Special: Trans Canada Adventure Trail

See that jerry can strapped to the back of the bike? Riders planning for the TCAT need to be prepared for long stretches without fuel stops. Photo: Fabrice Tremblay
Words: Zac Kurylyk Photos: As specified

As the Arrogant Worms once sang, Canada’s really big. And what Canadian motorcyclist hasn’t looked at a map and wondered what it would be like to ride from coast to coast? Well, for the unadventurous there’s always the Trans Canada Highway with its truck traffic, divided highway and long stretches of boredom.


Want something a bit more interesting? Well, then there are plenty of backroads that can break up the TCH’s monotony, but come October 2012, for the really adventure hungry you’ll be able to ride it almost entirely off-road, coast-to-coast, on the new Trans-Canada Adventure Trail, or TCAT (cue dancing girls and brass band).

The completed trail will cover about 15,000 kms from Signal Hill in St. Johns, Newfoundland to Winter Harbour in British Columbia, covering ever-changing landscape from tundra to forests to prairies, mostly on gravel roads, with some off-road trails and a bit of pavement thrown in to connect the dots. It skirts around most major cities in a northerly direction, taking motorcyclists along tracks in remote bush areas where people and services are few and far between.

Riders can start their journey watching icebergs drift by in Newfoundland and Labrador, munch on poutine in Quebec, ride through the Cypress Hills where the RCMP made their mark stamping out wild western crime in their early years, tour through the Rockies and finish off ripping through the rain forests on the west coast.

As TCAT organizer Ted Johnson puts it, this trail is going to be “Long, remote and diverse.”

What to expect

TCAT riders will discover there’s a lot more to Alberta than the oilpatch and the Calgary Stampede. Photo: Chris Regier

The world first learned about the Trans-Canada Adventure Trail back in 2010 when Johnson and his collaborators started posting details of the project on the ADVrider website. It has come a long way since then; Johnson says the eastern half of the route (that utilizes the Trans Labrador Highway), put together with the help of Fabrice Tremblay, Jimmy Rodriguez and Mike Buhler has already been ridden and mapped.

The GPS track will be distributed freely through the GravelTravel.ca website; users will also be able to purchase a guide book for the route. Photo: Ted Johnson

This August and September, he plans to ride west to confirm the GPS route out there, and meet the riders (David Williams, Ross Glover and Chris Regier) who have been working on that section. Following that final sortie, the GPS route will be put together and made available as a free download from Johnson’s www.GravelTravel.ca website.

This isn’t a tight, woodsy ride designed with two-stroke enduros in mind. There are optional technically challenging diversions, but the main route was designed for bigger bikes like BMW’s R1200GS and isn’t that difficult.

Organizers decided to make the route easier after struggling through some tough stuff during the early days of the project; people following the project figured the route would be accessible to more riders if it was a bit easier, a suggestion the mappers took to heart.

That hardly means the trip will be a cakewalk, though. As Johnson points out, non-paved roads can be quite challenging after heavy rains or when they’re freshly graded.

The TCAT is all about having fun, but it’s wise to have a buddy along, in case you run into problems. Photo: Fabrice Tremblay

If you do find yourself in trouble on the TCAT, you’re likely going to be a long way from help. Gas stations can be few and far between; the mappers tried to keep distances between fuel stops below 400 kilometres, but that’s still a long haul. Most mechanics are based in cities far from the remote regions the trail passes through.

The TCAT will run from St. Johns, Newfoundland to Winter Harbour in British Columbia where you’ll see stuff like this Photo: Ross Glover

“I think folks need to consider every what-if scenario they can think of. ‘What if my bike breaks down? What if I get hurt? What if I travel 300 km down a remote road to the next fuel location and find the road is impassable and I need to turn back?’ ” says Johnson.

The sheer length of the trail presents its own challenges as well.

The time required to complete the trip (Johnson figures about 10 weeks, but there are many variables to consider and that figure may go up once the west has been mapped) means it’s not likely that most folks will be able to ride the TCAT end-to-end in one shot. He figures that sections of the route that are closer to urban areas are more likely to become popular as weekend or week-long trips.

Whether you’re heading out for a weekend jaunt on the trail or aiming to do the whole thing, planning ahead is key.

Ted Johnson figures the final route will be about 15,000 kilometres long, and depending on several factors, should take about ten weeks to complete. Photo: Fabrice Tremblay

“In my opinion the TCAT is not just a bike trip but rather an expedition, the difference being that an expedition requires careful planning and preparation. The length and remoteness in certain areas of the route demand a well thought out approach.” says Johnson. “Being self-sufficient is a must.”

Bring camping gear if you’re attempting the TCAT; you’ll probably need it, whether you want it or not. Photo: Ted Johnson

Riders doing the whole length should figure on tire, oil, and brake pad changes along the way, and of course, any rider planning to venture into Canada’s backwoods for a trip like this needs to pack bug spray. It would also be sensible to bring a riding buddy who can help if a serious problem should occur.

While there are accommodations available along the way, Johnson says riders should have a tent and sleeping bag, too.

“I believe it is safe to say that if someone were to travel the entire route that they would end up camping several times whether they wanted to or not,” he says.

Of course, it’s also hard to guarantee every section of a 15,000 km-long wilderness route will be open. Johnson says riders may encounter washouts, fallen trees, decommissioned roads, or other restrictions that result in having to find a detour. Some parts of the route would be guaranteed to be impassable at certain times of the year – a good example being the mountain passes through the Rockies that will be snow-filled until mid-summer.

Consequently, Johnson recommends doing the TCAT from east to west, leaving in June so that the Rockies will be clear at arrival. Also, the TCAT will be a suggested route only, with no guarantees that the trail will be 100 per cent open. Still, working around adversity is a highlight of adventure riding, and Johnson says the TCAT won’t disappoint, even if riders encounter obstruction.

Looking ahead

The route isn’t all woods and mountains, as this stretch of Saskatchewan shows. Photo: Chris Regier

The route is likely to evolve in coming years, as new roads are developed in the wilderness, and existing roads degrade or are closed or paved, Johnson says, although they’re trying to avoid that as much as possible.

You can take a smaller machine, but the route was designed to be big-bike friendly. Short-wheelbase 4x4s could likely handle the trail as well. Photo: Fabrice Tremblay

“The bulk of the route should remain stable as we tried our best not to use roads or trails that are likely to close,” he says. “Most remote roads are built and exist based on industry (logging, mining, hydro dams, etc.) and when industry moves on, the roads are often closed.”

One good example of the constant change is the Trans-Labrador Highway; it’s a long stretch of gravel right now, but if the provincial government actually finishes paving it, Johnson says his crew might consider re-routing the TCAT through the Maritime Provinces.

“These logistics are what makes creating the route difficult but also what makes it appealing. To head out on your own and travel across the country on terrain similar to the TCAT would be next to impossible without years of planning and by the time you were done planning your intended route would likely not be doable.”

While the TCAT offers a fantastic opportunity to ride through some of North America’s most remote areas, Johnson doesn’t figure it’s going to get as much traffic as other famous routes, like the Continental Divide or the Trans-American Trail. Canada just doesn’t have as many riders as the U.S.

Your stock fuel tank likely doesn’t have enough range to handle the longer stretches between gas stations. Photo: Fabrice Tremblay

But interest in the TCAT has been building as Johnson and his collaborators post the route’s progress online. After all, it’s an opportunity to experience long-distance adventure riding in a place where most of the population speaks English and no extremists are threatening to cut off your head.

The TCAT will only be a suggested route; flooding or other factors could mean riders need to take a detour in certain areas. Photo: Ted Johnson

He’s had riders from as far away as Europe and Australia making inquiries about the route. The route has also gotten a lot of interest from the U.S.; Canada is still an exotic destination for many riders down south.

“There are not too many places in the US where you can head down old gravel roads for a couple of hundred kilometres before encountering the next sign of civilization,” says Johnson.

Because the route travels through remote locations, riders can expect to see more than scenic landscapes. Certain sections of the route could also give riders the chance to see wildlife they’d never encounter otherwise. And of course, meeting the people living in the wilderness areas along the route will also be a great experience.

The riders working on the various sections of route are looking forward to seeing it all for themselves someday; Johnson says he’s eager to ride through the Badlands in Alberta later this year.

Along with the GPS map, there will also be an online guide available with maps and instructions on what to expect en route making it easier for riders to plan their trips along the TCAT.

If you want to know more, check out the TCAT’s thread on ADVrider here . You can also find some information on Johnson’s GravelTravel.ca website. If you plan on doing the TCAT then please contact us as we’d love to publish a ride report on it too. Don’t make us ride it ourselves – you know what happens when we try and do that …

Here’s a very rough sketch of what the finished route will look like when it’s released this fall.


Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.


  1. My friend and I have been riding together for sometime and always looking for our next adventure. This sounds interesting. I guess the work begins reserach then the fun. Thanks for all the info

    • Hello I am doing the TCAT in 2018 …well the eastern section starting in Manitoba and riding east.
      Just prepping rightnow and doing some research.

  2. Just rode to the DAKAR in bolivia, if you were to be serious about organizing this i would be happy to help and i would definetly race it!

  3. bonjour,
    désolée mon anglais est mauvais alors j’espère que mon message pourra être traduit.
    je souhaite me renseigner pour savoir si les motos pour ce parcours sont adaptées pour une fille mesurant 1,62 mètres ? et si on peut être accompagné par un guide ? quel est le budget pour entreprendre toute l’aventure de A à Z ? j’aimerai tenter l’aventure…

Join the conversation!