Trail conditions in 2013

In this section we will try to point out the area that are time consuming or need some attention while planning.
We didn't have the "Hiking Canada's Great Divide Trail" book by Dustin Lynx so it's not because we didn't find the trail that there is no trail. We didn't buy the book because it was a bit too much descriptive for us (and heavy :D) so in this section we won't describe step by step the trail, just point out some area that need attention during the planning part and during the trip.

To follow the description you might want to open the Maps of The Great Divide Trail Topo mapset - Created by Jed Flint (download here) www.mytopo.com can be useful too.

 

Waterton - Coleman

We had lot of snow mid-June at the beginning but the navigation is easy from Waterton to the Twin Lakes campsite. Even under snow we didn't have any trouble finding a way through.
We went up to the Sage Pass without trail (didn't find, didn't need) and continued along the ridge without trail until the shouth of Mount Matkin. The lack of trail isn't a big deal since the area is quiet open. At that point you need to be carefull to not go down to much, some trails are present but not always leading to the right direction, a good GPS, good map skills, or free of snow condition should keep you out of trouble. The route 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 absolutely no trail but again it might have been under the snow. This part is really easy as you follow the ridge all the way, passing Grizzly lake until Burnaby Ridge. 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 climbing down to the road which is both hard and dangerous. The book might explain where to find the route, some research is necessary if you want to use this route. (See Burnaby ridge here)
For us we just had to follow the road until we found the trail on our left. In either case I found google street useful to identify the right place to turn and if you are coming from the mountain you might want to check with locals or books where it join the road. We found the trail on the left but it stopped and we ended up bushwacking to find the trail again, so you might want to check the book for this section or take a careful look on google map, you can see the right road really well on google map. It's an ATV area so there are a lot of trails, so we just probably didn't follow the good trail (Study this area).Once you are on the large trail there is no problem for about 11.5km until Carbondale river. This area is a bit complicated : there are quiet a few forestry roads(Here it gets a bit tricky). 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 many ways to reach Coleman from there, check the map and choose but be sure that you have an easy way (GPS) to keep track of your choice. 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 the way to Coleman(Here is the confusing area)

 

Coleman - Elk Lakes provincial park
Once in Coleman everything is pretty straight forward for while. We were hit by a huge storm just after Coleman so part of trails and bridges were washed out. The 30 fist kilometers after Coleman are easy to find and follow, if you are not confident, study the maps or read the book, it's pretty straight forward. There is some tricky crossroads but the book describe them well, 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 bushwack 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 all 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 maintain 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. There the trail cross many avalanche area and you will need some balance to go over the many trees on the ground (if it hasn't be cleared since).
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) 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 bushwack in a really dense forest most of the time until Howse Pass.  Then we had a batter trail from Howse Pass for about 3 km before taking a right turn. 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 strem 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 spot so we bushwacked up until we found it again, you might want to stay close to the river , that might help. Then it's pretty straight forward until Pinto Lake it's alpine area so no trail needed. 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) Then we crossed Cataract river and found some primitive trail that we kept loosing all the way up to the pass. It get easier as you climb since the vegetation gets lower. The left turn to the pass can be easy to miss, make sure that you don't miss it. At that point you are in alpine area so it a trail might be present but we didn't really try to find it. 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.(This part was hard) After maybe five kilometers, we found a trail that was almost possible to follow 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 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 in this area. At the half it looked like the West side of the river was better and some trails had been cleared towards the end, maybe from Spider Creek.(The Jackpine Valley, be ready to loose some time there)
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 with 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, just hard to find with all the disturbing markers and cut trees around.
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, the turned east in order to reach the Côté Creek valley(The challenging part between Cecilia Lake and Sheep Creek). 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 the 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.