Take a hike – The Fundy Footpath is a Maritime jewel.
The Maritime provinces are known for their beauty, but New Brunswick never piqued my interest; I was completely unsure of what to expect. That was until we arrived in Edmundston; the smell of the air and breathtaking Appalachian views tripled my excitement to be there.
New Brunswick is easily the most underrated of the Eastern provinces. Its potential for travellers is endless, with Atlantic Ocean views, unique geological formations, hiking, seafood, and friendly people.
After a stop to visit family in Saint John and explore the quaint city, it was time for the star of our trip, a three-day hike along the Bay of Fundy. The Fundy Footpath is a challenging wilderness trail in Fundy National Park composed of forests and beaches that cover 49.3 kilometres. The distance may not seem like a trek that is out of the ordinary, but the elevation changes—over 214 metres—will humble even experienced hikers.
The Fundy Footpath welcomes a wide range of hikers and is dog friendly. However, it is strongly recommended that inexperienced hikers and children be accompanied by someone experienced and carry a detailed trail map. Blazes on the trees do a great job guiding hikers on the trail, but if you miss one, going off-trail can get risky fast, especially at the steepest portions.
Frequent kilometre signs show the distance covered along the journey and help to spark motivation when your legs tire. The trail gets steeper the further you walk, so bring several high-calorie snacks to stay energized. You might need to mentally prepare for high inclines, extreme elevation changes, and shaky rope stairs. Still, the path is relatively well-maintained, so if you hike attentively, it should be nothing but great exercise and a great time.
The Fundy Footpath was my first hiking trip on my first ever trip to Canada’s East coast. In the beginning, I was daunted, but by the end, I was completely rejuvenated. The park has four main checkpoints to pack up for the night, each with different charms. The first thing I noticed entering the park was how quiet it was, a perk thanks to New Brunswick’s lack of masses of crowds. Mid-summer, you may come across another three people in your travels. It is easy to feel as though you have successfully escaped busy, everyday city life and made it to the world’s edge.
Our group started at Long Beach in Saint Martins, one of the access points to the trail. Looking over the bay was surreal; only in the Maritimes is fog so beautiful. No reservation is needed to head into the park; just let the coordinators know how long you intend to stay, pay the reasonable fee, and be on your way. We parked our van in the main parking lot, fastened our backpacks, and set off into the woods.
There are other options to start hiking, the most popular being the suspension bridge at Big Salmon River, a few hours from Long Beach. For hikers conquering the trail in the opposite direction, the beginning is at Goose River, tackling the most challenging part of the trail first.
The first stretch was a good start, not throwing ourselves into crazy elevation changes or marathon lengths on day one. It was a three-hour hike to our first campsite at Seely Beach, including snack and photo breaks. The trail opened to a vast, rocky beach with campsites along the woods. The weather was clear and cool, and our tent was pitched in earshot of the ocean waves. This site is ideal for good weather and, in the right circumstances, is an incredible setting to spend the night.
The highlight of the Seely Beach site was the infinite canvas of stars above us. Fundy is truly a dark sky reserve. I could spot the outlines of the milky way, craning my neck backward, trying to see as many stars as I could all at once. The air was clear, and I had the best sleep. For the first time, I was motivated to wake up for sunrise and was greeted by a breathtaking orange sky.
We crawled back to bed for a few more hours, made breakfast, and continued our quest. The second day was undoubtedly the hardest; the immense elevation change led us higher and higher up and down to our next site. At the stretch between Seely beach and Cradle Brook, there are multiple rope staircases to climb down; most are a little unstable, so take your time with these! By the end, everyone was sore. I was nearly running toward the end in hopes of being done faster. After four and a half hours and many breaks, we made it to our next site.
We arrived exhausted at Cradle Brook with the smell of incoming rain, but this was the perfect recovery spot. The quickly flowing brook water provided a great source of hydration and white noise. We also enjoyed the backdrop of the nearby rocky beach, with a climbable cliff for thrill-seekers.
Everyone slept peacefully and uninterrupted on the second night, recovering from our first hard day. Waking up at Cradle Brook transported me to the most peaceful mood I have experienced. The sun was out but hidden by the dense canopy above us. Individual rays peeked through the branches, illuminating the fog and remaining nighttime rain droplets on the plants around us. We had indeed escaped the everyday stress of city life and were focused on nothing but the smell of the mist and freshly watered vegetation.
The next campsite toward the end of the footpath is at Little Salmon River. The hike from Cradle Brook is the longest portion of the trail and a little easier than day two in terms of steepness. Little Salmon is the place to have the right waterproof hiking shoes, as there is a good amount of standing and flowing water along the route. The path is mostly downhill until you reach the main river, a great place to catch some spectacular views. This site can be damp, something to be aware of when planning sleeping gear.
Goose River marks the end of the footpath and the Fundy Park boundary. At this point, it’s normal to be tired, enlightened, and ready to eat some real food. Having someone willing to pick you up is a great option at the end of your trip, but a shuttle is also available to take hikers back to the other side.
We made it across the Fundy Footpath! I felt like a legitimately experienced hiker deserving of a reward. We headed back to Saint Martin’s for some world-famous fish and chips at The Caves restaurant. Never a seafood fan, but our trip to Atlantic Canada has changed my mind. The sea caves beside the restaurant are a great side excursion. At low tide, you can walk the ocean floor!
To be best prepared for a comfortable, enjoyable hike, consult this quick guide concerning what belongs in your backpack!
You will need a proper hiking backpack to alleviate weight off your shoulders, and it should be packed strategically to optimize space. Great places to find a waist-strap hiking backpack include MEC, Sporting Life, or SAIL, and camping stores with various brands.
Make sure you plan the number of days your trip will take, and bring a set of clothes for each day, plus one extra in case. Some sites can be damp, and no one wants to be stuck in soggy clothes.
A waterproof raincoat and shoes are necessary in case of rain and puddles. Always have a particularly warm change of clothes. The trails and sites are cool and shaded, even at the hottest points of summer. You might break a sweat while hiking, but bedtime can be chilly.
Pack lightweight camping foods that do not require a stove. Stoves can take up too much space in a bag and make hiking for long distances uncomfortable. Keep in mind fires are not permitted along the trails, but firepits are available at campsites.
You will need a method of water treatment. Plenty of moving streams offer good options for water collection, but on top of being filtered, all drinking water should be treated to prevent illness.
Always carry a tide chart and a map to stay on track and understand the course of the water. At Seely Beach specifically, a large area may seem dry but can fill up quickly when the tides change. It is best not to get flooded in your tent!
Lightweight hiking poles may help certain hikers get up steep areas and can help take some stress off the joints. Bug repellent and rope are also great things to include in your bag. Bears and other hungry critters are known to be in the area but are shy and rarely sighted. Either way, hang up your food at night!
Despite its beautiful emptiness, the Fundy Footpath is a destination every Canadian should experience. Even at its most challenging moments, the view will always have you beaming, grateful to be in such a special place.
My first-ever visit left me deeply in love with the underrated beauty of New Brunswick and confident that I will, at some point, hike the Fundy Footpath again.
For more information on the Fundy Footpath or to register for your own adventure on the trail, visit fundytrail.ca
Photo: Chloë Hayes