Overview of the International Appalachian Trail as it winds from Mt Katahdin, Maine all the way to the edge of the Gaspé Peninsula of Québec. 

The IAT through the Chic Choc Mountains
It’s about this time of year when the restless of winter gets to the best of us and we begin great summer travel plans. For more than a few of us, that will include an almost holy-pilgrimage to the mother of all long distance trails- the Appalachian Trail. Hiking the entire length of the AT is something to be proud of but many are unaware of the quietly added International Appalachian Trail. The IAT or Sentier international des Appalaches (SIA) is a delightfully global long-distance trail which follows the totality of the Appalachian Mountains.

Perhaps this factoid might better appeal to the nerdy natural history types, but many are aware that the Appalachian Mountains are one of the oldest mountain ranges on Earth. With that in mind, hiking the true length of the Appalachians involves hiking from Florida to Quebec. From there, its several water crossings which involve trips to Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands. The IAT finds routes through all the British Isles. Chapters of the IAT-SIA exist on the Iberian Peninsula and the route is suggested to eventually continue through the mountains of Morocco and Algeria. It’s quite a bold addition to the already imposing trail from Springer Mountain to Mt Katahdin. A total hike would be a grand adventure in the outdoors and international culture; something which perfectly suits we millennial travelers.
The volcanic mountains and hills of Traveler Mountain and Mt Chase

Mars Hill in the morning
International Appalachian Trail in Maine

After ascending Katahdin, “The Greatest Mountain”, the IAT descends and meanders about Baxter State Park before exiting onto a swath of comparatively flat land. While there is a set trail from Katahdin to Quebec, the hiker is freer to hike whatever pleases them on this wilderness route. The northern portion of the park is all ancient volcanoes which are strangely similar to those of Oregon and Washington. Mt Chase is the tallest mountain between Katahdin and New Brunswick. It allows a panoramic view of all the mountains of BSP.
America's first sunrise
From Mt Chase and through Aroostook County, the elevation change is minimal but the wilderness is vast. Aroostook county is Maine’s breadbasket and where much of the state’s famous potatoes come from. It’s a rural county with a friendly mix of Acadian and English culture which would be worth the trip on its own. The isolated summit of Mars Hill provides the hiker with the very first sunrise in the 50 US states during the summer months. It is not something to be missed.
Mont Carleton, NB

IAT in New Brunswick

Although technically not a part of the IAT, a great side visit is Grand Falls/Grand-Sault, New Brunswick. The Saint John River carves a substantial gorge into the otherwise flat farmlands creating somewhat of a Grand Canyon. Hiking, zip-lining and photography are excellent.
St John river gorge

Once the international boundary is crossed, the IAT follows a very rural route through the New Brunswick Highlands. It is similar to the 100-mile wilderness of Maine where a hiker is more likely to encounter loggers than anyone else. Self-sufficiency and a heavy pack are a small price to pay for a trip in an otherwise pristine wilderness. Mont Carleton Provincial Park is the highlight of this leg where the trail climbs to the tallest mountain in the Canadian Maritimes.
Enjoying the highest summit in the Canadian Maritimes

After an extensive leg through the mountains, the trail arrives at the edge of the Bay of Chaleur. Internationally designated as one of the “World’s Most Beautiful Bays”, both the Quebec and New Brunswick sides have a very laid-back atmosphere to compliment the natural wonder. Interestingly enough, the water is about as warm in the summer as it is on the Virginian coast, nearly 1,000 miels ot the south. The Acadians of the area are steeped in old French culture but with a distinctly Canadian twist that runs much deeper than just the existence of poutine. Although, if you really need a great trail snack, try eating Dulse which is essentially eaten like potato chips in New Brunswick.
The glacial valley cutting into the otherwise flat top of Mont Albert

Gaspésie Quebec

The Trail runs straight through the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec. While the mountains haven’t the altitude of the more famous Canadian Rockies and Coast Ranges, they are every bit as spectacular. The trail runs through the center of this mountain range which includes a crossing of Parc national de la Gaspésie. This area contains one of the largest uninterrupted stretches of alpine tundra and wilderness south of the Arctic Circle. Deep in the heart of the peninsula, the Chic-Choc Mountains reach their highest elevation and create otherworldly scenes. Lucky hikers will encounter one of the park’s three caribou herds, a species typically not seen this far south. If you’re handy with a fly fishing rod, you can catch some of the massive Atlantic salmon who run these rivers.

Two tall summits of the peninsula which can be relatively easily reached by a modestly in-shape hiker are Mont Jacques-Cartier and Mont Albert. The former is the tallest summit of the peninsula and rises well above the tree line. On a good day, I’ve been told a hiker can see all the way to the St. Lawrence Bay. Mont Albert is much shorter but exists as a plateau of alpine tundra. The extensive and pancake-flat summit is interrupted only by glacial canyons which the International Appalachian Trail runs through.  
Gîte du Mont-Albert

Nestled between these two summits is Gîte du Mont-Albert, a Swiss-styled mountain chalet. It might just be the nicest accommodations on the entire International Appalachian Trail.

The trail abruptly diverges from the Chic-Choc mountains and follows along the St Lawrence coastline for its final stretch on this continent. This section is positively cosmopolitan compared to the last stretch as there are plenty of small, friendly Quebecois towns to visit. Perhaps it was just my West Coast roots, but the coast felt vaguely Northern Californian in its rugged isolation but still laid-back atmosphere.
Late afternoon thunderstorm on Mont Albert's high plateau
The alpine route of the IAT, deep in the Chic-Chocs

Summit of Mont Jacques-Cartier, one of the tallest summits in Quebec

Near the end of the peninsula, the trail enters Forillon National Park, a real gem in the country’s system. The otherwise profoundly cliffy coastline has just a few beaches where one can enjoy some coastal respite. Summer temperatures keep the water warm enough for a swim on a humid day. At the very tip of the peninsula, there’s a monument to the start or end of the continental IAT. The plaque is the same as the Springer Mountain one with French translation. Although it’s impossible to see to Newfoundland, the view of the ocean and Anticosti Island was magnificent. It’s a moment where even the most worn out of thru-hikers would instantly want to hop on a boat and continue the trail through Newfoundland.
Coastal Highway on the Gaspésie 
Near the edge of the peninsula and end of the IAT
Parc national de l'Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé
Pierced Rock
The IAT is not as well-known nor established as the AT but its existence is a testament to the novelty of international backpacking. Few have ever hiked all the way from Florida to Newfoundland, much less through Greenland, Iceland, the British Isle and beyond. I might not have the opportunity to do so in one go but it’s become a personal travel goal to section hike as much of it as I can. Completion of the IAT would be a much greater adventure than just a really long hike.

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