On the trail of adventure

New Brunswick’s snowiest area is in the north of the province, around the Acadian Peninsula and the area defined by Campbellton, Edmundston, Bathurst and Miramichi. Naturally, there are those who complain about so much snow and such a long winter. Then there are those who exult in every flake that falls from the sky.

They would be snowmobilers. They love flying around this forested coastal region, where the abundant snow allows comfortable riding and terrific off-trail touring through magnificent backcountry scenery.

New Brunswick’s snowy northern expanses offer limitless opportunities, whether you’re looking for an afternoon ride, a weekend getaway or a full-blown snowmobile vacation. But you should know where to begin, and I’d suggest Bathurst as a base. After all, it’s known as “the snowmobile capital of Atlantic Canada.”

Beautiful Trails
In the clear, cold air, the light is blindingly bright and the snow glistens in the sun. Riding along a wide forest trail, my senses are alive with the pleasure of the sport, the charm of winter and the beauty of the scenery.

I’m following a series of trails that leads from the doorstep of my thurst hotel towards Miramichi, with hours of satisfying cruising along the way. I discover some of the trails are virtual snow highways, like the renowned Piston Alley, straight and true, but never to the point of boredom. Other trails unfold along former railway beds, follow roads through the forest or curl amid the trees.

The scenery is equally diverse, keeping the trip constantly interesting. Much of the time I’m travelling alongside the Nepisiguit River, where the waterfalls aren’t yet frozen. Occasionally the riverbank yields up an inviting stopover, like the Governor’s Pool Wilderness Lodge, a picturesque lodge run by the Evans family.

Riding in this part of the province, it’s easy to strike up conversations with the locals because they’re all snowmobile fanatics. Every encounter begins with: “So how are the trails?” “Fabulous,” you always reply, having just come off a gorgeous trail groomed to perfection by a Lawn Track. (Designed and manufactured in New Brunswick, it’s a source of local pride.) In front of one of the heated shelters where riders stop to stretch their legs, I spot a crimson-coloured Lawn Track glinting in the sun. It’s surrounded by a group of admiring snowmobilers. Snowmobilers can’t help but appreciate fine machinery.

The return trip to Bathurst is just as enjoyable as the ride out. I make once last stop at the Chaleur Snowmobile Club before heading back to the Atlantic Host Hotel, which is already filling with snowmobilers arriving for the weekend.

Acadian Odyssey
I head for the Acadian Peninsula, the heart of French-speaking New Brunswick. Jean-Yves Thériault, president of Caraquet’s snowmobile club, and Hédard Vienneau, president of Tracadie-Sheila’s snowmobile club respectively, are my guides on this segment of the trip. Both exude Acadian hospitality, and so we all set out for Caraquet in high spirits.

The forest thins as we approach the coast, and then suddenly magnificent Chaleur Bay comes into view. The dramatic vista almost literally takes my breath away. “I’m fortunate to live here,” Thériault says, pausing in front of his house, “This amazing view changes constantly from season to season.” We carry on to the tip of the peninsula and cross an ice bridge to Lamèque and Miscou islands. The windswept island trails make for rather tricky riding, but the striking scenery is unmatched.

Passing through Shippagan on the return trip, we stop to look at the panorama of idle fishing boats, some caught in the frozen harbour, others hauled onto the shoreline, their bold colours glowing in the sunlight. It’s an extraordinary and somehow poignant scene. In this silent stillness of winter, it’s hard to imagine the frenzied activity of lobster-fishing season.

Happily, fish and seafood are always available hereabouts, even in February. At Le Pirate Maboule, a charming pub near the Shippagan waterfront that serves up local specialties, we tuck into bourrasque aux pétoncles, a dish of sautéed vegetables and deliciously tender scallops.  

Travelling from bay to bay, we resume the journey, stopping at the trailside Relais des Minique just outside our final destination of Tracadie-Sheila. Snowmobilers gather in large numbers at the Relais’ main building to feast on simply prepared mussels boiled in seawater. If you’re looking to overnight, the nearby Chalets Les Deux Rivières is very comfortable. These and other visitor amenities, combined with a central location on the Acadian Peninsula, make Tracadie-Sheila an ideal base for snowmobiling excursions.

My Acadian adventure winds down the next day as I head back to Bathurst, stopping at La Bonne Route restaurant in Lavillette on the way. Here, inevitably, I meet another group of snowmobilers – local fishermen who segue easily between the open seas of summer and the frosty chill of winter. Mounds of snow notwithstanding, their hearts are warm, their attitude friendly and their sense of humour intact.

But then, as any visitor soon learns, that’s pretty much the way Acadians are, whatever the time of year.

For more information on this or other Canadian destinations, visit the Canadian Tourism Commission’s website at www.travelcanada.ca.

Tourism and Parks New Brunswick: 1-800-561-0123 or www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca
Acadian New Brunswick: www.acadie400.ca

Writer’s Biography
Yves Ouellet has written about travel and the outdoors for 25 years for Quebec magazines and newspapers. Based in the Saguenay region, he is also the author of a dozen books and travel guides about some of Quebec’s most beautiful regions, as well as a Ulysses travel guide to snowmobiling in Canada’s northeast.

Photo: Tourism New Brunswick