It’s December and that means we have to put away our hiking boots and get out our winter boots and snowshoes. There is nothing better than the silence of the forest after a fresh snowfall but there are some things you should remember before heading out. There are three main differences between hiking and snowshoeing. They are access, difficulty, and temperature.
To get to trails that don’t start on plowed roads you will either require extra snowshoeing or a snowmobile. The extra snowshoeing will increase the time and energy required to complete a trail. Snowmobile trails on the access or the trail itself usually make it easier to travel. You may not even need to wear your snowshoes but it is important to carry them just in case. A hard trail in the morning may soften up as the day gets warmer. It can be very difficult to travel if you continually sink through the snow, especially if it’s on a packed snowmobile trail.
Increased difficulty comes in two forms. A treacherous trail in the summer may become a nightmare in the winter. Also adding the weight of snowshoes, plus the weight of any snow that sticks to them, can make the trip much more strenuous than hiking. You will have to use your judgement on the first one. The second one just means staying in shape (sounds easy) and adjusting to different snow conditions. Another thing to keep in mind is that the days are much shorter in the winter months so give yourself ample time to get back to your vehicle before dark. And remember to also carry a flashlight just in case.
Temperatures and weather are the biggest difference in the winter. You need to dress appropriately when hiking in the summer but the addition of snow and cold temperatures makes this more critical. Dress in layers for the worst potential weather. Make sure you take into consideration that snow will melt and make you wet. This may happen when you are doing something as simple as sitting down to rest. Another issue is making sure you stay cool enough while snowshoeing so you don’t build up sweat. That sweat will turn cold fast once you stop to take a break.
Now enough with the preamble and precautions and on to the recommended locations:
Acadian South Region
Cape Jourimain would make a nice place to snowshoe but it is quite exposed. I am not sure if they cater to out of season visitors. The Claire Fontaine, Osprey and Kouchibouguac River Trails are probably your best options at Kouchibouguac National Park. Accessing the Kouchibouguac River Trail is best done by crossing the walking bridge across the river on route 117 (where the Middle Kouchibouguac to Loggiecroft Trail crosses the Kouchibouguac River). You can also explore the many cross country ski trails that loop around the interior of the park. Check out their winter usage map for more details. The road to the beaches is not plowed so access to that part of the park is difficult.
Acadian Peninsula North
Daly Point Nature Reserve in Bathurst makes an excellent place to snowshoe. This is where the chickadees will come and land in your hands. The trails along the bay are nice but your chances of finding the Chickadees is better on the inland trails. Atlas Park in Pointe-Verte and Ile-aux-foins Park in Neguac are also easily accessible and can potentially make great places to explore.
Appalachian Mountain Range
In mid-January at Mount Carleton Provincial Park, when the lake freezes, the gates are opened for ice fishing during the day. The road is plowed to the south side of Nictau Lake near the trail head for Mount Bailey. Mount Bailey makes a great adventure in the snow. Other trails in the park are also accessible but you will need to tack on the extra snowshoeing time to get to them. The ridge line on the Mount Carleton Trail and parts of the Mount Sagamook Trail are probably quite treacherous in the winter months so should be left to the summer months or to the more experienced (if you don’t know if you are one of them, you’re not).
Sugarloaf Mountain would be a difficult climb in the winter but the White Pine Trail just behind Sugarloaf Mountain is a well used snowshoeing trail. The Terry Fox Trail that circles Sugarloaf would also make a good snowshoeing trail for getting some exercise.
Fundy Coastal East Region
Fundy National Park has several trails designated as snowshoe trails along route 114. It is top on my list for this winter. The trails at Mapleton Park in Moncton are usually plowed and make a good place to take a walk if you forgot your snowshoes. Irishtown Park is a great place to get into the forest near the city and easily accessible. The Dobson Trail is perfect for snowshoeing. You can go all the way from Riverview to Fundy Park if you are really ambitious. The gate at the Fundy Trail Parkway is closed duing the winter but the trails can be accessed using the Multi-Use Trail. The Multi-Use Trail itself makes a great snowshoeing trail with many beautiful views of the Bay of Fundy. The Sussex Bluffs, Adairs Nature Trail and other accessible parts of the Catamount Trail are also great places around Sussex to explore in the winter. A must-see is the Midland Ice Caves. The ice caves only exist in the winter months so snowshoeing is a necessity if you want to experience them.
Fundy Coastal West Region
Simpson Hill in Bayside and Chamcook Mountain in St. Andrews would make a challenging snowshoeing but well worth the views at the top. Always be careful on mountain tops and stay back from cliff edges. The snow can make it difficult to know where the edge starts and ice can make it slippery.
At the Caughey-Taylor Nature Preserve in Bocabec you can either circle Sam Orr Pond or continue out along the coast to Berry Point. It may be easier crossing the tidal crossing on the ice rather than wading it in the summer months. You can also explore the trails above the road that access a beaver pond and Chickahominy Mountain. The trails on Grand Manan are mostly coastal and are treacherous and exposed. You may want to explore the in land trails during the winter months. Campobello Island has several inland trails that access the shores of the island that would make great adventures.
Lower St. John River Valley Region
Ayers Lake is a great place to snowshoe. The snowshoe in from the pavement adds an additional 4 km to the trip but the road is usually packed by snowmobile traffic. Howland Falls in Bear Island is just off the Scotch Lake Road so easily accessible. I have taken the kids snowshoeing up Currie Mountain in Douglas several times. Dunbar Falls in Durham Bridge, Coac Falls near Nackawic, Welsford Falls and Hayes Falls on the Maliseet Trail in Meductic can all be reached in a less than 5 km hike. I like to visit the waterfalls near the start or the end of the season so they aren’t completely covered in ice and snow. One time I took the kids to Hayes Falls and they were fascinated by group of ice climbers climbing the falls.
Any of the trails in and around Fredericton are usually pretty packed from foot traffic. Snowshoes are probably not required. Once you get outside the city on the old rail lines you can find some great snowshoeing along the beautiful St. John and Nashwaak rivers. The UNB Woodlot (behind Costco) is a great place to explore in the winter and is accessible from several places along the New Maryland highway, Bishop Drive or Knowledge Park Drive. Killarney Lake and Odell Park are interesting places to explore in the winter. Mactaquac Park is perfect for snowshoeing with all its forest and beaver ponds. You can also visit Mactaquac Lodge in the park when you are finished to warm up and get something to eat. Deer Park in Oromocto would make a great place to explore the St. John River floodplains. Woolastook Park is usually quite quiet in the winter and is easily accessible. The trails in Nackawic, Minto and McAdam are all easily accessible with beautiful views. We climbed Greenhill Lake Mountain last year with the kids and they had a great time.
Miramichi River Valley Region
I have heard Falls Brook Falls is beautiful in the winter and is therefore on my to-do list. I think the main road is usually plowed but you would have to walk into the trail from there. Giant icicles form on the rock walls at Chimney Rock but it can be difficult to access depending on what is plowed. The main gravel road to Deersdale is usually plowed. It’s a long walk in from there but well worth it. We have snowshoed to Beaubears Island several times. You need to be extremely careful crossing the ice. Not only is it salt water but it’s also tidal making the ice conditions quite unpredictable. We have snowshoed several times on the Millbank Nature Trails, Morrison Cove Trails and at French Fort Cove.
Upper St. John River Valley Region
Le Prospecteur Trails in Edmundston would be steep in places (mostly closest to the city) but would still make good snowshoeing. The Plaster Rock Tourist Park is an excellent place for snowshoeing. We have snowshoed several times at the Meduxnekeag Nature Preserve. I would stay away from the green and purple trails because they can be quite treacherous (unless that’s what you are looking for). I wouldn’t take young kids on the Black Trail either. We learned that one the hard way. The rest of the trails at the parks would be great for snowshoeing. The Shiktehawk Stream Trail, Moose Mountain Trail, and Robinson (Maggie’s) Falls are all easily accessible and should be checked out in the winter months.
When I started this post I thought that the list of potential trails would be short. There are many great snowshoeing destinations in the province. I hope this post gives you ideas and inspiration for your own winter adventures. The winter can be a beautiful and underappreciated time to get out and hit the trails. If you have any questions about specific trails feel free to contact me with your questions. If you have your own favorite places to snowshoe please add them to the comments below.