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Canadian Rockies Trail Guide

Canadian Rockies’ Great Divide Trail revisited

Great Divide Trail brochure, 1970The Great Divide Trail was an idea proposed by various individuals and groups in the 1960s. After studying route possibilities, Jim Thorsell published a brochure-style guide in 1970 Provisional Trail Guide and Map for the Proposed Great Divide Trail (click on link for PDF of original brochure). The guide presented his ideal route from Palliser Pass at the southern end of Banff Park to Mount Robson utilizing existing national and provincial park trails. With his permission, we published an edited version of the guide in the first and four subsequent editions of the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide.

Long-distance trekkers as well as weekend backpackers were immediately drawn to the route, and Parks Canada gave initial approval to the project. But despite its objective of establishing the trail by 1975, the agency soon waffled and abandoned the idea. In 1976, the Great Divide Trail Association was formed and work undertaken to establish the trail between Waterton and the southern end of Banff National Park, but the Alberta government eventually withdrew its support for the project.

There’s been a lot of politics involved in stifling the Great Divide Trail. As someone who lived through it all and watched support wax and wane, it’s hard to be confident that Mr. Hockey and the GDT Association will find a solution.

Parks Canada initially withdrew its support in the mid-1970s because it forecast numbers of backpackers that would have been very difficult to manage. But the figures were totally out of whack. One GDT supporter examined Parks Canada’s projected usage and waggishly suggested that a traffic light would have to be installed where the trail crossed the Trans Canada Highway at Field, BC. “A backpacker would be crossing the highway every minute throughout the summer.”

A similar situation arose with the Alberta government during their negotiations with the GDT Association. Some rather lame roadblocks were imposed on the trail builders, but the general sense was that Alberta didn’t want anything running across Crown Lands that might compromise resource exploration and development or private enterprise.

Bow Valley Highline Trail

Backpackers following the proposed Great Divide Trail route over Banff’s Healy Pass, September 1970.

Judging from comments by Mr. Hockey, the Alberta government is still dragging its feet and blocking trail establishment. “We would need to make sure all stakeholders’ needs are considered before putting an actual policy in place,” says Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation Bill Anderson.

And Parks Canada has just decommissioned a 42-km section of the GDT route over Jasper Park’s Maligne Pass, ostensibly to reduce impact on wildlife. No other trail exists in Jasper Park or on the British Columbia side of the Divide to replace that vital missing link.

History of the Great Divide Trail

For a good historical overview of the GDT, check out the Great Divide Trail website.


1 Comment

  1. Guillermo Barron

    We attempted to hike the GDT from Maligne Lake to Pinto L. in July 2012. The trail had been decommissioned and we were turned back because of a collapsed bridge on the Maligne R.

    Last summer we hiked 150 km on the GDT from Spray Lakes to Hwy 1 just west of Field. Great trail all the way, but we still have no well-marked, well-used long-distance trails in Canada as they do in the US and Europe. But we should.


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