A Scout’s Guide to Exploration: Where will your boots take you? 

On numerous occasions, you’ve probably come across articles titled “The Best 25 Hikes You Must Do in Canada,” and upon opening this article you probably expected the same type of format. While I do intend to provide you examples of the hidden “gems” spread across Canada. I am also hoping to highlight how with hiking you can have the added enjoyment of mental clarity.  There are so many hikes to choose from, it is nearly impossible for anyone to trek every patch of earth. Reading these articles, we are shown a special type of inspiration to seek new trails or re-explore familiar ones.

Hiking is “defined as walking over long distances for pleasure or exercise” (Deeg, 2015). Originally, the sport was a result of the growing interest in the natural environment during the Romantic Era in the 1770’s. Walking was, and still is, the most easily accessible and abundant mode of transportation for everyone and anyone to explore the world around them. Exploration was the origin of hiking with the desire to witness the natural world. This in particular has been a key aspect of the evolution of the sport.

A Scout's Guide to Exploration

Finding “hidden gem” hikes should be a process of following your own personal inclination for adventure. Due to trail etiquette and preservation efforts, one cannot simply trek through the forest anymore in search of a journey; however, this should not hinder your explorations. The vast cache of trails that has still been untapped by even the most versatile and active hiker is enormous, not to mention the oversight of exploring the same trail on multiple occasions and the benefits you can reap.

Growing up in Alberta, I was fortunate enough to escape to the Rocky Mountains throughout the year. Skiing, dog-sledding, ice-climbing, snow-shoeing and canoeing were all activities I had the privilege to take part in; the highlight of my adventures has always been hiking. This is most likely a result of its infinite possibilities and relative simplicity to execute. Hiking trips can range from half-day explorations to weeklong expeditions and still be as satisfying. Despite having been able to explore the Rockies, some of my fondest memories are from urban hikes.

A little known fact about major cities, Edmonton included, is the vast opportunity for nature hidden right in your backyard.  Take Edmonton’s river valley, which boasts 50km of walking trails that I have found myself immersed in for entire days on countless occasions.  I manage to completely forget about the city I was surrounded by.

After moving to Ontario, my hiking days were drastically reduced due to a lack of time, knowledge and mobility. Despite living in the core of Toronto for four months, I was able to find refuge at the Scarborough Bluffs and in High Park on the weekends. These urban park areas hosted gorgeous pockets of trail systems that allowed for exploration.

It is important to note that because of the proximity of urban trails to large populations, maintenance and care often lack as trail etiquette is not always adhered to. These are probably redundant to anyone who has been camping, stayed in a guesthouse, or visited a museum, but when exploring and finding new areas to enjoy it is important to follow the code of the hiker:

  1. Stay on the trail: Especially if it looks like there is a small shortcut around a bend, these are not worth ruining the vegetation for, and why would you want to spend less time in nature?
  2. Leave only footprints: Pick up your trash and carry it out. Better yet, collect litter along the way and leave the trail in a better state then you found it.
  3. Take photos, memories, and enjoy the experience: There truly are not enough pretty rocks and flowers for everyone walking on the same trail as you to have one. Leave them behind so every person who comes through can enjoy the area.

Nothing can compare, in my opinion, to the beauty and thrill of backcountry hiking, but it is often hard to know where to start, or where to find a sanctuary preserved by the good hiker. There is something to be said for continuously hiking the same route. Having a sense for the trail allows you to focus on other things then just where the next bend will take you. You can start to notice the smaller life happening all around you. I also encourage you to take the same trail in several seasons. The difference between lush green, fall colours, snow and the budding of the new foliage, all provide an entirely different experience that is often overlooked. I know that I have fallen into the trap on multiple occasions of feeling as though I cannot take the same trail after recently hiking it, but when I talk myself into going against this, I am always more rewarded than I thought.

A Scout's Guide to Exploration

I use websites like TrailPeak for advice on trails in new areas. Connecting with friends you know work, play, and live in the area is also an amazing tool. Through my personal networks, I have been compiling a shortlist of hikes you will want to start lacing your boots up for immediately. I posed the question, what is your favourite “hidden gem” hike in Canada? The list is a collection of trails ranging from urban to deep backcountry. Some may be right in your backyard, and some thousands of kilometres away; however, I hope this list will inspire you to get out. But most importantly I hope this list lifts your mood about the world changing around you. Just remember to hike politely, hike purposefully, but most importantly, hike often.

The East Coast Trail (Newfoundland): Explore vast meadows, lush forests, and rocky cliffs all with the Atlantic Ocean and rich history of Canadian Fisheries by your side.

Grose Morne National Park (Newfoundland): Brave both the top and end of the world in this jagged landscape that will leave you breathless.

Bay of Fundy (Nova Scotia): A lush oasis and vast garden of unique garden of sea stacks.

Rouge National Urban Park (Ontario): Quickly escape the city of Toronto in the winding urban park boasting marshlands, beaches and rich history.

Kabeyun Trail (Ontario): Walk along a “sleeping giant” and take in the beautiful rock compositions of the Canadian Shield and the vegetation it hosts, all with a breathtaking view of Lake Superior.

Nokomis (Ontario): More lush than the Kabeyun Trail, but with the same rock composition, you receive the best of both worlds as you summit to a viewpoint above the Provincial Park.

Memorial Lakes (Alberta): Travel with the curve of the valley to a well safeguarded lake among the peaks of Kananaskis.

Glacier Lake (Alberta): The crystal-clear water mirrors the beautiful mountains protecting the lake for the early bird hiker.

Lake O’Hara (British Columbia): Yoho National Park hides one of the most breathtaking views of snow-covered peaks and rich vegetation.

Black Tusk (British Columbia): The peaks you will encounter along the way are blanketed in a crisp layer of snow, with the summit presenting to you bright blue lakes and a family of other peaks from its perch.

Marriot Basin (British Columbia): You will not be disappointed by this bowl of lakes, vegetation and sweeping views of the mountain range.

Grouse Grind/ Baden Powell Trail (British Columbia): Within the limits of North Vancouver, lush forested trails are abundant as you summit the mountain this part of the city is etched into. Fair warning it’s only 3km and has an elevation change of 3,700ft?

Chilkoot Trail (Yukon): Escape to the north and lay eyes on attractive rock composition, lesser travelled mountain passages and rich exploration history.

Frame Lake Trail (Northwest Territories): No more than a five minute walk from downtown, this trail allows for perfect viewing of the Northern Lights and an immediate escape from the city.

A Scout's Guide to Exploration

B.F., Deeg. (2015) Hiking. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/hiking/

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