The National Hiking Trail: The Footpath across Canada

Hike BC and the National Hiking Trail

In 1969 at a Boy Scout Convention in Ottawa an idea was born:  Why not create a ‘footpath’ across Canada.   So began the start of the National Hiking Trail.   This was the first foot trail to begin to cross Canada.

By 1971, the National Trail Association of Canada was created (now Hike Canada).  Slowly the new footpath began to expand across Canada.   Doug Campbell of Canmore,  Alberta, headed up the effort.

In the late 1980s, the BC portion of the National Hiking Trail was proposed for British Columbia across the southern portion of the Province.  This effort did not get off the ground beyond drawing lines on maps.

A second attempt was initiated in 1998 when Hike Canada approached the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC to search out a route across BC.   The FMCBC looked for areas that were primarily Crown Land.

By the year 2000, a rough route was proposed from Bella Coola across to the Rockies where it would link up with the trail in Banff National Park.   This route included several heritage trails including the Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail (It was one of the First Nation trading trails commonly referred to as a “Grease” Trail), Collins Telegraph Trail, 1861 Gold Rush Pack Trail, and the Goat River Trail.  Heritage and historic trails are included in the mission statement of Hike Canada.

From the Alberta border to The Fraser River the route is large undeveloped and only a route,    There are short sections with existing trails but much is rugged bush and should be attempted only by skilled outdoor people  People wanting to do this part of the route should contact Dave King of Hike B.C prior to attempting it as he is one of only a handful of people who have travelled this section.

Last year, members of the Fraser Headwater Alliance cleared the Goat River trail from the Fraser to border of Bowron Lakes Park leaving the trail in good shape.  The section in and by the park needs marking and brushing.  At this time there is no designated route from the Bowron Park headquarters to Barkerville and we recommend hikers follow the road connecting them.

The 1861 Goldrush trail to Keithly and Likely is in need of brushing.   Most of the trial is easy to follow but the southerly end has been messed up by logging activity.  The route from Likely to Quesnel remains ill defined but mostly follows the northerly side of the Quesnel River.    There are sections, especially closer to Quesnel where the route follows existing trails.

Through Quesnel it is necessary to follow city trials and roads until about 15 km northwest of the town where one picks up the Collin’s Telegraph Trail.   The telegraph trail to the Blackwater River (officially the West Road River) was fully cleared by Dwight Dodge last year and is reasonable shape.

The Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail has had some work done on it by personnel of Recreation Sites and Trails.  While most of the trial is okay, there are sections which have become overgrown.   Much of the trail is in an area hard hit by the Mountain Pine Beetle 7-8 years ago and now the dead pine is falling down so that is the major problem.   A major challenge to hikers is the three or four crossings of the river if the water is up.

As the year 2000 approached, it became apparent that many clubs involved in the effort did not belong to the FMCBC and that a new non-profit organization was needed.  Hike BC was founded to coordinate the development of the NHT in BC.   The FMCBC has remained involved.

As the northern section of the trail began to come together by 2005, it was determined that a connection to the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, and Sunshine Coast was needed.   Since a director of Hike BC resided in the Lower Mainland, he took on this task.   Since 2005, a route has been established from Peace Arch to Tsawwassen through the communities of Surrey, White Rock, and Delta with the help of Metro Vancouver.   Hike BC is also part of the South Surrey/Delta Greenway and Experience the Fraser project.  The Sunshine Coast Trail from Powell River to Saltery Bay was included in 2005.  This trail was built and is maintained by Powell River PAWS (Park and Wilderness Society).   In 2010, the regional district of the Sunshine Coast-Squamish okayed the use of the trail they were developing from Earl’s Cove to Langdale.   From there, one can catch a ferry to Horseshoe Bay where the Black Mountain trail starts for Cypress Provincial Park.

The local governments have endorsed the project enthusiastically.   NHT trail markers have now been posted throughout these communities.

The National Hiking Trail has also been endorsed by the cities of Courtenay, Cumberland, Squamish, Quesnel, and Wells; and by the regional districts of Metro Vancouver, Sunshine Coast, and Cariboo; and by BC Parks though Cypress, Shannon Falls, and Squamish Chief Provincial Parks.   Hike BC has a verbal agreement to use the Sea to Sky Trail from Squamish to Pemberton.

Working with the FMCBC since 1998 on a possible route on Vancouver Island has been the most challenging because of the private land issues.   By 2005, a route had been worked out from Victoria to Port Hardy (where a ferry is available to Bella Coola).   As mentioned previously, two communities gave their support in 2006 to this idea.  Since that time, a non-profit organization, the Vancouver Spine Trail organization, has been formed to pursue this idea in conjunction with Hike BC.   This project will take many years to complete.

Hike BC continues to negotiate agreements with local communities in order to complete the dream of a Footpath from Coast to Coast.    A new and improved website is being developed.   For now, check out www.nationaltrailofbc.ca.

On behalf of Hike BC,

Pat Harrison


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