vast wilderness that unfolds across five national parks.

The Great Divide Trail Association (GDTA) stands as a steward of this remarkable trail system, dedicated to preserving and promoting the GDT experience. Collaborating with various organizations, including the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) and the National Park Service (NPS), the GDTA plays a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of the trail while fostering a sense of community among those who are drawn to its challenges and wonders.

As we prepare to embark on this adventure, join us in uncovering the secrets of the Great Divide Trail, a trail that transcends borders, connects hearts with the raw beauty of nature, and invites us to tread lightly on the path of discovery.

History of the Great Divide Trail

Windsor Tower Across Barnaby Ridge

In the early stages of envisioning a cross-country trail through the heart of the Canadian Rockies, the Great Divide Trail’s origins can be traced back to the collaborative efforts of passionate outdoor enthusiasts and organizations.

The seed of this idea was planted in the minds of visionaries who saw the potential for a challenging yet rewarding wilderness hiking trail that would showcase the unparalleled beauty of the Rockies.

 In 1966, when the Girl Guides of Canada undertook an expedition on the proposed route, they opened the door to what would become known as the Great Divide Trail. Later following in their footsteps in 1967, a group of American hikers embarked on a journey that included sections of this trail and eventually named it the “Continental Divide Trail.”

In 1970, Jim Thorsell, a founding member of the GDTA, surveyed and mapped out the first 124 miles (200 kilometers) of this trail. Over time, with countless hours dedicated by volunteers to clear and maintain trails, the Great Divide Trail gradually took shape.

Twenty years later, in 1987, when the US Congress passed the National Trails Systems Act, this trail gained official recognition as an iconic route across the United States.

In Canada, a dedicated group of volunteers continued to work towards establishing and maintaining the trail until 1997, when the Great Divide Trail Association was formed. The Great Divide Trail Association (GDTA) emerged as a driving force behind the trail’s development. With a mission to establish and maintain a wilderness route along the continental divide, the GDTA played a pivotal role in coordinating the collective efforts needed to bring this ambitious project to life.

Canada proposed the Great Divide Trail as a connection to the larger trail network, seamlessly linking with the Continental Divide Trail in the United States. This proposal marked a significant step forward in the trail’s evolution, emphasizing international collaboration and a shared commitment to preserving the beauty of the Rockies.

Over the years, the trail underwent transformations, adapting to changing needs and considerations in land management. The Adventure Cycling Association joined the ranks of organizations supporting the GDT, recognizing the trail’s potential as a sought-after adventure cycling route.

Waterton Lakes National Park served as the picturesque starting point for the proposed Great Divide Trail. As the vision of the trail took shape, trail-building initiatives became a focal point, involving dedicated volunteers and professionals alike.

Today, the trail continues to evolve, guided by the dedication of the Great Divide Trail Association and a community of stewards committed to preserving this wilderness gem for generations to come.

You can get valuable information about the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide here.

Key Facts about The Great Divide Trail

a panorama shot in Canada's Banff National Park, showing the North Saskatchewan river

Location: The Great Divide Trail (GDT) traverses the Canadian Rockies, primarily in the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.

Total Length: Approximately 1,126 kilometers (700 miles) from the United States border to Kakwa Lake (location) in British Columbia

Time It Takes to Hike: About 6 to 8 weeks for experienced hikers, while shorter sections can be explored based on personal preferences and time constraints.

Trailhead: Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada (location), with several sections along the way

Difficulty Level: Challenging terrain, varying from moderate to difficult in some key sections

Number of Visitors: While the number of visitors can fluctuate, the GDT tends to attract a relatively lower number compared to more popular trails. So, about 150–200 people per year attempt to thru-hike the entire trail, but fewer finish the whole route in a single season.

Establishment Date: The GDT was established as a concept in the late 1960s, with ongoing development and improvements over the years.

Total Elevation Gain: Approximately 187,000 feet (57,000 meters)

Best Time or Season to Hike: From late June to early or middle September, when the snow has melted and conditions are more favorable.

Lowest Point: Old Fort Point Trailhead (location) near Jasper National Park at 3,461 ft (1,055 m) above sea level

Highest Point: Unnamed Pass above Michele Lakes, south of the White Goat Wilderness Area (location), at 8,500 ft (2,590 m) above sea level

Trail Overview: Difficulty Levels and Route Options

Mount Robson, British Columbia, Canada

Embarking on the Great Divide Trail (GDT) is to step into an adventure that is both awe-inspiring and demanding. Described as the most spectacular and challenging long-distance trail in North America, the GDT spans approximately 1,126 kilometers (700 miles), winding through pristine wilderness areas, provincial parks, and captivating landscapes.

Here’s an overview of this extraordinary trail, detailing its seven major sections, starting from the southern trailhead at Fort Point and culminating at the northern terminus in Kakwa Provincial Park.

Route Options

Thru hikers can hike the trail in both directions. However, most people begin at the southern end and hike northbound (NOBO) because it is usually warmer compared to the southbound section.

Also, the trail difficulty gradually increases from the north to the south, thus allowing hikers to slowly tackle the trail.

The other main reason why most people consider starting the trail from the northbound section is the multiple river crossings. Usually, the glacier-fed rivers and streams in the northern sections are dangerous to cross when water levels are high. According to the weather, the highest water levels are often between June and July, sometimes August.

The Route is Divided into Seven Sections

  • Section A: Waterton to Coleman, approximately 71 miles (114km)
  • Section B: Coleman to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, approximately 102 miles (164km)
  • Section C: Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to Field in Yoho National Park,  approximately 118 miles (190 km)
  • Section D: Field to Saskatchewan Crossing within Banff National Park, approximately 78 miles (126km)
  • Section E: Saskatchewan Crossing to Jasper National Park, approximately 124 miles (199km)
  • Section F: Jasper National Park to Mount Robson, approximately 97 miles (157 km)
  • Section G: Mount Robson to Kakwa Provincial Park, approximately 109 miles (176 km)

Section A: Boundary Bay Backcountry Campground (Waterton) to Coleman

(Direction)

The journey kicks off at the Boundary Bay Backcountry Campground, leading hikers through the dramatic landscapes of Waterton Lakes National Park. This section introduces hikers to the rugged beauty of the Rockies, offering spectacular scenery and the chance to explore the southern terminus of the trail.

  • Get more information about this section here

Section B: Coleman to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

(Direction)

Continuing northward, the trail enters the renowned Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, captivating adventurers with pristine lakes and dense forests. This section is known for its moderate difficulty, with well-marked trails and captivating highlights such as the High Rock Range.

  • Get more information about this section here

Section C: Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (Kananaskis Country) to Field North

(Direction)

As hikers traverse through Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to Field in Kananaskis Country, they encounter the breathtaking landscapes of Spray Valley Provincial Park and Kootenay National Park. This section provides a taste of the diverse terrain, from alpine meadows to dense forests, and is often considered a moderately challenging segment.

  • Get more information about this section here

Section D: Field North (Kananaskis Country) to Saskatchewan Crossing in Banff National Park

Entering Banff National Park, Section D treats hikers to iconic mountain scenery, including the stunning Lake Louise. The difficulty level increases with challenging ascents and descents, navigating through the rugged terrain of the Rockies.

  • Get more information about this section here

Section E: Saskatchewan Crossing to Jasper National Park

(Direction)

This section marks the transition from Banff to Jasper National Park, presenting hikers with the grandeur of the Icefields Parkway. Renowned for its spectacular mountain passes and glaciers, Section E is both challenging and rewarding.

  • Get more information about this section here

Section F: Jasper National Park to Mount Robson

(Direction)

Venturing into the northern wilderness, Section F takes hikers through the vast landscapes of Jasper National Park before leading to the extremely remote areas of Mount Robinson Provincial Park. Hikers traverse unnamed passes and embrace the raw beauty of the trail.

  • Get more information about this section here

Section G: Mount Robson to Kakwa Provincial Park

The final section of the trail is known for its remote and challenging nature, with minimal facilities and rugged terrain. Hikers must be well-prepared, fully self-sufficient, and have strong navigation skills to complete this epic journey.

Section G winds through pristine wilderness areas, offering a sense of true adventure as hikers face the last leg of their journey.  Although the trail officially ends at Kakwa Provincial Park, many hikers choose to continue on to other trails or communities, extending their adventure and truly embracing the spirit of the Great Divide Trail.

  • Get more information about this section here

Check out Dustin Lynx’s guidebook Hiking Canada’s Great Divide Trail, for more insight into any of the above-mentioned sections.

Alternate Routes and International Border Crossing

Alberta (Whitemud Creek)

Throughout the GDT, alternate routes provide options for hikers to tailor their experience based on weather conditions, personal preferences, or time constraints.

Here are a few notable alternate routes, with a few international border crossing sections:

  • The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) – This popular cycling route follows the Great Divide Trail for a large portion, offering an alternate way to experience this epic trail.
  • The Eastern GDT – This alternative route traverses through the prairies and foothills of Alberta, offering a different perspective on the Canadian wilderness.
  • Cross-Border Hiking – Hikers may choose to cross into the United States and continue their journey along the Continental Divide Trail. However, this requires careful planning and obtaining proper permits.
  • Mount Rowe to Sage Pass – This is a moderately difficult cross-country ridge walk. However, it does not have any water sources (other than residual snow).
  • Barnaby Ridge – This is a difficult alpine route that includes sections of scrambling. It has limited water sources but is more scenic than the main route in the valley below. Experienced hikers recommend this route when the weather is appropriate. Check out our guide to hiking and scrambling for beginners.
  • Blairmore – This is an easy road walk for hikers planning to resupply in Blairmore.
  • Coral Pass – This section or route is extremely challenging, with a potentially dangerous river ford. Hikers also consider it as a strenuous cross-country climb over a high scenic pass. You are only recommended that you use this alternative route when the weather is good.
  • Northover Ridge – This is an exceptionally scenic, difficult alpine route with sections of exposed scrambling and extended ridge walking directly on the Great Divide. However, only attempt it in good weather with no or low wind conditions.
  • Kiwetinok Pass – This section offers spectacular alpine hiking on a mostly good trail with different challenges than the overgrown valley bottom trail.
  • 6 Passes (open for day use only; no overnight camping) – The scenic cross-country alternative to the overgrown Maligne Pass Trail requires some easy scrambling and route-finding skills. Note that this is Caribou Country, so dogs are not permitted; hikers only.
  • Wabasso Lake – This is an alternate lower trail to Jasper National Park. Nonetheless, this route restricts access to the Skyline Trail in case of bad weather and unavailability of camping options.
  • Marjorie-Virl Lakes – This is a highway-side walk along an even trail with an approximately 1.2-mile (2 km) section of difficult cross-country bushwhacking. It also connects the Minnow Lake trail to the Dorothy-Virl Lake trail. Luckily, we have an article on bushwacking to help you know what to expect along the trail.
  • Jasper-Tote Road – This scenic route detours from the highway-side walk on an old road and rail bed with some moderate bushwhacking.
  • Mount Robson – This is the original northern terminus of the GDT, offering easy hiking on a spectacular trail. But, you need to check the trail condition and closure before visiting.
  • Perseverance High Route (Jackpine Mountain Trail to Meadowland Creek) – This is a difficult alpine scrambling route. However, it is more scenic than the main route in the valley below but plan for twice as long. Hikers are, however, recommended to use this route when the weather is favorable. In addition, returning to GDT via Meadowland Creek valley is possible.
  • Perseverance High Route (Meadowland Creek to Little Shale Hill) – This is an extremely challenging alpine scrambling route that is only recommended for experienced climbers and scramblers. Also, it is essential to attempt it when the weather is good.
  • Surprise Pass High Route – A scenic and moderately challenging alpine scrambling route that is only recommended in good weather.
  • Providence Pass High Route – This is a moderate cross-country route.

You can check out the GPS map (general view without many details) here.

Highlights Along the Way

As hikers tread the GDT, they encounter eight provincial parks, three wildland provincial parks, and numerous forest districts.

Highlights include the Beehive Natural Area, the pristine Michele Lakes, and the majestic mountain passes that offer unrivaled panoramic views.

Seasonal Considerations: Best Times to Hike The Great Divide Trail and Weather Conditions

The Great Divide Trail in Winter

Embarking on the Great Divide Trail is not just a physical journey but a climatic odyssey through the diverse weather patterns of the Canadian Rockies.

As the Great Divide Trail appears beneath your boots, the weather along this wilderness route can vary dramatically, presenting a myriad of challenges and opportunities throughout the four seasons.

Spring (April to June)

As winter relinquishes its grip, spring breathes life into the GDT. From the Fort Point Trailhead to the northern terminus in Kakwa Provincial Park, hikers can expect temperatures ranging from 5°C to 15°C (41°F to 59°F) in the southern stretches, gradually warming as you venture northward.

While the snowpack begins to recede, be prepared for lingering snow at higher elevations, especially in places like Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and Jasper National Park.

Summer (Early July to August)

Summer unveils the GDT in all its glory, offering the most favorable conditions for hiking. Temperatures along the trail range from 10°C to 25°C (50°F to 77°F) in the southern regions, providing comfortable hiking weather.

However, in the northern sections, temperatures may hover between 5°C and 20°C (41°F to 68°F). Summer showcases the wildflowers in full bloom, but hikers should remain vigilant for sudden weather changes, including afternoon thunderstorms.

Fall (September to November)

As autumn descends upon the GDT, temperatures begin to drop. Fall brings vibrant foliage, especially in Jasper National Park and the Robson Valley. However, be prepared for cooler nights and the possibility of early snowfall at higher elevations.

In the southern parts of the trail, expect temperatures between 5°C and 15°C (41°F to 59°F), while the northern regions may experience temperatures ranging from 0°C to 10°C (32°F to 50°F).

Winter (December to March)

Winter casts a serene and challenging spell on the GDT. The southern sections may experience temperatures between -10°C and 5°C (14°F to 41°F), while the northern stretches can see temperatures plummeting to -20°C (-4°F) or even lower.

Snow blankets the trail, making winter travel extremely difficult. Only the most seasoned and well-equipped adventurers attempt the GDT in winter, navigating through an ethereal yet treacherous landscape.

Key Considerations for All Seasons

  • Unpredictable Weather: Weather conditions can change rapidly, and hikers should be prepared for sudden storms, especially in the mountain passes.
  • Navigational Tools: Use topographic maps, GPS tracks, and a provisional trail guide to navigate the entire trail, especially in the extremely remote and unnamed pass areas.
  • Wildlife Encounters: The GDT passes through wilderness areas, and encounters with wild animals are likely. Be bear aware and follow recommended safety protocols.
  • Random Camping: The trail allows for random camping, but hikers should adhere to Leave No Trace principles, respecting the pristine nature of the public land.
  • Provisional Trail Guide: Consult the provisional trail guide for updates on trail conditions, water sources, and potential weather hazards. You can get informative information on the official GDTA website.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit the Great Divide Trail is during the summer months of July and August. This is when temperatures are most comfortable for hiking, wildflowers are in full bloom, and the trail is generally drier. However, hikers should be prepared for sudden weather changes and afternoon thunderstorms.

For those seeking a more challenging adventure, early fall (September to November) offers vibrant foliage and cooler temperatures, while winter (December to March) presents a serene and challenging trek for experienced adventurers. Spring (April to June) can be unpredictable with lingering snow at higher elevations, but it is still a beautiful time to hike the GDT as nature awakens from winter.

Essential Gear and Equipment for a Successful Great Divide Hike

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Alberta

The GDT demands thorough preparation, including the use of topographic maps, hiking poles for challenging sections, and careful attention to the provisional trail guide. So, hikers should be equipped to navigate diverse terrains, ranging from gravel roads to paved roads, ensuring a safe and enjoyable journey.

Here is a list of the recommended gear to carry

Clothing

  • Layering System: The unpredictable weather along the GDT calls for a versatile and efficient layering system. Pack clothing that can be easily layered, such as a base layer, mid-layer, and outer shell. Here’s a guide to help you choose the best hiking clothes for your next adventure.
  • Waterproof Gear: Be prepared for rain or snow by packing waterproof gear, including a rain jacket and pants. These will also offer protection against wind.
  • Insulating Layers: As temperatures can drop significantly, especially at higher elevations, pack insulating layers such as a down jacket or synthetic insulated jacket.
  • Hiking Boots/Shoes: Invest in a good pair of hiking boots or shoes that provide ankle support and are waterproof. Make sure you break them in before hitting the trail. Our guide should help you make the right decision.
  • Hiking Socks: Bring several pairs of moisture-wicking and quick-drying hiking socks to keep your feet dry and prevent blisters. You can purchase our Silverlight hiking socks for the best experience. Also, read our guide to choosing the best socks for hiking, to know what to purchase.

Shelter and Sleeping Gear

  • Tent: A lightweight and durable tent is essential for camping on the GDT. Look for a 3-season tent that can withstand strong winds and rain.
  • Sleeping Bag: Choose a sleeping bag with a temperature rating suitable for the season you are hiking in. Down or synthetic options are available, and consider using a sleeping bag liner for added warmth.
  • Sleeping Pad: A good quality sleeping pad will provide insulation from the cold ground and add comfort to your sleep.

Navigation Tools

  • Topographic Maps: Bring detailed topographic maps of the entire trail and keep them in a waterproof case. But we will cover a detailed section of where to get the maps and permits below. Keep reading.
  • GPS Device: A GPS device can be a valuable tool for navigation, especially in remote areas with unclear or nonexistent trails.
  • Compass: While not necessary if you have a GPS device, it is always useful to have a compass as backup. Check out our guide to finding your way in the wilderness and the best hiking Apps and Tools for hikers and backpackers to know how to embark on a successful trip.

Other Essential Gear

  • Water Filtration System: Water sources can be scarce along the trail, and it is essential to have a reliable water filtration system.
  • Cooking Stove and Fuel: Bring a lightweight camping stove and enough fuel for your entire trip. Plan meals that require minimal cooking time to conserve fuel.
  • Food and Snacks: Pack lightweight, high-calorie foods and snacks that are easy to prepare and provide sustained energy. This guide should help you know what to pack.
  • First Aid Kit: A well-stocked first aid kit is crucial for any hike, especially in remote areas like the GDT. This guide will help you know the basics of wilderness first aid to prevent common hiking injuries like blisters.
  • Sun Protection: Pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat to protect against the intense sun at higher elevations.
  • Insect Repellent: Mosquitoes and other insects can be a nuisance along the trail, so bring an effective insect repellent.
  • Bear Spray: The Canadian Rocky Mountains are home to grizzly bears and black bears. So, It’s recommended to carry bear spray in case of an encounter with wildlife. Also, check the latest recommendations and regulations for bear spray usage in the area before your trip.
  • Repair Kit: Bring basic repair items such as duct tape, a sewing kit, and extra tent stakes to fix any gear issues that may arise.

For more information, check out our single-day hiking and multi-day hiking checklist.

Navigating the Great Divide Trail: Maps, Markers, and Permits

Banff National Park

From the proposed Great Divide Trail to its appearance as an actual trail winding through five national parks and extending to the northern terminus in Willmore Wilderness Park, understanding the regulatory landscape is paramount for a successful adventure.

Note that it can cost approximately $2 per kilometer of the trail to cover expenses for food, fuel, and campground permits when traversing the GDT. This cost, however, does not include the costs of your hiking equipment and travel costs to and from the trail. You can check out our guide to The cost of thru-hiking and thru hiking challenges and preparation to help you plan a successful trip.

Here’s a detailed guide to the permits and regulations crucial for your journey:

National Parks Permits

Willmore Wilderness Park Permits

  • For the northern terminus, Willmore Wilderness Park requires permits for camping and backcountry use. So, you should obtain special permits, including fishing, hunting, and any other special events, directly from the Alberta government.

Forest Service Permits

  • Parts of the GDT pass through forest service lands, particularly in the U.S. Obtain relevant permits for forest service areas along the trail.

Provincial parks

  • Permit registration required for backcountry camping – up to $10/night.

International Border Crossing

  • Given that the GDT passes through the international border, hikers should be aware of the regulations for border crossings. Carry all necessary identification and be prepared for border inspections.

GPS Data and Google Maps:

  • Utilize GPS data and Google Maps to enhance your navigation along the GDT. Many hikers find it beneficial to download GPS tracks for the entire route, which can be obtained from reliable sources or fellow hikers who have completed the trail.

New Mexico – Silver City and Gila Wilderness:

  • If you’re venturing into the southernmost part of the GDT in New Mexico, familiarize yourself with local regulations around Silver City and the Gila Wilderness. Consult the Gila Wilderness website for relevant permits.

Where to Get Maps and Permits

To ensure a successful hike on the GDT, it is essential to obtain proper permits and maps. Here’s a breakdown of where to get them.

  • Permits: The Great Divide Trail Association (GDTA) requires hikers to register and obtain a free camping permit before starting their hike.
  • National Park Permits: The GDT passes through several National Parks, including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, and Mount Robson. To hike in these parks, visitors must obtain park permits and pay any associated fees. You can purchase permits online from the Parks Canada website or at visitor centers.
  • Other Permits: Hikers may also require additional permits for activities such as camping, fishing, or hunting along the trail. Check with local authorities before your trip to ensure you have all the necessary permits.

For the most up-to-date information and specific permit details, consult official websites, relevant government agencies, and park services.

Camping and Overnight Stays near The Great Divide Trail

White Goat Wilderness Area, Alberta

Camping along the Great Divide Trail is an integral part of the adventure, offering the chance to immerse oneself in the untamed beauty of the Canadian Rockies. From the southern trailhead at Fort Point to the northern terminus in Willmore Wilderness Park, hikers can find a variety of camping options, each contributing to the unique charm of the GDT.

Here’s a detailed guide on camping and overnight stays, ensuring a comfortable and memorable journey:

You can also get a detailed overview of making frontcountry camping and backcountry reservations here.

  1. Provincial Parks and Reservations:

Important: In addition to front country, you should note that backcountry Permits are still required for random camping within the national parks.

  • You can make backcountry reservations here.
  1. Wildland Provincial Parks and Wilderness Areas:
  • Throughout the entire trail, hikers will encounter wildland provincial parks and designated wilderness areas. These areas often allow for random camping, but it’s crucial to adhere to Leave No Trace principles and the regulations outlined in the provisional trail guide.
  • Also, random camping is allowed in all Sections A & B outside of the national and provincial parks.
  1. Alternate Routes and Camping Considerations:
  • Be aware of alternate routes, such as those used by the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. These routes may have different camping options, so consult the provisional trail guide and fellow hikers for insights.
  1. GDT Passes and Camping Permissions:
  • In areas where GDT passes are required, ensure you have obtained the necessary permits. Check with the Alberta government or local forest service offices for specific camping permissions and regulations. For instance, the Alberta Public Lands Camping Pass is required to random camp on public land.
  • Note that passes are $20 per person for a 3-day pass or $30 per person for an annual pass, and you can purchase it here.
  1. International Border Camping:
  • Camping near the international border should be approached with caution and adherence to regulations. Consult with the relevant authorities on both sides of the border for guidelines on backcountry camping.
  1. Remote and Unnamed Pass Areas:
  • In extremely remote sections and unnamed passes, camping may be your only option. Plan your itinerary accordingly, carry ample provisions, and consult GPS data and maps for potential camping spots.
  1. Michele Lakes and Robson Valley:
  • The areas around Michele Lakes in Jasper National Park and the Robson Valley offer breathtaking camping spots. Check with the respective park services for camping regulations and possible reservations.

For more information, check out the trail’s official campgrounds page for a list of all the campgrounds along the GDT. Also, you can check out other samples at the GDT itineraries or download the ultimate and definitive resource for hiking a section of the GDT/the entire trail; Hiking Canada’s Great Divide Trail (4th edition – May 31, 2022) by Dustin Lynx.

  • Download the 5-page pdf list of campgrounds here.

Resupplying and Refueling

Kiwetinok Pass

Understand the GDT’s division into seven sections and plan accordingly.

Given the long stretches between larger towns, ensure you’re well-equipped for extended periods of self-sufficiency. For those planning on thru-hiking the trail, one of the biggest challenges is ensuring adequate resupply and refueling along the way.

With long stretches between towns and limited access to supplies, proper planning is essential for a successful journey.

Here’s a breakdown of the available options for resupply and refueling along the Great Divide Trail from Waterton to Kakwa Provincial Park.

Waterton Townsite

The official starting point for the GDT is at the U.S. border in Waterton National Park. While the townsite of Waterton is small, there are a few options for resupplying and refueling before setting off on the trail.

  • Waterton Lakes Lodge Resort offers a small convenience store that sells some camping supplies and food items. However, the selection is limited, so it’s best used as a supplement to an existing resupply plan.
  • Pat’s Place is a small grocery store located in the townsite of Waterton. It has a decent selection of food items, but prices can be higher due to its remote location.
  • It’s also possible to resupply at the Waterton Lakes National Park Visitor Center, but it only offers limited camping supplies and non-perishable food items.

Coleman/Blairmore

After leaving Waterton, the next major town along the trail is Coleman/Blairmore. This town offers more substantial options for resupply and refueling and is a popular stop for thru-hikers.

  • Small Stores at Coleman: There are two small stores in Coleman that offer basic food items such as canned goods, snacks, and some fresh produce. These stores can be useful for a quick restock, but prices can be higher compared to larger towns.
  • Boulton Creek Trading Post: Located at the entrance of Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, this trading post offers camping supplies and food items. It’s a convenient stop for thru-hikers coming from the south.
  • Grocery Stores in Blairmore: The town of Blairmore, just a few kilometers from Coleman, has two grocery stores that offer a wider selection of food items. Prices are more reasonable here than in Coleman.
  • Mailing Resupply Packages to Yourself: Many thru-hikers choose to mail themselves resupply packages to the post office in Coleman/Blairmore. This allows them to customize their resupply and save money by purchasing items in bulk. The post office will hold packages for 15 days, so be sure to include a note with your anticipated arrival date.
  • Shopping Every 4-9 Days: Another strategy is to purchase food from local stores every 4-9 days along the GDT. This allows hikers to carry less weight and have access to fresh food. However, this strategy can be more expensive as prices tend to be higher in smaller towns.

Jasper

After leaving the Coleman/Blairmore area, the next major town along the GDT is Jasper. Note that there are limited resupply options between these two points, so it’s important to plan accordingly.

  • Grocery Stores in Jasper: The town of Jasper has two grocery stores that offer a wide selection of food items, making it an excellent place to resupply. Prices can be higher due to its location within the national park.
  • Field and The Crossing Resort: These small towns along the trail offer limited options for resupplying. It’s best to use them as backup options and not rely on them for a full resupply.

Mailing Resupply Packages to Jasper

Another option is to mail yourself a resupply package to the post office in Jasper. This allows you to customize your resupply and save money by purchasing items in bulk. Be sure to include a note with your anticipated arrival date, and remember that packages will only be held for 15 days.

Boulton Creek Trading Post

  • This trading post, situated in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, is a convenient spot for resupplying. While the selection may be limited, it provides a crucial opportunity to stock up on essentials.

Field and The Crossing Resort

  • These locations offer limited food and supplies. While not as comprehensive as larger towns, they serve as vital resupply points along the trail.

Strategies for Resupply

  • Mailed Resupply Packages: Many thru-hikers opt for mailing resupply packages to specific points along the trail. The Standard policy is that these packages will be held for 15 days. To ensure your package is available when you arrive, include a clear label with “Please hold for Great Divide Trail hiker” and your anticipated date of arrival.
  • Timing Your Resupply Packages: Plan your resupply packages strategically, considering the estimated time it will take to hike each section. Thru-hikers often aim for resupply points every 4 to 9 days, depending on their pace and preferences.
  • Research and Flexibility: Research the available stores and their offerings at each resupply point. Understand their hours of operation, potential closures, and any limitations in stock. Flexibility is key, as some small stores may have unpredictable availability.
  • Combining Strategies: Thru-hikers often adopt a combination of strategies, combining mailed packages with in-person purchases at local stores. This allows for flexibility and ensures a more varied diet during the journey.
  • Utilizing the Provisional Trail Guide: The provisional trail guide contains valuable information about resupply points, including what to expect in each town and where to find supplies. Thoroughly review this guide before and during your hike.
  • Community Support: Join online forums or social media groups where fellow GDT hikers share real-time information about resupply points, trail conditions, and tips for a successful journey.

Practical Tips for Thru-Hikers:

  1. Food Variety:
    • Plan for a diverse diet to maintain energy levels. Include a mix of dehydrated meals, snacks, and supplements to meet nutritional needs.
  2. Water Resupply:
    • Along with food, plan for water resupply points. Carry a reliable water purification system to ensure a safe and sufficient water source.
  3. Weather Considerations:
    • Keep an eye on weather forecasts as you plan your resupply points. Unpredictable weather can impact your journey, so be prepared for varying conditions.
  4. Equipment Maintenance:
    • Use resupply points as opportunities for equipment maintenance. Check and replace gear as needed to ensure a comfortable and safe hike.

For more information on resupplying and refueling points and post offices along the Great Divide Trail, visit the GDT Association website.

Getting There: Directions and Transportation Options

Calgary International Airport

Embarking on the Great Divide Trail (GDT) is not only an adventure on the trail but also a journey to reach the pristine wilderness surrounding it.

Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to get to the GDT and navigate the surrounding areas: But for an extensive guide to the available transportation options, you can check out the trail’s access page.

Nearest Airports:

For the Southern Terminus (Waterton Townsite)

The nearest international major airport is Calgary International Airport (YYC) in Alberta, Canada. From here, you can proceed to Waterton Townsite.

  • Getting from Calgary International Airport to Waterton Townsite:
    • Rental Cars: Renting a car provides flexibility and convenience. The drive from Calgary to Waterton takes approximately 3.5 hours.
    • Shuttle Services: Some shuttle services operate between Calgary and Waterton. Check availability and schedules in advance.

For the Northern Terminus (Kakwa Provincial Park)

The nearest major airports are in Edmonton, Alberta, and Prince George, British Columbia.

  • Getting from Edmonton International Airport (YEG) to Kakwa Provincial Park:
    • Rental Cars: Renting a car is the most flexible option. The drive from Edmonton to Kakwa Provincial Park is approximately 280 miles (450 km) and takes approximately 7 to 8 hours.
    • Shuttle Services: Explore shuttle services that may operate between Edmonton and Kakwa Provincial Park.
  • Getting from Prince George Airport (YXS) to Kakwa Provincial Park:
    • Rental Cars: Renting a car is recommended for flexibility. The drive from Prince George to Kakwa Provincial Park takes approximately 4 to 5 hours because it is 100 miles (162 km) away.
    • Shuttle Services: Check for shuttle services that may connect Prince George to Kakwa Provincial Park.

Getting Around the Great Divide Trail:

Trailheads and Transportation:

Fort Point Trailhead (Southern Terminus):

  • From Waterton Townsite, local transportation options may include shuttles or taxis to the Fort Point Trailhead.
  • Renting a car also provides flexibility, especially for reaching trailheads and exploring nearby areas.

Kakwa Provincial Park (Northern Terminus):

  • Similar to the southern terminus, consider local shuttles or taxis for transportation from Prince George or Edmonton to Kakwa Provincial Park.
  • Renting a car is advisable for ease of access and exploring the surrounding regions.

Public Transportation and Shuttles:

  • Explore local shuttle services or public transportation options for travel between trailheads or to nearby towns.

Hitchhiking:

  • Hitchhiking is a common and accepted practice in some areas. However, exercise caution and ensure your safety.

Trailhead Accessibility:

  • Some trailheads may be accessible only by gravel roads or require specific vehicles for challenging terrains. Verify the conditions of access roads and plan accordingly.

Community Support:

  • Engage with online forums and social media groups where fellow GDT hikers may share transportation tips and collaborate on travel arrangements. A good place to start is the Great Divide Trail Hikers Facebook page.

For further questions and queries about the trail, visit the GDTA FAQ page.

Conclusion

The Great Divide Trail is a bucket-list outdoor adventure that has something to offer for everyone. With awe-inspiring views, diverse terrains, cultural heritage, and unforgettable wildlife experiences, the journey will undoubtedly push you to your limits while providing an incredible sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

So, pack your bags, dust off your hiking boots, and join us on the ultimate adventure now.

Explore more enjoyable destinations in our long-distance trails section.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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