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Canada’s 15 must-run trail races for 2017

Here's an updated rundown of Canada's must-do trail races you will want to run, either this year or in the coming years.

Best Canadian trail races
Best Canadian trail races
Squamish 50. Photo: Brian McCurdy.

So, you want to run a trail race?

There are a number of quality trail races across Canada in 2017 and we’ve narrowed the list of must-do races down to 15 (which is a difficult task in and of itself, believe us). Now is just the time to plan out your 2017 (or beyond) trail race too as almost all of the nation’s trail races occur in the spring, summer and fall. (Unlike road racing, which are generally held year-round.)

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The list, which includes races for the first-time trail runner to the highly technical advanced racer, is sorted chronologically by the 2017 dates beginning in late May. Note: British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec are perhaps the most popular provinces in terms of the number of trail racers, yet there are plenty of others beyond this list. For a more exhaustive list, check out our 2017 race guide! 

The North Face Dirty Feet Trail Series

Year-round – Okanagan Valley, B.C.

The largest trail race series in British Columbia’s Okanagan features events throughout the year as early as March and as late as November. The series is particularly noteworthy because of its variety of race dates, diversity of locations as well as a range of distances.

Sulphur Springs Trail Race

May 25-28 – Ancaster, Ont.

New for 2017 will be a 200-miler, the only event in Canada to offer that distance. The trail race held on the Dundas Valley Conservation Area in southern Ontario is a looped course and offers a variety of race distances, which is a bit of an understatement, considering there is a 10K to a staggering 320K.

Tour du Lac Brome

June 17 – Knowlton, Que.

Now in its 38th year, the Tour du Lac Brome is both one of the nation’s oldest as well as most-attended trail races. Because of its challenging race route (and unique experience), the race regularly features more than 3,500 participants. Interestingly, the event offers a pet-friendly event too: the canicross challenge, which involves running with one’s dog. The race medal is also pretty sweet.

Because of the proximity of race dates, Quebec and surrounding area runners can also do Ultra Trail du Mont Albert, which is June 30. The mostly single-track route features significant elevation change and provides runners spectacular views in Parc National de la Gasp├ęsie.

Sinister 7

July 7-9 – Crowsnest Pass (Coleman), Alta.

This daunting course takes runners through remote and rugged areas of Alberta’s beautiful Rocky Mountains. With more than 6,400m of elevation gain, the event celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2017 and will double as the ACU (Association of Canadian Ultramarathoners) 100-mile Canadian Championship race. The event can be run individually or as part of a team, with as many as seven members, and includes seven stages over a 30-hour duration.

Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run

July 8 – North Vancouver, B.C.

The Knee Knacker has been held each year since 1989 and has become a Metro Vancouver classic in the trail running scene. The race is a 30-miler (48K) along the Baden Powell Trail, a rather technical route, in North Vancouver that finishes at Deep Cove from Horseshoe Bay. There’s almost 5,000m of ascent and descent.

Canadian Death Race

Aug. 5 – Grande Cache, Alta.

Perhaps the most daunting race name in Canada, the Death Race is one of the world’s toughest and most adventurous ultramarathons. During the race, whose slogan is:”It’s a killer,” runners must conquer 5,100m of elevation change and cross a major river on course. The race is held annually on the August long weekend. The 125K is the marquee event though the race also hosts what’s known as the Near Death Marathon, the “world’s toughest (and slowest!) marathon.”

MEC Ottawa Race Four

Aug. 6 – Gatineau Park, Que.

The third edition of the MEC Ottawa Trail Race offers a distance for everyone including 11K, 20K, 30K and a 50K. The scenic route through the trail of Gatineau Park is located just across the river from Ottawa and is easily accessible for those living in eastern Ontario and western Quebec. This race is particularly attractive because of its cost: $15.

Fat Dog 120 Trail Race

Aug. 11-13 – Cathedral Provincial Park & Manning Park, B.C.

Dubbed the most scenic ultramarathon in Canada, the 120-mile race has elevation gain just short of Everest at 8,673m. The longest of the event’s offerings includes a river crossing, with strong currents, and is notably challenging because of its climbs. There is a mix of technical and non-technical trail and the race is point-to-point in a remote area of British Columbia during one of the warmest parts of the year.

Squamish 50

Aug. 19-20 – Squamish, B.C.


The long and winding road. @brianmccurdyphotography #SQ50 #squamish50

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Located in one of the most picturesque locations in Canada, approximately halfway between Vancouver and Whistler, the Squamish 50 has become so popular that it sells out in hours, even months ahead of race day. The outdoor recreation hub is easily accessible for out-of-towners, via Vancouver International Airport. Much of the race is run on singletrack trails and offers gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean (to distract you from the lactic acid in your legs). Runners have the option of doing the 23K, 50K, 50-miler, or the latter two, dubbed the 50/50, a combination of the 50K and 50-mile races on back-to-back days. Canadian trail running legend Gary Robbins, the race director, will greet you at the finish line with a hug to celebrate your accomplishment.

Cobequid Trail Race

Aug. 27 – Truro, N.S.

One of the limited number of trail events in Atlantic Canada, the event features an out-and-back, relatively flat route out of Truro. The 5K, 10K and half-marathon events regularly attract upwards of 700 runners. Because of its non-technical terrain, this event, at $30, is an ideal option for runners looking to try out off-road running adventures.

Ragnar Trail Cottage Country-ON

Sept. 8-9 – Hardwood Ski and Bike, Ont.

The Ragnar Trail Series, one of the newest additions to the Ontario circuit, will hit the province’s cottage country this summer. With a start on Friday morning right through the day and night until Saturday, you will either be running or enjoying your time back at Ragnar Village, known for its atmosphere and party vibes. Also, the race is one of two Ragnar Relay Races in Ontario that runners must do to earn the Oh, Canada! race medal.

Ultra-Trail Harricana

Sept. 8-9 – La Malbaie, Que.

From 5K to 125K – and 10K, 28K, 42K and 65K in between – Ultra-Trail Harricana has become one of Quebec’s premiere trail running events both because of its range of distances and because of its back-country terrain. The race, put on by The North Face, is held to the northeast of Quebec City.

Beaver Flat 50

Sept. 16 – Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park

Yes, there is a trail race in the Canadian Prairies. Beaver Flat offers 2,300m of elevation over 50K in the longest of the event’s distances, impressive given that it’s held within the flatlands of Saskatchewan. There’s a 5K, 10K, 20K and 50K as part of the “hilly hard-as-hell trail run,” which features ultra narrow animal trail, chances are you’ll run encounter cacti, juniper bushes, rock, sand and water.

Run for the Toad

Sept. 30 – Paris, Ont.

Perhaps the most accessible, in terms of the technicality of the terrain, of Canada’s trail races, Run for the Toad is a late-summer classic for those living in southern Ontario. The trails are groomed and are wide enough to accommodate two or three runners abreast, comforting for road racers looking to try out trail racing for the first time. Run for the Toad, which caps registration at 1,500 participants, features 12.5K, 25K and 50K races. The 12.5K and 25K offer the option to walk.

Xtrail Mont Orford

Oct. 14 – Mont Orford, Que.

There’s not much more that needs to be said about the toughness of the XTrail Mont Orford than noting that the race begins at the base of a ski mountain. (And it only goes up, or down depending on how you’re feeling, from there.) The challenging climbs and variety of race distances, in part, make this trail race one of the best in Canada. There is a 5K, 11.5K, 20K and 23K, three of which are less traditional distances meaning the chance of setting a PB is high.

Bonus: Glutes in the Koots

July 24-28 – Sol Mountain, Monashee Provincial Park, B.C.
Aug. 7-11 – Nelson, B.C.

Though not a trail race itself, Glutes in the Koots will prepare runners for any trail race they choose. The two training camp dates feature coaching from 2016 Hardrock 100 co-champion Jason Schlarb and Jen Segger during summer 2017. Both are four day retreats to the back-country of British Columbia.

Have a race to add to the list? Comment below with your suggestions.