National Hiking Trail

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Alberta is the birthplace of the national trail movement and Trailminders of the Bow Valley, based in Canmore, is represented on the Board of the National Trail Association which was founded in 1971.

From Calgary the call went out across Canada to meet and discuss the feasibility of establishing a footpath, primarily natural surface, to span the country; and then calling the Toronto meeting in April 1971 which endorsed exploration of the scheme.

At Red Deer in February 1978, representatives of Edmonton’s Waskahegan Trail Association, Calgary’s Rocky Mountain Ramblers Association and Chinook Trail Association (now disbanded) set out the principles and objectives of the newly-formed and incorporated National Trail Association of Canada. Again in Red Deer at the founding meeting of Alberta TrailNet in March 1992, our directors advocated that priority be given to establishing an east-west trail corridor across the province.

The proposed route across Alberta can claim to be the most diverse in natural character of all the provinces, extending from the unique Cypress Hills in the south-east, through the semi-desert of the pronghorn antelope and the irrigated wetlands of farm and ranch, into the foothills of the Rockies where fen and forest lead below alpine meadows and glaciers to the western boundary. The Bow River Valley parallels most of the route.

Trail development started in Alberta in the 1990's with dedication of routing along the length of the Cypress Hills. Here vegetation is unique in the region as the hills were thrust up and escaped the last glacial ice-cap. Our trail spans the length of the hills into Saskatchewan and currently terminates at famed Fort Walsh, encompassing two provincial and one national park in one combined trail project. First trail opening was in May 1990 with the official dedication of routing through much of the City of Medicine Hat. High hopes were held for a 140 km section along waterway paths of the Eastern Irrigation District, placed on hold due to public liability issues which have since been largely met through changes in legislation, but again compromised through general rural disapproval of allowing public trails.

The long gap in continuity of route extends to the foothills where public lands, provincial and national parks offer existing trail systems to lead through Banff and Jasper to the western boundary of the province.
A significant dedication ceremony took place in April 1991 on the 65 km "Gateway to the Rockies" section with the placing of a trail-marker at Banff's Cave and Basin site, heart of the Canadian National Park system. Representatives attended from all three levels of government: federal, provincial and municipal.

At the present stage of trail development, prospective users should check ahead to confirm whether or not routing is currently established and open to the public. Generally, national and provincial parks and other public lands allow free access to trails although closures may be in effect due to concerns for wildlife.

The proposed route across the province can be broken into two, each offering a marked difference in hiking style and requirement. East of the Town of Banff, the route parallels good roads with frequent access points on side roads, relatively flat terrain and well-suited to day- hiking; most of the trail being subject to permission of owner or land manager. West of Banff townsite, the trail heads into backcountry for heavy backpacking, steeper grades and requiring overnight camping permits available from National Park offices which also provide up-to-date trail conditions. The authorities leave choice of route to individuals due to risk of disturbing wildlife. One popular route takes the following alignment:

Banff townsite - Forty Mile Creek - Mystic Pass - Johnston Creek - Pulsatilla Pass - Baker Creek – Baker Lake - Skoki - Pipestone River Crossing - North Molar Pass - Fish Lakes - Pipestone Pass - Siffleur River - Highway 11 - Cline River - Cataract Creek - Cataract Pass - Nigel Pass – Four Point Creek – Jonas Shoulder – Poboktan Creek – Maligne River – Maligne Lake - Maligne Range – Jasper townsite – Bess Pass.

Assistance is sought from keen hikers and other interested people residing within proximity of the broad trail corridor to help in planning, negotiating and establishing the route, especially in the cities of Calgary, Brooks and Medicine Hat. Email: natrailc@telusplanet.net