Getting High in the Maritimes
Backpacking New Brunswick's Highest Peak
We were returning from the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, when we decided to take a slight detour on our way back home. While the Fundy Coast was everything we hoped it would be and more, all that sea air gave us a strong urge to head into the mountains. We had heard so many good things about Mount Carleton we decided, to hell with the itinerary, we're in the area, lets go! A quick call back to the office and we were on our way.

Mount Carlton is the Maritimes highest peak at 820m, and fittingly they’ve built a provincial park around it. Unlike some provincial parks, this is a real wilderness area and you won't be disappointed if you're looking for some backcountry splendor. A little off the beaten track, the park is well worth going out of your way for.

  Our plans were simple, we wanted to hike the mountain and maybe do some wilderness camping. It was late in the season so the park's wilderness sites weren't full and our hopes and wishes were coming true. Good as it sounded, the park warden gave us pause when he told us the backcountry campsites are a serious hike up the side of Carleton's flanks. The though of a cold start with a 50lb pack on can generate a wealth of creative excuses.
  After a short debate, our brief moment of hesitation ended when he began describing the view from the summit - bad knees, allergies, lower back pain all these thoughts dissolved as we took in his superlatives. We almost felt like he was coaching us; starting with the initial hard reality to ground us and see what we're made out of, followed by wave of encouragement, once he was sure we had the physical and mental resources for the trip. Smart man!
  The drive to the trial head from the front country camping sites is about 7km. When you reach the parking lot and get geared up you'll be faced with two choices. You can take the main trail up or head up the fire road. If you're day hiking the choice is more difficult but if you're backpacking into the campsites the choice becomes easier. The main trail is the shortest way to the campsites, which are just below the summit. The fire road will require you to go up and over the summit then back down to the designated sites. We were planning to keep the summit hike for tomorrow so we didn't have any problem choosing the shorter route along the main trail. The main trail is the more interesting if you're day hiking so you may want to save the best for last and take the fire road up.
  The weather was a little overcast as we set out just before noon but we heard nothing but good things about tomorrow's forecast. The main trail takes you 5.2km to the summit. Mercifully the trail starts slowly going downhill a bit, then leveling out before beginning to climb. While never very aggressive, if you're carrying a backpack you're legs won't let you forget your climbing. Some sections are rocky with lots of roots in places, making good foot wear a must.
The hikes mid-section follows a beautiful brook, with rocks that are heavily moss covered, the whole scene enticing you to pull out your camera.

After a lunch on one of the large trailside rocks, we continued on to the spur which would bring us to the tent sites.

Campsites 1& 2 are separated from 3 & 4, which may be something to consider depending on your party's size. Regardless, both areas are close enough together if you’re a group and far enough apart if you want some privacy. The sites are only about 1km from the top; a sweet distance for a leisurely stroll to the summit. We took our time setting up camp, reveling in the solitude and enjoying our surroundings. Dinner was quick and easy and we faded fast from the climb so we crawled into our bags early.

The next day brought the sun up over the mountain and we had an early breakfast. We did a little exploring in the vicinity of the camping area then packed our gear and headed for the peak.

  The trail splits a short distance from the campsites, providing two options. One trail turns into a ridge walk, while the other stays in the forest and is a much more protected route. It was a beautiful day so we chose the ridge trail. Near the top, the hiking becomes very aggressive and you'll find yourself completely exposed. You don’t want to take route in bad weather or high winds, particularly if you're carrying a backpack. The last section to the peak is essentially a scramble. On the mountains top there is an old fire station, with heavy guy wires strapping it to the mountain. This paints a clear picture of the winds they can get up here. The view from the top is phenomenal, a full 360 degrees. You can see as far as the state of Main in the southwest and into Quebec's Chic-Chocs when you spin around. The whole of the Maritimes lays at your feet. We made a point of staying a few hours to contemplate the view and see where our thoughts might take us.
When the time came to head back down we decided to take the fire road back, but you have the choice, since they both end up back at the parking lot. To reach the fire road, you follow the ridge line passed the fire station and towards the lake then down the other side of the mountain.  
The trail is very rocky (I can't imagine a vehicle of any sort navigating it) even for a fire road at this point, but it levels out as you move farther down the mountain. You stay on the jeep track until you find a section which sweeps completely to the right (ignore the trail at the old ranger station, the trail you’re looking for is a little further on).  
  The trail is fairly easy the rest of the way, easy enough that you may encounter some mountain bikers on this shared use section. Our endless chatter shortened the hike back and we found ourselves in the parking lot sooner than expected.

Even though we were already behind schedule, we couldn't miss the chance to see more of the park, so we dutifully phoned in to the office to let them know that we would stay on another night at one of the park's campgrounds (also to see if we still had jobs). This would give us a chance to explore some of the parks interesting details we saw from the ridge. When we finally left the next day we made a decision to make this our prime objective next year, allowing us to hike some of the other peaks in the park. Next time, we'll make a point of having a lot more time to spend in this amazing backcountry wilderness.


Mount Carleton

The park is located in the north of New Brunswick in the Appalachian Range Region. From Cambellton Road 17 west to just north of Saint-Quentin, where you can pick up the 180 heading east. Watch for the cut off to Road 385. From Edmunston follow the 2 south to the 218 passed Grand Falls, then connect to the 108, then the 385 heading northeast. From Bathurst follow the 180 west. There are few services on the road into the park so be sure to bring everything you need including a full tank of gas.



Note: At the wilderness campsites, you are not allowed open fires so be sure to carry a backpacking stove. There is a food storage cache for storing your food near the sites. You must register before setting out. Reservations are accepted and strongly advised.

The hiking trail up Mount Carleton connects to several of the parks other trails. You can take advantage of this to build a longer trip, but be advised there is only one backcountry camping area in the park.

The International Appalachian Trail cuts through the park and allows a long distance hiker to head northwest into Quebec or southwest into Maine and on to Georgia (if you really can't get enough). You can download guides for the New Brunswick section of the Trail (PDF) and a Map for the Carleton Section. Given the parks excellent trails and its connection to the IAT, it would seem there is a need for the development of several more wilderness camping areas.

Out-There's Mount Carleton Provincial Park
Mount Carleton Provincial Park - From New Brunswick Parks
Out-There's New Brunswick
New Brunswick Tourism



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