If you have a pair of snowshoes that you haven't pulled out in awhile and are looking for a winter activity, there are a number of great trails to snowshoe at Kouchibouguac NP. They vary in length, from about 1 km up to 10.5 km or more.
We recently snowshoed five of them, and the conditions were great ! The main ones are:
Tweedie Trail = 1.2 km
Claire Fontaine Trail = 3.0 km
Osprey Trail = 5.1 km
Patterson shelter to Little Kouchibouguac River (LKR) walking bridge = 3.8 km
LKR walking bridge to Middle Kouchibouguac shelter = 1.2 km
Middle Kouchibouguac shelter to La Source shelter = 5.5 km
Patterson to La Source (total) = 10.5 km
They are all hiking trails during the summer months. The winter map doesn't clearly show the first three trails, so for those, you'll have to check the Park Map on their website, at this link: http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/nb/kouchibouguac/visit.aspx.
There are also a number of wide cross-country trails that you can snowshoe beside.
When you enter Kouchibouguac National Park's main entrance, your obvious first stop is at the Visitor's Centre. If you have not already bought your Day Pass at the highway booth (US$5 per adult in our case) you can also pick one up here. Because of the early-morning showers on our first day, we only checked-in at 11 AM, but the day pass was valid until noon the next day - perfect for us!
There is ample parking and picnic sites are scattered among the trees outside the Centre itself. Inside, the staff are more than willing to help with any questions and supply you with free maps of the roads and trails. In addition, there are washroom facilities, an interpretive centre detailing the background of the area and a gift shop.
The thing that most caught our eye was this nice set of statues commemorating the early Acadian settlers to this area.
This place is a cyclist's paradise. The trail network is now up to 60 km., plus the paved parkways also make for good riding. I rode there all the way from Bathurst NB (145 km) then put in 40-80 km almost each of the 5 days we were there. The highlight of my trail riding fun was when a lynx passed right in front of me on the evening of August 7 around dusk. What a thrill!
It was early on a Saturday afternoon (2 weeks after my visit with Russ) when my wife and I arrived in the Park, following a late-start drive from our home in Fredericton. The first thing we did was head for the beach - and I could not believe how much busier it was this weekend! It was a great day, hot and sunny with a beautiful stiff breeze blowing along the beach. We headed to the right after crossing the boardwalk and found ourselves a nice spot behind a high sand bank where we could set up our folding chairs and lay out the beach towels. The water felt amazingly refreshing as we went in for a swim, and the breeze did a great job of making the temperatures comfortable instead of sweltering! There were a few beach umbrellas that became unstuck and went cart-wheeling by as we sat there!
The next day, after trying some of the walking trails, we arrived on the beach before noon and found a much quieter spot, with the wind speed also down significantly. This time, we decided to walk to the left of the boardwalk and found a spot where we could just sit with our feet in the refreshingly cool water. I had my bird book and binoculars so had a great time just watching the wildlife activities. Among other things, I spotted two Great Blue Herons passing overhead with their 4-foot wingspans and couple of Northern Harrier (Marsh Hawks) being harried themselves by Terns. The sea birds seemed to be saying that this is our territory out here!
I had not had the time to sample the Hiking trails during my previous excursion to the Park, so took the opportunity to do so with my wife. Most of these walks are not very long and involve a stroll through the forest and on boardwalks to sample some of the different ecological features of Kouchibouguac.
The Salt Marsh (le Marais Sale) walk took us through a transistion zone from forest to a coastal marsh with explanations of the various flora and fauna, including some tall examples of Elephant Grass.
Next up was the Beaver (le Castor) walk, mostly on a boardwalk, into a marshy area created by an old beaver dam. This dam and it's now swamp has not been used by beavers in almost 20 years, since they ate out the local food supply. As a result, it is quite overgrown and it was a bit of a disappointment.
We finished off with the longer 1.9-km (1.2-mile) Bog walk (la Tourbiere). This hiking trail featured a nice wooden viewing tower from which we could get a nice overview of this peat moss bog.
Two weeks earlier, after finishing up with the Kellys Beach area, Russ and I continued biking along the coastal trail toward the north of the Park. It was not long before we arrived at 'Ryans', the main hub of activity in the Park.
Located here are numerous very nice camping spots, spread out among the trees and close to the coast. Daily fees range from C$28/night with electrical hook-up, C$24 without electricity and dropping to C$9/person/night for backpack camping at some of the more remote and basic park locations. Ryans also offers bicycle (& helmet) rentals for C$5/hour (US$4)as well as kayak, canoe, paddleboat and row boat rentals if you want to explore the many rivers and estuaries.
As for us, we enjoyed a brief stop at the nice restaurant and convenience store here, where we picked up more water bottles and had another ice-cream cone!
Reaching the end of the mountain biking trail was a relief! The hardest thing about the trail was the constant use of muscles in the hands and forearms, due to non-stop braking and steering while your hands and handlebars were drenched in moisture off the leaves of trees and bushes along the trail. Of course, I say this because I have been biking to work all summer, so my legs are used to it - just not the constant steering and braking.
As the forest finally opened up at the coastline, it was great to take a look back up Major Kollock Creek. This view was taken from one of the park roads and shows the coastal estuary leading up into the creek. The biking trail takes you along the right side here, with views through the trees down into the water. We enjoyed the experience so much that we returned on the morning of our second day for another go at it!
This photo shows the view of the peat bog from the wooden observation tower located along the Bog Trail. The 'domed' bog is about 3 sq. km in size and began to form about 4500 years ago (around the time the Pyramids were being built in Egypt) according to the Park scientists.
The bog forms because of an impervious layer of soil that retains the acidic moisture that falls from the sky. As the plant matter on the surface of the bog decays and is replaced by new growth the depth of the bog gradually increases. This bog is now 6-m (19-ft) deep, giving it a growth rate of only 5 inches every century! With the acidic water trapped in this growing 'bowl', the plant and animal matter that ends up in the bog is actually 'pickled' due to the lack of oxygen and this has led to some interesting finds deep within the bogs of the world. In our case, all we saw were some bleached bones of what looked like a Moose.
The newest and most acidic part of the bog is on its growing outer edges, which is why there are fewer large plants close to the tall trees of the forest. Gradually the bog will keep expanding as the acidity kills the large trees and promotes different plant life.
The dunes of the Park are home to one of Canada's endangered bird species, the Piping Plover, here seen frolicking along the beach with the ebb and flow of the waves.
The Piping Plover is a Starling-size shorebird whose plaintive whistle cry can be heard along certain stretches of the Park's sandy beaches. This shorebird is well camouflaged with a head and back the colour of pale dried sand and a black bar over a white forehead and a single black breast band. To prevent inadvertent damage by beachcombers and swimmers to the nests and eggs of this legally protected species, important breeding, nesting, rearing and staging areas of the dunes are temporarily closed to the public at critical periods during the spring and summer. These areas of the barrier islands are marked in 'red' on the Park maps in my 'General Tips'.
The area of beach in the background is the small section where lifeguards are on duty, keeping an eye on the several groups of people who were enjoying a refreshing swim. Off-shore, we could see other park visitors paddling their rented canoes and kayaks.
After leaving Ryans on the biking trail, we found it to be too tame following our earlier excitement on the mountain biking trail. As a result, when we reached La Source, we decided to veer off onto a hiking trail along the south side of the Kouchibouguac River. This was not designed for bikes, so it was narrow, bumpy and loaded with hills and valleys - along with occasional great views of the river. We were in our element again as we dealt with the various obstacles on this trail. It was a warm afternoon and the sweat was soon dripping off us even though we were in the cool shade of the forest most of the time. An hour later, we emerged back onto the regular biking trails (not having met a single hiker the whole time) very satisfied with our little detour.
Near the end of this trail, close to Sipu, we crossed a boardwalk that ran past an old grass-covered Beaver Dam. The pond backed up by the dam had drowned the nearby Spruce trees but the Beaver at least had enough water to build his mud and branches house in the middle of his private lake! Of course the Beaver sticks many branches and twigs into the muddy bottom of his pond so he can swim out of his underwater entrance during the frozen conditions of winter, to retrieve the necessary food from this larder.
We really enjoyed the varied scenery along the mountain-biking trail, not that there was much time to savour it! On a narrow, twisting and bumpy trail like this, it was imperative to keep your attention on what the next obstacle was going to be.
Some of the more scenic parts were when we emerged from the forest, such as this one where we first crossed Major Kollock Creek on this specially built boardwalk (one of many that we had to navigate). With the overnight rain, the wooden surface was quite slippery if you put any sideways pressure at all on your steering. It was not good to even think of a wobble either or you were talking about a 2-3 foot sudden drop off the side! Another obstacle involved with the boardwalks was the transition from the trail to the wooden portion - most were only a few inches and could be ridden onto but there were a few that required full brakes and a physical lift of the bikes. Here, some of the background Spruce trees have been drowned by the water along the creek.
The most common form of vegetation on the barrier islands is Marram Grass. This is a tough beach grass species that has adapted itself to deal with the harsh conditions found in coastal dune areas. It's roots go deep in the search for water, helping this grass to bind the sand dunes together and prevent wind erosion. The plant also has leaves which can roll into a tube during dry conditions to reduce evaporation.
It does a great job at Kouchibouguac, but it has become an invasive plant in other areas of the world where it was introduced to help stabilize coastal areas but has begun to choke out native plants.
This view shows part of the lagoon between the barrier islands and the distant mainland, as we started the boardwalk back to our bikes.
I definitely do have seawater in my veins! I'm always happy to be by the Ocean no matter where in the world it happens to be. In this case, our little section of the 25-km (16-miles) of narrow sandy dunes at Kouchibouguac was a real pleasure to enjoy. We did not do much, just wandered up and down the beach getting our feet wet while the fresh breezes off Northumberland Strait wafted by. Being sheltered by the Gulf of St. Lawrence from the cold waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, these are some of the warmest waters north of the Virginias. The average temperature of the estuarine waters warms up from winter quite quickly: 7.5 C in mid-June, 24.5 C in early-August and declining to 20 C by early September. Positively Tropical by our standards!
However, all is not happiness and light as detailed by Parks Canada: "On October 28th and 29th, 2000, a powerful storm hit the East Coast of New Brunswick. North-eastern gale force winds were blowing in gusts of over 80 km/hr for 17 hours, exceeding more than 100 km/hr for 6 hours. Even with a predicted medium fall tide, the violence and the frequency of wind gusts, combined with the low atmospheric pressure produced a storm surge at Kellys Beach, which raised the water level 2.1 metre (7-feet) higher than the mean sea level. The duration and the power of that storm caused material damages inside the Park estimated at $785,000 (broken or uprooted trees, demolished structures, mainly boardwalks). Major environmental changes occurred at Kellys Beach." The storm was so severe that it actually punched a new channel through the dunes just north of Kellys Beach (the small one in the protected bird area in my 3rd 'General Tips'). However, that is Mother Nature at work. Records show that it has happened before and, no doubt, it will happen again.
Following our exertions on the biking trails, we had a brief respite at the Kelly's Beach Snackbar (see 'Restaurants'), where we tied up our bikes for the walk out to the famous coastal barrier islands. Because of the delicate nature of the estuaries and coastal dunes, a 1.2-km (0.8-mile) boardwalk has been built to allow a slow walk over the these 'inland' waters as you access the beach itself.
The wildlife found in the estuaries includes gaspereau, tomcod, black duck, teal, osprey, mussels, crabs and oysters. The tidal range in this part of Canada is only a little over 1-m (3-ft) but, in such shallow waters it results in a rapid flow of water - as fast as 5-ft/second at peak tides. As we walked out, I was amazed at the speed of the water passing below us, because I could easily see the bottom and observe the many jellyfish as they 'whizzed' past! We also saw a few large crabs happily walking along the sandy bottom.
If you are going to go mountain biking, be ready to deal with the potholes that you are going to encounter! Along almost the entire length of the trail, except for a few sections covered in soft pine needles, you will be running the gauntlet of potholes of various width, length and depth. The major problem is that the brown colour of the water prevents any estimation of just how deep the water is in any particular hole.
The navigational problems are this: (1) go through them too fast and you will splash your legs with mud and water as well as the streak up your back from the rear wheel. (2) go too slow and you may find yourself up to your front axle in mud with a sudden stop. (3) some of these stops result in you falling sideways, forcing you to step into the morass. Dodging the puddles was quite often a good option, but it brought its own problems: (1) sometimes the wet tires would slip off the many exposed roots and rocks causing a near loss of control and (2) if you did not get your left or right peddle at the right height, depending on which way you were dodging, it would catch on the ground, roots or rocks and bring the bike to a sudden jolting lurch.
In summary, it was amazing fun!