Resupply on the GDT is relatively simple in that most of the “town” stops are within easy walking distance of the trail if not directly on the trail. There are limited options, so mostly everyone uses the same few locations. Our resupply distances varied from 4 ½ days to 11 days – a heavy load. A few maildrops are a necessity, unless you are willing to travel a long way off trail to find a town with an adequate grocery. You may want to do maildrops in any case for your maps as they are both necessary and heavy. Groceries can be purchased at Blairmore and Jasper. Maildrops were necessary at Kananaskis/Peter Lougheed and The Crossing. At Field, a maildrop would be necessary if you want to avoid going into Lake Louise. Lake Louise and Banff are off-trail alternatives where you can buy groceries. There are buses a couple of times a day up and down the Icefields Parkway to Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise. Rest days are expensive, unless you take them on the trail. Addresses and telephone numbers for maildrops and motels are in the guidebook, so we won’t repeat them here.
One consideration with regard to maildrops is that some hikers have had their maildrops held up for days or even weeks by Canadian Customs if they mailed the boxes in the States. Our suggestion is, if possible, mail your resupply boxes from Waterton - or anywhere else in Canada. The postmistress in Waterton agreed that our strategy (mailing from a Canadian post office) was much the better way to assure that the boxes would be where we wanted them - when we wanted them.
You could, of course, attempt to resupply "on the trail" - but that could get to be really expensive. Canadian food packaging is both more expensive than in the States - and in smaller quantities. And the selections may not be to your liking,though it can be fun to try products available in Canada that you've never seen in the stores at home. In addition, this kind of resupply would be possible only in Coleman, Field (by going to Lake Louise) and Jasper - unless you're willing to go into Lake Louise or Banff from Saskatchewan Crossing.
The trail passes through the small mining town of Coleman or you can take an alternate route directly to the larger town of Blairmore, 5 km away. Both towns have motels, B&Bs, restaurants and laundry. Blairmore has two good grocery stores and a hardware store with white gas and denatured alcohol for your stove. The next source for alcohol on the trail would be at Lake Louise if you go there from Field. Coleman has a trail angel, Alannah, at a bed & breakfast called A Safe Haven who gives discounted rates to GDT hikers as well as full board, laundry, internet access and transportation to Blairmore to the grocery stores. We definitely recommend A Safe Haven for thruhikers. If you do a mail drop to General Delivery in Coleman, it will end up at the post office in Blairmore. The Canadian postal system requires a PO box number (which you won’t have) for local delivery. General Delivery packages go only to main post offices. The best solution may be to stay at A Safe Haven and mail your package there. But call them first (the number is in the guidebook).
Kanaskis/Peter Lougheed Provincial Park:
The Peter Lougheed Information Center is 7 km from the trail and was willing to accept maildrops in 2007, but call to confirm this before you send your package. Hitching to the Visitor Center shouldn't be a problem. The campground store no longer accepts packages. There are several campgrounds at Peter Lougheed. Mount Sarrail is hiker only. However, we stayed at Boulton Creek which has hot showers and the Boulton Creek Trading Post (a camp store/café) within ½ mile. They carried white gas but no denatured alcohol. The café served soup, cold sandwiches, breakfast sandwiches, beer, pizza and ice cream. There is no laundromat, so we did laundry in the shower and hung our wet clothes out to dry at our campsite. In 2007 the Boulton Creek campground cost $20/site. This campground is set up for cars and doesn't have bear boxes or cables. But it’s not a bad place for a rest day since you can enjoy swimming in the lake, nearby hikes and food at the café.
Field is a tiny tourist town about 5 km from the trail (closer than the guidebook indicates). Field has expensive guest houses, a motel and one nice but small hostel (the Fireweed Hostel) across from the post office - all of which book up months in advance. There is one restaurant (the Truffle Pigs) that serves all three meals as well as a restaurant at the motel that serves only dinner (except possibly on weekends). The Truffle Pigs has a limited grocery selection, including camp fuel/white gas. The gas station by the highway is even more limited. The hostel will let you take a shower ($5) if you aren’t staying there. The hotel will let you do laundry after they have finished washing sheets and towels (sometime after noon).
Not far away (27 km east) from Field is the tourist town of Lake Louise which has a good grocery, a bakery and a large IYH hostel with its own pub/restaurant, laundry and internet. There are also several motels and a good outdoor store (Wilsons). Wilsons had various kinds of fuel. We hitched to Lake Louise and caught a Greyhound bus back to Field in the morning. The town was compact, with most stores in one small shopping center (grocery, bakery, outdoor store, post office, Greyhound station, and bookstore). The 2007 price at the hostel was $41 per person - a bargain, considering the motel prices.
Saskatchewan River Crossing/The Crossing:
The Crossing is a motel complex with a gift shop and a few groceries (bread, cheese, ice cream, snack foods), a gas station, a cafeteria and a pub. It gets a lot of tourist business. They accept maildrops at the motel, but again, call first to confirm before you send a box. There is supposed to be a motel laundry as well, but we wanted a rest day, so we decided to hitch to the nearest town, which was Nordegg about 90 km east.
Nordegg is little more than a motel with a restaurant, limited camp store, campground and laundromat, a post office and a couple small tourist shops and cafes. But it was much less expensive than The Crossing and the restaurant was good. We passed another motel complex, David Thompson Resort, which was about 50 km from The Crossing, but Nordegg has a better reputation. There is a good hostel 3 km from Nordegg, which we didn’t visit. Getting a ride can be slow but the drive was beautiful.
Jasper has everything you need in a relatively small area. There are 2 groceries, 2 laundromats, several outdoor stores, a hostel (7 km from town but there is a $5 shuttle), cinema, several motels and many "relatively" affordable guesthouses. The information center is in the center of town and provides a daily list of homes with rooms for rent - and a free telephone to call them. For couples this can be a less expensive option than the hostel. We stayed at Sandra's Place and it was just what we needed at the time - clean, quiet, close to town, private, hiker-friendly and reasonable. Whistlers Campground is 3 km from town and has showers.
Castle Mountain Ski Resort:
The trail passes Castle Mountain two days before Coleman. We didn’t resupply there, but a maildrop may be an option. There is no grocery. We did stay at the hostel and ate pizza at the pub, which is only open on weekends (Th. – Sun.)
For those who might be so inclined, it's also possible to make arrangements to have a maildrop helicoptered in to Mt Assiniboine (2007 price was $125). We didn't consider this to be a good option for us. YMMV
It is possible to hike from Sunshine Meadows to a trailhead where you can hitch a ride to the busy tourist town of Banff. Banff has everything you need, but is quite spread out. There is a shuttle from the lodge at Sunshine Meadows to the trailhead, but it costs $24 one way for the 5 km ride. There is a once a day shuttle from town to Sunshine for about $49. Having visited Banff previously, we preferred to hike straight through, but stopping there is a reasonable way of easing the long stretch between Kanaskis and Field. Sunshine Meadows ski area has a limited café, rest rooms, trash containers and Internet access.
If you are hiking all the way to Lake Kakwa, you can break up the long distance by detouring to Mt. Robson Provincial Park. It is a beautiful hike past Berg Lake and down to the visitors center, but about 27 km off trail. Call to ask the Park whether they still accept maildrops before you mail your box. You will need a reservation if you camp within the park.
We found white gas/camp fuel at each of our resupply stops in one liter containers. Fuel for alcohol stoves was only available at Blairmore, Lake Louise and Jasper. Canadian containers of gas line dryer are quite small – about 4 or 5 oz. Butane/propane fuel was only seen at the outdoor store at Lake Louise, though it may have been available in Jasper as well.
Internet was available at the B&B in Coleman, the very limited café at Sunshine Meadows, the hostel in Lake Louise and all over Jasper. The motel in Nordegg had WiFi, but we didn’t have a computer so couldn’t use it.
Unless you are lucky with the exchange rate, hiking in Canada costs more than hiking in the US. Lodging near the National Parks can be very expensive. Canadian motels near the National Parks start at $140. (Off the Parkway they were around $100/night.) Guesthouses and B&Bs ran $100-250; and full service hostels ran $30-41 per person (2007 prices). Jasper was a bit less expensive because there were so many guest houses. We saw rooms listed at $65/night on the accommodation board, which was less than the hostel price for two of us. Primitive hostels (no hot water and maybe no electricity) cost $23/person. Campgrounds were the best option at around $20/night but only a few had showers. We paid tourist prices for food as well: $10 for an omelet, $10-12 for a hamburger, $5-6 for a beer. We found that the food options are not the same as in U.S. grocery stores and generally much more expensive. (i.e. 2 oz tuna packets instead of 7 oz for $2, or 8 oz packages of cookies for the same price as we paid for 16-18 oz in the states.) Cokes could cost as much as $2 each (or more).