In Jasper National Park, there is a missing section in the Great Divide Trail: hikers have to walk for 21 km along Highway 16 west from the town of Jasper to the start of the Miette trail at Decoigne near the BC border. In his book, Hiking Canada‘s Great Divide Trail, Dustin Lynx suggests an alternative route via Minnow Lake and a cross-country section to the Virl/Dorothy Lake trail. From there, hikers still have to walk 11.5 km along Highway 16. However, dedicated through hikers with good route-finding skills can avoid Highway 16 altogether by hiking for about 4km along a historic wagon road between the Dorothy and Golden Lakes trails. This trail was built during the construction of the railroad in the early 1900s to move supplies among workers’ camps. It has not been maintained since then, but it is still in good shape for most of the way. From the Golden Lake trailhead, you follow the old rail bed all the way to the start of the Miette Valley trail.
When coming from Virl/Dorothy Lake, descend the well-maintained trail (Trail 60 on hiking maps) towards Highway 16 until the last switchback, where the trail turns to the southeast. The old wagon road starts about 10m past the turn at 414929E, 5858969N, at a sharp right angle. There is a new blaze on a tree beside the trail. The old trail is faint here, and there is quite a bit of blowdown, but it easy to follow until 414731 E, 5859020 N. In this clearing, look for the trail ahead and uphill. If you lose the trail, bushwhack through relatively easy forest to 414221E, 5859322N. You should be back on the trail again.
From here, the trail contours along the mountainside at approximately 1200m. Hike west along the trail to a creek bed and fire guard. If you lose the trail before you get to the creek, on the west side the trail starts at 413488E, 5859726N. From here the trail is easy to follow until another open area where you may lose it. Going westwards, it reappears at 413142E, 5859586N. It should now be easy to follow until you join the old, but excellent trail to Golden Lakes at 411955E, 5859779N.
Continue westwards, and follow the trail down the hill to an old, grown-in parking lot at 5859586E, 5859472N. You emerge onto a wide, old road bed. About a km west this becomes the old railroad bed. Follow this beautiful rail bed west, past the Decoigne station, all the way to the Miette Trailhead at 401958E, 5861318N, just before the rail bed dead-ends at the Miette River.
Aside from a bit of bushwhacking and route finding, this is a very pleasant route, and a great, historic alternative to walking along the highway!
Start of old wagon road, left of centre
Old wagon road
Golden Lake trail
Grown-in Golden Lake parking lot
Old rail bed