Planning for the Great Divide Trail is so very Canadian.
Compared to the big 3 scenic hiking trails south of the border (Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail) the Great Divide Trail is a reflection of Canada’s highly regulated norms. You will need daily reservations for about 1/3 of your camping sites as the trail snakes 1100 km through many national and provincial parks. You will also need a Parks Canada Discovery Pass just to enter the 5 National Parks en route.
There are many good reasons for regulating wilderness spaces in Canada – to be discussed another time – however, it does take away from the loose and easy hiking style capable south of the border.
The need for campsite reservations makes it essential for hikers to create an accurate and precise itinerary. Otherwise, your reservations will be all out of wack if you miss just one day. Don’t sweat it, there are good resources that can help you plan, including; the GDTA website, Dustin Lynx’s book, and the Great Divide Trail Hikers Facebook group.
Planning is easier for experienced backpackers for many reasons. Firstly, gear is generally not a concern for veteran hikers. But it’s the self-awareness of your personal hiking pace and expected daily kilometres that will most help the experienced backpacker when planning.
I’ve been hiking for over 40 years, and over time… my gear has evolved.
As time moved, so did my knowledge, skills, and commitment. Likely the biggest changes to my gear list were because of these 3 issues; more available money, improved product technology, and changing camping styles.
- Money – With life came family, careers, increased incomes, and eventually reduced expenses as the children moved out of the nest. That $500 tent no longer seemed unaffordable.
- Technology – Gear has evolved so much in 40 years. Gortex, nylons, shoes, fabrics, tent designs, pack designs, sleep pads, stoves, water bottles, and water purification just to name a few things. All the new tech improved both the quality of the hike and the weight of the load.
- Styles – Developing parallel to the improved tech was changing camping stylings. Lighter loads, frameless packs, cold-soaking, quilts, and single-wall tents. Camping can now be both lighter and more comfortable – the holy grail of backpacking.
My gear selection is mostly based on my personal experience backpacking out east. Predominately in Ontario, Quebec, New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
✏️ Gear List – Great Divide Trail 2021
GDT Facts **
- The GDT passes through:
- 5 National Parks: Waterton Lakes, Banff, Kootenay, Yoho, and Jasper.
- 8 Provincial Parks: Akamina‐Kishinena, Castle, Elk Lakes, Peter Lougheed, Height of the Rockies, Mount Assiniboine, Mount Robson, and Kakwa.
- 3 Wildland Provincial Parks: Castle, High Rock, and Don Getty.
- 2 wilderness areas: Beehive Natural Area and White Goat Wilderness.
- 2 special management areas: Kananaskis Country and Willmore Wilderness Park.
- 5 forest districts: Castle, Bow/Crow, Cranbrook, Golden, and Robson Valley.
- Length: 1,123 kilometres – 65% of the trail in Alberta and 35% in BC.
- Highest point: 2,590 m (8,497 ft) at an unnamed pass above Michele Lakes just south of the White Goat Wilderness Area
- Lowest point: 1,055 m (3,461 ft) at Old Fort Point trailhead near Jasper
- The GDT is designed for non-motorized use only – specifically for people on foot and horseback (although Parks Canada prohibits horseback travel on some sections of the trail in the National Parks).
- The GDT intersects with the Trans Canada Trail and the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (a long-distance bicycle touring route from Banff to New Mexico) in the Elk River Valley, overlapping both routes for approximately 30 kilometres.
- Portions of the GDT are hiked by thousands of people each year but far fewer attempt to thru‐hike the entire trail.
The goo in the mix for 2021 is the global Covid 19 pandemic.
I already had my Appalachian Trail 2020 plans killed by the pandemic. So I’m still waiting with nervous energy whether the various governments will continue to allow interprovincial travel and flights. Also, will Parks Canada, Alberta, and British Columbia provincial parks continue to allow backpacking into the backwoods? This is a real concern as I write this post. Ontario currently has prohibited backwoods camping, and the Alberta Government has increased restrictions in response to a surge of COVID cases.
All members of our hiking team will have their 1st dose of the vaccine by the time we hit the trail, yet it’s still unknown if the 2nd dose will be available before we leave.
All this is making me a tad anxious. I don’t want another AT 2020, where I had to cancel all my plans at the 11th hour!
it’s a waiting game!
We are all planned out! Our itinerary is complete, reservations acquired, and vaccinations received… we just need the pandemic numbers to get down to a safe level to clear our path forward!
The only thing we can do now is to wait and smile!
** Facts from The Great Divide Trail Association