Our 10 favourite backpacking trails in Canada from coast to coast
For those yearning to get far away in a big way
With the pandemic ongoing, people are looking to get as far away from people as possible. Why not grab a partner and a backpack to explore some of Canada’s most scenic backpacking trails
There’s a reason why Canada is an outdoor explorers’ and nature lovers’ paradise: the majority of our trail systems traverse deep into the wilderness for hundreds of miles, with backcountry campsites and incredible lookouts accessible on the beaten path.
Some areas have cut out backcountry camping (no idea why) and others are still allowing it, so please check with your local government or public health unit for pertinent information.
Here are 10 of our favourite multi-day backpacking trails in Canada from coast to coast.
West Coast Trail (Vancouver Island, BC)
Close to 8,000 hikers traverse the rugged but beautiful trails along the exposed coast of Pacific Rim National Park for a five- to seven-day backpacking trek per season. The West Coast Trail, which is only accessible by boat from Port Renfrew, features everything a wilderness lover could want along its 75 kilometres of trail, including sandy beaches, old-growth coastal temperate rainforest, caves, rock arches, tidal pools and waterfalls. Hiking the West Coast Trail requires a trail permit and booking at least 90 days out from your adventure.
Bruce Trail (Bruce Peninsula, ON)
Breathtaking waterfalls, miles of shimmering shoreline, massive caverns and dolostone cliffs are just some of the views hikers get to experience along the famous Bruce Trail in Ontario, which stretches 156 kilometres along the Niagara Escarpment on the eastern edge of the Bruce Peninsula. If you plan on hiking the entire length of the trail, you might want to pick up the Bruce Trail Reference Guide to learn about the more challenging sections of the trail and where the best spots are to camp. If a two or three day hike is more your style, there are numerous access points along the trail to choose from for planning your journey.
Waskahegan Trail (Edmonton, Alberta)
For a true backcountry experience, head out for a multi-day trek along the wild and remote Waskahegan Trail in central Alberta. The trail is a 309-kilometre loop, beginning south of Edmonton and heading to Wetaskiwin, then east to Miquelon Lake Provincial Park, north to Elk Island National Park and west to Fort Saskatchewan. Although rugged and remote, there are numerous entry points along the way and several private and public campgrounds with toilets, shelters and campfire pits.
Bison at Elk Island National Park in Alberta
Boreal Trail (Meadow Lake Provincial Park, SK)
The Boreal Trail, the only destination backpacking trail in the Saskatchewan Provincial Park system, spans 120 kilometres from Cold Lake to Waterhen in the picturesque Meadow Lake Provincial Park. Hike beneath towering jack pines and spruce, through wildflower fields and along pristine rivers during this moderate multi-day trek. Both front and back country campsites are available along the trail. If you plan to camp overnight, the park requires you to register two weeks in advance of your trip.
Mantario Trail (Whiteshell Provincial Park, MN)
If you’re an experienced hiker looking for a backcountry challenge, the 66-km Mantario Trail in Whiteshell Provincial Park in Manitoba offers a wild and rugged experience. The trail meanders through the Canadian Shield with limited cell service and access points along the way, so hikers need to be well prepared. There are several campsites along the trail and a very good chance you’ll encounter some wildlife, as the area is protected from motorized access and hunting.
International Appalachian Trail (Gaspésie National Park, QC)
Keep your eyes peeled for moose and caribou on this 100-km trek across the Chic-Chocs and McGerrigle Mountain ranges in Gaspésie National Park. The park trail, which features 20 backcountry huts for camping, is northern part of the International Appalachian Trail. Expect lots of climbing, barren landscapes and snow at higher elevations in the summer on this multi-day hike.
Confederation Trail (Charlottetown, PEI)
Although not as wild and rugged as the other multi-day hikes we’ve featured, the 435 kilometre Confederation Trail is a spectacular east coast hike featuring multiple stops in quaint seaside villages along the way. Since the wide, gravel trail follows old railway lines, it’s perfect for cyclists and suitable for all fitness levels and abilities. Start your hike at Tignish at kilometre zero, exploring villages and vistas along the way to the town of Elmira for multi-day 273 kilometre journey.
Confederation Trail on Prince Edward Island
Cape to Cape Trail (Cumberland and Antigonish County, NS)
Wander through shaded forests, across babbling brooks and over rolling hills and farmland as you travel Nova Scotia’s longest footpath, the 400-km Cape to Cape Trail. Although the entire trail is not yet complete, new trail builds happen each summer and fall in separate communities to eventually connect the province from west to east. There are currently sections of trail in Cumberland, Antigonish and Colschester Counties, with 36 kilometres of connected trail in Pictou County.
Chilkoot Trail (Coast Mountains, YK)
The Chilkoot Trail – which thousands of gold miners once traversed during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1800s in hopes of striking it rich – is a 53-km hike that starts in Dyea, Alaska and ends in Bennett, BC. This famous yet demanding hike takes roughly four to six days to complete, and requires park and camping permits. Groups and guided tours are also available.
East Coast Trail (Avalon Peninsula, NL)
Hikers can explore 265 kilometres of developed trail, wilderness paths and stunning coastline along Newfoundland’s 540-kilometre East Coast Trail. Highlights of the trail include towering cliffs, sea stacks, fjords, lighthouses, geysers, abandoned settlements, icebergs and even a caribou herd. The trail is broken off into sections in 30 different communities for multiple day hikes.