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
|The glacial valley cutting into the otherwise flat top of Mont Albert|
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|
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.
Read. Plan. Get Out There!