Updated September 2019
There’s no question that fall is our favourite time of year to get outside and explore. The temperatures are cooler, making for pleasant hiking conditions. Pesky bugs have disappeared with the summer heat. And though the greens of summer and whites of winter have their own unique beauty, there is no comparison to colourful autumn foliage.
Fall is the season where trees become a vibrant colour palette. The maple leaves turn bright orange and red, and the birch and aspens turn yellow. Even tamarack get in on the act when their needles turn a bright yellow. They are the only softwood species to lose their needles every year. All this colour is contrasted against the unchanging softwood trees that stay a deep green. What’s not to love about fall?
Finding the right hiking trails to explore in the fall can sometimes be challenging. Knowing the right forest types to look for can mean the difference between a bright colourful day and a drab cold walk. The following are a few tips to help you make the most out of the fleeting colours when they arrive.
MUST-SEE SEA OF RED
It only takes 15 minutes to drive from one end of Miscou Island to the other. The road ends at a lighthouse. The island is surrounded by beautiful sand beaches but at its heart are the peat bogs. These peat bogs turn a bright, scarlet red in the fall. For as far as the eye can see there is red. About halfway across the island is a boardwalk which will take you out into that sea of red. At the end of the boardwalk you’ll find a lookout platform. From there you can see intermittent green softwood trees poke up like small boats on the sea. There are also small ponds of blue that make inverted islands in the sea.
Two years ago we received an email from people as far away as South Carolina asking about the bogs. They drove all the way here to go visit the peat bogs. We helped them plan their visit to hit peak colour and they weren’t disappointed. Have you been there yet? I am guessing you live closer than 2,500 kilometres away from them.
For more information on the boardwalk, visit the HikingNB Miscou Peat Bog Boardwalk Trail page.
BOG AND MARSH COLOURS
Not many other bogs turn completely red like Miscou, but there are many that become a tapestry of different colours. The bog at Kouchibouguac National Park has patches of red mixed with yellow larches, brown grasses, and speckled with white cotton grass. The whole bog is surrounded by deep-green softwood trees. A boardwalk leads you to the middle of the bog where you are surrounded by the rainbow of colours. An amazing lookout tower at the edge of the bog offers a look down on the colourful patchwork of the different plants that thrive there.
For more information on the Bog Trail, visit the HikingNB Kouchibouguac Bog Boardwalk Trail page.
The Salt Marsh Trail at Kouchibouguac National Park is another kaleidoscope of colour. Vibrant maples line the trail and cover the boardwalk in beautiful leaves. On our last visit the kids had a great time cleaning off the boardwalk by kicking the leaves into a colourful cloud. Once you enter the salt marsh the leaves give way to a deep brown of the marsh grasses that seem to swallow you up. Some of the marsh grasses are 6 feet tall. The strip of deep blue water of the inner lagoon is only separated from the sky by the thin band of brown grasses on the outer dunes.
For more information on the salt marsh, visit the HikingNB Salt Marsh Trail page.
FROM UP HIGH
Probably the best way to enjoy fall colours is to look down from a mountain. Turtle Mountain in the forest near Grand Bay-Westfield is a perfect viewing mountain. It is surrounded by forest as far as the eye can see. The lakes below dominate the landscape but they blend into the surrounding grassy bogs. Hardwood forest types are in abundance spattered with softwood stands that contrast the bright colours with their dark greens. There are also bushes that grow along the cliff edges that light up into a deep red. They are surrounded by caribou mosses that make it look like a fresh snow has fallen. And of course, there is the mottled gray granite top from which to view it all.
The best place to find a mountain to climb is at Mount Carleton Provincial Park. From any of its peaks you can see a million trees. Below the lookout on the western section of the Mount Sagamook Trail the forest is dominated by softwoods but the valleys below run thick with bands of hardwood, like somebody splattered yellow paint on the landscape. From Mount Head you can see this same mix of bright yellows and greens. From here, Pine Point stands out as a solid green island that juts out into Bathurst Lake. The point has regenerated from a forest fire to be almost completely red pine trees.
ALONG THE WATER'S EDGE
Along most rivers and streams you will find hardwoods that seem to reach out over the water. In the fall their bright colours are reflected in the waters. On a clear day the vibrant colours contrast against the blue skies. The Shiktehawk Stream Trail in Florenceville-Bristol is lined with maples that are so bright they seem to be on fire. The stream is just wide enough to provide an opening for the sky to peek through. There are many other trails along rivers and streams throughout the province that are also beautiful in the fall.
The Nepisiguit river is lined with vibrant hardwoods in the fall. The Nepisiguit Mi’gmaq Trail travels along the full length of the river from its headwaters in Mount Carleton Provincial Park to Bathurst where it flows into Chaleur Bay. The area around Pabineau falls is especially colourful and an amazing place to explore any time of year. You can either hike the 20 km section of the Nepisiguit Mi’gmaq Trail to access the falls or drive up to the falls on the other side of the river. If you decide to hike the trail, you can stay the night in a large teepee a couple of kilometres above the falls.
Waterfalls can also be framed by bright hardwoods. At Wallace (Quiddy) Falls in the woods south of Sussex, the bright colours stand out against the gray rocks of the falls. They add an amazing frame to an already beautiful picture. Move around to make sure you get the trees to frame the falls while taking pictures!
Don’t forget to look down. As the leaves start to fall, they create a beautiful carpet on the ground and the rocks along waterways. These aspen leaves on the black rocks at Garden Creek Falls near Fredericton were made even more interesting by the water beading on them. The gentle change in hue from yellow to pink on one of the leaves is simply beautiful when you get up close.
The trails listed above are a few that we have hiked in the fall but there are many more. Sometimes storms will strip the colour from the trees quickly but in some years the colour just seems to linger, holding on against the onslaught of winter until they can’t hold on any longer. Either way, you’re guaranteed not to experience them if you decide to stay at home! Get out and enjoy the colours while they last because they won’t be back again for a whole year.
If some people are ready to drive all the way from South Carolina to enjoy it, there’s no doubt that fall in New Brunswick is truly spectacular.
James and Vicki Donald are the creators of the Hiking NB website. They have been attempting to hike every trail in the province for the last 6 years and have almost reached their goal. They share their adventures and trail information on the website, on social media, and on CBC radio.