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Winter hiking in New Brunswick — top tips from a seasoned hiker

James Donald of Hiking N.B. and his wife Vicki at Prosser Ridge lookout on the Dobson Trail.  (Submitted by James Donald - image credit)
James Donald of Hiking N.B. and his wife Vicki at Prosser Ridge lookout on the Dobson Trail. (Submitted by James Donald - image credit)

The weather so far this winter may have created a roller-coaster season for skiing and outdoor skating, but it's always hiking season in New Brunswick.

Winter hiking has a unique appeal, said James Donald of Hiking N.B., in an interview with Information Morning Moncton.

"If you go out after a fresh snow and you go snowshoeing and the woods are silent, and you can see the tracks from animals … it's a different experience than in the summer," he said.

"It's just something magical about the snow sparkling off the trees on a sunny day in winter."

James Donald of Hiking N.B. has hiked Mount Bailey several times in winter. 'It's ridiculously cold. But it's absolutely beautiful when you get up there and see the frosted tops of the mountains and looking across the plateau.'
James Donald of Hiking N.B. has hiked Mount Bailey several times in winter. 'It's ridiculously cold. But it's absolutely beautiful when you get up there and see the frosted tops of the mountains and looking across the plateau.'

Donald has hiked Mount Bailey several times in winter. 'It's ridiculously cold. But it's absolutely beautiful when you get up there and see the frosted tops of the mountains and looking across the plateau.' (Submitted by James Donald)

A lot of summer hiking spots are still accessible for hiking in winter, Donald said. But it's important to be prepared and plan thoroughly in advance.

Wear appropriate clothing

Of all the lessons Donald has learned while hiking in winter, dressing appropriately is "a big, big one," he said.

"I climbed Mount Carleton one year in –30 weather and it doesn't take long when you're climbing a mountain or start just hiking or snowshoeing in general, you put out a lot of energy and you'll start to sweat," he said.

"And you don't want to build up sweat and then stop for a few minutes. You'll get cold very fast…. So you want to keep the layers adjusted so that you're not building up sweat."

Grip that ice

With the often icy weather we've been having in New Brunswick this winter, having ice grippers is "critical," Donald said.

Like many other New Brunswickers, he learned that lesson first-hand when he took a nasty spill on the ice last winter.

Hiking in New Brunswick requires 'some kind of ice picks or grippers that go over your shoes,' says Donald.
Hiking in New Brunswick requires 'some kind of ice picks or grippers that go over your shoes,' says Donald.

Hiking in New Brunswick requires 'some kind of ice picks or grippers that go over your shoes,' says Donald. (Submitted by James Donald)

"So I've got my ice grippers right by the back door this year," he said.

What you use for gripping the ice depends on just how adventurous you're planning to be, Donald said.

"Some kind of ice picks or grippers that go over your shoes. If you get really extreme … you get into crampons which are the big spikes that you get like for icy conditions climbing mountains," he said.

Know where you're going — and spread the word

When you're hiking at any time of year, you should always tell people where you're going and when you expect to be back, said Donald. And this is especially true in winter.

"This time of year you could easily slip off the road with your vehicle on some of these back roads," he said.

"Make sure you're prepared in the case that you go off the road and there's nobody around to pick you up … make sure people know where you are."

Third Vault Falls is the largest waterfall in Fundy National Park.
Third Vault Falls is the largest waterfall in Fundy National Park.

Third Vault Falls is the largest waterfall in Fundy National Park. (Submitted by James Donald.)

Your cell phone won't necessarily help you to contact people if you're in trouble.

I usually have a Plan A, B, C, D — and a few others for alternatives to make sure I make it back all right. — James Donald, Hiking N.B.

"Don't depend on electronics because electronics in the cold don't last very long," Donald said.

He said many of these places have patchy cell phone reception even in the summertime, so hikers should never be dependent on them.

"I usually have a Plan A, B, C, D — and a few others for alternatives to make sure I make it back all right," Donald said.

Even novice winter hikers have plenty of places to explore in New Brunswick, Donald said.

Around the Moncton area, people can get out to Irishtown, Centennial Park or even Mapleton," he said.

"They have a mix of plow trails versus snowshoe trails that are off in the woods."

'If you go out after a fresh snow and you go snowshoeing and the woods are silent, and you can see the tracks from animals … it's a different experience than in the summer,' says Donald.
'If you go out after a fresh snow and you go snowshoeing and the woods are silent, and you can see the tracks from animals … it's a different experience than in the summer,' says Donald.

'If you go out after a fresh snow and you go snowshoeing and the woods are silent, and you can see the tracks from animals … it's a different experience than in the summer,' says Donald. (Submitted by James Donald)

Although Mount Carleton is quite a long drive for many, "it's beautiful in the wintertime," Donald said.

And he's climbed Mount Bailey too.

"I've done that probably five or six times and it's usually like –30 when we go and it's ridiculously cold. But it's absolutely beautiful when you get up there and see the frosted tops of the mountains and looking across the plateau."

If you want an overnight winter hiking experience, Donald suggests staying at one of the rustic cabins at Fundy National Park. This is the Hastings cabin where Donald and his wife have stayed.
If you want an overnight winter hiking experience, Donald suggests staying at one of the rustic cabins at Fundy National Park. This is the Hastings cabin where Donald and his wife have stayed.

If you want an overnight winter hiking experience, Donald suggests staying at one of the rustic cabins at Fundy National Park. This is the Hastings cabin where Donald and his wife have stayed. (Submitted by James Donald.)

Another option is Fundy Park, which Donald said is great to experience in winter.

"They've done a good job in the last five years of providing groomed snowshoe trails, but there's also other trails that you can go off ... they're not maintained but they're well packed because there's lots of traffic," he said.

Donald said the Hiking N.B. Facebook page and website have lots of information on trails in all seasons.

If you want more specific information, such as "if a road is plowed to a trail or what the trail conditions are," he said there's also a Hiking N.B. Facebook group with about 18,000 members who post regularly about their hikes throughout New Brunswick.