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Where to Find the World's Longest Recreational Trail

It’s in Canada, where the 14,864-mile path will be fully completed in 2017.

A section of The Great Trail near Quebec City, along the St. Lawrence River. (Calvin Woodward/AP)

Finishing what will be the longest recreational trail in the world is not a bad way to celebrate a birthday. The Trans Canada Trail—often called The Great Trail—will be a network of paths stretching across Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories. The project began in 1992 and 90 percent of it—21,452 kilometers—is currently connected. The organization plans to have the network fully completed by 2017, to coincide with Canada’s 150th anniversary.

CityLab previously covered a similar initiative in the United States: The East Coast Greenway, a proposed 3,000-mile bike path running from Florida to Maine, is a little over 30 percent completed after 25 years of work. But while the East Coast Greenway tracks through the region’s towns and cities, cleaving fairly close to the edge of the country, The Great Trail ranges all across Canada, beginning in Victoria, British Columbia, shooting all the way through the Yukon and Northwest Territories, and circling back around to terminate in St. Johns, Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Canadian trail network caters to cyclists, but also hikers and horseback riders; in the winter, cross-country skiiers and snowmobilers are common sights. Large stretches of the trail—around 26 percent—track alongside rivers and lakes, according to Condé Nast Traveler. Currently, 28 percent of the trail is accessible to motor vehicles; that number is expected to increase to 32 percent next year.

Community-based efforts have brought the The Great Trail into existence; according to the nonprofit Trans Canada Trail organization, it’s “truly a gift from Canadians to Canadians.” Local organizations, provincial governments, and municipalities oversee and maintain the sections of trail that pass through their area of purview. Some sections of the network, like the Kawartha trail through Ontario, run along abandoned Canada Pacific and Canadian National rail lines. Mimicking the Rails to Trails movement in the U.S., the Canadian rail organization donated unused tracks to the provinces for conversion into pedestrian pathways.

In advance of the 2017 goal for the project’s completion, the Government of Canada is matching 50 cents to every dollar donated to the project. (The Canadian government has already chipped in in the past, funneling $15 million through the Department of Canadian Heritage, and $10 million through Parks Canada in 2010.) Speaking to Condé Nast Traveler, the Trans Canada Trail president and CEO Deborah Apps said: “2017 is just the beginning of our story. The Trail will never be complete. We will continue to build and improve this treasure for generations to come.”

CORRECTION: This post has been updated to note that the trail is not car-free, and to clarify language about provinces and territories.

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