Ah, the true North strong and free, the land of lumberjacks and maple syrup (though it’s so much more than these stereotypes). Canada has long prided itself on its great outdoors and with vast swaths of pristine wilderness, ranging from Arctic tundra to rocky mountains and deserts, why shouldn’t Canadians take pride in their wild homeland? Canadians love to get out and explore the great outdoors, whether it’s 35 degrees or -35 degrees, and so Canada is full of amazing parks and trails, all across the country. Here are some of the best day hikes available in the Great White North.
Duck Mountain Provincial Park, SK
Saskatchewan may not seem like a first-choice destination for hiking, but the prairie province truly gets the short end of the stick. Duck Mountain Provincial Park, at the southern edge of the province’s boreal forest region, is testament to that. The Trans Canada Trail runs directly through the park for 14 kilometers, right on the border with Manitoba, which offers the chance to hike in 2 provinces with relative ease. Duck Mountain is a gem on its own, though, with rich flora and fauna, including nodding trillium, mountain maple and 180 species of birds. Meadows, wetlands, forests and lakes are all within reach. For the true nature enthusiast, Duck Mountain offers a wilderness hiking experience unlike any other.
Acadian Trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, NS
Climb to the highland interior of this scenic Nova Scotia park 365 meters above the Cheticamp River. Take in panoramic ocean views and mountainous terrain as you trek through the Cheticamp River valley, up steep inclines and across streams. Keep an eye out for black bears, moose and other wildlife that inhabit the lush forest near the Acadian coastline. The loop is 8.4 kilometers from start to finish and will take about 3 or 4 hours to complete. Part of the renowned Cabot Trail, this loop is home to groves of hardwood trees, making it a spectacular—and colorful—autumn hike.
Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie National Park, QB
Nestled in the Laurentian Mountains, Les Deux-Criques is a 17-kilometer trail in La Mauricie National Park. It’s rated as a “difficult” hike by the park, in part because of several up-and-down climbs on the trail. The entire length will take about 7 hours, but you’ll probably want to pencil in extra time to stop at some of the lookouts along the way or photograph the Ruisseau du Fou waterfall at the far end of the trail. And yes, it’s called “Deux-Criques” because there are 2 creek crossings. The trail makes up the final leg of the 75-kilometer Laurentians backpacking trail, which provides additional opportunities for hikers looking for more than a 1-day adventure in the boreal wilderness.
Bruce Trail, Southern and Central ON
Not only is the Bruce Trail Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath but it’s also a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. With 890 km of main trail running from Tobermory to Niagara, doing the entire trail in a day is impossible, however there are easy ways to make a day hike out of it. The trail is divided into 9 sections, each varying in length and those sections can be further shortened to whatever length is suitable for your day trip or individual preference. Most sections (with the exception of some northern areas) are fairly easy going terrain and are suitable for people of all hiking skill levels.
Sea to Sky Trail, Whistler, BC
One of the most ambitious new developments in recent years is the Sea to Sky Trail, which will run between Whistler and Squamish. When completed, it will comprise a total of 180 kilometers, from sea level near Squamish, high into the mountains near Whistler. The Whistler section of the trail is 33 kilometers in total and has already been completed with wide, often paved, pathways. One of the best sections is between Brandywine River Falls and the Cheakamus River Crossing. Visit the falls, then follow the winding, hilly trail over a suspension bridge and along the riverside through the forest. After crossing a second suspension bridge and the river, you’ll arrive at the site of the 2010 Olympics Athletes’ Village.
Fundy Trail, NB
The Bay of Fundy’s claim to fame is that it’s home to the world’s highest tides, so it only makes sense that there’d be a wonderful hike in this amazing location! Wrapping around 16 kilometers of cliffs, the trail opens up previously inaccessible portions of the Fundy coastline, one of the few coastal wilderness areas between Labrador and Florida. The area is also renowned for its marine life, being a prime breeding ground for Right whales. Waterfalls, Precambrian rock and untamed forests also capture the imagination and lookout points along the way highlight panoramic views of 250-foot high coastal cliffs. For those looking for more, the Fundy Trek runs between St. Martin’s and Riverview, offering 125 kilometers of Appalachian mountain and coastal hiking to choose from.
La Cloche-Silhouette Trail, Killarney Provincial Park, ON
What’s more Canadian than the Group of 7? The famous painters were enamored with the pink granite coast of Georgian Bay. A.J. Casson, Franklin Carmicheal and A.Y. Jackson were so inspired by this stretch of wilderness that they actually pressured the government to make a park! Today, anyone can hike the 80-kilometer loop through the La Cloche Mountains. There are shorter hikes available from 2 trailheads in the George Lake Campground. The western section of the trail is moderate and dotted with lakes and rivers. The eastern portion of the trail is strenuous, but takes you up to The Crack, the top of Killarney Ridge. The Crack is roughly 12 kilometers round-trip, and takes about 8 hours to complete—but is for expert hikers only!
East Coast Trail, NFLD
On Canada’s eastern coast, Newfoundland and Labrador offer some of the most pristine woodland, accompanied by some of the quaintest seaside towns in the country. The East Coast Trail is still under development and will be 540 kilometers when finished, but only about half of that has been brought up to world-class standard. Nonetheless, there are some great day hikes available, including the Sugarloaf Path, which takes about 8 hours round trip. Start in Marine Lab, on Logy Bay, and follow the trail to Quidi Vidi village. You’ll encounter wondrous woodland and scenic ocean vistas amidst numerous elevation changes. Other paths include the Cape Spear Path, which takes you to the most easterly point in North America.
Caldron Lake, AB
This little-known, 16-kilometer trail is a hidden gem, just outside of Banff National Park. Alberta is rife with excellent trails, but experienced hikers will find this one challenging—and rewarding. The trail takes you into glacier country, with one path leading to Peyto Glacier. The more difficult hike is down to Caldron Lake itself. The steep incline, followed by glacial wash-out flats and a moraine make this a great hike for anyone who likes a challenge. Would-be adventurers take note: Signage is almost non-existent, which adds to the wilderness appeal of the trail, and the glacial stream must be forded as the bridge has been washed away by glacial melt, which increases in volume later in the day.
Canol Heritage Trail, NWT
This is not a trail for the faint of heart! This trail runs a total of 355 kilometers from Norman Wells to the Yukon, through the Mackenzie Mountains. Only accessible in summer and then just barely, it follows an abandoned World War II pipeline through Canada’s north. The trail is considered one of the most difficult in Canada; it lacks any amenities and you’ll need to arrange for your own emergency services, pick-up, drop-off and food drops if you plan to hike end-to-end. Experienced wilderness hikers will revel in the grandiosity of the true, true north and the wild expanses it offers. Guide services are available and shorter portions of the historic trail are offered as day hikes out of Norman Wells.