“Canada's Rocky Mountains at their best, wild and beautiful, along the Continental Divide.”
— Joan Pendleton
Birding · Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife · Commonly Backpacked
Access points in the form of motor vehicle accessible trailheads and access trails, are sprinkled along the GDT. Please see the Hike Sections
listed below for access points to each section.
The Great Divide Trail (GDT) is a long distance trail that traverses the heart of Canada's Rocky Mountains for over 1100km (700mi). It runs along the Alberta/British Columbia border, criss-crossing the Continental Divide many times. Snow and glacier capped peaks, rushing silt laden creeks and rivers, cascading waterfalls, fir forests, turquoise lakes, wildflowers, and gorgeous expansive high meadows and passes are all here in vivid techni-color. As are their furry inhabitants - bears, hoary marmots, elk, deer, caribou, moose, snowshoe hares, etc.; and not so furry inhabitants - porcupines.
The Main GDT Sections are lettered A - G, going from south to north. There are also several alternate routes to provide additional interest and adventure, high routes, routes around otherwise less desirable (to some) routes, etc. Whether one thru-hikes the whole GDT, one or more sections, a weekend backpack, a run or a day hike on the GDT, one will experience the vast and beautiful wilderness of these mountains.
Need to Know
The GDT is a wilderness trail. Hiking it provides a wilderness experience that in places may include unmaintained trail, no trail at all (route finding required), animal sightings and encounters, isolation, unbridged creeks and rivers, and long distances between resupplies.
Summer weather can include snow.
Resources regularly updated with the latest conditions and other information are:
- GDTA website www.greatdividetrail.com
- Dustin Lynx book "Hiking Canada's Great Divide Trail"
- GDT App
- Ryan Silk's GDT Map Atlas
- Gem Trek maps
One can thru-hike the Great Divide Trail (GDT) in its entirety, day hike from any of the trailheads along it, or do anything in between such as a popular overnight trip, a Section hike, etc. No matter what length one chooses, one will experience the Canadian Rockies wilderness in all its glory - its beauty, its animals, its vegetation, and its weather. It would be impossible to give a detailed description of this 1,100+km (700+mile) route in the space provided here, AND there are others who have devoted their efforts to its detailed description and done a much better job - Please have a look at the resources listed above in the Need to Know section.
However, with that said, here are some tidbits:
The GDT is divided into 7 Sections (see Hike Sections above) that vary in length from about 100km (60mi) to 220km (140mi). Additionally, there are many alternate routes—some are high routes with breath taking vistas, some merely provide variety and new adventure and others take one around areas deemed less desirable to some people. These alternate routes are listed in the Trail description of the section that they pertain to.
The GDT goes through:
- 5 national parks
- 9 provincial parks
- 4 wilderness areas
- Crown Land
The GDT Experience
To a day hiker: They drive up to a trailhead along the GDT, get out of their car, say hello to a few others they see, find a noticeable trailhead sign, and set off on a nice well-maintained trail. The day is spent admiring the beauty, walking along a good, well-maintained trail, snacking, and greeting other hikers. They finish, get back in their cars, and drive off to dinner.
To a thru-hiker (or section hiker): The thru-hiker or section hiker does weeks of planning, arranging for resupplies and transportation, and preparing their gear (light but able to handle rain, snow, sun, creek crossings, animals, bugs, brushy and faint/disappearing trails, and plenty of food). They then travel to the trailhead (or access trail) and may see people and a noticeable trailhead sign OR may not, depending on the trailhead.
Their days are filled with beauty and challenges. There will be days when one floats along in magnificent scenery and sunshine, but also days when one slogs through wet underbrush, possibly in rain/snow. In places the trail is obvious and easy to hike at a fast pace but hikers will also encounter boot-sucking mud and climbs with no visible trail (much consultation of the GPS device and/or map will be necessary). There will be stretches where no other humans are seen for a few days and also days spent among the day hikers and overnighters on popular, well maintained trails. This is just a sampling of the thru-hiker/section hiker experience. The total experience is impossible to put in words.
History & Background
The idea for a GDT arose in 1966 when the Girl Guides proposed a long distance trail along the Continental Divide in Canada. Following this, Jim Thorsell, sponsored by the national and provincial parks, surveyed, reviewed reports, and did route finding that resulted in his Provisional Trail Guide and Map for the Proposed Great Divide Trail.
Gaining momentum, in 1974 the federal OFY program funded 6 students to do a formal survey of the GDT route. First Nations trails, pack routes, etc were considered to propose this GDT route. The students continued to work to make the GDT a reality.
This led to the formation of the GDTA in 1975. Government funding and trail building ensued. By 1986, much of the GDT was in place. Then in the 1990s, priorities changed, funding dwindled, and the GDTA went quiet, as did trail work.
Starting around 2000, GDT interest and work slowly re-awakened. In 2013, the GDTA was revived, and since then it has very actively led GDT trail work and promotion.