The Great Trail: The Longest Hiking Trail in the World

The Great Trail

The Great Trail is the longest hiking trail in the world, and it’s right here in Canada. You can walk, hike, run, cycle, cross-country ski, and even paddle on the longest trail in Canada (and longest trail on earth). Also known as the Trans Canada Trail, the Great Trail was 25 years in the making and officially renamed in September 2016.

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Where is The Great Trail?

The Great Trail Map
Map of The Great Trail

The Great Trail (or the Trans Canada Trail) is a network of over 400 community trails. It connects 15,000 communities, natural wonders, and tourism attractions across the country. The Great Trail is a collection of trails across both land and water. While the majority of it can be hiked, cycled, or walked, there are parts of the trail that venture across Canada’s lakes and rivers.

The trails are managed at the local level by various levels of government, conservation authorities, and trail groups. The Great Trail doesn’t actually own or operate any sections of the trail. The trails are developed and maintained by partner organizations, volunteers, government, and even local businesses.

The longest trail in the world

The Great Trail stretches right across Canada, from coast to coast to coast. It starts (Kilometre 0) at the eastern most point of Canada, Cape Spear in Newfoundland. The trail extends right across Canada through every province to Vancouver Island (you will need to take a ferry to get there). The Great Trail also travels north through Alberta, northern British Columbia, Yukon, and Northwest Territories.

The longest trail in Canada

Some sections of the trail already existed, such as the Voyageur Trail and the Waterfront Trail. Large portions of The Great Trail are repurposed rail lines, donated to the government by Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railway, transformed into walking paths.

It’s estimated that 80% of Canadians live within 30 minutes of a section of The Great Trail. There’s really no excuse not to get out there and explore it! I’m fortunate enough to live right along a section of The Great Trail. The Waterfront Trail in Mississauga (a section of The Great Trail on Lake Ontario) is just down the street from my home.

Highlights of The Great Trail in Ontario

The Great Trail in Ontario

As this blog is called Ontario Hiking, I’m going to focus specifically on sections of The Great Trail in Ontario, Canada. In Ontario, The Great Trail spans 5,200km+ of paths, roads, and waterways.

About 44% of the trail are green sections that are solely for running, hiking, and cycling. 15% of the trail takes place on roadways (paved or gravel) that allow motorized vehicles, and these exist where no other green space exists. 36% of the trail travels through an established water route, and the remaining 5% are trails that only allow motorized vehicles in the summer months.

Here are a few highlights and favourite sections of the Great Trail in Ontario to explore. Who knows, perhaps one of them is right in your own backyard!

The Great Trail in Ottawa

Parliament buildings in Ottawa

The Great Trail enters Ontario in Ottawa and it’s a great way to explore the historic sights and natural spaces of the city. First, The Great Trail winds through Gatineau Park, a 361 square kilometre nature park. You can stop for a beach break or go canoeing at Meech Lake or Lac Philippe.

The trail also connects to The Capital Pathway, a 600km network of paths that meander through green spaces in Ottawa and Gatineau. You can also pop into nearby museums, like the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Canadian History.

Northumberland County

The portion of The Great Trail in Northumberland County extends between Hastings and Campbellford on a rail trail. You can hike or cycle alongside the Trent River, through the countryside and past preserved wetlands. A section of the trail even traverses across the Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge and Ferris Provincial Park.

The Great Trail in Toronto (Waterfront Trail)

The Great Trail in Toronto (Waterfront Trail)

The Martin Goodman Trail is the section of the Waterfront Trail and The Great Trail that follows the shores of Lake Ontario through Toronto and the GTA. Soak up views of the CN Tower, Toronto Islands, and historic Fort York. This is one of the best urban adventures along The Great Trail.

More highlights along the Waterfront Trail in the GTA include the Humber Bay Bridge, Harbourfront Centre, and the village of Port Credit in Mississauga.

Niagara Falls and Niagara Wine Country

Niagara Falls

The Great Trail makes its way down to Niagara Wine Country and Niagara Falls. Feel this mist of this worldly wonder and hit the trails by foot or bike. You can explore the shores of Lake Erie, the amazing Welland Canal, and the best wineries and culinary delights of Niagara Wine Country.

The Caledon Trailway

The Caledon Trailway was the first section of The Great Trail that was completed in Ontario. It’s a 35km trail that follows the path of an abandoned rail line. It connects the villages of Terra Cotta, Cheltenham, Inglewood, Caledon East, and Palgrave. The Caledon Trailway is not only part of The Great Trail, but also part of the Greenbelt Route.

For those looking to keep hiking from the Caledon Trailway, it connects with several other amazing hiking trails in Ontario. These include the Bruce Trail, the Oak Ridges Trail, the Humber Valley Trail, and the New Tecumseth Trail.

Lake Superior Coastline

Lake Superior Coastline

The Great Trail runs through several provincial parks on the edge of Lake Superior, including Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Pancake Bay Provincial Park, Lake Superior Provincial Park, Neys Provincial Park, Pigeon River Provincial Park and Rainbow Falls Provincial Park.

Some sections of The Great Trail follow the coastline of Lake Superior by water. This is perfect for experienced paddlers to explore the trail. If paddling isn’t your thing, you can always hike land based sections that parallel The Great Trail, including the Kabeyun Trail (Sleeping Giant Provincial Park) and the Coastal Trail (Lake Superior Provincial Park).

Interested in long distance hikes? Check out the longest hiking trails in Ontario to get your fix!

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4 thoughts on “The Great Trail: The Longest Hiking Trail in the World

  1. danik the Explorer says:

    I have never even heard of this trail and as I am also a keen hiker I would love to give this a bash after I done the Via Francigena in Europe and the PCT in the states. However if I was going to do this, I would have to do it in sections because it ain’t gonna be done in between the winter months. 😀 Would love to see what the trial looks like up in the Arctic. One day….who knows with me 😀

    • Lauren says:

      Haha! YES do this in the summer. Some parts have to be done by kayak or canoe so really…do those parts on the summer LOL. There are a few people attempting this trail right now and I think it takes at least 3 or 4 years to complete!

  2. Tereza says:

    The promo is great and it sounds exciting, I live in the Yukon and was exciting about hiking that part of the trail.. was very disappointed to find out that most of the trail is just a roadwalk on a highway!! I don’t know how other parts look like but to me I wouldn’t say it a consecutive hiking trail..

    • Lauren says:

      Unfortunately in order to connect it consecutively, some portions are along roadways. Just the reality of having so many urban areas throughout Canada. And there is a lot of it connected by waterways as well as we have lots of those, too 🙂

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