Fall to the Rising Sun Trip • Caledonia Gorge and Mount Carleton Provincial Park • October 7-8, 2016
To be completely honest, we had made no plans after our visit to Prince Edward Island. I mean, most of our trip was pretty flexible, but we at least knew where we wanted to go next and what we wanted to do in each area. All the way up to the day before leaving the island, we honestly didn’t know what we wanted to do. Having a break from camping was nice, but it also made us feel tired and maybe ready to call it a trip and head home. But we really didn’t want to give up yet — we had this time off anyway, we needed to do something while we were already this far away from home! We just didn’t know what we felt like doing. So we put off making that decision for as long as we could.
We did have a couple ideas before leaving, which were as follows: If we felt like we wanted to go camping and hiking some more, we would go to Northern Maine or back to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. If we decided we didn’t feel like being outdoorsy, or if the weather was bad for camping, we would drive to Quebec City and Montreal and check out what those cities had to offer. The former would be very cheap and more what we enjoyed doing, the latter would mean a longer drive and, well, big cities.
When we looked at the forecast before leaving, there was one word that summed up the next few days: cold. Cold with a chance of rain. However, we just didn’t want to go with our “bad weather plan”, so we tried to come up with something completely different.
In the end, we landed with this: we would drive back to New Horton, NB, to The Shire (the free campsite) after leaving Prince Edward Island. New Brunswick was supposed to be warmer and more pleasant while rain came across New England for the next couple days. The next day, we would drive to the Appalachians in New Brunswick and do some hiking in a provincial park, then stay in a hotel while rain came through the area. After that, it would only be cold in New England, and we could deal with that, so we would continue on to the White Mountains. Maybe somewhere along the way, we would find fall colors at their peak. And so we were set!
Once crossing the Confederation Bridge, we drove through Moncton and started making our way back to The Shire. And guess what we found along the way — fall! The leaves were just about to peak, and this area looked completely different from what we’d seen when driving through 2 weeks before. We decided to stop at a scenic overlook to enjoy it. When we were in Riverside-Albert, we went off the main highway a ways to visit Caledonia Gorge. First, we drove up to the overlook. It completely took our breath away. You have to understand, this was our first real fall in over 4 years — well, 4 years for me, and 6 for Curtis. You can certainly find fall in Arizona, but we had never seen it like this before — not even in the Midwest. These mountains we were viewing weren’t even that substantial, it was just a ridge on either side surrounding the gorge, but the reds, oranges, yellows, and greens that filled the valley were breathtaking.
Next, we drove on the dirt road leading into the gorge. It was a bumpy road with many large puddles, and when we decided we shouldn’t drive any farther, we got out and started walking. We walked along the stream and enjoyed the colors on either side. There were a few places that looked like people had camped there, and I suppose we could’ve as well, but we knew the Shire was a legit deal so we decided to stick with that. We did, however, find $10 on the ground — That’s a dozen doughnuts from Tim Horton’s right there! 😉
That night, we had a pleasant evening at the Shire, where we met 2 interesting guys — they were on the tail end of biking across Canada/US. They had started on May 7 near Vancouver and now, exactly 5 months later, were nearing the end of New Brunswick. Their plans were to continue to Prince Edward Island to meet up with family for Canada’s Thanksgiving, then they would finish their ride on the Cabot Trail. WOW. We really enjoyed hearing their stories and thinking about what that experience would be like. They told us that they had seen fall colors at their peak in the White Mountains, so we would probably miss it. Oh well.
The next day, we said goodbye and set off for what was honestly the most ridiculous day and drive of this entire trip. We started in New Horton, NB, and ended in Woodstock, NB, but we took the most indirect route possible. We drove North to Moncton, then all the way up to Bathurst — if you look at a map, that’s all the way on the Northern edge of New Brunswick — then started heading West into the Appalachians. Honestly, this day would have been a total bust if it weren’t for the fall foliage. It was incredible throughout this entire drive, and we never grew tired of it. It only got better as we began driving into the more mountainous regions.
Our main destination for the day was Mount Carleton Provincial Park. Mount Carleton is the highest point in New Brunswick — and now you know why we did this absurd drive! Curtis had done some research and saw that it should really be an easy hike and we could do it no problem, we just needed an early start driving because it was 5 hours from the Shire. We left by 8, so we had no problems there. However, once we arrived, the park ranger shattered our hopes and dreams by telling us that at 1pm, it was too late to hike to the peak. Apparently, they are very strict on their park’s closing time (5pm sharp), and the amount of time it’d take to drive to the trailhead, hike the peak, and drive back was pushing it too much. From the ranger’s station, the trailhead was at least a 30 minute drive down a long dirt road. We thought that the trail itself was only 5 miles round trip, which we considered doable in 3 hours (especially if it was as easy as it sounded), but they said no. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it really was — the entrance to the park is through this one gate controlled by the rangers, and as if that wasn’t enough, when we were coming back through the gate at the end of the day, they came out and took our day pass to let us out.
We didn’t want to drive all the way down to the trailhead to Mount Carleton just in case there was another ranger turning us down or something, so we decided to go for the third highest peak. There was also a ridge trail that we considered taking over to the highest peak just to spite them, but that would have ended up being more like 9 miles, which try as we might, we just didn’t have time for. (Actually we did try…haha) The dumb part was that the hike we did end up doing was 6 miles long, but much steeper and more challenging than the one we wanted to do.
Another thing that bothered us about this park was that the mileages were all off. (Yes, I know they use the metric system, however most of my readers are from the US so I’m using miles!) Between the numbers on the trail map, the signs, the online sites Curtis had read, and what was being recorded on his AllTrails app on his phone, nothing was matching up or being consistent. So maybe the trail we wanted to take to Mount Carleton was a lot longer than the website and the trail map had led us to believe — no way of figuring that out until we hike it someday (and someday, we will!). Thankfully, we were still able to summit a mountain, though it wasn’t the one we wanted. We hiked to Mount Sagamook, which is the third highest peak in the park at 777 meters above sea level (as compared to Mount Carleton’s 820 meters). It was a far enough distance away that we had a nice view of Mount Carleton without it obstructing our view of the other surrounding areas. And again, the fall colors were gorgeous, and it was hard to be upset when we were looking out over the beautiful, colorful Appalachians.
Like I said, the trail to Mount Sagamook was very steep, but it followed a stream with many impressive waterfalls. We were able to complete the hike and get out the park in time — but what would they have done otherwise, lock us in?? We finished the day with another long drive to Woodstock where we stayed in a hotel.
Looking back, our plans weren’t well thought through. Our plan to drive the full 5 hours AND hike was quite the stretch. It would have been much much more feasible to have camped along the route from Moncton to Carleton. I believe that most of that region is “Crown Land”, the rough equivalent of BLM or Forest Service land in the US, but with much less oversight and therefore less “public” rules and access. It was supposed to rain that night, so camping after our hike in Mount Carleton was less desirable. You live and learn, I guess. On the plus side, we now only have 4 counties to visit in New Brunswick before we have them all, and since we didn’t make it to the high point, we still have those reasons to return someday! 😉