More than 30 years ago, a visionary by the name of Dr. Mitchell Franklin dreamed of a road along the Bay of Fundy coast from St. Martins to Fundy National Park. In 1995, after years of lobbying on Franklin’s part, construction of the Fundy Trail Parkway began. It continued in phases until last year when the final leg of the connector road was chip sealed and now the Fundy Trail Parkway is open through to Fundy National Park. The parkway’s approximately 30-kilometre road has some of the most spectacular views of this rugged coastline, at times running along at sea level beside stony beaches and rising to the tops of rocky cliffs before terminating at the gate to Fundy National Park.
Fundy Trail Parkway
But this 2,559-hectare park is a lot more than just a scenic drive. There are 21 lookouts, 20 hikes, four waterfalls and five beaches to explore. On this particular day, a group of friends and I were going to cycle from the western gate of the Fundy Trail Parkway through to the fishing village of Alma on the eastern boundary of Fundy National Park where we would get picked up and shuttled back to our cars, a total of a bit more than 75 challenging kilometres.
Photo by Callum Young
The day started in the historic fishing village of St. Martins for a pre-ride coffee at the Shipyard Café in the Red Rock Adventure Shop. The name of the café is a nod to the fact that St. Martins was a thriving shipbuilding centre in the 1800s with over 500 sailing vessels built in the area. Today, St. Martins is home to a busy lobster fishing fleet. It is also a great place to really understand the size of the Bay of Fundy tides. At low tide, the fishing boats sit on the mud alongside the jetty. Six hours later, they are floating. The tidal range is up to 11.5 metres.
Our cycling began at the park gate about seven kilometres from St. Martins. It was a perfect riding day, sunny, not too warm and very little wind. We were lucky for late May in southern New Brunswick. It could just as easily have been cold, windy and foggy.
Photo by Kristen Scott
The first 10 kilometres or so were hilly but not too strenuous, generally what you would expect cycling in southern New Brunswick. The road along here hugged the coast at about 100 metres of elevation. We were finding it hard to put in any distance along here because we wanted to stop at each of the seven lookouts along this stretch to take in the views of the cliffs up and down the coast and Melvins Beach.
Our first real lung-busting hill came as we approached the interpretive centre at Big Salmon River. Although a visit to the interpretive centre was not on the today’s agenda, I have visited in the past. What today looks like wilderness, this area around Big Salmon River was once one of the most prosperous lumbering communities in Canada, with bunkhouses, a community hall, houses and a school. The interpretive centre tells the story of the lumbering industry of the time and how in the winter the men would chop the trees and drag them with horses to frozen streams where they would be piled up waiting for the spring thaw. As the streams thawed, the logs would flow down to the sawmills along the coast where the wood would be cut, then loaded onto barges and shipped down to the port of Saint John where most would then be shipped on to New England.
Photo by Callum Young
We coasted on by with a quick glance to the 84-metre-long suspension footbridge over Big Salmon River on our left, trying to pick up speed for the 16 per cent grade climb on the other side of the river. After a kilometre of this, we were happy to relax a few minutes at the Cranberry Brook Lookout and admire the view down to the interpretive centre and the mouth of the Big Salmon River.
After a short break, we got back on the bikes and cruised through the hairpin turn with views up and down the Bay of Fundy. At our picnic stop at Long Beach, our shuttle driver met us with the coolers. Thankfully it was a light lunch, as we had another big climb, this time an 18 per cent grade to get us above 150 metres of elevation again. From here, we had another four kilometres or so of coastal riding before the road turned inland and made its way to the gate of Fundy National Park. While the first part of the day was through some stunningly beautiful coastal area, this section was more of a grind through forests and scrubland, crisscrossed with ATV trails and forest company roads on newer chip seal. I half expected to see more moose and bear than people through here. Once we reached the gate of Fundy National Park it was another climb, this time more gradual to 300 metres, and then coasting down to Alma, all the while hoping a deer didn’t jump onto the road because stopping quickly would have been impossible.
Photo by Kristen Scott
Reflecting on this ride while sipping a well-deserved beer at the Holy Whale Brewery in Alma, it really was two experiences. The first section along the coast gave us some of the best views of the Bay of Fundy coastline, while the inland section is simply a way to get to Fundy National Park. As tough as it was, I think I will stick to the coastal part of the Fundy Trail Parkway where I get rewarded with beautiful views for my hard work.