Written by: Marissa Evans from Travel-Wise.com
What often draws international and national tourists alike to New Brunswick — a province on Canada’s east coast — is the Bay of Fundy. A strip of water between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the Bay of Fundy is home to the highest tides in the world as 160 billion tonnes of Atlantic saltwater pours in and out of the Bay twice daily. It takes six hours for the tide to change from low to high, and vice versa. The contrast at each point is astonishing: once the tide has gone out, 50-foot cliffs appear along the shore, sea stacks are exposed, caves are revealed and the ocean floor waits to be explored.
While most tourists flock to various points along the Bay of Fundy as well as the main cities in New Brunswick such as Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John, this well-tread travel itinerary hardly scratches the surface of what the province has to offer, especially when it comes to hiking.
If you’re sticking to the itinerary mentioned above, the most central place to get in some hiking on your New Brunswick vacation is at Fundy National Park. Located near Alma on provincial Highway 114, a visit to the national park is a must for outdoor enthusiasts, and those who like to experience a destination on foot.
I explicitly visited Fundy National Park for this reason while on a road trip of Canada’s east coast this past July. I camped solo there for two nights and hiked two of the park’s many trails. It was the perfect introduction to the Maritimes, giving us views of both the coast and the Acadian forest. We’d definitely recommend spending more than two nights there, as it wasn’t nearly enough time for everything the area has to offer.
Let’s take a look at what you can expect from hiking in Fundy National Park.
There’s something for every fitness level at Fundy. It doesn’t matter if you pick a short half hour jaunt or a full day traipse, you’ll be taking in some incredible sights. It all depends on what you’re looking for. Do you want to see waterfalls, both nimble and powerful? Rushing and trickling rivers? Impassioned and pensive seascapes? Stalwart balsam fir and lithe birch trees? All these natural features are contained in the park and there’s a trail that’ll allow you to enjoy them.
Shorter and easier trails such as Ursa Major and Orion will take you along flat, hard packed paths through the forest. More moderately rated trails have some elevation changes, some taking you along the coast (Matthews Head) or along a river and past waterfalls (Laverty Falls). Finally, more difficult trails present steep climbs and descents in addition to obstacles, some traveling through wetland (Tippen Lot) and to highland lakes (Marven Lake), which are pretty, but not the most stunning lakes in the country.
You’re unlikely to find anything as intense as the some of these amazing world hikes, but more elite hikers will enjoy the Fundy Circuit. The Circuit links seven of Fundy’s trails for a total of 48 kilometers of trekking with backcountry campsites along the way.
In our time at Fundy, we decided on two hikes: Third Vault Falls and Shiphaven.
Third Vault Falls trail is considered difficult due to its steep elevation change and length. It’s a linear trail, so you’ll be returning the way you came for a total of 7.4 kilometers of hiking. The way in is entirely downhill, which means the way back is entirely uphill. But it’s wholly worth it for the waterfall at the end of the trail.
The trail wends downhill through the forest, over rock and root. The afternoon we set out was hot (unusually hot for the east coast — all of Canada was experiencing a heat wave the week of our trip), the trees providing shade but also sheltering from the coastal winds which surely would have helped cool us down. Eventually we reached steep wooden stairs, which brought us down into a ravine and deposited us at the bottom of a small waterfall. Was this Third Vault Falls, we wondered? It was lovely, with water gently pouring over and around large moss-covered boulders. But this could hardly be the falls we were looking for.
From here, the dirt trail we had been traveling was no longer. It seemed we were meant to follow the stream which descended through the ravine. I call it a stream, but it could also be described as a waterfall in its own right; the water flowed on a slight decline and dropped over small ledges every so often. The water wasn’t deep and the riverbed was covered in large rocks, making it easy to find routes where your feet wouldn’t get wet.
After clambering downstream, we found ourselves at the base of what was undoubtedly Third Vault Falls. At 16 metres high, it’s the highest waterfall in the park and it’s no mere trickle. The water thunders over the cliff and into the pool below before rushing down another set of rocks into the stream.
We sat on a rocky outcropping overlooking the stream, letting the mist of water coming off the falls wash over us and cool us off. It’s the ideal place to have a snack and water break before you head back up the way you came.
Shiphaven trail makes for an easy walk along the coast, providing ample views of the Point Wolfe River and the Bay of Fundy in the distance. Comprised of a boardwalk with various short staircases, the trail is 1 kilometer in total.
After driving across the covered bridge over the Point Wolfe River at the entrance of the Point Wolfe campground where we were camping, we decided to park and walk back to the bridge to take in the view. There were a series of lookout platforms from which we could see out over the exposed riverbed of the Point Wolfe River. The tide was out, leaving an expanse of mud and rock for people to explore, with the Bay of Fundy visible in the distance at the mouth of the river.
We realized that this was also the beginning of the Shiphaven trail. Since it was short, we decided to take a walk along it. Interpretive signs are placed at intervals along the trail, informing hikers of the natural features of the area as well as the history. Point Wolfe was once the site of a logging operation, starting around 1824, which supplied lumber for the Atlantic timber trade. The signs explain more about the operation as well as the reforestation efforts the area has experienced.
The interpretive signs also provide information about red spruce trees, as many can be seen along the trail. The northeast corner of Canada is the only place in the world where these trees can be found, and they can live for more than 400 years.
We quite enjoyed our walk along the trail, our boots echoing off the boardwalk in between perusing the intermittent signs and views of the coast from between the trees.
Fundy National Park is easy to reach from most of the major cities in the province. Two hours from Fredericton, one to two hours from Saint John and one hour from Moncton means you could easily drive in for the day and return to the city in the evening.
If you’re planning to stay in the area, there are a few inns and cottage rentals available in the nearby town of Alma. Staying in the national park is also feasible for both campers and non-campers; there are plenty of accommodation options on offer. Or if you prefer something a little offbeat, this post on quirky accommodation in Fundy is worth a read.
Those who like the outdoors but prefer to sleep on a bed after a day spent hiking will enjoy all the options at the park. For those looking to save money, or who perhaps just like roughing it, there are plenty of front-country and backcountry sites throughout the park.
Front-country sites can be found in four campgrounds:
We stayed at the Point Wolfe campground which we enjoyed; we found the sites to be private, wooded and quiet. All the front-country campgrounds have washrooms with flush toilets and showers, as well as electrical, sewer and water hookups for trailers.
The cost per night is as follows:
It should be noted that you will have to pay for a daily admission fee on top of your accommodation fee. This costs $7.80 CAD per day for adults, and children 17 and under are free. Depending on the length of your stay or whether you are planning to visit other national parks on your trip, it may be prudent to purchase a Parks Canada Discovery Pass, which is priced at $67.70 CAD for adults and $136.40 CAD for a family (carload). This can be used for a full year from the purchase date and will give you entrance to other parks as well as national historic sites.
When it comes to the Maritimes, it’s all about layers. Temperatures tend to be milder on the coast, so you should prepare accordingly. In the summer, temperatures in Alma hover around 18˚C while the fall and spring can be anywhere between 4˚C and 10˚C. Make sure to bring a waterproof raincoat as well!
In terms of footwear, if you are planning on doing any hikes rated higher than “easy,” you’ll want a sturdy pair of hiking boots. When hiking along the stream to Third Vault Falls, I was certainly glad I had my hikers on — ankle support was essential, and they are also water resistant. Along with that, you’ll need some good quality hiking socks to prevent chaffing and blisters.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!