A trail in northeastern New Brunswick has made National Geographic’s list of the 25 best travel destinations in the world for 2022 — the only Canadian destination to win a spot.
The rugged 150-kilometre Sentier Nepisiguit Mi’gmaq Trail — the longest backcountry hiking trail in the Maritimes — follows the Nepisiguit River system from Bathurst, N.B., to Mount Carleton Provincial Park.
It spans a range of landscapes and vistas, from a river delta to the Appalachian Mountain range, and boasts suspended bridges, waterfalls, river rapids, cliff lookouts and endless kayaking and canoeing opportunities.
But the trail’s most significant feature may be its millennia-old heritage as a Mi’kmaw migration route.
“For over 10,000 years, the Mi’kmaw people used it as a major migration route,” trekking inland to hunt moose and caribou in the winter and back to the coast to fish in the summer, said Jason Grant, trail master for the non-profit Sentier Nepisiguit Mi’gmaq Trail Association, which develops and maintains the trail.
Before European contact, Grant said, these were the major roads to the inland, accessed only by foot or canoe.
“And New Brunswick, with its many rivers and waterways, has multiple portages and ancient Indigenous routes that are still visible to this day,” he said.
Grant makes no bones about the fact that he’s “a little biased” about the trail’s jaw-dropping beauty. But even he was taken aback to hear it had made the “world’s best” list.
“It was a total surprise to me,” he said in an interview Monday. “I don’t think the grassroots volunteers or the original organizers realized it would ever reach National Geographic status. So it’s pretty exciting for us.”
Rugged, remote and challenging
The Sentier Nepisiguit Mi’gmaq Trail is not a trail to be taken lightly.
At a sprawling 150 kilometres, it is at times a challenging trail that can take up to 12 days from start to finish, with “experienced, hard-core hikers” polishing it off in three or four days, Grant said.
“It takes me six days to hike the trail and I’ve done it twice,” he said.
There is also no cell service on about 85 per cent of the trail. “So when you’re out there, you’re really out there,” Grant said.
However, he noted, the trail has plenty to offer novices and casual hikers, as well as day hikers who just want to trek a few kilometres and have a picnic by a waterfall.
The key, Grant said, is planning your trip.
The trail’s website offers lots of safety tips and advice to those who are planning to hike the trail, including descriptions of the various zones and the hiking challenges they present, and maps of the trail’s 21 access points.
Teepee campsites, Mi’kmaw legends
National Geographic’s list of the world’s most exciting destinations for 2022 groups the 25 destinations into five categories: nature, sustainability, culture and history, family and adventure.
The Sentier Nepisiguit Mi’gmaq Trail falls under the adventure category, along with Costa Rica, the Seine River in France, Palau’s Rock Islands and the Arapahoe Basin in Colorado. National Geographic launches its description of the trail with an homage to its mythic roots.
“A turtle-shaped rock near Nepisiguit Falls, in the Canadian province of New Brunswick carries with it a legend told by the Mi’kmaq people,” it reads. “When water levels drop, the ‘turtle,’ named Egomoqaseg, or ‘rock like a moving ship,’ appears to be climbing up out of the river.”
It also quotes Grant explaining that according to the legend, passed on to him by his Mi’kmaw elder father-in-law Gilbert Sewell, “once the turtle is completely out of the water, it will be the end of the world” for the Mi’kmaq.
“To promote respect for the relevance of the trail to the Mi’kmaq people, the route’s restoration, completed in 2018, included incorporating Mi’kmaq language and culture, such as teepee campsites and a turtle logo inspired by Egomoqaseg,” National Geographic says.
Putting all N.B. trails on the global map
For Grant, who said he has been fielding dozens of calls since the list went out, it’s a heady acknowledgement of the trail’s history and of the efforts of the trail’s countless volunteers.
“And, of course, the help from the grants that we’ve received from the province and the support we receive from local businesses and the donations,” he said. “It’s such a great reward after all of the hard work.”
He hopes it’s a reward he can share with the province’s many other “spectacular” trails.
“There are so many great things happening in New Brunswick right now,” Grant said.
“There are other trails popping up everywhere; these are all friends of ours and we support all of them. And collectively, we would like to put New Brunswick on the global map.”