Savoring Fall Foliage in Canada’s Atlantic Maritimes
By Steve Jermanok
I made a good living writing a steady stream of fall foliage in New England stories, including my latest for Yankee Magazine on escaping the fall foliage crowds on remote peaks, rivers, and bike trails. But if you really want to escape the masses, head north of New England to the Atlantic Maritimes, where those same maples are turning a tad crimson. I’ve been fortunate to visit the Maritimes over a dozen times this past decade and these are my favorite ways to be immersed in the spectacular scenery:
Hike the Skyline Trail, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
The landscape of Cape Breton is a mesmerizing mix of rolling summits, precipitous cliffs, high headlands, sweeping white sand beaches, and glacially carved lakes, all bordered by the ocean. The Cabot Trail is a road that hugs the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the rugged northwestern edge of Nova Scotia, where around every bend you want to pull over, spew expletives of joy at the stupendous vista, and take another snapshot. Indeed, it’s as close to Big Sur as the East Coast gets. Add bald eagles, moose, coyotes, and pilot whales fluking in the nearby waters and you want to leave the car behind and soak it all up on two legs. Your best bet is the Skyline Trail, a 5.7-mile loop atop the ridge of a coastal headland. Take deep breaths of the sweet pine as you meander over the roots and rocks on the grassy path. Eventually, the trail snakes to the left offering expansive views of the sea. At the halfway point, a boardwalk leads down the headland and wow, what a majestic stroll it is. To the left is a backbone of peaks, to the right is all ocean as far as the eye can see. On the way back to my car, I’ve spotted moose every time.
Bike the Confederation Trail, Prince Edward Island
Take a chunk of Vermont and plop it down in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and voila, you have Prince Edward Island. This sylvan setting lends itself well to road biking, especially in the fall when the summer crowds are long gone and the maples provide a colorful backdrop. The Canadian Pacific railroad that once connected Prince Edward Island’s small villages last roared through the interior in 1989, leaving in its wake hundreds of kilometers of track. By 2000, the tracks were pulled and the line replaced with a surface of finely crushed gravel, creating a biking and walking thoroughfare called the Confederation Trail. One of the most scenic stretches starts in Mt. Stewart in King’s County along the sinuous Hillsborough River. You’ll soon reach St. Peter’s Bay, a large inlet dotted with mussel farms and lobster traps. After crossing a bridge that rewards you with glimpses of the island’s fabled red cliffs, you’ll arrive at the rolling Greenwich Dunes, a perfect place to bring that picnic lunch.
Sea Kayak the Bay of Fundy, Fundy National Park, New Brunswick
The Bay of Fundy is home to the highest recorded tides in the world, often in excess of 30 feet. There’s no better way to feel this strong current than inside a sea kayak. In Alma, Fresh Air Adventures offers a thrilling half-day jaunt along the rugged coast. Paddle against the winds on the way out to open water, looking at Nova Scotia across the bay. Except for the occasional fishing boat, the big of body of water is usually quiet as you make your way along the shoreline. Tall spruce and firs stand tall atop the craggy rock. After a snack stop on a deserted beach, you cruise with the current, practically surfing atop the waves back to town. The long sea kayaks are sturdy and you never feel like you are going to go for a dip in the frigid waters. For an encore, stop at Hopewell Rocks. The iconic image of the Bay of Fundy, these tall rocks are carved by the perennial surf and are always evolving. Often referred to as “flowerpot rocks,” many of the formations have trees sprouting out of the top, thus resembling flowerpots.
Backpack the Gros Morne Trail, Newfoundland
One of my favorite Canadian adventures was an assignment I had for Backpacker magazine to backpack the Long Range Traverse in Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park. Led by Bob Hicks, owner of Gros Morne Adventures, the 4-day trek took us to spine-tingling vistas of landlocked fjords and atop snowcapped peaks where the caribou and moose far outnumber other backpackers. One small problem: the swarming amount of mosquitos and black flies in early July. Go there now and you can take in those stunning vistas without interruption.
Working as a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, contributing editor at Budget Travel, and regular contributor for The Boston Globe, Men’s Journal, and Yankee Magazine, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1500 articles on 80 countries. He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. With his wife, Lisa Leavitt, Steve launched a boutique travel agency, ActiveTravels.com, in May 2012. His clientele includes many people in the travel business, including Steve Kaufer, founder of TripAdvisor (designed his honeymoon to Turkey), and Mark Snider, owner of The Winnetu Resort on Martha’s Vineyard and The Nantucket Hotel on Nantucket. You can follow him @ActiveTravels