While a few Canadian thru-hikes, like British Columbia’s famed West Coast Trail or Alberta’s Great Divide Trail, get most of the recognition, there are many lesser known, equally incredible options for getting some great northern hiking under your feet. Here are 5 long trails in Canada to check out — and add to your list of hiking destinations.
The Sunshine Coast Trail, (SCT), Sunshine Coast, British Columbia
Positioning itself as the longest hut-to-hut hiking trail in Canada, this 180 km (112 mi) stretch of serenity spreads from the most northerly point of the Sunshine Coast in Desolation Sound to its southern reaches in stunning Saltery Bay.
The trail is an action-packed adventure rife with big climbs and technical descents, staying largely inland and weaving through lush coastal rainforests and old growth havens, while still giving way to epic views of the Georgia Strait and the surrounding Gulf Islands.
Traversable in either direction, the trail is well-marked, beautifully (and voluntarily) maintained, and showcases a stunning collection of 15 unique, handcrafted huts, which are available for day-use as well as overnight stays.
Perhaps the best part of this lesser-known, mildly trodden west coast epic is the fact that the trail is free to use: no permits, no pre-bookings, no cost for camping, no hut use fees, nor parking fees.
For more info, check the website sunshinecoast-trail.com.
The Boreal Trail, Meadow Lake Provincial Park, Saskatchewan
Rarely thought of as a thru-hiking destination, northern Saskatchewan is home to a surprising amount of hills, forests and freshwater lakes, unlike much of its flatter farmlands and barren expanses to the south.
The Boreal Trail is the province's longest destination hiking trail, rounding out at 135 km (84 mi) of majestic backcountry trekking, though many people make it a 270 km (168 mi) yo-yo with a lack of solid shuttle services on either end.
With the popularity of hiking steadily growing, the trail was recently rejuvenated by a passionate crew, and is now well marked and speckled with serene backcountry campsites equipped with bear boxes, privies and nearby water access.
Photo by Tia on the Trail
While not the most physically demanding hike, the draw of the Boreal Trail is its unique landscape, abundance and diversity of wildlife, glimmering freshwater lakes, and the fact that you might just find yourself all alone with the birds, bees, and breeze throughout the entirety of your stunning Saskatchewan odyssey.
For more info, maps and fees see tourismsaskatchewan.com
The Bruce Trail, Niagara Escarpment, Southern Ontario
At 900 km (560 mi) in length, The Bruce Trail is Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath, allowing hikers to discover the breathtaking scenery of the Niagara Escarpment and the beautiful Bruce Peninsula.
Recognized as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, the Niagara Escarpment boasts a wide variety of wildlife as well as habitats, ranging from wetlands to woodlands, coastlines to cliffs, and savannas to swamps.
From its northern terminus in Tobermory, expect to be amazed by the turquoise waters of the Georgian Bay, underwater caves of the famous Grotto, and 1,000 year old Eastern White Cedars — leading you south toward the trail's end near Lake Ontario.
You’ll meander through sparsely populated areas with dense forests, as well as densely populated areas with sparse forests, all the while leapfrogging from nature conservancy and areas of unique biodiversity to town luxuries and resupplies.
The entire main footpath can be completed by most fit thru-hikers in about 30 days, with a set of BTC badges to prove you did it.
For more info and to find out where fees for camping are due, check the website at brucetrail.org
The International Appalachian Trail - Quebec Section, (IAT-QC/SIA-QC), Quebec
The Quebec section of the IAT (known to French Canadians as the Sentier International des Appalaches or SIA) is by far the most well-routed and properly maintained of the Canadian thru-hiking trails.
With more than 650 kilometers (404 mi) of stunning geography to explore, the SIA connects sacred spaces like the Matane Wildlife Reserve in the central Chic-Chocs to the Parc National de la Gaspesie, and the Albert and Jacques-Cartier mountains to the rugged, rocky cliffs that overhang the sea in Forillon National Park.
If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of the curious woodland caribou, and will most likely see wild moose as they have been busy propagating in the park. Keep your eyes peeled for bounding white-tailed deer, sly coyotes and red foxes, black bears, beavers and beautiful birds as you traverse the abundant lands.
Photo by Anne Marie Brassard
Accommodations are plentiful, ranging from nicely constructed shelters, refuges and tenting platforms in more remote areas to lodges, hotels and motels along populated parts of the route. You do need to book your accommodations in advance, as there are no first come, first serve options.
Access to the IAT/SIA-QC is free, but there are daily fees for Park passes and charges for camping.
For more information, check the (somewhat convoluted) website at SIA-QC
Sentier Nepisiguit Mi’gMaq Trail, (SNMT), Chaleur Region, New Brunswick
The Sentier Nepisiguit Mi'gMaq Trail is the revival of a traditional migratory route used by the nomadic Indigenous peoples of the area. The route allowed them to hunt, fish, trade and transition from the Bay of Chaleur inland toward modern day Mount Carleton Provincial Park.
The 150 km (93 mi) trail, which generally follows the Nepisiguit (‘rough waters’) River, re-opened in 2018 but remained largely unknown to the adventure community until National Geographic named it one of the planets ‘Top 25 Most Exciting Destinations for 2022’.
Thru-hikers on the SNMT can stay in teepees, warming shelters or on camping platforms while they transition through the beautiful river delta and valley bottoms, onto the undulating ridgelines that lead into New Brunswick’s Appalachian Mountain Range (or vice versa).
Those behind the revival of the SNMT hope the history of this sacred land (and water) route will serve as a way to connect visitors to the Mi’gmaq philosophy, or path of life; walking in harmony with nature, season to season.
Easy online registration, paying a nominal $25 trail fee, and finding more info can be done online at migmaqtrail.ca
Have you done any of these Canadian thru-hikes? Which of these trails most speaks to you? Leave a comment below!
Ali Becker is a freelance adventure writer and narrative storyteller who shares compelling conversations about personal transformations, overcoming limitations, wellness education and adventurous situations. You can follow her rambling adventures on social at @thisisalibecker.