Great Divide Trail Conditions in 2013

This was written in 2013, after finishing the trip, since this date, the trail has regained popularity and it seems like some part are now maintained.

When planning the trip, we decided to not take the official book for the trail, named : “Hiking Canada’s Great Divide Trail” book written by Dustin Lynx, this book describe the route really accurately. We wanted to rely only on maps and test our orientation skills so we didn’t bring it. In this section we will point out a few of the spots that were the most difficult orientation wise for use.

Here are the maps created by Jed Flint : Map Package  and here is a really useful link for planning the trip with free topo maps : http://www.caltopo.com

Waterton – Coleman 

We started mid-June which is a bit early, Waterton National Park was still covered with snow so that slowed us down a little. Beginning of July should be slightly better, the navigation is quit easy from Waterton to Twin Lakes Campsite. We had lot of snow mid-June at the beginning but the navigation is easy from Waterton to the Twin Lakes campsite. We went up to the Sage Pass and continued along the ridge without trail until the south of Mount Matkin. The lack of trail isn’t a big deal since the area is quit open. At that point you need to be careful to not go down too much, there are some trails but not always going the right way. The route then climb La Coulotte Ridge which is really easy to follow until La Coulotte Peak. At that point we choose to go North by the ridges, from what we have seen there is no trail but it might have been under the snow. This part is really easy as you follow the ridge all the way. We had some trouble at that point, we didn’t find the way to go through the steep and rocky part of Burnaby
ridge so we ended up going down some steep scree to the road which was challenging. Here is a link to the area’s topo (Topo map). After some time on the road we found a path to our left which ended up being a dead end so we bushwhacked to find a large tractor trail. For this part it might be useful to check more in details the book or maps. This area is used mostly by ATV so you might be able to find some up to date maps ( Topo Map ). Once on the large trail there is no problem for about 11.5km until Carbondale river. This area is a bit complicated : there are quit a few forestry roads ( Topo Map ). There is a real road if you continue straight on the dirt road, you would then reach Ohagen Road and follow it on the left. Once in the valley follow the road, pass the campground and continue along the road, after that you want to find a dirt road on the left just after a bridge that head north and then north-west for about 3km. After that you are looking for forestry road/large trail that head north and up a hill towards willoughby ridge. There is at least one other trail that goes up and north just before the good one so you might want to double check with map or GPS that it is the good one. The ridge is pretty easy to follow, it’s about 15km between the two roads. You might want to double check the part just before reaching the road as there are a few different road that can be disturbing. There are many different way to reach the road, and many different dirt road that leaves the road, and leads or not to Coleman so it’s good to check, decide and map the area beforehand to avoid to loose a lot of time there. Our problem there was that we didn’t know where we reached the road so we had a hard time finding our way (Here is the confusing area : Topo Map ).

Coleman – Elk Lakes provincial park

Once in Coleman everything is pretty straight forward for a while. We were hit by a huge storm just after Coleman so part of trails and bridges were washed out. The 30 first kilometers after Coleman are easy to find and follow, There are some tricky crossroads but manageable with a map, and the small map we had was enough to not get lost so no problem. It was like that until the North Fork pass, easy to follow and to pass, the way is pretty straight forward until Tornado pass. We didn’t find any trail as we were on the snow between Tornado pass and Tornado Mountain but it’s pretty easy to find. We bushwacked after Tornado Mountain almost until Hidden Creek but we then found a large trail. At that point the trail is marked, it is actually the only part of the whole GDT marked as GDT.
It’s probably the most maintained part of the trail too. Until Fording river pass the trail is pretty easy to follow, you might want to check if the bridge have been rebuilt in the area since after the storm every single bridge were washed out which could lead to pretty hard river crossing. After Fording river pass the trail goes left, it hasn’t been maintained for a while and bushes are invading the area. It is pretty fast to go down until the river, then the trail follow it for a while until passing the weary ridge, then it turns right and join a large dirt road. From that point until Elk Lakes provincial park it’s problem free. The way down has been heavily damaged by the storm so you should check with Peter Lougheed park and Elk Lakes to see if it has been fixed.

Elk Lakes PP – Banff

For Peter Lougheed you might want to make sure that the bridge that was washed out during the storm has been repaired as it is nearly impossible to cross the Kananaskis river without this bridge. From there to the North Kananaskis pass the trail is pretty easy to find/follow. After the pass there is a trail, we had some trouble to find it at the end of the scree but it’s there and freshly maintained. A trail is present too along Palisser river even though we didn’t really see the jonction and had to bushwack a bit after crossing the river to find it. From the Palisser pass we had some issue finding the trail probably because nobody really hike there and as well because all the valley was flooded. We just walked at the the bottom of the valley the whole time, we found the trail on the right part of the valley and finally found a trail around Birdwood campground. Then it was easy to follow, this part is not really well maintained but some signs are still up, be ready to encounter some hard river crossing if Banff National Park didn’t fix the bridges washed away during the storm. Apart from the bridge problem the trail is good until and pass the Bryant creek (fortunately this major bridge is still intact). Then we had no problem until Marvel lake.
We didn’t find a real trail to the wonder pass but well you just have to climb straight. From wonder pass to Banff absolutely no problem.

Banff – Field

No Problem from Banff to Kootenay. There we had so much snow that it’s nearly impossible to tell if trails are good but even without trail the way is pretty obvious. From there until Field there is no problem. The trail is actually the railway before Field, we didn’t find the trail to cross the river, apparently the GDT take the natural bridge over the river (we didn’t know that so we followed the road). Study map or enter the coordinates of the turn so you don’t have to go around by the road.

Field – Saskatchewan Crossing

From the natural bridge to Otto Creek the way is straight forward. From that point the old road gets a bit bushy until it totally disapear. We first had some trouble to find a good place to cross the powerful river, it took us few hours to bushwack along in order to find an easy crossing. Then we weren’t able to find the trail, it may be because we didn’t find it or because it doesn’t exist. A GPS or the book might have helped.(This area gave us some problem) (Topo Map). We found it back near Amiskwi pass, there the narrow trail join a large dirt road that you follow for about 27km until the bottom of Doubt Hill. There the dirt road stop and a narrow and rarely used trail take over. This trail follow closely the river so it was totally under the water for us. You might have more luck, this part is maitained by a small group of people, you can try to check with them to see if it has been cleared recently. It took us a long time to go over this section as we had to bushshwack in a really dense forest most of the time until Howse Pass. From there and for 3km it was good until we turn to the right. This part was a nigthmare for us, all the trees were on the ground, we were able to follow a trail but we had to climb or crawl under trees every 5 meters. It tooks us forever to cover the 15km before the turn to Glacier Lake. To access Glacier Lake you need to cross the Howse river which is apparently rarely possible, it’s a wide river with strong stream and muddy bottom. We continued until mistaya river but were blocked by the strong stream so we bushwack until the Mistaya Canyon crossed by a bridge. It might be possible to cross the river at other time but for us it was impossible.

Saskatchewan crossing – Jasper

The trail follow Owen creek, it is a pretty good trail at first with some nice camping areas at the beginning. After 5.6km from the road we kind of lost the trail, we followed something that lead us on the wrong side so we bushwacked up until we found it again, you might want to stay close to the river. Then it’s pretty straight forward until Pinto Lake. From Pinto Lake to Cataract pass we had many trails issues, we didn’t find any trail leaving Pinto lake so we bushwacked and followed some wildlife tracks for a while.(We didn’t find any real trail there :Topo Map) Then we crossed Cataract river and found some primitive trail that we kept loosing all the way up to the pass. The left turn to the pass can be easy to miss. At that point you are in alpine area so no trail needed. Once you reach Jasper national Park, there is a trail until Jasper, a nice, fast and easy trail, even in the part that is not supposed to be maintained anymore.

Jasper – Kakwa

Well this part is a bit more challenging, from the trailhead to Miette lake be ready for really wet conditions and some hide and seek with the trail. There is one but it hasn’t been maintained for a while so it’s sometimes pretty hard to find. Just before the Miette Lake there is a huge swamp if you don’t have GPS just follow the river until you see the lake as the trail can be pretty hard to find in this area. After the campground (that we didn’t find) the route finding game continue, sometime you find a piece of trail but most of the time you follow your own. It’s not a big deal as the vegetation is low and easy to go through in this area. After Centre Pass there is a trail and a good one while you go down, it’s pretty easy to follow until Colonel pass. From Colonel pass to Moose river there is a trail but all the last 4km are through a burnt area which is pretty slow to go through. We chose to follow the Moose river from the west side, there is sometimes a trail but most of the time you have the choice between crossing dense forest or knee deep swamps. We took the swamps Topo Map. After maybe five kilometers, we found a trail that was almost possible to follow but a lot of river crossing are involved. After the moose pass it’s straight forward until Chown Creek Campground.
At this point you get into the serious route finding game, along the river there is not much of a trail, then going up to Bess pass there is a trail. At the pass pay attention as the trail look like a moose trail climbing really steeply to the right. After that it’s pretty straight forward until Jackpine Pass. Then along the Jackpine river it gets really hard, lot of bushes, no trail, and many swamps crossing. We never found a reliable trail and were constantly bushwacking. Depending on water level, plan to be on the good side of the river towards the end to avoid nasty river crossing, the West side of the river was slightly better for us (Topo Map). We lost the tiny trail that we had just before Meadowland Creek and its burnt area. There is some human activity signs and some confusing marker on some trees but they lead nowhere. So we bushwacked up and found a trail while going up. Then there was a trail going down towards Beaverdam Creek. Until Morkill pass there is some route finding challenge but nothing
too hard especially if you have a GPS, we lost the trail at the top of Big Shale Hill and down beside Shale pass but we found it back quite easily. Then we had a trail or a route to follow until Casket pass but couldn’t find anything going around Casket mountain, some trails were there but we lost them. We had a hard time finding our way to the forest part before Surprise
Pass but there is a trail, the logging activity in this area made it challenging to follow the right direction. Until Cecilia lake it is quite easy to follow the trail, there are some difficulties towards the end but not a big deal.Then there is a trail until Kakwa pass, after that some swamps makes it harder to find a way but there is always a trail to find.

Kakwa – Grande Cache

This isn’t a part of the official trail but since we did it we might as well give some trails updates :
We walked around Cecilia Lake by the west side until the lake’s north point, then turned east in order to reach the Côté Creek valley (The challenging part between Cecilia Lake and Sheep Creek : Topo Map). First we tried to follow the valley by hiking in the forest next to it but that proved to be too long and painful process. We ended up walking in the swampy valley without any trails until  Sheep Creek. After that the trail is in really good condition. Crossing the Sheep Creek and Muddywater Creek can be challenging if the water level is high. We had to walk quite a while to find a spot to cross. Other than that the way to Grande Cache is pretty straight forward and gets wider and cleaner as you get closer to town.