Great Divide Trail Info

The Great Divide Trail is roughly 1200km long and journeys from the US border down in Waterton National Park and finishes at Kakwa Lakes (but then you still have to hike to the highway to get out!) Have a look at http://www.greatdividetrail.com for more history behind the trail. This website also have all the information you’ll ever need to plan a GDT hike. However I still felt like I needed more information which I searched thousands of websites and scoured blogs for any extra help. So to give something back I have created a page dedicated to everything I know about the trail. If there is anything else not mentioned on here then please feel free to contact me and I’ll try my best to answer your questions.

National Parks Pass & Camping Permits

We purchased the pass for all the parks which was around $140 but worth it for the two of us (and we lived in Banff which I was useful to have a pass for traveling about)

This pass just allows you to be in the National Parks without paying for a day permit. I am aware that you aren’t actually in national parks all the time on the trail and could save a bit of money by purchasing passes as and when. For ease and peace of mind we bought the annual pass.

You then have to buy a wilderness pass to reserve any campgrounds, especially online. All the camping reservations are now online which sounds wonderful when you think previously hikers would have had to email or phone each individual park and book each campsite. Theoretically, you pay one reservation fee for each park which is $11. The online system does have it’s flaws though. It will only let you book consecutive nights from one campground to the next all on one reservation fee. So book as many nights as you can on one fee but if you have a gap i.e. stealth camping or heading off trail, you’ll have to book these separately and pay another reservation fee.

We reserved the busier campsites and they booked up pretty fast. So much so that we had to change our start date of the entire hike to try and match up with all the reservations. The rest that we didn’t book we just turned up and hoped that there was somewhere to pitch the tent.

Eventually we cancelled the majority of our reservations as we wanted to be more spontaneous with our mileage and hike as far as our bodies wanted to go. It was far easier this way but obviously, the National Parks discourage this behaviour so be sensible about your stealth camping.

Maps and Apps

We used a combination of the app and maps. We could have purely used the app as it worked pretty accurately. However being the safety concious people we are we took a bunch of Ryan Silks and National Geographic Maps.

Bear Aware

I have previously hiked through bear country and never taken many precautions before. Most of the time I cooked and kept my food in my tent (which apparently is a big no no) but I never had any issues. When I was in the Sierras it was a legal requirement to carry a Bear Canister. These are big, round and not that light. This time around I was aware that the bear population is quite a lot higher than on the PCT and obviously more Grizzly Bears. And so I bought an Ursack which is a food bag made from super bear proof material used in combination with an Opsack to keep in all the tasty smells.

I also never really bothered to make my presence known to any bears before on the PCT but again this time around as there are far from people of the trail I made sure I shouted or sang as often as I could. And obviously carried bear spray.

The Alternate Start

Due to the start of the trail being closed at Waterton this year, there were a couple of options for hikers to choose from for an alternative start point. We opted for the Yarrow Creek – Avion Ridge route. We initially found it tricky hitchhiking from Pincher Creek as it was a pretty quiet road and a bit of a way off the main highway. We managed a two-part hitch but had to maybe walk about 5km of the road until we got our second ride. We used our British charm to convince a nice lady to take us all the way to the trailhead.

We hiked up a pretty easy but long trail to the head of Yarrow Creek where we camped by the small lake. We stopped here due to an enormous thunderstorm that carried on for nearly 5 hours. The next morning it was super foggy and we were a little concerned about route finding on the Newman – Avion Ridge. However, if you pay attention to the maps and the trodden path ahead you can’t go too wrong. And you don’t even have to walk along the top of the ridge as there is trail lower down from the ridge itself. It was a pleasant trail with some views peaking through the clouds. We then descended down onto the South Castle Road. This isn’t so much as a road but an abandoned track which is probably used by snowmobiles in the winter. What we didn’t expect was all the river crossings along the way. Expect to get your feet wet on this alternate! But overall an easy trail to rejoin the GDT further north.

Resupply Strategy

Here are the main resupply points we used;

Pincher Creek (for the start) as they have a big Walmart, great campground, good coffee house and a really nice outdoor outlet store for those last minute essentials.

Coleman or Blairmore We used IGA in Blairmore. The Lost Lemon Campground is brilliant and only about $30 a night. Also ‘Stones Throw Cafe’ has great coffee & food.

Peter Lougheed Visitor Centre We dropped a package off directly at the centre and the staff we really helpful. You can post your package to them but be aware it takes a little time to get there so allow for this. The Visitor Centre has free WiFi, plug sockets & water. The staff were super helpful. Also get yourself to the Boulton Creek Trading Post for ice cream! (They also have a restaurant & store which is good for topping up supplies). A lot of the campgrounds around the area are first come first served so try and get in there earlier as we missed them all by the afternoon.

Banff IGA is big and has everything you’ll need but it does cost just a little more than usual. I’m not too sure about the best accommodation in town as we lived there but they have a couple of hostels and so many hotels you can shake a stick at. We also met a couple who stayed at the lodge at Sunshine and rated the experience very highly. In the summer they run a shuttle bus service mid week from the resort to the parking lot at the bottom and then you catch the complimentary shuttle to Banff. At weekends they run the Gondola instead. Banff has a handful of outdoor stores for all those hiker needs from fuel to new socks!

Field We dropped a package at the Fireweed Hostel and they were happy to hold it for us as long as we put an expected arrival date on it. We didn’t even have to stay with them to leave it there. The gas station has some extra bits of food to top up resupply. The Trufflepig has a restaurant, pub, gift store with ice cream & laundry facilities too!

The Crossing Resort We left a package with the Motel at the resort, again they don’t require you to stay with them to hold a package. It’s pretty pricey for a room for one night and they book up quite quickly. We stayed there for one night for around $230 but there isn’t really anywhere else to stay with all the facilities unless you hitch further up/down the highway. The Crossing has a small store (which is super expensive but you could top up on cheese etc) a cafe, a restaurant, a pub & laundry facilities.

Jasper We resupplied in town as there a couple of grocery stores but still a little pricey. There are also a handful of outdoor stores for fuel, new shoes etc. There are loads of restaurants and cafes to choose from and they are all great (at least all the ones we sampled). We also turned up on a busy weekend with limited places to stay but found a room at The Athabasca Hotel which for a queen bedroom was around $140. The Whistlers campground also has walk-ins which means if you are struggling to find a place you can just turn up and pay $25 to camp with showers. Be aware that they are actually closing the Whistlers campground in 2019 for renovation.

Mt Robson Visitor Centre We also dropped a package to here however you can mail it to them but call them before to check with their requirements. They were really helpful! The cafe there is awesome, all the food was great and the Gelato was a winner for me. They also have two campgrounds which book up very fast, even the first come first served so be aware of this.
The Finish

We finished at Kakwa Lake and there was a couple of volunteer rangers who were so welcoming and helpful. The cabin is free to use with bunks and a fireplace. They also have a really nice campsite next to the lake. There is then a 28km hike to the trail head at Bastille Creek Bridge and then it’s about 70+ km along the gravel road. When we arrived on a Sunday there were no cars there (it was super smokey at the time though). We did manage to catch a ride with a guy on his ATV and sometimes hunters drive around on that road scouting out places so even if it is quiet just keeping hiking until something turns up.

Gear List (under construction)

  • Superior Wilderness Designs Long Haul 50+L Backpack
  • Leki Makkalu Lightweight Trekking Poles
  • Mountain Hardware Phantom Flame Sleeping Bag
  • Rab Silk Liner
  • Tarptent Stratospire 2 Tent
  • Thermarest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad
  • Hoka One Speedgoat 2 Shoes
  • Black Diamond Stormline Jacket
  • Berghaus Paclite Pants
  • Decathlon lightweight down jacket
  • Patagonia Nine Trails Shorts
  • Icebreaker Merino T Shirt
  • Injinji Socks
  • Buff
  • Isobaa Merino Hoody
  • Marmot Mitts
  • Rab Merino Leggings
  • Platypus Gravity Filter
  • Jetboil Stove

Itinerary

Yarrow Creek to Coleman

June 21 Yarrow Basin
22 Font Creek Trail
23 Jutland Creek
24 West Castle River
25 Lynx Creek
26 Bridge Before Coleman
27 Coleman
28 ZERO (Hiked out 5km)

Coleman to Kananaskis

29 Alexander Creek
30 Dutch Creek
July 1 Cache Creek
2 High Rock
3 James Lake
4 Elk Lake
5 Peter Lougheed
6 ZERO
7 ZERO

Kananaskis to Banff

8 Palliser Pass
9 Big Springs
10 Porcupine
11 Banff
12 ZERO

Banff to Field

13 Eygpt Lake
14 Floe Lake
15 Tumbling Creek
16 McArthur Creek
17 Field
18 ZERO

Field to Saskatchewan River Crossing

19 Fire Creek
20 Amiskwi Pass
21 Lambe Creek
22 Glacier Lake
23 Crossing Resort

The Crossing to Jasper

24 Pinto Lake
25 Cataract Pass

26 Waterfall
27 Mary Schaffer
28 Little Shovel
29 Skyline Trailhead
30 Jasper
August 1 ZERO

Jasper to Mt Robson

2 Creek 14km from Westgate
3 Colonel Creek
4 Calumet Creek
2 Mt Robson Meadows

Mt Robson to Kakwa

5 Robson Pass
6 Chown Creek
7 Blueberry Lake
8 Jackpine High Alternate
9 Pauline Creek
10 Casket Creek
11 Kakwa
12 To the Highway