At 820 metres – 2,690 feet – the summit of Mount Carleton is the highest point in the Maritime provinces. To get there, you’ll have to wind your way through a sprawling provincial park of the same name, which is the largest in New Brunswick. About an hour-and-a-half’s drive northwest of Bathurst, you’ll arrive in a remote area referred to as the Saint-Quentin highlands — you’ll know you’re in the right vicinity when your phone loses service.
The park has four different peaks, with eleven hiking trails leading to them. The Canadian portion of the Appalachian Trail passes through the park, according to Tourism New Brunswick’s website, which explains where to stay, what to see, what to do – really any information you may need before setting out to explore. If you go in the springtime, many of the trails may be washed out, but a few are still passable. Summer is ideal, though, as long as you douse yourself in bug spray.
I’ve hiked Carleton twice now – once in the spring, wading through snow in shorts and a T-shirt, and once in late-summer, which overall meant more favourable conditions, despite a few torrential downpours that hit without warning. The entire hike takes about four hours from top to bottom, but you’ll want to set aside most of your day to avoid feeling rushed. The other peaks, Mount Head, Mount Sagamook and Mount Bailey, are open as of late May, should you wish to spend a weekend camping in the park and hiking more than one mountain.
Both trips, my partner Alex and I opted to scale the more difficult and steeper of the trails. The path immediately enters a thickly wooded area, then veers sharply to the left. Clearly marked signage guides your hike kilometre by kilometre, so not much navigation is necessary – just keep an eye out for the little green diamonds nailed to trees: these are your landmarks.
No matter the time of year, you’ll only need to bring one water bottle and a few snacks; barely a kilometre into the trail we stumbled upon a small waterfall bubbling into a fresh mountain stream, and there are plenty of water sources like this along the way. After about four kilometres both times, we stopped to eat: sandwiches, fruit, beef jerky. Even if you’re physically fit, the hike can be draining and you’ll need to refuel.
Along the way we saw pheasants, deer, frogs, various insects, and encountered other hikers of all ages and descriptions. It’s a visually stimulating landscape, and the people you meet along the way tend to want to discuss it and ask you where you’re coming from. If you go in the spring, you might lose the path once or twice, because the higher you ascend, the more snow blankets the trail. But for us, losing our way proved to be good thing. It gave us one of the clear highlights of the trip: towering boulders were stacked at enough of an incline to force us do some real rock-climbing. As we gripped that final stone and pulled ourselves over the top, we were awarded with a stunning view.
Tourism NB’s site states that “on a clear day, you can see 10 million trees” from the top. Well, I wouldn’t argue that — the view is breathtaking to say the least. It stretches out before you, an infinite panorama of wild beauty.
The second time we did the ascent, the rain forced us to hide out for a bit in the little lookout cabin perched at the peak. The interior walls of this structure are absolutely covered in signatures from hundreds of climbers who’ve scaled the mountain — adventurers who wanted to leave their mark, their name, the date: a lasting log of their time at the top.
The descent feels far quicker — and for us it was far wetter on both occasions. We took the somewhat easier trail, but where the path wasn’t covered in snow, it merged into a muddy river. Our soaked feet and slight sunburn were well worth the unforgettable experience, though. It’s a gorgeous climb, and the park offers something for everyone, whether your tastes lean toward walking, camping, swimming, biking, or hiking to the highest peak.
I think this year, for Canada 150, the park will be much busier than usual. Tourists will be flooding into New Brunswick to see the untamed, natural splendour, and certainly Mount Carleton is one of our claims to fame. I will no doubt head back there this summer, maybe this time to climb one of the other mountains, or just to camp for a day or two. It’s a great place to disconnect from technology and the business of life, and to reconnect with the natural world. If you still haven’t hiked it, this is your year!