Backpacking in Canada
May 28, 2004 9:55 PM   Subscribe

I just realized that I get downright passionate about telling people how to have the best outdoor/hiking experience in the south half of BC/Alberta. I'm thinking this means I'd be happiest were I to get back into hiking. But I feel I've done it all here... does anyone have recommendations for truly stunning 3-5 day backpacking excursions? They don't necessarily require mountains: I've done some coastal hiking, and it was wonderful, too. Where in the world should I go?
posted by five fresh fish to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
oh! go to waterton lakes national park. it's tiny, attached to glacier national park, entirely uncrowded (the townsite has all of two commercial blocks, and the hiking is fantastic. as far as i'm concerned, it embodies what a national park is meant to be.
posted by lumiere at 10:18 PM on May 28, 2004

Look into the Maze or Needles districts of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. One of my fondest backpacking memories is of my group getting stuck in a freak snowstorm two days out in Needles. We nearly froze to death, but I got some awesome photos in the process.
posted by mrbula at 10:36 PM on May 28, 2004

Slot canyon hiking. Seriously, best trip of my life. I've hiked much of the west, climbed all the big peaks in the Sierra Nevada, been down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon three times and back along advanced trails, but slot canyon hiking from just north of the Utah border, down 35 miles of canyon to Lee's Ferry on the Arizona side in five days was fantastic. That stretch is called the Paria Canyon.

It really changed my perspective on life as well. I think I was about 27 when I did it and walking along 500ft deep canyons that you could almost reach both sides with your armspan in spots drove home the point of how infinitely small we are on the earth.

I found an old pic of me hiking it. We had perfect weather without any flooding danger during our time, so we were lucky. A perfect week down there is really amazing. Shoot for probably Sept-Oct for the best time left this year (May is the best time of year period, but it's already too late).
posted by mathowie at 1:33 AM on May 29, 2004

I second mathowie on the slot canyons. I looked into Paria as some Alaskans I met in the Cook Islands had recommended it but it takes time (which I didn't have too much of) & a little planning. I will return.

[Nearby Antelope Canyon just east of Page, AZ is a neat & easy taster]

The Grand Canyon is well worth it and there are many different trails.

The West Rim at Zion National Park comes highly recommended with the vertigous Angel's Landing at the start.

Away from N America, New Zealand has some great tramps (hikes) in the Abel Tasman Park, Marlborough Sounds & Fiordlands. Fiordlands is home to the Milford & Kepler tracks which are becoming very popular. Booking is essential. See the New Zealand DOC website for loads of info. (The DOC - Dept. of Conservation - does similar work to the BLM, NPS & USDA Forest Service in the US.)

There has been a tendancy in these post-LOTR times for the New Zealand Tourist Board to overplay it's hand a little so there is a lot of hype now, but getting out on a track you will get to see a lot of NZ that most folks don't.

Being in the Southern hemisphere it'll be summer during a Canadian winter which might be an advantage ;-) Just watch out for the sand flies...can be annoying & itchy as hell but a citronella-based spray keeps 'em away.
posted by i_cola at 8:46 AM on May 29, 2004

Response by poster: I've done Waterton front-country, not backcountry. If you like that, give Kokanee Glacier a try.

Slot canyon hiking, yes: a must-do. I'll mention the Sept-Oct period to my wife, see if we can arrange holidays. And we'd have to include the Grand Canyon on that tour.

If I end up south hemispherical, I think I'd choose to motorcycle most of NZ & Australia. For that matter, I suspect motorcycling the high plains in South America would be fantastic, too.

Anyone done true desert hiking?
posted by five fresh fish at 2:06 PM on May 29, 2004

Well, if you're heading down under, check out the Heysen Trail in South Australia. It winds from the arid, rugged northern Flinders Ranges, through the Flinders Ranges, through two of South Australia's best wine regions (the Clare and Barrossa valleys) , through the fertile Mount Lofty Ranges east of Adelaide, then to the bottom of the Fleurieu Peninsula with a view to Kangaroo Island.

It's long - 1,200km in fact, but there are some beautiful sections that can be taken in 3-5 days, particularly in the Flinders Ranges (climb St Mary's Peak, for instance). Come in September for the wildflowers.
posted by Jimbob at 4:57 PM on May 29, 2004

Slot canyon hiking is great. If you like BC, and you like coastal hiking, try the Shi Shi Beach trail(s) along the Washington state coast.

Shi Shi was ranked best beach in America by Outside Magazine, and the Makah Tribe just put in a new (easier) trail. It used to be you had to do a treacherous, tide-conscious one or two day strenuous backpack trip to get there. You can still do that if you like, but now there's a lower-impact option as well.
posted by jeffmshaw at 12:36 PM on May 30, 2004

Second all the UT/AZ recommendations, with one more -- do Havasu Falls. 3-5 days is about right. It's in a branch off the south side of the Grand Canyon, you find it by taking a small highway north off of route 66 from Peach Springs AZ. It's a popular spot right now, though, and you do have to make reservations with the Indian Reservation which holds authority over the area, so it can be hard to get the permits without some good advance planning.

But in addition to all the usual southwestern desert / red rock goodness, you get these beautiful waterfalls and cobalt blue pools that look like something you'd see in the context of a tropical island.
posted by weston at 12:46 PM on May 30, 2004

(i_cola, if you're still in AZ and can get permits that goes for you too! Sorry I didn't mention it earlier. It is possible to get permits at the last minute if someone cancels -- had a great trip there four years ago using just that strategy.)
posted by weston at 12:48 PM on May 30, 2004

If you are really looking for some great stuff, look at the Peloponesos in Greece in May/June. Especially the south-east is wonderfully varied, stunning, and cheap as all get-out (at least pre-olympics, but I suspect it will be cheap again by next spring). There really aren't any official permits, but with a few lines of greek, a smile, and some luck, you won't have any problems.
posted by jmgorman at 8:34 PM on May 30, 2004

If you like Waterton, there are some great hikes in Kananaskis as well. Some absolutely incredible 2-4 day ridge walks, and others that meander a bit more. There are ones with actual campsites, and others where you'll have to set up on your own.

I also went to Jasper for the first time last year, and it was quite impressive, too. I had a 5 year old in tow, though, and didn't get exploring all that much.

As for the BC area, if you haven't already (which I'm sure you have) try out Strathcona park on the island. (I'm assuming that the West Coast Trail and JdF Trail have already been ticked). I did a 5 day journey out there a few years ago. It was great.

And for something off the beaten path, I've had friends do multi-day sea-kayaking trips in the straight. They loved it.

If you want more info about any of these, feel free to email me.
posted by sauril at 8:48 AM on May 31, 2004

Response by poster: I've hiked all over Kananaskis. Won't be doing Jasper/Banff: too costly, too crowded, too trampled.

Multiday kayaking is for the future, when my knees give out.

I'm surprised I haven't heard many out-of-continent suggestions. Don't other countries have multi-day, isolated backpacking trails? (Then again, most countries have a much higher population density than Canada... perhaps isolation isn't possible?)

So far, the slot canyons are the best suggestion: I can get to them within a few days, it should be relatively inexpensive, and they're so wildly different than mountain tops. I am rather addicted to summiting, though: there's a view up there. Ain't gonna get that in a slot canyon...
posted by five fresh fish at 1:53 PM on May 31, 2004

I've done some coastal hiking, and it was wonderful, too
Multiday kayaking is for the future, when my knees give out.

Off the California coast, some of the light house are also youth-hostel. Maybe you can plan a journey using the light houses as destination points down North America's West Coast.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:56 AM on June 1, 2004

fff, I've heard that copper canyon in Mexico is astounding. I'm probably not going to go into Mexico again without someone who's seriously streetwise about the place, but when I do, this is on my list.

Southern Utah gets most of the glory, but there's some good stuff in Northern as well. The High Uintahs are very isolated and very pretty. There's also some good summitting to be done. (GORP's got some good stuff on the area as well, and I'd link, but outside links just take you to a registration page.)
posted by weston at 12:23 AM on June 5, 2004

better map for the Uintahs.
posted by weston at 12:33 AM on June 5, 2004

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