Guide to trail ratings and descriptions
What to expect on Parks Canada trails
At some trailheads, as well as on some Parks Canada trail information web pages, you’ll find details to help you decide if a particular trail is right for you. This information can vary from trail to trail. Parks Canada is working to provide as much information as possible so all people including those with accessibility requirements can make their own decisions on selecting trail experiences. We are adding more information as data becomes available.
Indicates what types of activities are allowed on the trail.
The length of the trail, from start to finish, measured in kilometres or metres. Be sure to note if the distance is one-way, return, or a loop.
Each of Parks Canada’s trails is assigned a rating from “easy” to “route” to help give a general sense of the trail’s difficulty, characteristics, and type of facilities. While these difficulty ratings are useful, be sure to take into consideration other factors such as grade, elevation and terrain, current weather and trail conditions, as well as your personal fitness level and experience when deciding whether a trail is right for you.
- Distance: 0 to 5 km
- No experience needed
- Equipment optional
- Hard-packed surface, no obstacles, minimal stairs
- For more detailed information on stairs, see obstacles in the Trails Detail section below
- Estimated time: no longer than 2 hours
- Little or no change in elevation
- Signage may include: trailhead information, trail markers, maps
- Facilities may include: parking, washroom, bridges, benches
- Distance: 0 to 15 km
- Some basic trail experience needed
- Visitors should have proper equipment and water
- Mostly stable surface with infrequent obstacles, there may be stairs
- Estimated time: no longer than 5 hours
- Moderate changes in elevation, some short steep sections
- Signage may include: basic trailhead information, trail markers, maps
- Facilities may include: parking, outhouse or pit toilet, bridges
- Distance: 0 to over 15 km
- Trail experience needed
- Visitors should have proper equipment and water
- Different surface types, including some that are not maintained
- Estimated time may be longer than 5 hours
- Major change in elevation with long steep sections
- Signage may include: basic trailhead information, minimal trail markers. Some trails may have no signs.
- Facilities may include bridges. Water crossing may require fording.
- Exceptional trail and navigational experience needed
- Visitors should have proper equipment, food, and water
- Suggested trail route only - trail is not maintained
- Estimated time: 1 - 10 days, or longer
- A variety of terrain: wet areas, loose rocks, exposure, thick forest
The estimated length of time you can expect an average user, with average physical abilities and skills, to take to complete the trail in ideal conditions.
The total amount of elevation gained (in metres) over the length of the trail.
For example: If you climb 100 m, descend 50 m, and then climb an additional 50 m, your total elevation gain (climb) would be 150 m.
Whether you’re on your first trail hike, or challenging yourself on a new adventure, find trails that are right for you.
The total amount of elevation lost (in metres) over the length of the trail.
For example: If you climb 100 m, descend 50 m, and then climb an additional 50 m, your total elevation lost (descent) would be 50 m.
A visual representation of the amount of climbing and descent involved. The elevation profile provides a two-dimensional cross-section view of the terrain’s elevation along the length of the trail. It doesn’t show the actual slope but rather the relative change(s) in elevation. Sometimes, a trail with a gentle slope can look like a mountain depending on the profile. Use the elevation profile along with the climb, decent and grade numbers provided to make decisions.
Describes the surface type (ex. asphalt, gravel, natural surface, sand, etc.) and firmness (paved, hard, firm, soft, very soft).
Usually firmer surfaces are easier to walk or roll across.
Describes the typical width of the trail tread, as well as the minimum width, at the trail’s narrowest portion.
Describes physical obstructions on the trail’s surface, as well as the distance (in metres) from the trailhead to the first significant obstacle. Examples of obstacles include steps, root fields, obstructions, etc.
Indicates maximum distance (in metres) between locations with seating along the trail.
Measurement of a trail’s slope (or steepness) in the trail’s direction of travel (parallel with the trail). Measured in percent (%).
E.g.: A grade of 10% means there is a rise or fall of 10 vertical metres for every 100 linear metres. Typical grade is an indication of how steep the trail is in general, whereas, maximum grade is an indication of the trail’s grade at its steepest portion. Generally speaking, trails with greater slope are considered more challenging.
Measurement of a trail’s slope perpendicular to the direction of travel (side-to-side). Measured in percent (%).
E.g.: A cross slope of 5% means there is a drop of 5 vertical centimetres across a 100 centimetre-wide trail.
Generally, steeper cross slopes are considered more challenging for users. While maximum cross slope may exceed 5% for short sections, typical cross slope is generally kept below 5%.
Grade / cross slope reference
A visual representation of various degrees of grade and cross slope. The 8.33% represents a standard accessible ramp grade. A 100% grade equals 45 degrees.
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