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The Great Trail: hike, bike or paddle it

Previously known as the Trans Canada Trail it is more than 24,000 km long

Have you explored any of “the Great Trail?” Known as the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) until a name change in 2016, it is more than 24,000 km long, and seeks to connect the east, west and north coasts of Canada. A not-for-profit organization, the Trans Canada Trail was created in 1992 as part of Canada’s 125th birthday. The dream was to create the longest trail in the world, though the word “trail” can be misleading, since it is classed for use in hiking, cycling and paddling. Some parts are on paved urban paths, others on secondary highways or gravel rural roads, and several sections follow water routes — in Ontario (along Lake Superior’s shore), from northern Alberta through the Territories, and through parts of the Maritimes (including the ferry route to Newfoundland). Since 1992 the TCT has been working with various levels of government, as well as corporations and foundations to fund the project, leading to the present-day name of the Great Trail.

In parts of Canada, the trail divides into alternate routes. In Alberta, near Edmonton, one section goes south and west to the southern B.C. coast, with a water loop across to Vancouver Island. The other segment heads north from Edmonton and splits again, with one route roughly following the Alaska Highway to the Yukon, before looping back into the Northwest Territories to Inuvik. The second northerly route is a paddling one following various rivers and lakes north to the Arctic Ocean.

In Manitoba, except for a very short river section adjacent to the Ontario border, the trail is by land. Last year the Great Trail, together with Trails Manitoba, announced that Manitoba’s section was officially province-wide, with all parts now connected — the seventh province or territory to do so. However, several scattered parts of the Manitoba “trail” still follow gravel roads, or occasionally paved highways (including a 10-km gap on Highway No. 5, from south of Carberry to Spruce Woods Provincial Park), making the total trail distance from east to west to just over 1,300 km.

A map of the Great Trail, where most of it is shown in green, with water sections in blue. Click on the trail line for section-by-section information, including name and length of a segment, with activities indicated and a printable map available. Zoom in to locate parking, access points, rest areas, drinking water, etc. for many areas. For some portions, such as the trail through Spruce Woods Park, look on park maps.

In Manitoba, the paddling part of the Great Trail enters Manitoba from Ontario as far as the dam on the Seven Sisters Falls (south of Lac du Bonnet), where it changes into the North Whiteshell Trail in two directions. From there, across the province, it follows a long meandering route, first in a general northwest direction to Grand Beach on Lake Winnipeg, then abruptly south, through Winnipeg, and south as far as the U.S. border. From there, it heads mainly northwest and north, exiting into Saskatchewan west of Duck Mountain Provincial Park. In a few places extra loops have been made to lead to various attractions.

Some Manitoba sections have an interesting historic and geographic background. The Crow Wing Trail segment, for instance, that connects Winnipeg to Emerson, closely follows the path of an ox cart trail. Other parts follow old railway lines, such as the section from Neepawa to Russell. Called the Rossburn Subdivision Trail, this follows an abandoned rail line and passes through more than a dozen small towns. It is classed as a gravel trail, suitable for walking, cycling, horseback riding, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.

In future years, partners across the country hope to further enhance and improve the trail, and in September 2018 Ottawa announced an investment of $30 million over the next four years.

Approximately 80 per cent of Canadians now live within 30 minutes of a section of the Great Trail, so consider spending a day or two this summer exploring a small part of it, or perhaps a longer trip with some overnight stops, or for the really ambitious — maybe even the whole trail! For more information go to the Great Trail website.

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