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LOCAL TRAVEL: Enjoying winter in New Brunswick's Fundy National Park

John McNair of Outdoor Elements in Sussex, on a trail in Fundy National Park.
John McNair of Outdoor Elements in Sussex, on a trail in Fundy National Park. - Darcy Rhyno

I’m barrelling down the inside of “the bowl” backwards, laughing so hard, it’s difficult to breathe. When my toboggan hits an icy patch, I go into a tailspin. 

When I finally slow to a stop, I hoot like a kid and watch the next daredevil charge down the hill.

This aptly named bowl-shaped slope is directly across the street from the Fundy National Park visitor centre in New Brunswick and overlooks the Bay of Fundy. Tobogganing is just the beginning of the winter fun to be had here. 

There’s snowshoeing, cross country skiing and winter hiking on the many kilometres of groomed and pristine trails, but my favourite activity is fat tire biking. 

Biking winter trails

John McNair of Outdoor Elements in nearby Sussex hooks us up with trail bikes sporting super wide, winter tread tires. 

After some basic instruction, McNair leads us up the 1.5 kilometre Cygnus Trail, rated as easy. As with Ursa Major and Cassiopeia, many of Fundy’s trails are named for constellations in honour of the park’s designation as a dark sky preserve.  

Having gained some altitude, we’re ready to throw ourselves down some trails, starting with Maple Grove, an old woods road the park is reclaiming by planting it with trees. 

The trail begins at the site of one of the park’s cozy rustic cabins, this one with a sweeping view of the bay far below, the Cape Enrage Lighthouse in the middle distance and the Nova Scotia coastline on the horizon.

Down winding trails we speed, those trusty tires biting into the sharp turns until we’ve completed the circuit.

Dan Sinclair, interpretation supervisor at Fundy National Park. - Darcy Rhyno
Dan Sinclair, interpretation supervisor at Fundy National Park. - Darcy Rhyno

From ocean floor to the stars

Because Fundy is a coastal park, Dan Sinclair, interpretation supervisor, is eager for us to experience the wonder of the bay itself. At low tide, he leads us out onto the stony ocean floor. 

When we reach a small sandbar, Sinclair draws an outline of the bay in the sand with his boot to talk tides. The bay is shaped like a bathtub, he says, and children who slosh water back and forth in the tub are young scientists in the making. That movement, called a seiche, becomes the easiest when the motion matches the dimensions of the tub. 

There’s a cold wind off the bay, but there’s so much to see at our feet – barnacles, periwinkles, slipper limpets, colourful stones – we walk nearly a full kilometer to the edge of the tide before heading back. 

After sundown, Sinclair leads us on a night walk through the snowy woods. Our headlamps illuminate the forest and the trail ahead, crisscrossed with squirrel and snowshoe hare tracks. 

We climb an artificial hill that gives us a view over the forest. Sinclair pours us each a mug of hot spruce tea. As we sip, he gives three convincing owl calls – those of the saw whet, barred and great horned owls. The saw whet owl’s is the strangest, a single note in endless and rapid succession that sounds more electronic than natural. 

No owls return Sinclair’s calls this night, so after we finish our tea accompanied by more stories of the natural history of the park and the stars overhead, we head back to our vehicle, then down to Alma. 

Dan Sinclair, interpretation supervisor at Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, pouring spruce tea. - Darcy Rhyno
Dan Sinclair, interpretation supervisor at Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, pouring spruce tea. - Darcy Rhyno

Creature comforts in Alma

The village of Alma – population 250 or so – is directly across the Upper Salmon River from the park. It’s easily walkable from the closest campground, so it’s popular with park visitors. At the Octopus’s Garden Café, we start with scallops and bacon on hollandaise sauce because it’s scallop season here. 

Lobster pasta is the main. Joel Cadieux, owner-chef, makes everything from scratch, including the pasta, which is delicate and perfectly complements the lobster in a creamy white wine sauce. 

Peter Grandy at the Holy Whale Brewery in Alma. - Darcy Rhyno
Peter Grandy at the Holy Whale Brewery in Alma. - Darcy Rhyno

A few doors down on the other side of the street, an old church is now home to the Holy Whale Brewery, a vibrant place with a witty sense of humour and some truly delicious brews. 

After sampling, I chose the APA. One of the four red refrigerators in the corner is filled with nothing but green cans of this complex, citrusy beer known simply as Champ. 

Peter and Jeff Grandy – brothers from P.E.I. – chose Alma for their brewery partly because of the park.

“We had very fond memories of it from when we were younger and really liked the area,” says Peter. “And the town had a brewery in their development plan.” 

I grab a four pack of Champ before we head back to the park and our oTENTiks, a cross between a cabin and a tent. It’s equipped for winter with a gas fireplace controlled by a thermostat that keeps it toasty. 

An oTENTik in Fundy National Park. - Darcy Rhyno
An oTENTik in Fundy National Park. - Darcy Rhyno

I fall asleep to the crunching and banging echoes of ice in the river. The next morning, listening to the cacophony from my cozy bunk, getting up is not easy. 

When I finally emerge, I’m in a snow globe of silently falling snow. I meet up with the others, one of whom reports excitedly about hearing a saw whet owl calling at daybreak, which he recognized because of Dan Sinclair’s accurate imitation the night before.

It’s a satisfying end to a rewarding winter getaway. As we depart, I find myself hoping more people discover that Fundy and other national parks can be just as fun, educational and adventure packed in winter as at other times of the year. 

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